It’s been a whole week since I got back from my travels. I’ve been entertaining in China, saying farewell in Hong Kong and now London has claimed Phil back (damn you London!)
Aaaand that brings me up to the here and now; this is the first real opportunity I’ve had all week to sit down and post about my holiday in Cambodia! I’m really excited to share this with you guys, Cambodia has been one of my all time favorite travel destinations so far. It may be a poor, barren country but it is filled with some of the most amazing, friendliest people I’ve ever encountered not to mention the delicious food, rich history and the prettiest coastline I’ve ever seen!
I started writing this and realised it was gonna be much longer than I originally thought. I don’t know if that’s because there’s so much to share or just because I tend to waffle… either way I’ve decided to split the blog in half and cover Siem Reap in this part and then Sihanoukville/Koh Rong in part 2. I’ve included some of my favourite pictures from the trip and a day by day run through of what we got up to, I hope you enjoy reading and potentially become inspired to pay a visit to South East Asia yourselves :)
Day 1 – Arriving in Siem Reap
Unfortunately, the holiday didn’t start off in the best way as flight delays and broken phones meant that despite our planes landing next to each other we completely missed each other because we hadn’t planned for things not going to plan!
What ensued was your typical ScoobyDoo-esque comedy chase sequence, you know when they’re chasing the monster and keep criss-crossing through different doors, narrowly missing each other? I ended up driving back and forth round the town between the hotel and the airport in a tuk tuk keeping an eye out for a lost-looking Phil because I didn’t think he knew which hotel we were staying at and he was nowhere to be seen at the airport (which by the way is tiny!) Meanwhile Phil eventually did make his way to the hotel in a taxi as luckily he had the name of it written in an old message on his phone, and he was found waiting patiently in the lobby probably feeling rather confused as to where on earth I had been.
After all of the shenanigans we checked in, caught up and went for an explore/food.
Not far from our hotel we stumbled upon Pub Street, the party hub of Siem Reap. I tried Khmer Traditional Curry which was lovely but Phil didn’t have quite so much luck with his food choice and ended up suffering thanks to an unidentifiable spicy pepper thingy – potentially a Cambodian Kampot pepper? We ended up getting swept up in the atmosphere after dinner and moved on to the cleverly named Angkor What? bar (Angkor Wat being the main tourist attraction of the town) where we took full advantage of the dirt-cheap drink prices. I think we both felt we deserved it, although we also both agreed that we couldn’t do the same every night…Pub Street was great fun but I felt over all that it was just a little bit too westernized and rowdy for me!
All in all, day one of the holiday was a funny one. We definitely have a story to tell :)
Day 2 – Temples and Tuk Tuks
After a morning dip in the hotel pool and a yummy omelette for breakfast we headed out with Lane, the Tuk Tuk driver from the previous night. He drove us to a temple and would then wait until we were done before taking us to the next one. he just seemed to know when we were done and be there ready. The agenda for the day was to see Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm and Bayon. The temple ruins are massive so it took hours! We unleashed our inner Tomb Raider inside Ta Prohm which is where Angelina Jolie filmed the movie. Well I say “we”… actually I just kept darting round corners and jumping on rocks while Phil tried to pretend he wasn’t with me…
In the evening we dined at a Beatles themed restaurant called the Yellow Sub (nice burgers!) and then payed a visit to the night market where Phil bought the brightest pair of fake Ray-Bans he could find for 4USD (he then wore these sunglasses at every opportunity he could for the rest of the holiday!)
Day 3 – An eye-opening experience
This day was by far my most favourite day of the holiday. I had booked us on to a day tour with Triple Adventure to get away from the temples an tourist traps and out into the rural countryside to see what life in Cambodia was like in reality. Click the link if you want more information – I highly recommend them for anyone else considering a trip to Siem Reap. We met with Pak in the morning who turned into a firm friend over the course of the day. He took us to pick up some bicycles via an old fishing market. Once we had adjusted our seats we set off and cycled round the dusty roads of a local village called Bakong.
Pak stopped in a lot of interesting places along the way to talk to us about local life, we got to see how villagers went about their daily routine. He showed us how families farm and make Palm sugar from the palm trees, explaining the process from start to finish. We saw local wells and disturbingly low standards of water hygiene which really makes you grateful for what we have in the UK. We cycled past a traditional Buddhist ceremony, went to a local primary school to say hello to the children and then stopped off at an alligator farm. We were even able to cycle to an abandoned temple ruin (inaccessible by car) in the forest.
By this point our stomachs were rumbling so Pak took us to another village where we had dinner at a local stilt house. It was simple, filling food cooked by an old Khmer lady who is paid by the tour company to provide lunch for the guests. I lay down in a hammock on the balcony to let my dinner go down while Phil and Pak bonded and spoke about Pak’s dreams of one day owning his own tour company in Thailand – which we are both sure he will be successful with and we would definitely pay good money for!!
After dinner we changed our mode of transport to a boat and sailed down the river, witnessing first hand how closely Cambodian life is tied to this major waterway. Many of the people we saw catching fish in the river would be selling their gains to the market we passed through earlier in the day. In fact the majority of locals here sustained their lives purely through the fishing industry. The boat eventually reached the floating village of Kompong Khleang on the largest fresh water lake in SE Asia (the Tonle Sap)
There was a floating school, church and even a market boat that floats by each house every day for villagers to make purchases. I had never seen anything like it and was astounded by what I saw, it’s such a completely different way of life to anything I’ve ever known. Pak explained that the people living in Kompong Khleang were actually Vietnamese Cambodians, a minority group who are quite vulnerable to discrimination because of the difficult history and relationship between Cambodia and Vietnam.
There was quite a lot to take in on this day, after we were done at the floating village Pak took us back home. He stopped at the side of the road to treat us to some bamboo sticky rice which was really yummy and rounded off the trip nicely. We were absolutely knackered by the time we got to the hotel! Pak if you’re reading this, thank you for an incredibly day :)
Dinner was at a training restaurant called Haven and was easily the best food of the holiday, it’s a Swiss owned place which gives employment to vulnerable young adults from orphanages and shelters as well as the underprivileged from rural areas. The concept is that by giving these young adults life skills, housing and a stable income they are giving them a chance in life and the opportunity to create a safe future. You can easily see why this place gets such good ratings, it was more than just the food that made it special it was the whole experience. We tried to go again the next night but it was fully booked!
It was certainly better than the street food option of fried spiders!:
Day 4 – The final day in Siem Reap!!
So by this point we felt like we had pretty much seen everything Siem Reap had to offer, later today we would be heading towards the beaches in the south but not before one last adventure. On day 4 we got up at 4.30am to go and watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. This is something we were told not to miss and the view didn’t disappoint. we had to use the torches on our phone to get into the temple complex and find somewhere good to stand as it was pitch black when we went in. Then it was just a case of waiting, watching and appreciating. There were A LOT of tourists, i’m not exactly a morning person so it surprised me just how many people (including myself) were willingly out of bed at such a stupid hour of the morning. It was a shame that it was so crowded but I suppose that’s just what comes with it being the number one thing on most people’s itineraries. I’m glad we went to see the sunrise even though we were both really tired because like many things about this trip it was something I’m not likely to forget for a very long time.
By this point we were wide awake and Phil had arranged with his “brother” (the friendly Cambodian hotel man) to go QUAD BIKING at around 10am, so off we went. I was slightly terrified of the idea of me on a quad bike, I’m way too clumsy when I’m walking let alone in charge of a vehicle but once I’d got the hang of it I loved it! And I suppose it was an achievement that I didn’t fall off or seriously injure myself, I actually did more harm to myself walking along the beach in Sihanoukville… Anyway, this was Phil’s favourite activity of the whole holiday and I can understand why because there was nothing quite like it that we did all week. He said it reminded him of a video game driving round terrain you wouldn’t normally see. Here we are in our gear and there’s a picture of the pagoda we visited thrown in for good measure:
And that’s everything for the first half of the trip! WOW that’s long. If you’ve read this far you deserve a medal. I don’t have any medals to give you, but if I did then you’d definitely get one.
Beachy blog coming soon :)
PS: If you didn’t pick up the vibes from everything I’ve written – I LOVED CAMBODIAAAAAAAA