Virtual meanderings

How we found a place to stay in Siem Reap

As I already mentioned in the previous post, we made our tuk-tuk driver take us to a hostel – called “Rosy” by insisting we’d booked a room there (which we had not). This was the only way we could block his attempts to take us to a hostel of his choice (which would then pay him a good commision).

Rosy” occupied an old house built in the times of the French colonizers. It looked quite nice (having been renovated). During the reign of the US-backed Khmer Rouge regime such houses had been neglected to crumble. But as the country and the city started opening up for tourism, colonial-time houses that still remained began being renovated and transformed into bars and hostels (little wonder – most of these houses are located in the central parts). “Rosy” was one such example.

Rosy guest house front

Rosy guest house front

We asked for a room and a nice and smiling Khmer girl took us upstairs to show us a double room with a bathroom and air-conditioning – it looked just perfect. The price was reasonable too – something like $15. “We take it.”

Khmer girl: “Oh, no, no. This room taken tonight – available tomorrow.”
Us (thinking) “Ok, so why did you show it to us anyway?”
Khmer girl: “Just for tonight I show you room on third floor – just a bit smaller than this. It cheaper. Then tomorrow you take this room”
Us: Very good. Can we see the other room?

She took us a floor up and showed us the “bit smaller room”. Negligible difference #1: No bathroom – you’d have to use the shared bathroom down the corridor. Small nuisance #2 – no air-conditioning (you need to go to Thailand and Cambodia to fully appreciate this one). And – above all, minor issue #3 –  the room was so small that it could hardly fit a queen size bed – and nothing more. Its only window – above the door, facing the inner yard.

Nice view from that window, huh?

Nice view from that window, huh?

Before we could comprehend all that in full, the girl was gone for good. No chance of saying anything.  Note:  You should understand this episode for what it is – how Western hostel owners train their local stuff to sales techniques. Then make up your own mind who helps nurture the environment in which foreign visitors find themselves in Thailand and Cambodia. In this particular case the hostel owners were an English guy with his young English wife (they also had  a cute little baby that was most probably born in Cambodia).

We decided that we ain’t taking the room even for one night (In fact, there was no guarantee that we’d get the other room on the next day. After all, talk is cheap). We went back downstairs and told the girl so. It was only then that we were told that the hostel was full and we’d seen the last available room. It was a take-it-or-find-some-place-else situation. Well, it was to be the latter…

…but not before we ate something first. At “Rosy” they had a nice litle bar/place to eat/drink coffee. By the way, there ain’t no coffee in Thailand (or, to be more precise, it is very difficult to find). To my pleasant surprise Cambodia exhibited some noticeable differences cuisine-like (having been a part of French-ruled Indochina). In addition to coffee, we were able to get real bread (no such thing in Thailand either), and a European-style salad made of lettuce, cucumbers, tomatos, etc. As for ice-cream – Cambodia is one of the four countries I have been to where one can still find real ice-cream (the other three being Russia, China and Japan).

Where we repeatedly came back to eat

Where we repeatedly came back to eat

Everything we tried was simply delicious (!) – and the prices were more than reasonable too ($2.5 for the main course, $2 for the sallad, $1 beer, etc) . In fact, in the next days we spent in the town we came to eat or drink coffee at “Rosy” at least a couple of times a day. But for the time being we still had no place to stay.

Before we began sorting that out in earnest, I wanted to get some local money and a local SIM card. I really wanted to break down one of my $100 bills into something smaller. And my Thai SIM card did not work in Cambodia (contrary to my shy hopes that it might). Interestingly enough, my European SIM card worked just fine, in case you asked.

I was shown a small exchange office nearby (that probably doubled as a pawn shop and what not, and I would speculate that the owners were Chinese). I changed $30 into local riels and got $70 back in US dollars. Changing more made little sense as – surprise, surprise – the US dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia – even the ATMs dispense dollars (at least the ones I tried). The local riel banknotes’ main usage was as small change (albeit you could also of course pay fully in riel if you wished). The exchange rate was about 4000 riel per US dollar – and has been around that value for years. I then got a SIM card from a small shop selling cell phones – it cost $10 – $5 was the SIM itself, and $5 worth of pre-loaded credit inside.

On my way back to “Rosy” I passed by a newly built “three star” hotel, which was literally a hundred meters away from the hostel. “OK”, I thought, “a room here will certainly cost much more than in the guesthouse. But this place is so near. If we could get a room here, we would not need to hire a tuk-tuk and waste god-knows-how-much-more-time-and-effort searching. Why not go in and ask how much a room costs? Maybe, just maybe, if we are lucky, it would not be more than $25 per night.” So I went to the reception and asked.

It was $9 per double room per day.

With airconditioning, a bathroom and free wi-fi in the hostel lobby.

Hotels are always more expensive than guesthouses and hostels – conventional wisdom says. Well, now you know that it might not be the case in Cambodia. Fifteen minutes later we were inside our newly acquired three-star hotel room,  relaxing after the intense journey, getting ready to go for an evening out in Siem Reap.


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