When I was researching our Thailand trip I suggested to Mick that a visit to Cambodia would be well worth it too since it is only an hour flight from Bangkok. We chose to fly with Air-Asia as with all of our domestic flights through Thailand and I managed to get a great deal…….Cambodia here we come! We flew from Don Meung airport and within the hour we were in Siem Reap, we really didn’t know what to expect but we were really excited.
Upon arrival everyone is herded up like livestock in order to obtain the necessary visa…..having spent the entire flight filling out the relative documentation……there were 5 separate forms to fill in…. an important message, make sure you carry only US dollars as this is the only currency they accept. They have their own currency (the Cambodian Riel) but it only seems to be used when they are giving you change for something you have paid in US dollars. It was around a 15 minute wait in the queue to get our visa’s and since we didn’t have passport photo’s (compulsory apparently) we needed to pay an extra $2 each for this misdemeanor, so in total we paid $32 each for a visa (so not so compulsory after-all). After the boring stuff was over we were met outside by the hotels’ Tuk Tuk driver (Mr Dany), the pick-up service was arranged prior to our arrival with the hotel. The majority of hotels offer this service so do look out for it as it is a big help….and a lot of fun too. It was roughly a 30 minute ride to our hotel. We stayed at the Secrets Pavilion Boutique hotel, it was lovely and had the nicest staff ever!!
We were originally upgraded due to overbooking (which was nice), unfortunately the room had a smelly toilet which was a bit yucky but the staff acted quickly and we were upgraded again!! woo hoo!! the second room had a slight smell too but we came to realise that it’s rather common in Cambodia due to the sewerage system not being super efficient. We settled in, had a look around the beautiful grounds, although small they are immaculate, then had a swim in the pool which was so nice. We would definately stay there again. www.secretspavilion.com.
We only had two days so we tried to make the most of our time in Siem Reap. We walked around the main strip area spotted a great spa (De Kampuchea Spa) and had the best oil massages ever, so much so we went back the next day. Although $40 for two people is expensive for Cambodian standards we thoroughly enjoyed it. Mind you you need to be a bit careful, we decided to have a foot massage one evening in an open place near Pub Street and what can I say?! it was odd…..and somewhat disturbing to say the least, we paid $3 each, I know it’s peanuts and it was the worst! I was seated in the open air area but Mick was taken into a private area in an alley way and had 3 girls working on his hands and feet, he came back after 5 minutes and sat and watched me instead coz he felt something wasn’t quite right as they were requesting he pay more as there were 3 girls giving him a massage……one of which looked far too young and Mick was not at all comfortable with any of it so made a retreat….my girl was just rubbing my legs and was looking the other way to see what was going on in the crowd……a poor decision on all fronts really……..Advice, look for reputable looking spa’s and massage parlours……and of course the golden rule, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
We had a traditional Cambodian dinner (Khmer Cuisine) on the first night, it was nice but not amazing. We walked around Pub Street, which, by the way, is actually the name of the street…..what you’ll find there is pretty obvious from thename……it’s really lively and a lot of fun, music blazing from all corners.
There will be loads of small children walking around carrying babies with empty baby bottles asking you to buy them milk and you will find children begging for money too, guys hassling you for a tuk tuk and 60 year old men trying to sell you an illuminated toy of some sort. There are heaps of street markets that run 24/7 around Siem Reap, and we visited each and every one! They call you out to buy things in the usual manner and you can definitely bargain with them if something catches your eye. We had a drink at a place called the Red Piano which was in the heart of Pub Street, we loved it there and we went back a couple of times.
What we loved about Siem Reap was the amount of places we found that support the local community, only hiring young, poor, uneducated and underprivileged Cambodians that would either be on the streets or getting involved in drugs and crime. So they are given the opportunity to work and earn a salary, plus 10% of the all profits are shared. Mick and I loved that idea coz you are giving back to your community and this is something close to both our hearts. We purposely searched out such eateries in order to offer our support. Sister Grey Cafe, Genevieve’s Restaurant (which was amazing!!) and the Haven Restaurant were three of our favourites. For each meal we paid no more than $20 including a tip for the guys and we left feeling really satisfied, not only with the fact that we were doing our bit to help but also because the food was excellent!! All of the restaurants serve Khmer cuisine + Western food. Tipping is acceptable and they do appreciate any amount.
The next day we had planned to visit the temples with our airport driver (Mr Dany). We paid $15 and he was our tour guide for the whole day. He drove us to Angkor Wat, but before that we needed to buy tickets, for a day pass to all the temples it cost $20…. please don’t lose your ticket!!! You get checked at every point and you have to go through the whole scenario of having your picture taken, I don’t know if it’s for security reasons or not but this only happens once at the ticket station and your ticket actually has your picture on it…….it was a more sophisticated document than my passport!! We started off at Angkor Wat, an amazing site, it took my breath away. Regardless of the thousands of people Mick and I did our own tour. There are loads of tour guides (for the temples) that will take you around the but we didn’t want that as we prefer to take things at our own pace. I can understand why millions of tourists love Angkor Wat as it’s just mesmerizing, the way the whole site was built and how over time nature has started to reclaim the land with so many of these ancient buildings with trees growing around them and in many cases, into them.
My favourite was Ta Prohmn where of course Tomb Raider was filmed, I think Angelina Jolie put Cambodia on the map for the rest of us in many ways. This place was very surreal with the branches reaching round corners and over ridges on the roofs as if trying to hold the structure and claim it. Unfortunately, a lot of the temples are falling apart and are in states of disrepair and attempts to keep them standing are struggling in many cases although work is continuing in order to restore them.
Truly Ta Prohmn felt like a movie scene which I really enjoyed. The rest of the temples were Banyon, Angkor Thom, Bantaey Srei and Preah Khan. The grounds of each temple are huge and they do take a long time to see. Word of advice dress as light as possible, but for us women wearing shorts or miniskirts or even showing a bit of shoulder should be avoided coz you may not be able to get into certain parts of the temples. Make sure to have loads of water, you can find vendors selling cold drinks at every temple. If you plan to be in Siem Reap for a few days you there are options to see the temples over a 3 day period which personally I would find a bit too much.
Siem Reap was beautiful, despite the heat and dust ……oh and the rubbish piled up around the town….. but it truly is a beautiful place it is super cheap which is great if you are travelling on a budget. Mick and I would like to go back and perhaps volunteer for the less fortunate. Cambodians are really beautiful people, they don’t have a lot but they are really humble and make you feel at home…….as long as you’ve got dollars of course……..as Anthony Bourdain once asked, How do you sum it up? You don’t…..you see, you breathe, you take it all in.
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