Royal Residence is where the king of Cambodia stays on his visits to Siem Reap. Given that Siem Reap is Cambodia’s main cash cow thanks to proximity to Angkor Wat, king’s focus on Siem Reap is apparent. How much time the king actually spends in Siem Reap I do not know. Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodian capital city is far superior a dwelling to Siem Reap’s Royal residence.
There is a traffic circle on the corner of the Royal Residence which I believe is the only actual traffic circle in Siem Reap, though there is another one outside of town limit, on the intersection of National Road #6 and the road leading to Siem Reap Airport. The corner of Royal Residence facing the traffic circle has a large poster with an image of the king. The image is nicely illuminated at night. The Stone Bridge which goes across Stung Siem Reap on the opposite side of the traffic circle is one way only – you can’t cross it going east, only coming back towards the Royal Residence.
I have never actually been inside of the Royal Residence in Siem Reap (nor have I gone to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, since entrance fee is a bit too high) so I can’t comment on whether there is anything to see. I’m not even sure whether public is allowed to enter. My guess would be it’s not as I have never see its doors open or any foreigners walking in or out. It’s probably not used unless King Norodom Sihamoni or other members of the royal family are in Siem Reap.
The only significance of the Royal Residence for me was its immediate proximity to Royal Independence Gardens – my most favourite place in all of Cambodia, thanks to the Flying Foxes. A road to Angkor Wat also leads by the Royal Palace so unless you are staying in one of the hotels or guesthouses which are at far end of Siem Reap, you will have passed by it on your way to and from the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The Ya-Tep Shrine is unique in a way that it’s built right in the middle of a major road passing through Siem Reap (National Highway #6) so the road splits to go around it. Since Ya-Tep Shrine is a small structure, it only creates an effect of a traffic circle, not any major detours. Despite its small size, it’s a busy shrine that enjoys immense popularity among local Khmer people. It is said that the statue of Ya Tep that is housed within the shrine is a powerful spirit locally known as Neak-Ta. Neat-Ka spirits are localized, meaning that they protect the land where they are located and the people who live in the area. Ya Tep spirit is also believed to bring good luck to people playing the lottery so the shrine gets particularly busy on days of the draw.
While Ya-Tep Shrine is a standalone unit that’s not part of anything bigger, it is located right between two important landmarks of Siem Reap – Royal Residence is to the south of the shrine and Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine to the north. Ya-Tep Shrine is basically right in the middle of the road that separates these two.
The night when I discovered majestic Flying Foxes in the Royal Independence Garden and stayed to take pictures of people bringing offerings for the dead, the Buddha and the Monks since it was the beginning of Pchum Ben Festival was also the night I first saw Ya-Tep Shrine. Well, no kidding since it’s only half the road across. Local Buddhists who paid a visit to Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine also stayed for a player and burned incense sticks before the statue of Ya-Tep.
The popularity and high regard of Ya-Tep Shrine was truly evident. Each time I would be passing by on my bad ass bicycle, whether it was during the day or after dark there would be people kneeling and praying before the statue of their local protector. Speed bumps to the west of the shrine slowed down the traffic so vehicles don’t run into the island housing the shine or people who frequently come to the shrine to pray. Sadly, because of close proximity of several major landmarks, poshy hotels (Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor and Victoria Angkor Hotel) and Angkor Shopping Center, the area is overrun with Tuk Tuk drivers who will do their best to annoy the heck out of you while you are enjoying the sweet shriek of gianormous Fruit Bats. Ahh well… Tuk Tuk drivers, the plague of Cambodia.
As I leaving Lucky Mall, I took my right turn on the traffic lights where Siem Reap’s Sivatha Bulevard is crossed with National Road #6. According to the map this was near direct way back to Two Dragons Guesthouse and I was really looking forward to munching on my fresh watermelon. As I started riding down National Road #6 and started getting closer towards Siem Reap’s Royal Residence, I noticed quite prominent shriek coming from the opposite side. According to the map, that’s the location of Royal Independence Gardens. Since it was already dark (it basically gets dark at 6pm every day in Cambodia), I didn’t feel like strolling Royal Independence Gardens, but the shriek was so paramount, I felt attracted to it and wanted to find out what was making it.
At first I thought there must have been some ponds within the Royal Independence Gardens with millions of some viciously exotic frogs who spend their nights trying to out-shriek one another and I wasn’t far from the truth. There truly are small water reservoirs at Royal Independence Gardens, but these were no frogs.
Another thing that instantly caught my attention as I started passing by the Royal Independence Gardens was tiny Ya-Tep Shrine in the middle of the road breaking traffic in half and another, bigger shrine called Preah Ang Chek Preah Ang Chorm Shrine on the left hand side, opposite Royal Residence palace, basically directly within Royal Independence Gardens. Because this was the beginning of the Pchum Ben Festival there were many people around and with all that shriek and major commotion I felt compelled to pull over, park my bike and hang around for a bit. I was truly looking forward to munching on my watermelon, but this could wait.
I’ve parked my bicycle by the small gate that was used as a barricade to prevent motor vehicle access to the Royal Independence Gardens. There was about 100 people around. Few street vendors were selling decorated flowers, incense sticks and live birds. The smell of burning incense stick was so prevalent, the haze from the burn was so thick you could touch it. I didn’t mind it as Cambodian incense sticks have really pleasant, oriental smell that’s not offensive in any way. This whole place seemed so alive now that the sun was down and Siem Reap was engulfed in the darkness of the night, I really wanted to stay and see what exactly is happening. Plus there was that continuous loud shriek that was raising so many questions and even though it added indescribable creepiness to the night, I was attracted to it and perceived it as music to my ears. Then at one point I looked up against dark blue sky of the night and my breath was taken away. There were thousands upon thousands of bats size of an eagle filling the sky. They were the creatures making that shriek, not frogs and none of the people seemed to mind. I was in awe.
After my failed attempt to buy a bicycle with help from a Tuk Tuk driver, I knew I was gonna have to take some risk and rely more upon myself in dealing with shops where English is not spoken. The question of “where to buy a mountain bike in Siem Reap” became more pressing as did the question of how to buy it without excessive overpaying (aka getting ripped off) just because I’m a foreigner in Cambodia. In all this melee, I’ve managed to get help from people on Couch Surfing.
It became apparent that National Road 6 is the place to go shopping for bicycles. That’s exactly the place where I was taken by a Tuk Tuk driver the day prior and had been over quoted. The hints I have received clearly suggested that there are more bicycle selling shops on National Road #6, they are just further down east. And that’s where I went.
I strolled down National Road 6 in Siem Reap, passed by the bicycle shop I went to day prior and just a bit further there was another. As it goes with National Road 6 – the shops are primarily geared towards locals so nobody, absolutely nobody speaks English and if a tourist shows up, everyone starts the smell big cash-in as that’s what Cambodians see tourists as (walking bag of money, or walking ATM machine if you will).
Realizing my options were limited, I popped in next bicycle shop and started looking at available mountain bikes and attempted to use sign language to ask about price. Everything was far more reasonable that the day prior and even though I knew I was gonna pay way more than a local would for the same piece of bike wreck, I was OK with it as prices quoted seemed to be in a more reasonable level than yesterday.
The bikes were obviously second hand (aka stolen), no names, all made in China. One way or another, I was gonna end up with a piece of junk, but this was Cambodia, I could go with the junkyard items or pay Tuk Tuks to drive me everywhere. The latter didn’t seem like a good option so bike it was gonna have to be regardless of how awful a piece of scrap metal I would get.
I tried a couple, each seemed as though it was gonna break apart upon third use but I eventually settled with imitated mountain bike that was probably stolen from a guy in Japan as it had a Japanese name painted on it. It had gears and looked a bit like a mountain bike which was a step up from most other bikes which look like they belonged in the 70’s. Pedals seemed to click in an awful way, making unpleasant rattling noise and trembled as used, but it was the best I could get for $38. Yeah, that’s what I paid for my primary means of transportation in Cambodia. Mighty $38.
It was all worth it. I noticed the difference right upon my first ride from the bike shop back to the guesthouse. I rode past several Tuk Tuk drivers who all just stared at me. Bike eliminate a lot of annoyance from Tuk Tuk drivers and other touts who are everywhere, never leaving you alone from the day you set foot in Cambodia till the time to leave. It was awesome not being harassed by them just because I was on a bike, the only tricky part was extreme heat which made bike riding a bid challenging, but that (nature) I could deal with. Vastly encouraged, I drove my bike everywhere.
I didn’t know where to start with my bicycle purchase so regardless of how much I have already hated Tuk Tuk drivers, I have jumped on one and asked him to take me to a bicycle shop. I primarily needed to know where the good shop is and wanted to see what they have and what the prices are like.
I was taken by the same Tuk Tuk driver who drove me to Two Dragons Guesthouse from the airport when it was raining cats and dogs. The bicycle shop he took me to was not far from the guesthouse at all. It was just up the Wat Bo street and then turn right on National Road 6. This whole area seemed vastly local, full of shops with signs in unreadable Khmer language and full of Khmer people shopping there.
We went probably only about a kilometre (likely less) down National Road #6 and stopped at the bicycle shop on the side of the road. The entire road is lined on both sides with shops of all sorts. The bicycle one we stopped at had dozens of bicycles piled up one next to another outside of the shop for easy access form the road.
I got off the Tuk Tuk and the driver offered me he would help translating since as he had claimed, none of the staff spoke any English. The offer was a kind one and I welcomed it with a smile, but unfortunately, the greed and intent to take advantage of me were the real reasons why I was offered this “help”.
I started looking at the bicycles and mostly saw second hand, bad quality bikes I thought went extinct at the end of 70’s. But not in Cambodia. These looked like overused rejects from perhaps China or maybe somewhere else. Most bikes looked in very poor shape but as I took a closer look at locals riding along the National Road 6, I noticed that this is in fact what they ride here.
My Tuk Tuk driver translated for me that these are “only” $40 each. I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. Further at the back of the store, they had a few, also overused second hand bikes, but these were with gears and resembled mountain bikes, hence did not have the 70’s feel and were presumably newer. When I asked about prices for those, I was translated that they were going for about $185 each, depending on the model.
At this time I surely knew he was messing with me. First of all – I imagined what kind of mountain bike I could buy in Canadian Tire for $50. It would be a no name, not much bike, but it would still be a usable mountain bike with frontal suspension, derailleur made by Shimano and would come with 1 year warranty. And here I am, in a country which is far less expensive than Canada and they are allegedly asking $185 for a visibly inferior beater that was no longer usable for its previous owner and was replaced, discarded and somehow made its way to Cambodia. This beater would come with no warranty whatsoever, had no recognizable components on it and would require constant flow of money on maintenance to keep it going. I kept doing my math, but in no way did I see myself spending this type of inadequate money for this type of piece of crap bicycle.
I firmly assumed that the Tuk Tuk driver was abusing the fact that this is the second time I was riding with him and wrongly assumed that since this is only my second day in Cambodia, I won’t know any better and will pay vastly overquoted price. He was obviously “translating” actual quotes and bumped them up sky high to keep the difference for himself. He did not take into an account that while this is my second day in Cambodia, I am not new to budget travelling and have spent a lot of time in other third world countries. I instantly knew the “free translation service” he offered was not a service but an attempt to make money at me.
There was truly no way why a beater like that was to cost $185 and whatever was the real reason behind such high quotes, I did not see myself spending this type of money for that type of bicycle no matter what. I closed it with “I will think about it” and told the Tuk Tuk driver I would walk back to Two Dragons. I explained my reasons by saying that I wanted to go to a nearby open air market and have more look around other shops in the area.
I have come to solid conclusion that asking Tuk Tuk drivers for help translating is not the best of ideas. Unless it’s someone you know well and trust, you may be subjected to overpaying. How to deal with these situations, when you want to buy something from a store where they don’t speak English is a whole new issue I had to face.