SOUS DEY!! One of the few words I learned in the Khmer language, which means “Hello”. It’s hard to forget that because funny enough, “Sus Dai” in Cebuano could mean “oh my god, woman!” depending on the context. I also learned how to count 1-5: Muy, pee, bai, buon, prahm. But the word that I fell most in love with is “SAAT” (that’s how I heard them say it) meaning, “PRETTY”, the word that best describes this city.
“Saat” Siem Reap is the number one destination in all of Asia and is no doubt Cambodia’s most touristy town. I used to think this was so because of the temples but there is so much more to this city than that; some of the reasons why one would fall in love with this enchanting city right away would be;
(1) The city remains to be laid back, untouched and traditional despite their French and western influence; it has definitely kept its charm and authenticity throughout these years.
(2) You walk around Pub Street and you meet people from around the globe and people from all walks of life. In addition to that, Cambodians are very friendly and welcoming that it just warms you up like a blanket. I definitely felt I was in a different city in the Philippines.
(3) Everyone speaks English and US Dollar is accepted everywhere even in the most remote places. No one needs to change their money to Khmer unless for souvenir purposes. Not to mention, everything is relatively affordable in this city.
(4) Zara, Mango, Ralf Lauren, Forever 21 have their clothes made in Cambodia. Naturally, when you shop in Cambodia, it is way cheaper!
(5) The food is just incredible! There is an abundance of restaurants specializing in Khmer cuisine but my favorite part is the street food!
Imagine experiencing all that in 5 whole days! We bought our tickets October last year on sale. (Yes! We waited an entire year for this trip! But it was well worth it) Our tickets were only for PHP3,500, US$80.00, who could beat that?! So now, journey with me as I do a recap on how my week went.
With this trip, I was being such a cheap skate and I booked the cheapest accommodation i could find on the internet. Cheap as in PHP200/night/person ($5) cheap. The website, the free airport pick up and the location caught my attention and so I booked us in BUNSEDA ANGKOR VILLA for 5 nights. I should have known better that Siem Reap was already affordable as it is so there is really no point going on a “budget”. The hotel felt so unsafe we had to put a chair in front of the door while we slept just in case someone breaks in — luckily it didn’t happen. We moved to a different hotel the next day where we paid double the amount but it was 100x better.
This place was amazing! We paid PHP488/night/person for a room that could even fit 5 people. We got a Triple Deluxe but they didn’t charge us for the extra person. It had everything that a legit hotel has; free breakfast, swimming pool, clean sheets, balcony, room service. It was just great! and to top it all off, it’s a 5 minute walk to Pub Street. Its a place where I would absolutely recommend anyone who goes to Siem Reap.
Meeting Mr. Heng, the Happy Tuktuk Driver.
I met Mr. Heng on Tumblr as the Happy Tuktuk and he is definitely one happy person. I was researching about Siem Reap in Tumblr when I came across his page. Do you know any Tuktuk Driver who has a Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram account? I doubt that!! He’s very smart to use the social media to get clients. I immediately emailed him to ask for a 3 day itinerary and his prices were very reasonable. If you ever go to Siem Reap, I highly recommend Mr. Heng to drive you around. He took us to very cheap restaurants and never cheated on the prices we agreed on. He was always on time and instead of just hiring him for 3 days, we ended up hiring him for the entire stay. Visit his page if interested Happy Tuktuk. Or his Instagram account henghappytuktuk #henghappytuktuk
We miss you Mr. HENG!!!
We got the 3-day temple pass ($40/person for 3 days) so we can take our time seeing all the temples without being “templed-out”. With our colour-coordinated clothes, cameras, and a bottle of water, we were now energized to explore our first set of temples in the small tour which consists of the Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm.However, Mr. Heng forgot to tell us that we couldn’t go up Angkor Wat with what we were wearing so he had to drive us back to our hotel so we can change to more appropriate clothing. With more time taken from our day with us transferring hotels, eating breakfast and changing clothes, we were now left with only a few hours for the small tour so we had to be fast.
Angkor Wat, is a beauty that is unparalleled. How it has been persevered for 1000 years, its intricacy in carvings, its solemnity and its design makes this monument one of the finest masterpieces of humanity – The reason this structure is the symbol in the Cambodian Flag.
We spent almost 3 hours taking in Angkor Wat. It was just beautiful!! I swear if it weren’t for us running out of water and getting hungry, we would have stayed there all afternoon. It was such a big structure and I don’t understand how one can visit all three temples in one day. After Angkor Wat, we were already templed-out and decided to see the rest the next day.
MY friends and I got just a bit obsessed with taking photos — poor Niko!
Mr. Heng took us to Psar Chas (Old Market) near Pub Street for our snacks and he offered to buy our beer so we can get it at a cheaper price. Indeed, he wasn’t kidding! He bought us Angkor Beer for 50 cents/can. We got an entire box for $5 and enjoyed it at our hotel next to the pool. Perfect way to end our day. Dinner was just splendid! We ate some street food right at the foot of Pub Street.
SUNRISE AT ANGKOR
Waking up at 4am was a dreadful thing but when Mr. Heng picked us up all enthusiastic without complain it woke me up right away. Seeing the morning light at the backdrop of the temple ruins is just breath-taking and overwhelming, it is truly a magnificent site and a must-see when visiting Siem Reap.
Breaky before the Elephant Ride ride outside the temple premises. This restaurant had the best Vietnamese coffee I have ever tasted in my life, I kid you not! We bought 3 packs each to bring back to the Philippines.
The Elephant Ride was $15/person and it starts from the South gate to Bayon. It’s a good 1km ride or so but the Elephant walks really slow so the ride could take up to 20 or so minutes to get to Bayon.
BIG TOUR (Banteay Prel, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, East Mebon, Pre Rup)
#1 Bayon Temple
This temple is located in the middle of Angkor Thom which is dedicated to Buddah. you could see 216 carvings or so of Buddah’s smiling face on all the 49 towers.
Like all the world renown sites around the world, there is always that one cliche photo you must have, this is exactly it in Bayon Temple.
#2 Ta Prohm
The very famous temple where Tomb Raider was filmed — Perhaps the one and only reason why people even visit this temple in the first place. However, after walking through this jungle-like temple, you’ll see the beauty of it. It has been forsaken, abandoned and left for the jungle’s taking and that’s what makes it so exquisite. It felt as if I shrunk against the massive snake-like trees that’s eating up the temple.
#3 East Mebon
Only two temples and we were already feeling the “templed-out” syndrome — oh no! Mr. Heng took us to a restaurant right in front East Mebon Temple where they sold authentic Khmer dishes and souvenirs. Right when our Tuktuk stopped to park, we were swarmed by ladies selling us scarves, shirts and bags.
#4 Ta Som
This temple was a mini Ta Prohm. It has all the feature like that of Ta Prohm with its jungle-like feel. Probably the smallest temple we visited the entire day so it was pretty quick visit.
#5 Neak Pean
This temple had a very distinct feature compared to the others. It was surround by 5 ponds which one had to cross through a bridge that’s right on top of the water.
What caught our attention was what seemed like a garden but the nearer we got, the clearer it came to us that it was moss or seaweed growing on the water that settled right at the top. It looked really beautiful- I’ve never seen anything like it.
A temple located 30 km from Siem Reap. This enchanting temple made of sandstone is small in size but the decorations and the carvings are simply excellent.
KBAL SPEAN TREKKING
Kbal Spean is another 17 km from Bantaey Srei. We were most excited for this day because we wanted to put in some exercise in this trip! It was Luz’ first time to trek and where better to do it than Kbal Spean to see the 1000 linggas.
Alas! We made it up to the waterfalls but due to the rain, we weren’t able to see any of the carvings nor swim. It was a little bit disappointing climbing up and seeing just another waterfall but I saw some monks there and it’s amazing to see how people really come here to meditate and do some worship to their gods.
APSARA DANCE AT KOULEN RESTAURANT
Mr. Heng brought us to a restaurant where they served buffet for $10/person and they had a traditional Apsara Dance performance.
Today was a rest day from all the temples and the semi-hectic schedule we had the past three days. We decided to do some stress reliever so we spent some time in the market and little did we know how persuasive Cambodian women are. We did just a little bit of damage to our wallets. I bought myself pillowcases and paintings. Locals make gorgeous paintings it was just hard to resist.
For lunch Mr. Heng took us to his favorite fried noodle stall in Pub Street. It was $1 for one. Meet the gorgeous Chef Katrina cooking us our fried noodles. We took out 4 noodles and spent the rest of the afternoon at the hotel by the pool with our Cambodia Beer.
Lazying it out all afternoon was just enjoyable, now it was time for some Happy Pizza for dinner. If you’re adventurous enough to try some “Happy” Pizza, then go ahead! It was really delicious and it indeed made us very happy, we then topped it off with Vodka Red Bull at Angkor What? Bar where we ended the night.
We really didnt do anything interesting on our last day, we just visited the killing fields, did more shopping, had our last Khmer lunch, had dessert at the Blue Pumpkin and then killed time at Pub Street before having dinner at the place where Mr. Heng took us — a place where most of the locals ate.
ARTISANS D’ ANGKOR
When you are interested in seeing and buying some beautiful hand carved statues you must pay a visit to Artisans d’Angkor where you can actually see the people behind all their souvenirs. They show you how they weave their silk scarves and how they carve and finish all their sculptures of Buddah.
LUNCH at KIM CHENG
This is where Mr. Heng took us on our first day. Located just right beside the Market Place. It was so good and cheap we just had to go back for one last time.
It’s good to relax at this cafe on a very hot day.
Had 4 draft beers each and I was still standing.
Our $10 dinner. They sold snakes and frogs and other exotic food. This was our last hurrah before leaving this city.
Hope you’ll visit Siem Reap soon!
(September 24-29, 2013)