Aug 29 2012

Street names and directions in Siem Reap

Published by at 11:12 am under Practicalities


My father thinks I’m an idiot. This might be cause for concern if he thought that intellectual acuity had any function beyond enabling the exchange of smart-arsed ripostes over a game of darts, but fortunately he doesn’t. Indeed, his progeny’s evident feeble-mindedness is far from a flaw in his mind. My pride and I are thus spared the uncomfortable necessity of taking offence, which is nice. This positive view of his daughter’s mental attributes was further confirmed when I moved to Siem Reap, not because I had moved to Siem Reap necessarily though that probably helped, but because of my response to a very simple question that he asked.

Good luck finding a sign for Wat bo Road

Good luck finding a sign for Wat Bo Road.

What’s your address then, so I can send you something?” he said. At first I hesitated because I assumed it was a trick question. Send me something? I have a fridge full of Marmite, what could I possibly want? Then I told him the answer, “I don’t know”. He’s asked the same question several times since and I tell him the same thing every time and explain that Siem Reap doesn’t really have addresses as such. We have PO boxes at the post-office, or some people do — I don’t — and we have landmarks that serve as sort of addresses by proxy. Back in the UK, where postcodes are something to live or die by (physically and socially), my father interprets my inability to answer this simple question as further evidence of my imbecility.

But it’s true. Siem Reap doesn’t have addresses as such, although this is an issue that is likely to be addressed in the future (pun nearly intended). Some of the streets do have names that everyone knows, such as Sivatha Boulevard, Taphul Road and Wat Bo Road. These serve as guidelines for getting to locations, and also to the numerous streets that feed off them — you just turn left or right at the appropriate landmark. Others have numbers, such as the streets that run between Wat Bo Road and the River Road. The only people who know what they are though are the people who run businesses there, or tourists looking at maps. And just to confound things even further, some streets have more than one name, so Taphul Road is also Street 263, while 7 Makara Street is also known as High School Road.

I haven’t seen it yet, but I can imagine the discussion between a visitor, map gripped firmly in hand, and a tuk tuk driver in which the tourist takes on the role of my father, and the poor tuk tuk driver is me. Street 24 – assuming he can count in English – means nothing. On the other hand, he does however know exactly where the Bopha Angkor Hotel (on the corner of Street 24) is and can take you there in a hot flash. And this is all without even considering the endless possibilities for adding a special thrill to the end of your night that mispronunciation can bring when you’re bursting for a pee and would really like to get back to your hotel, pronto.

The small word of caution to take from this is not to place too much reliance on the maps and don’t assume that your tuk tuk or moto driver will necessarily know what you’re talking about, even though you have it there in black and white in front of you. Instead, look for references to hotels or other landmarks that appear on the map, be prepared to pronounce Sivatha in several different ways (it is also spelled differently on different maps, some spell it Sivutha), and above all, don’t forget that getting lost is often the best way to find the best things.

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