A Noodle abroad: Thailand versus Cambodia

7 Jan

lanternsHow did you spend your New Year holidays? For me it was a return to Thailand and Cambodia on a whirlwind six day trip. It was a tale of two countries which bloody hate each other but have a mutual friend – the big spending flabby white tourist.

Mutual mistrust and hostility have characterised relations between the two countries since the time when they weren’t nation states at all but the kingdoms of Siam and Khymer.

The animosity is still invoked by modern day politicians to rally the people of both modern states and popularise their policies – most recently evident in a century-old border dispute which was finally resolved last year by the UN.tuktuk bangkok

In many ways Thailand is a canary-down-the-mine portent of what might be for neighbouring Cambodia – a country decimated by the bloody tyranny of the Khymer Rouge in the ’70s and the decades of instability that followed.

But after revisiting both places, I rather hope that doesn’t happen.

Yes, Bangkok has built up and out massively since even a decade ago. Skytrain, MRT, airport rail links and other big infrastructure projects have brought it well and truly into the 21st century, thanks in no small part to a steady stream of tourist cash.

soi cowboy

Soi Cowboy – Bangkok

Yes, its people are friendly, its beaches lovely (even though they’re packed with dreadful Russian oligarchs and their trophy wenches) and its 5-star hotels cocooned us in air-conditioned comfort.

But if I had the choice I’d probably go back to its near neighbour. I’ve said it before but Cambodians haven’t yet been worn down and made cynically acquisitive by a never-ending barrage of rudeness from arrogant tourists.

The service industry may be haplessly incompetent in some of the bars, restaurants and hotels you visit but just get over it; you’re paying a fraction of the cost you would elsewhere and there’s always a sincere smile when all’s said and done.

Plus Siem Reap*, our base for exploring the epic Angkor Wat, is possibly the nicest SE Asian town I’ve ever visited. Lovely low-rise colonial-era buildings housing cafes, bars and decent restaurants, and a main entertainment thoroughfare called Pub Street. What’s not to like?

Well, Korean and Chinese tourists who treat the whole Angkor wonderland like a theme park, for one. On my visit they managed to shout, bawl and litter their way around the temples like neo-colonial overlords, getting in the way of any good photo opportunity and turning a place of beauty, wonderment and silent contemplation into downtown Shenzhen.

That said, witnessing a tour group in which some of the girls are dressed in boob tubes and ripped jean hot pants only serves to highlight the gentle dignity of the Khymer people.

So tip big – they locals your money more than Thailand – and enjoy it.

*(Siem Reap means “Siam defeated” in Khymer … told you they didn’t get on)

lanterns

Ko Samed beach, Thailand

tuktuk bangkok

NYE tuk-tuk-ing, Bangkok

angkor wat

Angkor Wat

angkor wat

Bayon

Bayon, Angkor Thom

bayon temple

Bayon temple

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

Ta Phrom

A bit more Lara Croft action, Ta Phrom

pub street

Better…

angkor night market

Electro Siem Reap

pancake stall

Always time for one last pancake…

 

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