Siem Reap makes you forget you’re a backpacker
Massage, sir? Only $3. Lady you buy something? Silk scarf only $2. Special price for lady.
You want cold drink? Coconut only 50 cent. Tuk-tuk, sir? I take you to temples, cheap price.
And on it goes. 50-cent beers. $1 frozen margaritas. $5 hotel rooms. $1 noodle soups. Nah, I’ll splurge today and have an amok for $4.
Little expenses, all so innocent on their own, but pile them together and you won’t believe you spent that much.
But how can you help yourself with so much cheap luxury?
If Sihanoukville is a backpacker blackhole, Siem Reap is backpacker Disneyland. More than a base for exploring the temples of Angkor, it has become a playground where responsible budgeting goes on a one-week bender.
In the main tourist ghetto around the Old Market, the only thing Cambodian are the prices. Pizzerias, French bakeries and thumping bars line the vibrant Pub Street, which would feel at home at any university city in Europe.
Around it are myriad massage parlours where kids barely out of high school offer one-hour foot rubs for the price of a bad burger back home.
And as a testament to the unrivaled imitative prowess of the Cambodian people, there’s a “fish massage” tank at every corner. To compete, some offer a free beer while you get dead skins nibbled from your feet.
And so it quickly becomes routine: cheap beers everyday, frequent massages, culinary explorations, and trips to outlying temples. Things that back home would be a rare indulgence become tantalizingly accessible.
The result: you forget you’re a backpacker. You’re supposed to be on a crusade of austerity, proving to yourself and others that it takes precious little to live well and be happy.
But instead of growing tough skin, you’re getting it munched off by tiny fish.
Before you know it, you spent nine days in this city you had planned for five. And you leave facing some wicked withdrawal jitters, an emptier wallet, but with the testy relief of the cold-turkey quitter.