In April we had the opportunity to travel spend 3 nights in the Cambodian city of Siem Reap.
After a few days of business in Vietnam, we boarded Vietnam Airlines for our 30-minute flight to Siem Reap. We love short flights like this as you rotate, take off, climb for 5 mins, level off for 15 mins, then descend for 10. Upon arriving at Siem Reap International Airport before collecting your bags, you will obtain your Cambodian Visa and you need to have USD$20.00 in cash and a recent passport size photo. The process to obtain the visa is only a few seconds so the process does not hold you up from gathering your bags and shortly after, we had met our driver who provided us the private vehicle transfer to our hotel.
Whilst staying in Siem Reap our accommodation was the Lotus Blanc Hotel, a 4-star property only 15 mins drive from the airport and a few minutes tuk tuk drive into the heart of Siem Reaps nightlife, pub street. This property serves clients looking for value for money, location and creature comforts. Cambodian hospitality is amongst the finest in the world I have ever experienced, and the staff at this property certainly continue this tradition. With a generous amount of Khmer influence, the rooms are very clean, we love the use of wood within the rooms and around the property, the room sizes will easily accommodate from single, couple’s, or families traveling together, there is free Wi-Fi throughout, and there are a tuk-tuk and taxi rank not far from the front entrance of the property so it is easy to get around. We had a series of meetings with various other properties whilst in town so after checking in & unpacking, it was time for a nightcap at the bar before laying our heads down for a decent night’s sleep.
A good night’s sleep was achieved and after breakfast, our driver was waiting for us so off we went for a day of meetings. I will not bore you with those meetings and let’s fast forward to that evening. As previously mentioned, the hotel is located only a few mins drive from the airport and only a few minutes’ drive into Pub St. To paint a picture of Pub St, for those readers closer to home, think Acland St in Melbourne or Kings Cross in Sydney and you will get the idea. It is the main area in Siem Reap to find a bar, a club, wander through markets etc, and as you could well imagine, it can be very busy. Some of the main bars were indeed pumping and people were enjoying themselves so, on this night we decided to change plans as it was a bit too loud for us and we walked a few blocks in the opposite direction from Pub St. When traveling it’s always good to look at the tourist locations however, our experience is to leave them and find a more authentic experience and establishments which we did on this occasion. When you get away from the main area, we saw lots of small shops, markets, and home cooking places to dine.
As we were walking, I saw a gentleman tucked away in a corner, with a 45-gallon drum cut in half, and on its side full of hot coals, a set of 8 plastic chairs, 3 large eski’s full of ice with cold beer, and 3 plastic table’s. The entire menu was in Khmer so we could not read it however, the owner had several photos next to them, so it was a case of point at what looks good……lol. We settled on a dish of 6 King Prawns, a bowl of Rice and Bok Choy, washed down with a long neck of local Cambodian beer, all for a total of USD7.00. The meal was just perfect, simple and easy, with a lovely warm evening breeze blowing, dining at a local establishment such as this in our opinion beats the environment and cost of a large restaurant, and the owner was very grateful. Dining with the local people is always high on our list visiting Indochina so we decided to spend some more money with this gentleman and purchased a few more cold beers between us before hailing a Tuk Tuk and returning to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
When traveling in Cambodia, the currency of choice is USD. There is a local Cambodian currency however, it is so weak, even the locals do not use it and 99% of all transactions are in USD and this is also the case when using an ATM, so before you enter Cambodia, please ensure you have some USD currency.
Today we spent visiting the Temples of Angkor with our private guide. There are several ways you can visit the temples and there are hundreds of temples to investigate however, we recommend and we use only private, accredited, local, English speaking guides and for this day, we were very grateful. After enjoying a fresh fruit breakfast, we were met in our tuk-tuk and driven to the 1st temple of the day, the grand Angkor Wat. The largest religious monument in the world outside the Vatican, Angkor Wat is orientated to the west, which in Khmer Tradition signifies death and destruction. Originally a Hindu temple and surrounded by a moat, the splendor and size of Angkor Wat is breathtaking! UNESCO Heritage-listed we were blown away by the Architecture of the complex, and constantly amazed at the structure. The rest of the day’s activities ended up being pushed back as we decided to spend more time walking through Angkor Wat as this is not a site to visit and rush.
From the grandeur of Angkor Wat, we traveled the short distance to the beautiful temple of Ta Prohm. UNESCO World Heritage-listed Ta Prohm unlike most Angkorian temples, is in much the same condition in which it was found and the photogenic and atmospheric combination of trees growing out of the ruins and the jungle surroundings have made it one of Angkor’s most popular temples. Wandering around this temple, with a warm breeze and the leaves of the trees humming, it was a wonderful opportunity to explore this amazing temple. As it was now late afternoon, we wanted to watch the sunset over Angkor and whilst there are several vantage points, we decided to return to Angkor Wat to watch the sun go down. Slowly wandering around the grounds, with no words needed, as the sun was lowering itself from the sky, the changing colours, their intensity, and the emerging silhouettes from the temple, was a perfect way to conclude what had been a great day of exploring part of this complex.
Our dinner choice for this evening had several simple prerequisites, they were that it must be small, local, authentic, uncrowded, and serve a cool refreshing drink, so it did not take us long to find such a place. Returning to our hotel for a quick shower to freshen up, we had noticed a couple of very local restaurants a few hundred meters up the road from the hotel, and the evening was enjoyed with several local Khmer dishes and 1 or 2 local beers before returning to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
This morning we enjoyed a final breakfast at our hotel and arranged a late checkout, as we had a late afternoon flight, so the hotel graciously offered the use of the room till 2.30 pm. We previously arranged to meet our driver at a pre-arranged time and were now en-route to visit Banteay Srei. Located a picturesque and enjoyable 30-minute drive from Siem Reap, Banteay Srei similarly to other temples in Khmer tradition is orientated in an east-west direction and comprises 3 rectangular enclosures. We should have arrived much earlier in the morning as this day was steaming and we had little shade to take advantage of. Banteay Srei is a very unique temple from others in Siem Reap, built in a significant shade of red and nicknamed ‘The Pink Temple’ every available surface features intricately portrayed stories and motifs however, the inner enclosure housing the two libraries and the sanctuary which features the most elaborate carvings. As we enjoyed our tour of the Banteay Srei we marveled at the craftsmanship and carvings of this temple and on this particular day, the crowd numbers were small so we had no problems navigating our way around or taking some wonderful photos to document our visit.
After spending our morning wandering the grounds, we sadly had to leave Banteay Srei and return to our hotel to collect our luggage before our driver provided us a private vehicle transfer to Siem Reap International Airport for our flight home via Ho Chi Minh.
Cambodia has a wonderful charm and the most wonderful hospitality from the locals, a rich history and wonderful natural countryside, when combined will ensure you have a most wonderful experience when traveling to this beautiful country.