Another new country!! I was in two minds about what to expect of Cambodia. On one hand, I had friends telling me how much they’d loved it when they’d been and that it had been their favourite, with some extending their stay. On the other hand, I’d seen programmes not showing it in its best light, people warning me how third world it was, how aggressive beggars could be and to be careful. From what I’d seen the country itself looked beautiful, and I was sure I would like it but was feeling a little on edge about arriving in Siem Reap.
We flew in from Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap early in the morning, with our first thing being to get our visas. Situations like this always stress me out (I’m not too sure why) but it was a very straightforward and easy process! We got a Tuk Tuk from the airport for a set price of $9 (they have their own currency, but US dollars are preferred) and made the journey to where we were staying. Looking around on the drive there, I could see how it was less developed than Thailand or anywhere else we’d been, but I wasn’t shocked in the way I thought I might be from what people had said. If anything it reminded me of the remote parts of the Thai islands we’d visited, though I guess in contrast this is one of the main towns in the country!
We arrived at ‘Okay Guesthouse’ – which was more than okay! It was only 9am and our room wasn’t quite ready yet, so they took our bags and told us to head up to the roof. The roof had a pool and bar/restaurant with sun beds all around, it was perfect! I definitely didn’t mind having to kill time up here. We paid £14 for two nights here, which was a double room with AC (you could also get a room with a fan for less but we’d indulged!). When the room was ready we went and had a nap – we’d been up since 3.30am and were absolutely shattered. When we woke up we were still feeling knackered so decided to head back up to the roof for something to eat and a swim. We spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between lying in the sun and cooling off in the pool…
That night we headed out for dinner at one of the little restaurants near our hotel ($1.50 for green vegetables, chicken & rice!). We then went to pick up our laundry which we’d dropped at one of the shops earlier – I was so excited to have actually clean clothes (not stuff I’d cleaned myself in a sink!). We were gonna head out to Siem Reap’s Pub Street that night, but we were both pretty tired still and didn’t want to be hungover for our only full day here so decided to have a night in and watch stuff instead. We’re not boring, I promise! But whilst out here, I’m definitely favouring the day out over the night out.
We woke up the next morning and headed out to get some breakfast. Today we were going to go to Siem Reap’s most famous attraction, Angkor Archaeological Park. This is home to the famous Angkor Wat and thousands of other temples, so we hired a bike from our hotel and drove down there. We parked our bike, paid for parking and made our way toward the entrance. They asked us for our ticket, to which we replied we didn’t have them yet and wanted to buy one there. Turns out, you can’t do that.. The ticket office was actually about 5km away, and somehow we’d got into the park without being stopped for it on inspection. Luckily they realised that this was an innocent mistake on our part – the fine is $100 for being there without a valid ticket! They gave us directions to the ticket office and we got back on our bike and drove down. I’d read online tickets were $20, but when we got there they were actually $37 – bit more than we expected! Not getting them wasn’t an option though, we’d come to Siem Reap pretty much just to go to Ankgor Wat, so we weren’t gonna miss it. By this time it was like 2pm, and with the temple closing at 5.30pm it seemed like it would be too much of a rush. We read on the sign that tickets purchased after 5pm are valid for the following day, but can get you in that evening too. Ankgor Wat itself closes at 5.30pm, but there are so many temples which are open up until 7pm. We thought it would be amazing to go and watch the sunset there, so we decided to come back and buy a ticket at 5pm.
We drove back to the hotel as it was super sunny, so we thought we’d have a couple hours by the pool. We had the whole place to ourselves! We had a swim and stayed in the pool for about an hour – it was too hot out of the water for us to cope. We still haven’t gotten used to the climate here, and Siem Reap had been the hottest place so far. We shared a pizza from the hotel restaurant, then went back to the room to get changed and head back to the ticket office, then Ankgor Wat.
Once at the ticket office we double checked the ticket situation and they confirmed that tickets bought now would be valid for tomorrow. We got our two tickets (which they took photos of us for, and we looked absolutely awful..) and drove to Ankgor Wat. Luckily the parking guy remembered us so didn’t charge us for another ticket, and we walked around taking in the beautiful scenery. We couldn’t go inside Ankgor Wat, but could still walk around the surrounding areas. It really was beautiful.
We then headed to Phnom Bakheng, as this was at the top of a hill and the sun was starting to set. From here we had amazing views over the jungle, as you can climb to the top of the temple.
After watching the sunset, we headed back as tonight we were going to the famous Pub Street! From what I’d been told and videos I’d seen, this was something not to be missed when in Siem Reap. We got changed, covered ourselves in mozzie spray and walked down which took about 15 minutes. We were following maps, but once you got onto the main road that leads off it, it’s impossible to miss! With a huge lit-up sign saying ‘PUB STREET’, the street itself is covered in lights over a mix of restaurants, pubs, shops & stalls.
We got some cheap food from a BBQ place and the first of our 50 cent beers! Yep – most places do a beer for 50 cent on Pub Street! Some were $1, and check the times as a lot of them only do this in ‘happy hour’. But either way, it’s still super cheap! After our food we headed down the street to Temple Bar, where we sat in outdoor seating on the street, watching the masses of people go by. Here, pints were 50 cent until 10pm, so we had a couple then decided to move on to somewhere else. We realised where we were also had a club, so thought we’d go have a look before leaving. We had a look around the door of the club just to see, but it was way too hectic in there for us! There was another staircase so we went up again to see what else was there. Turns out there was an amazing roof bar called the ‘Sky Lounge’, still part of Temple Bar! It was full of people lounging on beanbags around a central water feature – the dream. Some people left as we walked through so we grabbed their table, with an amazing birds eye view of Pub Street! We sat down and ordered a ‘Blue Hospital’ – this comes in the form of giant syringes in an ice bucket which you have to squirt into your mouth. Not the most practical but a fun novelty to order! A cover band started so we decided to stay up here for a few hours as it was such a nice place.
Aware that we were going to Angkor Wat and seeing the sites of Siem Reap the next day, we tried to have an early-ish night so didn’t go anywhere else after Temple Bar. We grabbed some chips on the way home which we ate happily in bed before going to sleep. We’d originally said we’d wake up for viewing Ankgor Wat at sunrise, but we decided then and there that we’d just set an alarm for 9am instead! Unfortunately I didn’t get the little lie-in I was hoping for. The day before when we’d been at the pool there had been really loud chanting and music all day, and this started again at 5am which woke me up! I tried to get back to sleep but didn’t have much luck. I since googled what this was, and found this blog which says apparently it is in the lead up to a cremation. Whilst the body is in the house they play the loud music and chant to warn away evil spirits and death. If this is true, it makes sense! I made the most of being up early and packed up our bag so we were ready to check out. We’d booked a bus down to Sihanoukville that evening, so were checking out the hotel and leaving our bags there for the day whilst at the temples.
We got back to Angkor Wat for about 11am, where we got some food from one of the restaurants there then went in to the temple. We’d picked the wrong day – it was so unbearably hot! Luckily we weren’t hungover or it would’ve been much worse. We’d bought a big bottle of water from one of the stalls before going in – which is a must!! There are a lot of steps and walking around in that heat, it’s easy to become dehydrated. There isn’t anywhere selling water once you’ve gone past the ticket men and over the bridge, so make sure you take some with you! We spent an hour or so wandering through Angkor Wat, which is incredible. From the whole structure of the temple and its grounds to the intricate detailing of the carvings in the wall, it’s very impressive. The centre court has another structure which you can climb up into, giving amazing views of the whole Archaeological Park. This also had a nice breeze which cooled us down – definitely needed!
After exploring Angkor Wat, we got back on the bike and drove down to Bayon, which is next to Angkor Thom. This is an amazing temple, with faces carved into the rock. Unfortunately my camera battery died at this point, but I took some pictures on my phone!
We then drove further down to Angkor Thom, where we wandered around the grounds looking at all the ruins. It’s amazing to think that at one time this was a busy kingdom!
There were plenty of other places to explore, so we drove the bike around the park stopping whenever we saw anything interesting. We didn’t go inside any more temples – they were amazing enough from the outside! Walking around for hours in the midday heat after only a few hours sleep had worn me out a lot, so I was much happier to be on a bike with the wind in my face!
We headed back into the centre of Siem Reap to fill up the bike before going back to the hotel to give it back. We still had a few hours till the bus so grabbed a bikini out of the luggage and headed up to the pool. We literally couldn’t get in it quick enough! It felt so good to be in the cool water after being in the sun all day in covered up clothing. We swam around for a bit before drying ourselves off and heading into the restaurant for some food. Our bus was at 8pm so we did some work and charged our laptops ready for the 12 hour journey ahead of us. We watched our final sunset from the roof bar, which was the perfect end to our stay!
We’d had a great time in Siem Reap – it should definitely be on any backpackers route. The two main attractions for us being the total opposites of Angkor Wat and Pub Street! Our stay was also made much better by staying where we were at the Okay Guesthouse – the rooftop pool and restaurant was the cherry on top of the cake. If you’re coming to Siem Reap I’d definitely recommend staying there! Or if not, somewhere with a pool. It was very hot and having somewhere to cool down and actually enjoy the sun made our stay much better. One of the main highlights for us were how friendly the Cambodian people were! They were also really funny – always making jokes. When we were at Angkor Wat a dog ran across the ticket gate onto the bridge to the temple, to which the staff were shouting ‘Hey! He doesn’t have a ticket!’ to make us laugh. The staff at our hotel were very helpful and chatty, which always makes the stay that bit more special.
Goodbye Siem Reap, and thank you for a wonderful introduction to Cambodia! Next, we’re off to Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Get me in the sea!
Charlotte Rick x
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