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Emily and Kirk Adventures

Siem Reap, Cambodia

CAMBODIA | Sunday, 20 November 2016 | Views [459]

Hi friends!  This will be a very long entry, because we loved Siem Reap so much.  Strap in for a fun ride!

We flew into Siem Reap on Halloween, around 2:30 pm.  We had pre-arranged a ride from the hotel from Bruce Lee’s tuk-tuk service (http://www.bruceleetuktuk.com/), based on a recommendation from friends who visited Siem Reap last year.  He met us at the arrival terminal with our name on a sign and drove us to our hotel.  The drive was great, because we were in an open-air tuk-tuk and we could really see the area.  I don’t know why, but I was expecting Siem Reap to be dirty and junky.  It wasn’t.  In fact, it was very clean and tidy and full of beautiful hotels and buildings.  Our hotel, The Sok San Boutique Hotel (http://www.soksanstreetboutique.com/) was located just a couple of blocks from Pub Street, which is quite touristy, but also a lot of fun.  When he dropped us off, we arranged for Vichet to pick us up the following day for a tour of Kompong Phluk floating village.  Not only does he offer airport transport services, but he also can organize tours of the city, temples, or anything else you want to see in Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside.

Pub Street is usually full of tourists and locals on a normal day, but on Halloween, it was absolutely packed.  There was loud, thumping music coming from huge speakers on the street, and lots of people were in costume.  One thing I loved about it is that people were actually dressed in scary and funny Halloween costumes, instead of the “sexy-whatever” costumes that are prevalent in the U.S.  Cambodians (and indeed most people in Southeast Asia) are very conservative in their dress.  You’ll never see a Cambodian woman wearing a short skirt or a low cut blouse (unless you are looking at a prostitute.)  ANYWHO…back to Halloween.  We spent the evening watching the melee from a rooftop bar, and it was a lot of fun.  Beers and food in this area are insanely cheap (beers for 50 cents and full meals for less than $3.)  In Cambodia, their currency is very weak, and they use USD almost exclusively.  If you visit a cash machine, it always dispenses USD. 

The next day, at 3:00 pm, Vichet picked us up at our hotel and took us to the boat dock.  Along the way, he stopped at the lotus flower fields and explained to us the significance of the lotus flower and even purchased some lotus fruit for us.  He showed us to how to eat it and it tastes great!  Kind of like edamame, but a little sweeter.  It’s a unique flavor and very good. 

When we arrived at the boat dock, he introduced us to our tour guide.  We paid $20 each to board the boat.  We took a ride out to the “big lake” and our guide provided lots of information about the people who lived nearby, their fishing methods, and the cycle of tides.  We arrived at the floating village and we were amazed.  Our guide had grown up in the village at an orphanage, so he was very knowledgeable and explained each building in detail.  The people who live in this village are mostly Vietnamese, and mostly make their meager living through fishing.  Their families eat the smaller fish, and they sell the larger fish at the market for money. 

We stopped at another boat dock inside the floating village and paid another $20 per person for a guide to paddle us through the mangrove forest.  It was the most peaceful experience and so beautiful.  You shouldn’t miss this if you visit the floating village. 

After the mangrove tour, we boarded our larger boat again and went to a trinket shop in the floating village, to enjoy a drink while watching the sunset on their rooftop.  This was one of the highlights of our entire trip for me, so far. 

The next morning Vichet picked us up for our tour of the Angkor Wat and Bayon Temples.   We had done our research in advance and knew that there was a dress code for men and women in these temples.  It is not strictly enforced, and no one will ask you to leave if you are not wearing the right clothes.  However, I will say that if you are aware of this dress code, and choose to ignore it, you are being very disrespectful to their ancient religion and culture.  Please, please, please don’t be those people.  For both men and women, your knees and shoulders should be covered.  Since it was such a hot day, I opted to wear a tank top on the drive, but I covered my shoulders with a scarf before I entered the grounds of the temples.

Our first stop was the ticket counter, where we paid $20 per person and our pictures were taken for security purposes.  Next, we drove the last kilometer or so to reach the temple grounds.  These temples were truly awe-inspiring.   We walked through deserted halls, and went from room to room in amazement.   It was incredible to think that they were built thousands of years before and have stood the test of time.  Around every corner, there was another intricate stone carving or statue, and it seemed like the passageways and narrow hallways were endless.


During our exploration, we came across a few monkeys in the surrounding forest and we spent time watching the monkeys eat and play.   It was a nice reminder that the temples and the religion that they represent were always meant to be intertwined with nature.

After our temple tours, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was clearly for tourists.  This is the only part of the tour that I wish I could change.  The restaurant was extremely overpriced and the food wasn’t very good.  But fear not…we didn’t end on a sour note!  Our next stop was the War Museum.  Kirk is a huge fan of history, and he especially loves war history, so this was a treat for him.  I have to admit that I wasn’t well-versed in the Cambodian Civil War history, and I learned so much during our time at the museum.  It cost $5 per person to get in and that includes a free personal tour-guide if you want one.  We opted to tour the grounds on our own.  The museum is outside, although some of the exhibits are housed in small huts.  We saw actual vehicles, weapons, and supplies used during the war.  I was able to read detailed descriptions of the reasons for the war, including the U.S. involvement, and the final outcomes.  It was especially eye-opening to read about the land mines used during the war, some of which are still active in Cambodia.  Even today, people occasionally accidentally set these off, with catastrophic results.  Although I wasn’t too interested in this museum when we arrived, I was so glad I went and I was intrigued to learn more.  A couple of days later, Kirk and I purchased three books about the war, from a land-mine survivor, so that we could try to understand the complicated history of Cambodia. 

After the War Museum, we decided to go back to the hotel.  We ended our fantastic day with a Happy Pizza, which we purchased from our hotel restaurant.  If you aren’t familiar with Happy Pizza in Siem Reap, I suggest you do a little research.  It is very inexpensive ($5 extra to make the pizza “happier”) and easy to find at many local restaurants and it tastes great!   I recommend it.

A few more random highlights about Siem Reap...For anyone that knows me, they know that I HATE to wash and dry my hair.  At home, I love to get blow-outs as often as I can, but it costs about $45-50, so I don’t do it often.  But in Siem Reap, I got a shampoo-blow-dry for about $8 USD AND IT WAS AWESOME!  It was especially great because I hadn’t had straight hair for months, because I didn’t lug all the necessary tools with me from home.  It was a really nice treat, and I would have done it again if we had stayed in Siem Reap longer.  Another fun thing we did in Siem Reap was eating Cambodian BBQ, where you cook your own veggies and meat at a small grill at your table.  There are several places near Pub Street that offer this.  We opted for a very expensive version of this meal, including 6 different meats (chicken, beef, alligator, lobster, fish, and pork) and unlimited vegetables and rice.  It cost about $18 for both of us, not including drinks.  But you can find much cheaper options if you only want chicken or beef.

Our favorite driver picked us up at 6:00 am on our last day and drove us back to the airport.  We paid him all at one time for his several days of services.  He charged us $45 USD for everything (rides from the airport to the hotel and back to the airport, and the temple tours, and the floating village tours.)  So this was an amazing deal.  We ended up tipping him another $30, but we still felt like we got a steal at $75.

All in all, we were thoroughly impressed with Siem Reap, and had a great time during our 5 days here. 

Pro tip for Cambodia:  When paying with $20 or $100 bills, you must make sure they are in PRISTINE condition.  We tried to use a $100 bill and they wouldn’t accept it, due to an almost imperceptible tear at the top.  Although a bank will accept slightly worn bills, private vendors are extremely wary of counterfeit bills and will only accept perfectly crisp money.  And they will examine it extensively before they accept it.  We saw this over and over again.  We actually had to go to a machine and get more money, because none of our bills were acceptable.

Tags: #kirmily. #siemreap


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