Playing catch-up here, two days after we left Cambodia. We decided to kick around Siem Reap on our last day. We walked around the small rural village that is outside the gates of our resort and as expected, it is poor. Little kids yelled hello to us, taking a break from playing in a rough looking pond. Some houses were fixed up, wood, with metal roofs on stilts. We later learned that the liquor bottles filled with yellow liquid displayed in front tiny shops are not full of liquor but instead gasoline, so people don’t have to trek into town on the deeply rutted red dirt roads to the gas station. We also noticed fancy modern apartments being built in a grassy field near grazing cattle but learned they are not for people in the village.
Sojourn Boutique Villas is apparently designed to help ameliorate some of the poverty by hiring local villagers. (Thx to my London friend Carole for recommending this place and other great suggestions in Vietnam, which I consulted frequently.) The women working at the hotel, who were incredibly sweet, are from the village and have worked at the resort for several years, we were told by a Chinese man who appeared to be the manager. Our tuk-tuk driver Bros lives in a nearby village, is 38, married and has an 11-year-old son. His wife works in a local supermarket and starts work at 5:30 a.m.
Bros drove us to Kandal Village, a one block stretch of nice shops — some way too expensive for us, with designer clothing and jewelry but fun to see what people are making and selling (or trying to sell). Lunch was at another Hanoi Mark find, Mie Cafe, a white tablecloth fusion restaurant with grey poured concrete walls and a lovely landscaped courtyard. We had the best tuna tartar I’ve ever tasted, big chunks of tuna, little pieces of avocado and mango, followed by a very light green curry and a beef or pork dish (I’ve already forgotten but it was all excellent.) Dessert was a refreshing , palate-cleansing frozen lime pie that reminded me of a hard key lime pie. Delicious. Desserts aren’t common in these parts, except at fancy restaurants., although in Vietnam I do see creme caramel being sold by street vendors. It’s inot refrigerated so I haven’t tried but I did try it when it was served for breakfast at our Hanoi hotel) and French pastry shops in Saigon with real-deal looking croissants. It’s hard not to be obsessed about the food in these parts.
Our Vietnam Airways flight to HCM City/Saigon was a quick 45 minutes and uneventful. I probably could have bought the less expensive Cambodian Angkor Air flight back to HCM City but at the time, I worried about that airline’s reliability and wanted to make sure we got back to Vietnam for our return trip home in a few days. 😢
The Cambodian visa I bought online in advance worked fine. There were a few peculiarities. We had to fill out a customs form and submit it when we arrived even though we had nothing to declare. And we were instructed to print two copies of the visa (to hand in when we arrived and left) but the second one was never collected. Speaking of visas, all my angst about the Vietnam visas was for naught. Our multi-entry visa bought in advance worked fine (it should…it was pricey). I did see “visa at arrival” signs when we arrived in Vietnam and Cambodia but was glad we didn’t have to deal with that — especially when we first arrived in Vietnam and were exhausted after almost 24 hours of travel. Last thing we needed was another line to stand in. I was struck by the stone cold expressions of the immigration officials, especially in Vietnam. These guys are never welcoming but still…such a contrast with the warmth of the people we met after clearing immigration. Also was very glad that I arranged pickups at the airport for 4 hotels…it made a huge difference not having to hire a cab or figure out where our hotels are located (we tend to pick hotels in out of the way locations).