Sunday, July 17, 2011

On Fried Crispy Insects, Leaving Siem Reap & Buses to Phnom Penh

I was a bit anxious early in the day. Despite relatively expensive prices, I decided to check out Shadow of Angkor's restaurant for my early breakfast though I wasn't particularly hungry. But a safe rule in Backpacking 101 is always having your meals at the right time - when you can - because you never know when or where you're exactly going to get your next.

I ordered an American Breakfast which constituted 4 small pancakes immersed in honey, with slices of bananas between each stack; then there's either coffee or tea - all for $3.50! The trouble here was, it took them 30 minutes to prepare and I was getting antsy because I knew that at any moment, my pick-up coaster would be arriving to take me to the Bus Terminal. This transfer service was part of the bus ticket purchased from the hotel. Sure beats dealing with tuktuks just to get to the terminal, which is 20-30 minutes from the city center.

My bus this time would be the Sokha Komar Tep Express bus, a heavily peddled bus service from my hotel's front desk. At $6, it was 50% cheaper than the Mekong Express Limousine Bus so if you are scrimping (I wasn't, I just wanted to check out how good is this $6 ride), you might as well take this bus.


My pick-up coaster made a 10 minute rounds to pick up more tourists bound for Phnom Penh. Such beautiful guesthouses, and at no place in Asia is there such magnificently cheap accommodations looking like grand hotels. The reason? I was told a few years ago while staying at Mom's Guesthouse that using the name "hotel" would entail paying more taxes than using "Guesthouse". Moreover, the hotels that use "hotel" to name their establishment here in Siem Reap are really gargantuan in space and spread - think Shangri-La Mall!

Tonle Sap Lake


Sokha Komar Tep Express Bus wasn't bad. Most foreign tourists are curiously given the backseats - this has been my observation! I got a seat at the 9th row, where there are 12 rows. The Europeans behind me were trying to fit themselves and had to contend with the steady traffic of people using the WC (toilet) situated at the back of the bus. What's the difference from the Mekong Express? The floor of the bus is a bit elevated and there's less leg room for comfort so if you're a tall person and you hate trying to fit your lower extremities for a 5 to 6 hour ride, then I would say, Sokha Komar Tep isn't for you. Get the Mekong Express, by all means. It's an $11 seat, while Sokha Komar Tep is just $6.


At 10AM, the bus made its single stop at Kampong Thom, the same place Mekong Express made its stop last time. I didn't bother getting a meal as I was still stuffed with the 4 little pancakes served from Shadow of Angkor. It was a 30 minute stopover so I walked around the nearby psar (market) to check out their local products. I bought sugarcane juice at 1,000 riel and purchased a coke in can (2,500 riel) for later. At the other end of the roadside compound, I found stacks of deep fried ready-to-eat insects cooked with local herbs and spices stacked like rice - crickets, grasshoppers, giant aphids, a-ping (tarantulas) all ready to eat. I'm told that these are delicious alternatives to the crispiness of pretzels and potato chips. Finger food, anyone?

I slept through most of my ride. But one hour into Phnom Penh, I noticed an area where buddhist temples gleamed side by side each other, built with different materials - wood, concrete, steel, etc. There was also an area filled with oil refineries or gasoline depots. I didn't notice these places before. Cambodia is such an enthralling potpourri of sights.

Sacks of a variety of insects deep fried and spiced up. This photo only courtesy of Photobucket's adhanoa.

Crunchy grasshopper battered up! This photo only courtesy of hubpages' billericky.

The trip back to Phnom Penh took 6 hours. Good thing I already emailed Seng, owner of my new guesthouse - Europe Guesthouse - in the capital. He already arranged for a pick-up service, a tuktuk at a measly $2. My airport pick-up to Green House was a car service worth $12, though understandable since the airport is far from the city center ($6 by tuktuk).

I waited for 10 minutes for my pick-up. It was a kind-looking young man named Banh. Yup, if you've never seen a face that looked "kind", you have to see Banh. Haha. I will post his photo and contact number one of these days. Europe Guesthouse was just 3 blocks south of Sokha Komar Tep's garage (it's not a terminal, but just a parking space outside Sokha's main office in the heart of the city) - very near Sangka Wat Phnom area and just 1 block from Sisowath Quay! It is a great place, just like Mekong Express, because you're already at the heart of the capital's new backpacker area (Boeung Kak lake area has mostly been demolished) and Sisowath Quay!

For me, it was another opportunity to rediscover Phnom Penh, a city I was once scared to visit. Not anymore.

This is the Eye in the Sky!

Sokha Komar Tep Bus

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