The mini-van ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was a rather uncomfortable affair. The van itself was as comfortable as possible, but the “roads” we traveled were horrendously bumpy. Chris was majorly motion-sick for most of the ride, while I tried unsuccessfully to sleep through the ride. We stopped once at an overpriced restaurant for a break that at least allowed for some fresh air. We made it to Siem Reap by late afternoon and checked into our accommodation, Bliss Villa. We had booked through hostelworld for 2 dorm beds and were expecting a typical hostel, what we got was closer to a hotel. The beds were absolutely massive and incredibly comfortable, the rooms had aircon and ensuite bathrooms, and there was a beautiful pool onsite. Best of all, there was free tea and coffee (and filtered water but that doesn’t keep you from being withdrawing from caffeine) 24 hours a day. For $5 USD a night we were very happy with the quality.
We immediately began to plan and research our time for Siem Reap, we had to make a quick decision on how many days we wanted to visit Angkor Wat and what else we wanted to do in the area. Most pressing was figuring out the options to get to 4000 Islands in Laos, our next destination, as this was a major factor in determining how many days we needed. During our time researching we overheard two sisters from Canada trying to arrange transport to Angkor and offered to split the transport to reduce costs. We opted to visit over 2 days, and by sharing among 4 people it was only $5 dollars a day each for the tuktuk. Happy to have things figured out we headed out to find cheap eats and take a walk down the famous ‘Pub Street.’
We opted for a small corner local eatery at the end of our street that was very busy and cheap. I ordered a mango milkshake and it was one of the best milkshakes I have ever had! The food was decent enough for the price and we were satisfied with our choice.
Next we walked down pub street, a very modern street with many ‘western’ eateries and every establishment advertising $0.50 beer. The streets and restaurants were packed with travelers wearing loose elephant pants and ‘I love _______(insert any SE Asian city)’ singlets. I have never traveled a region in which there was a more predominant “backpacker” outfit than SE Asia. I know the clothing is cheap, but everyone, male or female, is wearing the identical outfit as though it is a requirement. A pack of mindless tourists in this “backpacker” uniform flocking from tourist attraction to tourist attraction is not particularly my idea of a meaningful travel experience, but we are here and going to have to make the best of it.
We stopped in at one pub for a beer and some excellent people watching. Apart from the clothing choices of fellow travelers, I also cannot help notice how young the travelers are. Okay, perhaps it is just that at 27 I am the old one, but there seems to be more 18 year olds than those in their mid-twenites. I am sure it is a whale of a time to be 18 in a land of cheap food, basically free alcohol, and other 18 year olds, but I question their ability to make mature decisions and get the most of the experience (that sentence confirms I am old).
After our beer we headed to bed to rest up for our first day of exploring Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world and one of the wonders of the world. There are many recommendations for how to visit the complex and we opted for a somewhat unusual plan to try and avoid the crowds. We decided our first day we would aim to be at the main temple complex by 1 pm as that is when most people are finished their visit. We would visit the main complex, then continue on the rest of the “mini” tour route, ending the day by watching sunset at one of the smaller temples.
We headed out around noon with the sisters and immediately were questioning our decision to share the tuktuk with them. It appeared they spent most of their time bickering and one of them in particular seemed very high maintenance. Luckily, when we arrived at the temples they suggested visiting on our own and meeting back at the tuktuk at a prearranged time.
We made our way into the main temple complex against the hoardes of people leaving for the day. Our decision appeared to be a good one. We spent an hour and a half at the main complex with a relatively small number of other visitors, and really enjoyed our visit, especially admiring the intricacies of the carvings on the walls. I can’t say we were blown out of the water by the temples (blasphemy to some), but after so many temple visits in the past 5 months we are a bit desensitized. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoyed our visit, but to some people visiting these temples is an almost life-changing experience.
As the day progressed we visited some of the smaller temples and thoroughly enjoyed exploring them. In my honest (and humble) opinion, they are much more interesting than the main complex. I loved how the smaller temples were being reclaimed by the jungle, trees encompassing large parts of the ruins in an eery way. ‘Tomb Raider’ was filmed at one of smaller ruin sites we visited in the afternoon.
Once the sun set we headed back to our hostel, exhausted from the heat of the day. We had a rest in the wonderfully air-conditioned room before heading out for dinner. As we were walking to the restaurant we heard someone call to us and when we turned we found it to be Camille and Vincent, the couple from Montreal we had met in Phnom Penh! We were delighted to see them and made plans to meet up after dinner.
We headed to their hostel to grab the bottle of whiskey they had and wanted to finish, found a small store for coke and ice, and took to the streets. Our first order of business was to get 30 minute foot massages for a “group” rate of $2 USD each. It was heaven. Later in the night we also tried the fish tank pedicure, in which you put your feet in a tank with fish that eat the dead skin. I really didn’t enjoy this, the fish suck and nibble your feet with their teeth and I found it rather unnerving! My feet felt fabulously smooth after, but I think I rather a good old fashioned pedicure.
We then attempted to find another karaoke bar, or KTV, but were shocked to learn the prices were $15 USD an hour rather than $3 that we had paid in Phnom Penh. Defeated, we headed back to our respective hostels as it was already 2 AM and Chris and I were scheduled to watch the sunrise over Angkor in a few short hours.
With only two hours of sleep, Chris and I dragged ourselves out of bed for 4:30 AM departure to Angkor. We seriously considered skipping it, but we figured we would regret it. I will use one of my lovely cousin Wes’s favorite words to describe the sunrise; acceptable. We managed to snag a spot to sit at the front of the throngs of selfie-stick wielding tourists, but it still detracted from the experience. Happy we made it out of bed for it, but definitely overrated.
As we had already explored the main complex of temples we were able to avoid the hundreds of people by heading out to do the ‘grand’ tour of the smaller temples. Whoever named the temple circuits must have mixed up the names as they are totally nonsensical.
We enjoyed these smaller temples even more than the ones on the previous day, and our favorite part of our entire visit was actually the beautiful lakes surrounding the complex. Thankfully, we were finished our visit by 10:00 am and could head back to bed for a much needed nap.
As we walked to dinner that evening Chris spotted a small Sports Bar advertising UFC-194 for the following day at 10:00 am. We were meant to leave but decided to push our departure by a day to be able to take in the fights (I earned major brownie points by encouraging us to stay, but he knows I enjoy watching the fights just as much as he does).
We headed to the bar bright and early at 9:30 to secure seats for the fights. It was bizarre to be there so early, but everyone was fired up for the event. As expected, I was the only girl in attendance. It was great to be able to watch the fights live as we didn’t expect we would be anywhere that would be showing them. After the fights we headed to burger joint to get a break from noodle dishes, and were surprised with how delicious the burgers were. The rest of the day was spent relaxing!
The next day we decided to lounge by the pool, working on our tans, before making the massive trek to 4000 islands the following day. I will cover that saga in my next post!
Overall impression of Cambodia? We really enjoyed our time in the country and think it offers some really valuable travel experiences. We were surprised how modern the two cities we visited were, and how well things are set up for tourists. We wished we could have stayed longer as there are many other places you can visit, especially the beautiful beaches on the coast! Coming towards the end of our trip means we do not have the luxury of endless amounts of time, and we have to prioritize what we see and do. If I had a do-over I would have spent more time in Cambodia before heading to Laos. Alas, you can’t get it right every time!