Travel Diary: Three Days in Siem Reap, Cambodia
For those of you who have done the Krabi, Koh Samui, or Phuket travel to death, we strongly recommend you head further east once you land at Bangkok airport. Yes, we know you’re used to the delicious Thai food, the villa rentals, and the inexpensive Thai massages, but we promise this can be as easy (if not easier) on your pocket, as you dive into an ancient culture that will amaze you.
What To See:
Depending on how many days you plan to spend in Siem Reap, here is what we think your priority of things to see should be.
1. The Temple Complexes
Since there is no end to how much time you can spend in the temple complexes (depending on your level of interest), these according to us are the ones you must not miss.
a. Angkot Wat: A vast and ancient temple complex (the largest in the world), this is definitely the main attraction. The intricate carvings on each of the outer gallery walls mesmerized us. Each tells stories related to Hindu mythology like the battle of Kurukshetra, Ramayana, and others. Lord Shiva was held in very high esteem here and can be seen in many forms, along with Vishnu. With 95% of the current population being Buddhists, all of the temples have a statue of Buddha installed in them. History buffs can spend hours wandering in Angkot Wat.
b. Angkor Thom: We recommend you start with Bayoun, which has giant stone structures with carvings of a face on all corners. As with Angkor Wat, there are many carvings of apsaras lining the temple walls and galleries. You can also walk around to see the other smaller temples around the complex.
c. Ta Prohm: This is one of the most interesting ones because it has been left in its original state. So you will notice tree barks and branches that have naturally grown within the temple walls and have become part of the temple structure itself.
2. Phnom Kulen
The main attraction here is a huge waterfall, where you can take a dip in the refreshing water. There is also a Buddhist monastery with a big sleeping Buddha statue, and on the way some very interesting sites, including a stream flowing over a 1,000 Shiva Lingas and a depiction of Vishnu carved into the ground. The waterfall seems to be a picnic spot for the locals, so make sure you carry appropriate swimwear if you plan to take a dip. You can swim up to the falls and it is an amazing feeling to be underneath it.
3. The Floating Village
The floating village was a bit of a drive from the main city, and toward the end, we drove through a mud road. We bought our tickets and hopped on to a boat that took us to the village. With all structures including houses, school, and the hospital, entirely built on stilts that are standing in water, the villagers get about on boats. An ecosystem in abject poverty, rearing pigs and fishing is the main form of sustenance. We took a smaller boat ride in the mangrove.
4. Sunset on the Rice Fields
This is a very touristy experience, but can be a relaxed and fun way to end the day. We rented quad bikes and drove around the villages to get to the paddy fields, from where we viewed the sunset.
Where To Eat
Pub Street is full of restaurants and bars that you can walk in and sit at. But to discover a gem, you have to work a bit.
For Italian food, Il Forno, which is slightly hidden from the main street, is excellent and authentic. We enjoyed both the pastas and pizza here.
If you’re in the mood for tapas, Mezze Bar, also on Pub Street but on the first floor, serves delicious Lebanese food. We gorged on the hummus, falafel, and wraps. One tip: If you decide to use the restroom here, prepare to be greeted by a talking parrot in the corridor (a voice that comes out of the dark and can make you jump).
Slightly off Pub Street is Haven. We tried two days in a row to make reservations here but it was closed on Sunday and completely booked on Monday. And when we finally made it, after a hectic day of temple touring, we understood why. The Gazpacho soup was divine, the Swiss roshti was delicious and so was the Pumpkin burger. We ended the meal with the Oreo cheesecake, which was tasty but too rich. The place is run by a Swiss couple, with a very interesting story, of their move from a life in Switzerland to running a restaurant that would provide training first and then a means of livelihood to orphans.
Another spot far from the din of Pub Street is Tangram Garden. A lovely outdoor garden setting with tables that are spaced out, and great service, it’s a nice spot to have a quiet and romantic dinner. We enjoyed the burger and soup here, but the curry was strictly okay.
For those of you who would like to indulge a bit, head to the Grand (Raffles) for a drink and a bite. Both the chocolate and espresso martinis are excellent. We tried a few of the starters, including the feta and goat cheese starters, which were delicious.
Where to Stay
The economy here thrives on tourism, so we’re sure finding a hotel that fits your budget and requirements will not be too difficult. From luxury resorts like the Amansara to basic hostels, accommodation is available for every kind of getaway.
If you are looking for a local boutique hotel, we recommend the Siddhartha Boutique Hotel, which is economical, pretty, has spacious rooms and attentive service.
How to get there and around:
A direct flight from Bangkok will get you there in about an hour. To get around the temple complex and the main city, ask your hotel to get you a Tuk Tuk driver. It’s very economical and he will stay with you throughout the day. To get to the waterfall, or the floating village, you may have to rent a chauffeur driven car. All of these services are priced at standard rates and you will be able to book through your hotel.
What to take:
Your camera (of course), lots of light cotton clothing and sun block.