I must begin by saying that each new city we have visited has been my favorite. Siem Reap was no exception. I was thrilled to learn how much I loved the city. It reminded me of Chiang Mai (northern Thailand) in many ways: the population had a good mix of tourists and locals, the main streets were packed with awesome restaurants and bars, and a river ran through the center of town.
Of course, there were some obvious differences. Siem Reap is home to the famous Angkor Wat temples – definitely the most incredible park that we’ve seen to date. They aren’t colorful or pristine like the Wats of Bangkok, though that’s what adds to their charm. These have a much more ancient feel, crumbling after thousands of years of wear and tear, not to mention the damage done to them during the rule of the Khmer Rouge in the 1960’s and 70’s. Many of the temples are riddled with bullet holes. The movie Tomb Raider was filmed at one of them, that’s how I measured it’s epicness.
The detail involved in building these temples is obvious on every surface. Though they all share similarities, each was very different from the last.
As is the case in many of the tourist sites that we’ve visited, the hawking at Siem Reap is overwhelming. The children chase you down every second they get. I was honestly afraid of them at some points. I made out with way too many bracelets and Chandler ended up buying everything they tried to sell him. Most of them knew exactly how to manipulate the tourists into purchasing their merchandise, insisting that they need money for school and counting to ten in three or four languages, depending on the country from which you claim to be.
We had bought a three day pass for $40 and hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to the Angkor park each day. I think we paid $10 each per day for the tuk tuk per person. It’s the norm and he was a sweetheart so it all worked out. Roddy gave us the low down on the locals and EVEN picked us up for our sunrise visit to Angkor Wat after he had gone to a friend’s wedding the night before.
I know I’ve said it before, but the trees at Angkor Wat are magical. Over time, they have grown in, around, and through the temples. They’re also some of the biggest I’ve seen, dwarfing anything that we may have around home.
Angkor Wat is the most famous of the temples in the park. Thousands of people wake up at a very early hour to catch the sun rising over its spires and we were some of them! It was an incredible sight, and even somewhat comical to see the different glamor shoots going on around us while people fought for better vantage points.
Besides the temples, Siem Reap has a really interesting UXO museum. UXO stands for unexploded ordinance, or the mines and bombshells that were scattered over the landscapes of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam during the region’s turbulent and war-ridden past. Though the museum is small, the employees there are knowledgeable and passionate about their work, explaining each exhibit in the museum and their significance. It was an intense, but incredible story of one man that has cleared thousands of acres in the country to ensure the safety of his people.
Siem Reap is more than just the Angkor temples, however. One of the city’s attractions is “Pub Street,” where all the backpackers go at night. It’s easy to find, as there’s a huge neon sign pointing the way. It’s filled with restaurants, bars, fish-foot massages, and street vendors. At night, the streets are filled with cheerful travelers dancing and singing together, dodging tuk tuks, and making merry in general.
The night market is also something worth mentioning. Despite its name, it’s open all day, and I got a manicure and pedicure for $5 total. I’ll pause to let that register. *Brief moment of silence* I could have spent hours wandering though the maze of stalls looking at the same products over and over again, never settling on something I wanted.
Besides all the amazing things listed above, Siem Reap is home to a couple of the best meals we’d had in Cambodia. “Old House Restaurant“, a small little place located perpendicular to Pub Street, was easily our favorite. We went twice in the short time that we were in town. They offer set meals with three courses for only $6.50. (Everywhere in Cambodia uses US currency). It is home to the best Khmer Amok we tried in Cambodia. Khmer Amok is a curry-like dish that’s a local delicacy and is served with fish, chicken, or pork. And trust me, I tried it A LOT. In addition to that, drinks were cheap and strong, and the meal was preceded by bread. Actual bread! Granted, we eat way too many carbs as it is, but that was a special treat that reminded us of home.
For breakfast, “Sister Srey Cafe” is amazing. The boys and I each got something entirely different but we all loved our meals. Plus, they make homemade muffins fresh every morning. That’s my kind of cafe… (The ones that make you fat). Glove has been referencing the french toast that he ordered ever since our visit, and at night when he and Chan are cuddling, it isn’t unheard of for him to whisper it in his dreams.
I was really sad to leave Siem Reap. It’s somewhere I could totally picture myself living for awhile. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up there again some day.