Siem Reap is home to the world famous Buddhist and Hindu temples that date back to the 11th century. Although I had a few days here last year, we just did one day of temple trekking so this time we went for two, including a day that began at 4.45am so we could watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, the most iconic temple at the centre of it all.
We flew into Seam Reap from Phuket with a stopover in Bangkok, where we bought visas on arrival and got a taxi into the city from there. Our taxi driver, Narith, was so nice so we organized for him to bring us around to the temples during our stay for $30 a day. It’s $20 a day per person for a ticket into the temples but with unlimited access so we bought a 3 day pass for $40 that can be used within a week. Narith was great and always had cold water (and air conditioning!) waiting for us whenever we made it out of a temple. If anyone is traveling to Siem Reap, send him an email and he’ll make sure you enjoy your stay. We realized on the first day that we were actually over-Asianly dressed when even the locals were asking us where we bought our hats. You’re meant to be well covered up when visiting the temples but very few people actually respected this!
We did all the big temples including Angkor wat, Bayon and the famous tomb raider temple as well as loads of smaller ones. My favorite was the East Mabon, a temple made entirely from bricks. The temples themselves are breathtaking and combined with the backdrop of blue skies, a tropical jungle and the red earth, it’s definitely my favorite place in Cambodia.
Siem Reap itself has loads to do. For travelers on a budget, the Mad Monkey Hoste
l and the Naga Guesthouse are great and you can get a bed for $5 a night with pool access. They support local educational projects and help out the developing communities so your stay there is a responsible one! Last year I stayed at the Sokhalay Angkor Inn
which was absolutely amazing. It’s a beautiful 5 star resort and is definitely the most impressive hotel I’ve ever stayed in. We had our own villa just in front of the huge pool with an island bar in the middle. It’s a lot pricier but definitely worth it with breakfast and airport transfers included, as well as a cocktail handed to you on arrival!
While in Siem Reap I did another cooking course but this time a Khmer one, which I actually preferred to the Thai cuisine! We also went to the Koulen
where for $12 each you have access to a huge all you can eat buffet that includes different Asian cuisines as well as some Italian food, and a traditional Khmer musical and dance show. It was a rare opportunity to see the rich culture of Cambodia’s past in such a luxurious environment. As an extremely poor country, they’re not yet on par with neighboring Thailand in terms of tourist attractions.
The increase in poverty compared to Thailand is notable upon arrival in Cambodia and it’s heartbreaking to see young children on the streets selling postcards and bracelets for so little, the lack of money in their families depriving them of an education and often their childhood. Even the Tuk Tuk drivers are out all night, taking naps in their hammocks and always looking for work. There is a huge number of Cambodians that were left physically disabled because of mines and even these people are out trying to make a living, not begging, but playing music, painting or making jewelry. The courage and strength of the Cambodian people never ceases to amaze me and I encourage anyone that travels here to pay attention to where they’re staying and eating to make sure that the people who are welcoming you to their country are being paid a fair wage and treated well by their employers. A small tip or even just a smile and a few words of encouragement can go a long way.