This post wasn’t planned but a friend of mine is in Cambodia right now as I type, and since I was giving her tips on what to see/do last week, I figured I might as well make a blog post out of it.
So, I visited this gorgeous country way back in February of 2013. It had always been on my bucket list and I made an impromptu decision and booked my air ticket about a week before I had to fly. Needless to say, it was a pretttty expensive ticket, but well worth it. I spent 6 nights and 7 days in Siem Reap by myself, and I LOVED IT. After Day 2, it felt like I’d been doing this a long time, and a rhythm sort of set into my day. But let me start at the beginning.
As you may know, SE Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos etc), is serious backpacker country. So of course, you’ll meet a lot of backpackers here. And it’s fun. Engaging in random one-off conversations with someone at the next table during dinner, or at a bar in the middle of the day when you stop to get a refreshing cold cocktail. I’m a pretentious backpacker though. I won’t compromise on my comforts when I travel (alone or with company), not the kind of hotel, nor food and drink, nor spa treatments (hello, I’m on holiday, I’m allowed!). But the backpackers in Siem Reap mean business. They spend all day exploring (and there is TONS to explore), and then in the evening, when the temple complex areas shut, they all gather at Pub Street to discuss their daily adventures. It’s a great vibe. And that was pretty much my routine throughout the week as well. Luckily, I even found the most perfect foot massage place in the middle of the night market on the sidewalk, and I went back every single night, after dinner, to the same woman to get my oh-so-amazing foot massage. God knows you NEED one after a day of walking and exploring in Siem Reap!
So here are my tips for Siem Reap (all that I can remember now anyway):
1 – The temples are in this one area (a complex, if you will) and if I’m not wrong, only tuk-tuks are allowed in here. So best to ask your hotel to get you a designated tuk-tuk guy and fix a daily rate with him. Then you don’t have to worry about it every morning when you’re ready to head out. He will be waiting to pick you up, he will bring you back in the evening, and you pay him at the end of the day. Very simple.
(My Tuk-Tuk man)
2 – Carry GOOD walking shoes. Or flip flops. That’s all you’ll need in terms of footwear here.
3 – Always stay hydrated in SR. I was there in February, and it was HOT. Always carry water with you, and do not forget headgear, a baseball cap or any other cap/hat that keeps the sun from shining on your head.
4 – Now, on to the things to see. Angkor Wat. It is the largest temple complex in the world, and trust me, you need an entire day for it. Actually one of the best times to see it is at sunrise, your tuk tuk gets you there in the dark around 430am, and you feel like you’re the only person on the planet who’s awake at that ungodly hour, but NOPE. You reach the site of the temple and you see so many people walking towards the lake inside the complex, just waiting for the sun to rise behind the temple. It really is something else, the entire experience. So if you want to see Angkor Wat, I suggest, start your day at 4am with this sunrise view, and then spend the rest of the day inside the complex walking around and exploring every nookand corner. Take your lunch with you. You’re going to need it.
(view on approach)
(inside the complex)
(what you see when you’re at the heart of the temple)
(everyone gathered at 4.30am for the sunrise)
(barely awake but loving the excitement)
(nobody was around so I rested the camera on a ledge and took a pic on timer, LOL)
(Like I said, totally worth the 4am wake up call) 🙂
5 – Next is Bayon temple which was my favourite. It’s also called the temple of the faces. I was awestruck. You can ask a guide to take a picture of your nose touching the nose of one of the faces, looks pretty sweet 🙂
(Can you see the faces?)
(There they are!)
6 – Ta Prohm – also known as the Angelina Jolie temple (since Tomb Raider was shot here). This is nature taking over. Bold. Italic. Underline. It’s freaking beautiful. And so humbling. I could go on and on about the beauty of this temple but it must be seen for yourself.
(As soon as you enter, you see this)
(I’m there for perspective)
(Trees this big just make me happy!!) 🙂
(Like I said, nature showing us who’s boss)
(And of course, the Tomb Raider tree, which I shared with bewildered person to my right)
7 – Angkor Thom – this is basically the temples complex and technically it was the last capital city of the Khmer empire. And the gateway itself is enough to leave you in awe.
(Driving through the gate. Notice my driver’s new-day-new-helmet thing he’s got going on. LOL)
8 – Terrace of the Elephants – inside the complex of Angkor Thom. Since I love elephants, the name was enough to get me there 🙂 This was apparently the terrace used by the King to view his returning victorious army.
(The view from the terrace)
9 – Baphuon temple – A very tall almost-pyramid-like structure that is 3-tiered, and was a temple structure dedicated to Shiv. I was lost on one of the days trying to find my way back to the gateway of the complex, when I stumbled upon this magnificent structure. It is quite exhausting climbing to the top but the view you get is amazing, particularly close to sunset time.
(Those are very steep steps as you can tell from the next picture below)
(It’s a Buddhist temple now)
10 – Banteay Srei – a MUST visit if you’re a fan of Shivji like I am 🙂 I saved this for my last day because it’s a bit of a drive outside the city (1.5-2 hours in a tuk-tuk). But well worth it, because while you will see Shivlings in most of the temples in Siem Reap, this is a temple was made only and only to honour Shiv’s life. All the carvings and all the structures of this temple depict stories from Shiv’s life, and the feeling of being here surrounded by all of that is something else. 🙂
11 – Hot air balloon – no it doesn’t fly away, but it does take you high enough to get a super view of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the entire city. It’s just down the street from the entrance of Angkor Wat, and I got the last ride of the day (so just before the sun set), and it was fabulous. Highly recommended.
(The city view at sunset)
(Soon after sunset)
(Me trying to pose #fail)
12 – Artists market and gallery – I spent one of the days taking a complete break from temples (I was templed out on day 5!), and decided to visit the Artists museum. I can’t remember the exact name of the place but it was amazing. I got to see every type of artist at work, the painters, the sculptors, the stone workers, the weavers.. it’s a must visit in my opinion.
13 – Pub Street – this street and all the streets around it, constitute “downtown” Siem Reap. Most of the pubs, bars, restaurants, night markets etc are in this area. Lots of different cuisines available so you can try something different every day.
(Viva Mexico – where I ate almost everyday, fab veg food)
(My daily evening hangout)
14 – Happy pizzas – yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. A slightly different herbal topping than what you’re used to gets served on this pizza, and it’s available pretty much everywhere. Happy Special Pizza, Happy Angkor Pizza, Ecstatic Pizza and Happy Herb Pizza. Look them up, or ask around when you’re there.
(I didn’t have any while I was there, because I was alone, but my friend just sent me this picture from Cambodia, they clearly found the Happy street. LOL.)
15 – Night markets and Day markets – it’s very rare that you find genuinely good artists in Asia. The only exception being Bali (best artists from the region here, in my opinion). But the Cambodians aren’t far behind. I brought back TWELVE paintings with me, a record even for myself! So yes, the markets are super awesome.
16 – Spas – if you’re happy to splurge, do it. The spas here do not disappoint. 🙂
Hope this helps!
And I cannot stress on this enough – get a good foot massage at the end of every single day. You will really need it.
As a final note – Cambodians are really lovely people. Always smiling, always helpful. But of course, as with any other country, they are used to tourists, and backpackers. So anywhere you go, you have to bargain. But they are generally a good sport about your offer, and never rude, unlike other countries.
Also, with the exception of Laos, I’ve been to every country in SE Asia, and after Bali, Cambodia ranks 2nd on my list. I cannot recommend it enough. 🙂
Until next time – keep Being Awesome! 🙂
In 2013, I didn’t have a very good camera, but tried to get as decent pictures as I could, though my photographs hardly do justice to the beauty of this land. Nevertheless, to see my entire album, click here.