Looking back at my recent 9 month round the world adventure, it’s hard put my finger on what made Cambodia one of my favourite countries (the other being Canada.) I can only surmise that it was the blend of experiences, people and food that I encountered there.
One of my favourite stops on my journey through Cambodia was to the north-western city of Siem Reap, a popular destination on the tourist route thanks to the ancient temples of Angkor.
I arrived in Siem Riep last March after an eight hour journey from Si Phan Don (4000 islands) in Laos. After a night in a guesthouse recommended by my tuk-tuk driver (I think it was owned by his brother!) I moved to the modern Siem Riep Hostel.
Mainly I was tempted by the allure of a pool but after a few weeks staying in guesthouses by myself, I wanted somewhere where I could easily meet people and make friends. And that’s what I did. Within an hour of checking in to the SRH I was in a tuk-tuk with my new roommate Roxy, headed 25 kilometres out of town to the Cambodian Landmine Museum.
The Cambodian Landmine Museum
Image courtesy of fmpgoh
Situated in a small village north of the city, the landmine museum is run by an NGO that works towards eliminating landmines in Cambodia and helping those afflicted by landmine injuries to receive an education. It’s both a fascinating and sad place to visit and really opened my eyes to the trauma that the Cambodian people suffered and continue to suffer over the past fifty years.
While not a fun topic, the museum is really informative and has great displays. It also demonstrates why finding and destroying landmines is still so difficult. I highly recommend a visit to the museum. It can also be combined with a trip to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Farm ,which is located just a few kilometres down the same road. There are also a few Cambodian Cusine restaurants on this road if you get peckish. A round trip in a tuk-tuk to the landmine museum will cost around $18 which I would say is definitely worth the cost. Our tuk-tuk driver told us a lot about Cambodian history and the effect of landmines on the Khmers (Cambodians).
After a full afternoon’s sight-seeing, a dip in the pool back at the SRH was much needed (the dusk kicked up by the tuk-tuk along the rural roads makes you feel quite sticky!)
Exploring the Ancient Temples at Angkor
Like many people who visit Angkor Wat, I got up before dawn and took a taxi with 3 friends to the temples complex in order to watch the sunrise over the temples. It felt very special waiting for the coming light and even though it was a cloudy morning and the sunrise wasn’t that spectacular it was a great experience and a fabulous atmosphere.
The four of us shared a tuk-tuk and driver for the morning (the one who had taken us to the landmine museum) and we had such a great time. We stopped of at various temples, allowing 30-40 minutes to explore each one and take in the incredible amount of work that went in to each one. As the morning wore on it got hotter and hotter and we started to appreciate that we had got up before dawn to begin our exploration of Angkor Wat. Our driver was great and once again provided us with a history of the temples and the symbolism of each one.
One of the great things about Angkor is that you can get up close to the temples and explore, instead of having to look from afar. Our little group made sure to take lots of fun and group photos so as to not get too tired of temple gazing.
After a brief lunch during which our driver showed us some great magic tricks, we ventured to the last few temples, namely Ta Prohm, the temple where the Tomb Raider movie was filmed which boasts some spectacular scenery and some of the biggest trees I’ve ever seen. By 2pm we were exhausted and retired to the hostel for a much needed swim and lie down, although I couldn’t help feeling I would have liked to do it all again the next day.
A one day ‘Angkor Pass’ costs $20, with a 2-3 day pass costing $40. There are many options for exploring the temples at Angkor so I would recommend getting a 2-3 day pass and visiting a few temples each day at leisure. You can hire bike, tuk-tuk or even walk around the complex at your leisure.
After arriving in Siem Reap I have to say I was more than ready to eat something a little different from Laos cuisine and after meeting up with new found friends at my hostel who all felt a bit like me, we decided to have thoroughly western cuisine for once and chose Viva Mexican restaurant for our evening meal.
Despite feeling a little embarrassed that I was eating Mexican food in Cambodia I have to say my meal (pulled pork burrito washed down with a large strawberry daiquiri) tasted incredible and just what I was after! We stopped by ice-cream parlour Blue Pumpkin (yummy!) on the way home for a treat and some much needed air conditioning!
Siem Riep is a lovely city for strolling and exploring. I took evening walks along the banks of the Siem Reap river, admiring the colonial and Chinese style architecture and popping into the markets and small art galleries I found along the way.
By my third and final evening in Siem Riep I was craving the rice dishes I had become accustomed to during my two months in South East Asia so I scouted around for a restaurant that was popular with locals and decided on a bustling eatery on Hospital Street where I dined on Lap Khmer (marinated beef salad) and bananas in coconut milk with sesame for dessert. I took another long walk after dinner and wandered back to my hostel to relax and write down notes from my three wonderful days in Siem Riep.