Siem Reap, Cambodia

STOP 5 | Day 14 to 16 |

We made our way from the capital of Cambodia to the ruins of Angkor Wat via bus (CTT Travel & Tours, as mentioned in our previous post, was very helpful in providing us the options and helping us book the transportation). The bus operator was the Mey Hong Express and the seats were very comfortable with 3 seats per row.  We arrived in Siem Reap in approximately 5 hours and from there jumped on a $2USD tuk tuk to our accommodation.

We were both excited for our stay in Siem Reap – as A had some SPG points and we were able to step up our accommodations by staying at the Le Meridien Angkor for the next 3 nights. Siem Reap is definitely a more touristy town, with lots of 5 star hotels and resorts. As such, most restaurants were slightly more expensive and were able to charge the tourist premium.  Our first stop for some tucker was lunch at Mie Cafe which was just down the street from our hotel.  Another restaurant just down the street was Mahob Khmer Restaurant which we ate at on our last night given there are limited options around the hotel unless you head downtown Siem Reap.

As we headed back to the hotel after lunch J got talking to the tuk tuk driver out the front (Piseth). He managed to negotiate a good price for Piseth to take us to get our Angkor Wat tickets that evening and to take us the next day for the sunrise and around all day (it was $15USD cheaper than what the hotel quoted us). Most of the tuk tuk drivers speak slightly better English than in Phnom Penh (probably due to the high tourism levels) and can communicate with you via WhatsApp. Given the size of Angkor Wat you definitely need a tuk tuk to get around (or hire a car and driver). It was also handy to have a tuk tuk driver that we trusted during our time in Siem Reap as our hotel was a little outside the main downtown area, but closer to Angkor Wat.

After enjoying a bit of time relaxing by the pool we headed to purchase our tickets – note that you can buy tickets for the next day that permits you to watch sunset that evening (which is recommended as you will be wrecked after waking up for sunrise and spending all day at the ruins). One also needs to adhere to the dress code (no exposed shoulders or knees) when purchasing their tickets, recommend also having proper shoes as it can be slippery climbing the various temples and quite steep. We went to watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng; to ascend the temple there is a 300 guest at a time limit, as it was starting to rain a bit when we were arriving we didn’t have an issue getting up to the top. Given the clouds and weather the sunset wasn’t too glamorous, but nonetheless we got a glimpse into the beauty of this “Temple City”.

We had a 5am pickup the next morning to get into Angkor Wat for sunrise, given our slightly slow departure (J of course was a bit behind schedule) we watched the sunrise from outside the Angkor Wat main gate. In hindsight it was probably the better viewing location as once we crossed the main gate we were flabbergasted by the number of tourists. Having visited Tikal (ancient Mayan citadel in the rainforests of northern Guatemala) in 2011 we were shocked at how different the atmosphere was, in addition to the numerous tourists, there were also locals hustling you to eat at their stalls and kids running around begging. However, it still was an amazing visit. We learnt to strategically take pictures to avoid the crowds and every now and then you managed to find a path that takes you away from all the other visitors and makes you appreciate the wonder of this site. One of our favorite sites was the Bayon Temple which features multitude of serene and smiling stone faces on the many towers. It almost seemed like it belonged in the Game of Thrones as the temple of the Many Faced God. The temple of Ta Prohm (famous for its appearance in the film Tomb Raider) was also amazing with the trees growing out of the ruins. Late afternoon as we headed back to the hotel we were reminded that it was rainy season as the heavens opened up and poured! That night we wandered around Pub Street and Old Town, this area is filled with bars, restaurants and tons of carts selling “fried” ice cream rolls.

Our last day in Siem Reap was spent relaxing and at the gym given it continued to rain throughout the day. Like we mentioned in our Phnom Penh post, the meals have not been super memorable in Siem Reap, although we’ve tried to opt for Khmer food in most restaurants. We did visit The Footprint Cafe which was founded as a sustainable enterprise cafe which pays forward all profits as grants for local educational programs and social enterprises. It is encouraging to see places like this as even with the high level of tourism in Siem Reap, Cambodia continues to be one of the world’s poorest countries. The cafe has both Khmer and Western food options, and we were able to get our Western fix with a delicious Western breakfast.

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