I’ve spent my whole life getting lost – I have a terrible sense of direction and never know where I am on a map – so it’s very refreshing to be living in a town where everyone else is also permanently lost.
It’s not difficult to get lost in Siem Reap – even if you have a gold D of E award or a Girl Guide map reader’s badge. There are no addresses as such, not all the streets have names, and nobody has a house number. If you want to direct someone somewhere, you have to pick a nearby landmark and use that as a point of reference. For example, the business card for my guest house gives the address as ’80 metres west of Caltex’, which is the name of a large petrol station.
Some of the streets have Khmer names such as Wat Bo Road, and other names are far more imaginative like Chocolate Road and Funky Lane. Some are simply numbers – Street 53 etc, and others are just functional, like Drain Construction Road.
There is no postal delivery service here – quite obviously – if you’re expecting a letter you go to the Post Office and rummage through the box of letters to see if it’s arrived. Given that this is a town with a population of 230,000, they can’t be great letter writers or this system would descend into total chaos.
I’ve learnt to take a map and a google image photo whenever I go anywhere, because when you ask a tuk-tuk driver if they know the place, they always say ‘yes’, which usually translates as ‘no’. I’ve also learnt never to walk anywhere unless it doesn’t matter where I end up; if I try to get anywhere particular on foot, I invariably get lost.
This evening I broke both of these rules when I went to a photo presentation and dinner in a restaurant across the river. I looked at a map and decided that the restaurant was very close to the market I’d been in, so I’d walk. I should have known better. Half an hour later, having shown my map with no street names to several tourists who all thought we were at different locations, I had to admit that I was completely lost.
So when I heard, ‘you want tuk-tuk?’ I was desperate enough to believe the driver when he said he knew the restaurant. We went round in circles, and also in squares – and possibly triangles too. He asked a street seller, who sent us off in one direction, and then a tuk-tuk driver who sent us off in the opposite direction. He phoned his brother, and first he spoke to his brother, and then I spoke to his brother, but his brother didn’t know it either. We stared at my map, and then at his map, hoping for divine inspiration, and he stopped hopefully outside several other restaurants, but I refused to get out at just any old restaurant as people were waiting for me at the Tangram. Finally, after about 25 minutes, whether by divine inspiration or luck, we found it. I felt compelled to give him a very large tip, and now he wants to be my tuk-tuk driver for ever.
On Sunday evening I’m going to a dumpling restaurant with no name. Apparently it has the large red Angkor beer sign on the front … like 90% of all restaurants here, and it is in a street with no name. The street is, however, between Street 21 and Street 22, so I’m wondering if it is Street 21 and three-quarters. I may find myself in a strange Cambodian school of magic and have to send all my future blog posts by ibis post – look for the attachment if you see one circling around your head.