Siem Reap & Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Siem Reap (Angkor Wat), Cambodia
December 4-9, 2014
Armed with an understanding of Cambodia’s past and having being introduced to some of the friendliest locals we’ve met on this trip, it was time to head north from Phnom Penh and discover the Kingdom of Cambodia’s famous temples that dot the region known as Angkor. Siem Reap is the main city in the area and the hub that hosts backpackers and families alike, all of whom are in town for the same reason: to visit the famous Angkor Wat. (Note: Wat = Temple)
While flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap would have taken 40 minutes with Cambodia Angkor Air, we opted for the ‘even less’ expensive option, the bus. Plus it meant we’d get to see the beautiful Cambodian countryside along the way, as the road follows the famous Mekong River, winding north, then veers to the northwest toward SE Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. Giant Ibis was our bus of choice. They offer clean, new coaches with comfy seats, onboard WiFi, and provide complimentary water, croissants and cookies! You can book online ahead of time and even choose your seats! They offer free pick up from a list of hotels in the city (Phnom Penh).
Our accommodations in Siem Reap were located about a ten minute walk from the popular Pub Street and night market. We stayed at a fairly new bed and breakfast that had very few reviews on Tripadvisor. We typically look for those with hundreds of positive reviews but decided to take a chance on this place. It is called Angkor Pal Boutique Hotel and we were so glad we decided to stay there. The place is clean, safe, and in a great location, but it was Bun Toeung and his staff who really made our stay memorable.
Bun sat with us at breakfast one morning for about an hour just to chat and learn more about us. He also shared his story with us, where he came from and a little bit of his first hand experience growing up in Cambodia. Again, it’s the people you meet when travelling that really create memories.
Likely one of the most famous temple complexes in the world, Angkor Wat attracts tourists from all walks of life, from all over the world. Its iconic silhouette is a symbol of Cambodia and is even pictured on its flag.
There are three types of passes available for visiting the temples of Angkor Wat: One-day ($20 US), three-day ($40 US) and seven-day ($60 US). We decided to go with the three-day. We hired a tuk tuk driver, who was recommended by the folks at our B&B, to take us sightseeing for the three days ($15 US per day).
This included visiting just about every temple, including sunrise at Angkor Wat. We also decided to hire a guide ($20 US) for our first day, to help give us some of the history around the temples. We highly recommend you hire a guide for at least one day. Our B&B took care of the arrangements.
On day two, before visiting about ten other temples, we did follow the throngs of tourists to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise behind it. Please note that if you are easily irritated by other tourists, and arms and heads peeking into your photos then be sure to pack extra patience for this spectacular event. You WILL get your shots, don’t worry, but you may have to work for them. For prime viewing and for capturing the famous ‘reflection’ photos, make sure to beat the crowds by arriving before the 5 AM opening and race to the far left corner of the pond. Stand right at the edge of the water, if not in it because if there is an inch of space available, someone will stand there!
Khmer Angkor Art Workshop
Our driver suggested we stop at the Khmer Angkor Art Workshop in Siem Reap on our way back to town. Here we toured the shop where woodworkers and sculptors were busy carving the famous Angkor Wat, among others, out of wood, along with the famous meditating Buddha. It was amazing to see the skills on display by some young local Cambodian ladies. The shop is tucked away down a small street in town so make sure you get your driver to stop. There is no pressure to buy anything either, you just get to watch as young sculptors practice their craft.
Similar to Phnom Penh, there are restaurants in Siem Reap whose sole mission is to provide a training ground for, typically younger, local Cambodians to hone their skills and prevent them from going down a dangerous life path. Unfortunately in SE Asia, and Cambodia in particular, there are several ‘wrong paths’ and still way too many individuals looking to take advantage, both local and foreign alike.
We spent five nights in Siem Reap and we managed to squeeze in a reservation at Haven Training Restaurant on our last night in town.
Please, we beg you to go here for breakfast, lunch AND dinner! We found this gem near the end of our stay but still managed to get in a few meals. The place was started by two young Aussie sisters turned entrepreneurs who fell in love with Siem Reap. They support the local community by offering young Khmer students the opportunity to work and continue their studies.
Now they run a busy restaurant that doubles as a training ground for young Khmers! It’s not the cheapest meal you can find in Siem Reap, but for what you get its tremendous value. Quality fresh local ingredients plus it offers easy dining for those gluten and lactose intolerant… and fast, reliable WiFi!
It is safe to say we will likely return to Cambodia again some day. The place genuinely moved us and gave us a greater appreciation for, well, everything we have in our lives.
jess + trickett
Have you ever been to Cambodia or another country that had a real impact on you? Share in the comments below!