Travel Tales: Siem Reap, Cambodia
I don’t know what I ever expected before heading to Cambodia for the first time, all I had drilled into my head was not to buy anything from the kids selling souvenirs, and as morbid as it is, it was what I saw loads in travel videos and social media.
Arriving in Siem Reap, that thought of course just disappeared the moment my rider picked me up from the airport and made my way to my hostel. The whole way, all I had was admiration, there were no big skyscrapers, no huge malls, just land, lots and lots of brown, raw land. It just felt very untouched and call me crazy but there was a very strong energy to it that can’t be explained which can be felt throughout the lands and throughout the historic parts of the city. No doubt there have been darker days that surrounded the city and according to my tuk-tuk rider, they still are facing tough times but the way the locals were moving forward and doing what they could to bring the best out of the city was the energy I admired. Whether or or not these energies were good, or bad, it was there.
I have a few things to share from my trip but ultimately, you’ll have a better experience and understanding with your own research because that is how you can fully enjoy a trip, from your preference, but don’t forget, research is alway the key to a fruitful trip. Start with how long you’d want to spend in Siem Reap, how much of the temples you would want to do including Angkor Wat, and the local delicacies you would want to try and where to find them.
As it is still a developing city, I personally enjoyed the development feel. It made me feel like I was warped back in time, to simpler times. The locals I met along the way have been nothing but welcoming and boy did they know so many languages! I guess it all comes down to doing your research before visiting a place, respecting their culture, and fully showing an appreciation for how the people of the country are bringing a good image to their beloved land.
I do admit, as this was my first trip over, I was apprehensive on heading out alone on the first night, so I did stay within my hostel vicinity. However the next day a good friend of mine finally joined me on my trip and I realised it was not as intimidating as I thought it would be to venture out by foot, although a good pair of shoes is definitely a must! Cycling or the scooter of course is available but because the roads are so small, you would have to be pretty skilled in maneuvering your way around that, and the busy city streets where traffic lights are just there for decoration.
Another thing I did which I was happy with was purchasing my airport pickup, tour tickets and shows via Klook. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for self exploration but when I’m new to a city, I would like to at least know what to do and where to go, also I’m all for a good bargain but I didn’t want to exploit the locals who are heavily reliant on tourism at this point to make a living, but at the same time, I didn’t want to feel taken advantage of. So, this is why I decided to pre-book most of my activities via Klook. Throughout our tours we’d tip the tour guides, so I guess that is a win-win for both sides.
On the first day, we took it easy. I really like to immerse myself in a place before spending my whole day on tours and stuff. So my friend and I set off on foot to the main street with the bars, restaurants and shops. It was a decent walking experience but don’t expect proper pathways and crossing lights, it is still a developing town so just be cautious with your surroundings, wear proper attire and enjoy the walk. What we did was explore the main streets which were walking distance from our hotel, but honestly, getting a tuk-tuk is easier and usually ranges between USD2-USD4. We checked out the markets and had a look at the different types of street food along the Old Market Bridge.
There were loads of recommendations online on where to eat, so we found the closest place and stumbled upon a touristy restaurant with good reviews, thanks Google reviewers! The menu was massive, as it always is in Asian restaurants. We were at that point so hungry, we literally got, this, that and that and this, if you get what I mean. The food was just, alright if i’m honest but likely cause it was a generic restaurant catered for tourists. Personally, the local rice dishes I had were not my cup of tea, but the same can’t be said for the noodles, I had the Lort Cha which is a Cambodian short stir-fried egg noodle dish and it was chhnganh (thats delicious in Khmer), and don’t forget to try their coffee!
With our Angkor Wat trip, we had opted for the one day ticket and it was sufficient for us, and as we were not morning people, we opted for the sunset tour which was more than breathtaking! With Angkor Wat, the visit was of course mind blowing, from the architecture to the historic stories it carries with it. Personally for me, the day pass was sufficient to see the more known temples but if you’re really into history and learning about the temples, the 3 day pass will be worthwhile as the temples do deserve to be enjoyed bit by bit.
However, what I am mostly excited to share is my Phnom Kulen National Park tour which I highly recommend. It was amazing to hike a little, see the River with a Thousand Lingas, the Reclining Buddha and more! There was just as much history to learn about and to at least have a refreshing dip in the Phnom Kulen waterfall which was quite a reward to end our day with but beware, the tiny fish do bite (feels just like an ant bite). Our tour guide even gave us a little extra something by taking us to see a landscape view of the Kulen Mountains, it was extraordinary. I think that on its own was definitely the highlight of the trip, the scenery just took my breath away and made me feel so close to mother nature.
We ended the night with a buffet dinner accompanied by a Cultural show which of course includes an Apsara dance performance. We got this deal via Klook as well and it was pretty worth it. Other than that, the night life is alright, almost mirroring Bangla Road in Phuket minus the 18SX scene which was a bit more pleasant, unless I was too naive and had no idea of any backstreets.
All in all, I would definitely want to see more of Siem Reap and of course other part of Cambodia. I would most likely see if Airbnb had local tour guides to find the local hotspots and to appreciate more of the Cambodian food the Cambodian way.
- Avoid travelling between January and February. I was informed by my tuk-tuk rider that’s when the load of China tourists visit for their Chinese New Year break, especially if you dislike having to barge through large tour groups. Also, try to avoid the rainy season which is sometime between July to Mid November, according to my tuk-tuk guide.
- Try to resist buying souvenirs from the children. You really need to have a thick skin for this as they truly are just innocent kids who are trying to earn a living. However, there is always a ‘big guy’ behind these operations and half the time the kids don’t even get the cut of the money they are promised. These kids should be in school and by contributing to their actions, you are showing the ‘big guys’ that this method works and child labour should ensue.
- They use USD. Anything below $1 will be in Khmer Riels (USD1.00 = MYR4.31 = KHR4071). Most stores don’t have card machines, even the restaurants unless you go to fancy ones so I highly recommend getting a good amount of cash out. There were loads of ATMs around so fret not.
- Prepare motion sickness medication. The roads can get pretty bumpy so if you have motion sickness, get your medication ready!
- Some restaurants sell Happy Pizza. That’s no ordinary pizza if you know what I mean, google it!
Tips when exploring Angkor Wat
- Dress appropriately. It is after all a place of worship. They won’t allow you to wrap yourself in a scarf to ‘cover up’ as tourists usually just remove them when they think no one is looking. They have temple guards around so just respect their culture.
- Comfortable shoes. These are essentials and definitely ideal as there are many paths that are not smooth and there are rocks around.