One of our favourite places we have visited so far has to be Siem Reap. It is a gorgeous small city filled with smiling Cambodians, amazing restaurants and awe inspiring temples. We have actually visited Siem Reap twice so far on our trip, with a mini-break to Bangkok in between (more on that later).
When we first arrived we were surrounded by tuktuk drivers trying to get our attention, as is standard in Cambodia. We went with the first guy who took us to our hotel and successfully convinced us to hire him for the temples the following day. Sure enough he was there on the doorstep waiting at 5am to whisk us off to see the sun rise at Angkor Wat.
The morning sunrise was absolutely stunning, and the shade was ideal to explore the temples. Rainy season was just around the corner and the intense heat in the run up to it was insane. As well as Angkor Wat we saw Angkor Thom, Bayon, and Ta Prohm between sunrise and midday. I could describe the visits to the temples but we took lots of photos which showcase the astounding architecture far better than I can describe with words. More photos can be found in our previous blog post.
Aside from the temples we really spent time enjoying the markets of Siem Reap where we were able to pick up a birthday present for our niece and experiment with the Cambodian post office. We have been trying to send birthday gifts from our travels as we come across some pretty cool and unusual stuff, but the postage price is insane compared to the cost of the things we are buying!
The night life and restaurants of Siem Reap are centred around “Pub Street” which is a main street between the night market and central market, and which has lots of lanes and alleyways connecting it with the surrounding streets. Down the side alleys there are a whole variety of restaurants and bars to suit all tastes, and as massive foodies we were pretty happy with the set up. We tried a Cambodian BBQ which is kind of like a fondue. There is a metal plate over a burner with stock, noodles and vegetables cooking around the edges and the meat cooked on top. It is quite gimmicky, with many restaurants offering frogs’ legs, snake, kangaroo and many more unusual meat choices. We stuck with the basics and particularly enjoyed the sword fish and beef while the squid was a rubbery disaster.
Many of the restaurants offer a tasting menu which includes the local dishes which are completely delicious. We sampled Khmer chicken curry, mango salad, fish amok, fresh spring rolls and shrimp tom yam. We also first discovered Blue Pumpkin in Siem Reap, an ice cream chain that we have got into in a big way, which is mostly to blame for our expanding waistlines.
Another local attraction is the Apsara dancing which we saw in Temple restaurant, where the food was not great. However it gave us a chance to see some of the dancing, and sit there in a casual atmosphere trying to bend our hands back in the way the Apsara dancers effortlessly do. Next time we visit Siem Reap we will book dinner at one of the more up-market hotels that show the dancing, as is often the case in Cambodia you can get much higher quality by spending just a little more.
We stayed in Bunlinda hostel which is really central, has a pool and is run by a lovely family who made us very welcome. The dad was formerly an economics teacher and he did his best trying to teach us in broken English, which ended in lots of laughing, photos being taken, and a friend request on Facebook. At $12 for a double room it was great value and we returned there after Bangkok.
On our last night however we decided to treat ourselves and checked into the Pippeli Pensione which was absolutely gorgeous. We had the pool to ourselves for the afternoon and the bar staff bringing us daiquiris to the pool side. The room was far nicer than we have become accustomed to and the breakfast was perfect. We got a deal on booking.com and it was around $35 (well spent!).
We are hoping to return to Siem Reap for Emily’s birthday at the end of June as it just a great place to hang out, and we also haven’t yet been to the circus which is next on our to do list.