Out of Power in Siem Reap, Cambodia

I awoke early Thursday morning sweating profusely.  It only took a moment before I realized the fan wasn’t working because we had no electricity.  This meant no water either as our budget (US $10/night for fan room) guest house (Bayon Garden) uses a water reservoir with a pump that is run by electricity.  Our room was now an unbearable sauna and we couldn’t even cool off in the shower.

By 7:30, we escaped in search of breakfast.  Our guest house host advised us the entire city was out of power, something that rarely happens during the dry season. As we entered the tourist section of the city, many of the shops and restaurants were being powered by generator – maybe we would get a good cup of coffee after all!

By the time we finished breakfast, it looked like power had come back to the area.   It was a different story back at our guest house which was located on the other side of the river, a few blocks outside the tourist district.  Normally this would be considered an ideal location, a quiet side street within walking distance to all the noisy restaurants and bars.  But today it was a definite disadvantage as we learned the power might be out for three days or more.  According to the Cambodia Herald, an overloaded truck crashed into eleven power poles and damaged a transmission line from Thailand.  It could take up to a week to repair.  The city’s generator’s could provide only 25 per cent of the city’s power needs and clearly the main tourist district was considered the highest priority.

After three days at Angkor Wat, we were planning a “down” day, to work on the blog and to do travel research.  So we grabbed our laptops and headed back to the restaurant where we had breakfast.  We installed ourselves in a booth under a high powered fan and there we stayed for the rest of the day, drinking cheap beer (US $0.50 per draught), eating whenever we were hungry, and getting our “work” done. The waiters became friendly with us and we learned a little about their lives.  They all drooled over Chris’ Mac Book Air and watched as Chris worked on photos and some video clips.  It turned into a fun day that was both relaxing and productive!

The Temple Restaurant, our “office” for the day.

I was struggling with the last Laos post, having suffered from a bad case of writer’s block for a while, so when I finally finished that one, we celebrated with a pitcher of our favourite cocktail – vodka and tonic with lots of lime. For US $8.00, we each got about 3 tall glasses.  

Alcohol in Cambodia is ridiculously cheap – we saw Irish Whisky selling for half the price it goes for in Ireland where they make the stuff.  A litre of brand name spirits (gin, vodka, rum – whatever your fancy) starts at about US $7.00 per bottle.  

The currency here in Cambodia is Cambodian Riel (US $1.00 = 4,000 KHR) but everybody uses the American dollar.  Occasionally someone will charge in Riel but will always accept US dollars in payment.  If your change is less than a dollar, you are given Riel, the smallest denomination of which is 100 KHR, or about 2 cents.  Even the ATM machines dispense US dollars.  We’ve been enjoying not having to do any conversion math while in this country.

Some currencies are much easier than others to convert – Laos being one of the more difficult ones we encountered with a rate of CAD $1.00 = 7,700 KIP.  Even rounding up to 8,000 KIP, challenged our mathematical skills at times.  We also had to carry around wads of cash – the bank machines dispensed a maximum of a million KIP per transaction, which translated into a lot of bills, yet was worth just over one hundred dollars ($130 to be exact) – see what I mean about doing the conversions!

We learned a lesson in Siem Reap – never, ever book a fan only room if there is an option for air conditioning.  We really suffered in our room, even before the power outage.  There was simply no reprieve from the oppressive heat that would be particularly unbearable in the late afternoon and early evening.  To make matters worse, our windows had no screens, so we had no protection from bugs whenever we opened the wooden shutters to let some air into the room.  We were eaten alive by tiny insects, smaller than mosquitoes.  

Because of the power outage, we decided to stick to our original plans and head to Battambang for the weekend, where we had heard about a bamboo train that we could take to a rural village.  We’ll tell you all about that and so much more that happened on our excursion into the Cambodian countryside in our next post.

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