I’ve been planning to go to Cambodia for two years already before I finally decided that, yes, rain or shine, I will go to Cambodia in 2015.
My main problem was who I’m going with. I really have no problems going on my own but I figured everything will be a little bit cheaper if shared. Luckily, my friend Chris also wanted to go. So, we told each other our airfare budget, our available months in the year, and promised that whoever catches a seat sale would book for the both of us.
The universe cooperated and we got seats for a June 2015 trip back in August 2014. To tell you the truth, we almost completely forgot about about our trip until about two months before. That would have been a waste of airfare.
Anyway, after a harried packing, me and my backpack are ready to go meet Chris at the airport.
We arrived in Siem Reap Sunday evening. It was raining. Good thing we didn’t have to worry about finding our way to our hotel. Happy Guesthouse, the place we’re staying at, sent a tuk-tuk to fetch us from the airport. After a smooth, long-ish ride through the streets of Siem Reap, we arrived at the guest house, got settled in our room, and got ready for the coming days.
We didn’t really have an itinerary. We’re kinda not built that way. We just decide on the spot what we’re going to do. Worked for us.
Here’s what we did:
Day 1: Arrived. Lounged around. Slept.
Day 2: Started day at 7am. Did the whole-day temple tour.
Day 3: Started day at 10am. Mainly stayed around the markets and hung out at Pub Street
Day 4: Started day at 9am. Went to the National Museum. Walked from there to the Palace where we sat on the park in front of it and chatted with the tuk-tuk drivers about the war and how they live now. Headed to Artisan d’ Angkor. Had Pizza.
Day 5: Started day at 7am. Roamed around some more and had a massage before heading to the airport
Sounds unimpressive, right? Wait ’til you see the photos.
Ken, our tuk-tuk driver for basically the whole time, gave us several options for the temple tour. There’s a one-day tour, a two-day tour, and a three-day tour. They would, of course, visit different temples and also coincides with the kind of passes that the Temples Administration sell.
We didn’t want to spend three days looking at temples but were amenable for two days. We decided on getting the one-day pass first since a two-day pass costs the same as getting two one-day passes.
Route for the temple tour is:
- Angkor Wat – the most popular, and apparently most recent, temple
- Angkor Thom – the old city. Ken just dropped us off the first temple and gave us instructions that he’ll be waiting at the other end. Of the city. Worth it, though. This is where we got to see the following:
- Bayon Temple
- Baphuon Temple
- Phimeanakas Temple
- Terrace of the Leper King
- Terrace of the Elephants
- Ta Keo – technically not a full-blown temple. It’s up (and really very high), but no Buddha is placed there due to it being deemed unlucky.
- Ta Prohm – seen Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider? Yeah, this is it. It’s also one of the oldest temples there.
- Banteay Srei – we got lucky. No one was there when we got there because temples close at 5:30. We arrived 6. I think we weren’t supposed to be there, too.
We were kinda all templed out after that.
CITY OF SIEM REAP
Siem Reap is best experienced up close so we walked around 95% of the time we were there. Actually, the only times we rode the tuk-tuk was going to the guesthouse from the airport, traveling between the temples on the first day, getting to the National Museum on the third day, getting to Artisan D’ Angkor on the fourth day, and then going from guesthouse to airport. The rest of the time, we killed our feet.
Benoist, one of the guys staying at the guesthouse, recommends renting a bicycle. I have never regretted so much the fact that I do not know how to ride a bike (I will reflect on this lacking life skill some more soon). He’s staying in Siem Reap for a month and ides out everyday. Good on ya, Benoist.
The city is quiet. The pace is not unlike quiet provincial towns in the Philippines but you can really feel that it’s a city still reeling from it’s history but carefully (very carefully) building muscles to join the world. Old-world charm with the amenities of the new world.
THE HALF-DOLLAR WONDERS OF PUB STREET HAPPY HOUR(SSSSSS)
Ah, pub street. We hung out at pub street everyday. It’s the most tourist-y part of the city; the stretch crawling with half-naked tourists (because of the heat. I think.) and vendors peddling their wares. There’s even a karaoke tuk-tuk roaming around.
True to it’s name, it was lined with various pubs and restaurants offering Khmer food and universal alcohol. The good thing: we didn’t have to wait for Happy Hour because Happy Hour was from opening to closing. Every. Single. Day. That’s a whole day of $0.50 draft beer mug.
And I thought Spicy Fingers’ 2pm-8pm happy hour was the bomb. Foolish, foolish girl.
ARTISAN D’ ANGKOR
My most favorite place in the whole city. While the temples spoke of gods and traditions, Artisan D’ Angkor spoke of progress and the future. It’s a school for kids 20-25 years old, originally started by the French as aid to a country struggling to rise up from a civil war. The kids, mostly orphans, go there for a year to learn crafts like silk weaving, silk painting, wood carving, and stone carving for free. After which, they go back to their provinces armed with skills that would help them earn a living.
A visit to the Artisan is free and a guide will cheerfully greet you when you arrive and walk you around as they explain to you each part of the school. At the end of the tour, you will be guided to a shop where they sell the stuff made by the students. Like, really beautiful stuff. I’m talking about the softest silk robes, smoothly carved wooden knick knacks (and some really large wooden statues), and delicate ceramic items. I got a really nice passport holder. Woven.
Proceeds from the store goes back to Artisan, which is why they’re now self-sustaining and doesn’t need aid from other countries anymore.
A COUPLE OF THINGS:
- Siem Reap has one of the friendliest people I know. One of the best moments in our trip was when we sat in the park in front of the Palace and talked to a tuk-tuk driver for about an hour. Oh, the stories he told. In all honesty, I learned more from him about their life during the war than from the museum.
- They do have a quirk though. They don’t like being ignored. If a vendor is offering you something, or a tuk-tuk driver is offering you a ride, don’t stare ahead as if they weren’t there. Just smile and say “no, thank you” and they’ll leave you alone
- There are expensive hotels and there are guesthouses. Our guesthouse, Happy Guesthouse, have the best staff ever. Every morning, they hand us a bottle of water to bring with us and every afternoon (or night, depending on what time we arrive) they give us cold face towels. Plus, they don’t mark up their beverage. Also, at $12 per night for an airconditioned room for two with its own bath and a t.v.? Hell, yeah.
- Almost everything is $1; water, soda, two sticks of grilled beef, etc. We think that’s a default when they can’t think of how much to charge you. Cough it up; most of the time it’s really worth it. But knowing this exchange rate would help you in moments of doubt: $1 = 4,000 Riel. Remember that when a mischievous ten-year-old monk charges you a dollar to use the toilet that costs 500 Riel per use after you tell him you don’t have carry the currency.
- As with anywhere, do not litter, leave things as it were, follow rules, don’t leave your things unattended, and respect people and culture.