Friends! Sorry I’m dragging my feet on these Southeast Asia vacation posts. I can’t believe it’s already been 2 months since we’ve been back. Time is flying as always. Today I want to share with you our adventures in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I’ll be honest, our first reaction to Cambodia was not a positive one.
Upon arrival in Siem Reap, we quickly found our tuk tuk driver sporting the hotel’s shirt and holding up our names and hopped on board for a very dirty ride through town. The city is one of the dirtiest I’ve ever been in with dust and dirt literally hitting us in the face and sticking to my eyes as we drove down the streets. Every time I saw a hospital I’d look at J and say, “We’re not allowed to get sick or hurt here.”
We were shocked when we arrived at our hotel. The charming hotel and deluxe room was anything but. Dark, dirty and isolated with a moldy bathroom and trinkle of a cold shower (seriously, the shower was disgusting), we gave it one night and then promptly found a new hotel over breakfast the next morning. It was that bad.
Thankfully our last minute booking allowed us to stay at a gorgeous boutique hotel for a steal of a price. The Moon Boutique Hotel was everything that the Lotus Lodge wasn’t — clean, comfortable, fresh white bedding and cozy with a breakfast that rivaled the one in Hoi An and a pool that was as refreshing as it was inviting. In a word our new hotel was perfection.
And suddenly Siem Reap wasn’t so bad any more.
We spent our first full day in Siem Reap exploring the ancient temples that lure people to Cambodia. Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Banteay Kdie and more captivated us was we walked, wandered, photographed and sweated our way through their ancient ruins. I was more wowed than I expected to be at the hugeness and beauty of it all. Angkor Wat alone is the largest temple in the world and easily takes several hours to explore. We followed that with 5 additional temples and were completely exhausted and literally dripping with sweat at the end of the day. Thankfully, Cambodia is full of affordable massages so we treated ourselves to a $6 foot massage at the end of the day (after a long shower, of course).
This little cutie let me draw some flowers on her hands.
We were so exhausted after our first day of touring temples that we debated doing it again the second day even though we had bought the 3 day temple ticket. The heat and humidity was so suffocating that it was hard to imagine spending another full day enduring it, but in the end we opted to visit one of the lesser seen temples called Banteay Srei at the advice of a friend. The temple was about an hour outside of town which made for a lovely and COOL tuk tuk ride through the Cambodian countryside. I loved seeing the kids riding their bikes home from school and watching the water buffalo in the rice fields. With a much slower pace, it was the perfect way to enjoy day two.
Siem Reap surprised us with it’s amazing food options. Our first night we dined at Haven, “a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from very rural poor areas.” We loved their mission and the food was pretty amazing, too. Please eat there to support their awesome mission if you’re in Siem Reap! It was sooo good in a great atmosphere and the training servers were completely attentive and professional. We also enjoyed Momma Shop, an authentic Italian recipe where the pasta and everything else was made from scratch. We sat outside sipping on wine and inhaling our gnocchi and carbonara. Perfecto.
What we didn’t love was Pub Street, Cambodia’s version of Beale Street or any other party street. It was chaotic, crowded and loud and not at all our style. I think that after the tranquility of Hoi An, Pub Street was a bit of a shock to our system. I did love the pancake street carts they had everywhere for our evening dessert (banana nutella was my pancake of choice) and found some great seasonings to bring home to friends, but that was about it. Our hotel was such a quiet retreat that at the end of the day we preferred to relax there.
In the end, Cambodia won us over with us beautiful, warm people, it’s amazing food and the awe-inspiring sites. We would totally recommend it.
Stayed at: You can find dirt cheap lodging in Siem Reap but we paid a bit more for some comfort. Lotus Lodge — hated it! Then stayed at the Moon Boutique Hotel. Absolutely lovely — giant rooms with rain showers in the bathroom, huge breakfast, amazing pool and free tuk tuk rides into town with a cell phone so you can call when you’re ready for a pick up. If you can, try to book it last minute to get rooms for a fraction of their normal price. We also heard great things about the budget friendly Golden Temple Villa, however it must be popular because it was fully booked over a month before our trip.
How to visit the temples: You’ll need to buy an Angkor Pass ticket to visit the temples and sites around Siem Reap. They cost $20 for a one day visit / $40 for 3 days / $60 for 7 days. The best way to get around is on a tuk tuk which you can hire thru your hotel for around $15-25 for the full day. Some people bike around the temples which we couldn’t imagine since we were already SO hot and sweaty and exhausted from walking around.
A Note on Dress Code: Women visiting Angkor Wat and the other temple sites are expected to have their knees and shoulders covered. They will turn you away from several of the temple areas if you’re wearing a short skirt or skimpy clothes. Please dress extra modestly and respectfully. Men must also have their shoulders covered (no tank tops). It is crazy hot so keep clothes lightweight. I wore lightweight cotton pants and a tshirt and was hot but fine.
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