You may have read my previous post, How To Do Cambodia in 10 Days (Help Me). It was no The Hobbit but it was a pretty useful prequel to my latest trip and to this post. In it, I outlined my lofty and exciting plans for the 10 day jaunt to Cambo which had been based on hours of meticulous research and seconds of impulsive shots in the dark: an erratic combination not at all permitted in legal practice but totally encouraged in holiday bookings. Now l’apprentice c’est la maître. I’ve been there seen it done it nailed it. So, what you read here is my ultimate guide to winning at Cambodia (starting with Siem Reap because I tried to be concise enough to fit all of Cambodia in one post and couldn’t and only learnt that after I’d written this preamble and then decided to just put this explanation in brackets rather than delete what I’d already got because I am not JK Rowling with the foresight to know anything), from travel tips to dinner spots. Follow it and you might, like me, decide Cambodia is one of the most amazing, fantastic and rewarding countries that you ever visit.
Personally, I can work, work, work, work, work (that’s Rihanna and/or Lenin) all week long, providing I know there’s some R&R to come. Other way round? Nu uh. It is due to this affliction that we arranged our trip so that we travelled down the country, doing all the stuff, and had our final few days flopped out on a beach acting like life was tough. So that’s: (1) Siem Reap, (2) internal flight to Phnom Penh and (3) return taxi to Sihanoukville and the islands (Koh Rong Samloem in particular). If you’re in the other camp, you can do it the other way round if you must. Alternatively, if you’re short on time and long on money, the quickest way to get around Cambodia is starting in Phnom Penh, flying to Siem Reap and flying again to Sihanoukville.
Step 1: Siem Reap
Where to stay: Wat Bo District, near to Pub Street
Suggested hotel: Viroth’s Hotel and Spa (website)
Cudos to my new favourite city in the world. Siem Reap has taken the title from the brief reigning champion, Hanoi, which either shows my extreme fickleness towards the world or my extreme enthusiasm towards it. Either way, currently Siem Reap is top of the leader board and long may it last until my next trip.
Flying into Siem Reap was peasy for one of us (a short little flight from Singapore? Yes please). For the other, it was quite the palaver (a 15 hour flight to Hong Kong and an untimely delay requiring a sprint through the airport and stern negotiations to be allowed on the last connecting flight, even after the doors had closed? No thanks, and sorry Tony).* Remember to bring $30 dollars for the visa and have a full page spare in your passport. Otherwise you can buy the visa online but beware of the fraudulent sites pretending to be authentic. Oh my goodness, that was the boringest (sic) two sentences ever.
Once you’re in Siem Reap you can’t help but fall in love with the laid-back, back-packer vibe of the town. We instantly felt at home as holiday-makers in a way that you can’t get with bigger, more hectic cities that eat up tourists. We stayed in the absolutely beautiful boutique Viroth’s Hotel. It was totally luxurious, our room was Massive and the poolside was top notch. It was totally indulgent and the service was incredible. We got a hotel because that quality of hotel would’ve cost about ten times more if it were in Europe and, you know, Treat Yo’Self. However, I know for a fact that there were some cracking hostels because there were some cranking hostel bar crawls. All you really need is to make sure you stay near Pub Street and / or the Wat Bo District.
Pub Street does not falsely advertise. It is as it says on its tin: a whole string of bars, restaurants, clubs and pubs. The whole area surrounds the central markets – which are awesome, by the way, if you just need any silk scarves or little bags or a little pottery bowl or five more bags or another silk scarf. Prices for beers range between $75c and $1. A margarita will stretch you to $2. So, line them UP. (Sidebar: we also got massages for $7). The atmosphere was amazing all day and, by night, the most notable and best named bar: Angkor Wat? killed it with music and dancing blaring out into the street. We also discovered the most amazing fine dining restaurant in all of Asia: Kroya. It wasn’t just the food that was delicious, it was the fact that you sat on big four poster bed swing tables and the food was served on fancy trays meaning that you could enjoy the wine lying down and have no idea how drunk you were until it was way too late. Warning to the unwise though: if you’re only in SR for a few days, be careful not to risk a hangover. No one wants to be the one that throws up on Angkor Thom.
Talking of temples, I had booked us a day trip with the same taxi driver that had driven me from the airport. This seems to be pretty common and makes planning you excursions super easy. It cost approx. $40 and he promised to pick us up from the hotel at 5am to drive us to Angkor Wat for sunrise, Angkor Thom and the ‘Tomb Raider’ temples. Honestly, I thoroughly recommend a taxi – you will appreciate the aircon in the 40C heat. Also, you can ask your driver all your pertinent temple questions without the need for a guide. My other useful fact is: wear colour. The temples are all sandy and grey so you need to wear lots of colour to make up for it in your photos. Seriously, I am all facts today.
Ignoring the admin though, visiting these temples was one of the best cultural experiences I’ve ever had. They are absolutely amazing in every sense. The sunrise even lived up to all of the Instagram expectations. The only thing we didn’t entirely fathom was the hordes and hordes of tourists all standing by to catch the same moment. There were slightly more people there to watch that sunrise than there were watching Leicester City games in 2013 but then again, like those loyal Leicester fans, the result was worth the wait. Controversially, our favourite was actually Angkor Thom, the ancient city where you can pretend to be Harrison Ford finding treasure, or Tyra Banks showing ANTM how it’s done (I bet that’s the first time that comparison has ever been used). Having woken up at 5am, we had nailed the three main temple sites by midday and were officially templed out and in desperate need of an aperol spritz and a sunlounger. The only regret I have is not seeing Angkor Wat again at sunset. Apparently it is as good, or better, than the sunrise, but by then we were onto our fifth cocktail and culture was a ‘no’.
I’ll now let the photos speak for themselves now because I’ve had enough. Note, a lot of them are of me looking into the distance holding the sincere belief that, one day, I will be the next Kate Moss. If I look good in any of them, that’s because there are approx. 100 more in my recently deleted file.
Stay tuned as the next post will be on step 2 to Cambodia: Phnom Penh.
* He made it!