November 4 to 13, 2014. The flip floppin’s traveler was able to answer the strong call of wanderlust that he had been hearing for almost a year now.
Yes, I had 9 days to travel! And how my soul was doing cartwheels the sooner it arrived. And now, I’m going to write about it.
Now 9 days seems fairly short but for me it was actually long already. This trip was intended to be one week only but since I absent-mindedly booked additional two days since there were no more flight seats on sale for the 1 week trip. I just said “go with it!”. The call for wanderlust was just that strong.
What is different with this trip is that I will be doing it SOLO for the first time ever. Well, I have travelled locally to prepare for this but hey, it is still a daunting thing to face. But then again, you will never know when you are ready unless you do it. So I packed by backpack with clothes and soaked up on the online information and was ecstatic to go.
My destination: The Kingdom of Cambodia through the city famous for their ancient temples, Siem Reap.
I arrived in Siem Reap, instead of November 4, but on the 5th already because of some delays. I was sort of bummed out for it but just thought otherwise as I am now on explorer mode. My initial stay in Siem Reap was with The Siem Reap Hostel, the highly recommended one based on online resources. I met two Filipinas also heading for Siem Reap in the airport in Manila and they were also going to stay in the same hostel. So we were picked up by our tuktuk driver, and arrived at the hostel past 12 mn. We checked in and called it a night, or rather a morning.
This is the first part of my stay in Siem Reap. I spent two days then decided to take the bus and head for Bangkok and spent another two days there then headed back through train to the border then bus back to Siem Reap and Stay in Jasmine Family Hostel and stayed three more days before heading back home.
Did I mentioned that I had no planned itinerary for the entire 9 day stay? Yup! I figured I would just wing it each day passes confirming this trip as a #YOLO (you only live once).
Now these are the things that I did in the small town of Siem Reap in the days that I was there:
1. Angkor National Museum
Soak up on Cambodian culture and on history of the temples. This was recommended by my good friend, the footloosefoodie, who did this travel a year back. Solo as well. He mentioned that this museum will help you understand the temples, why it was created and the stories that are inscribed in its walls.
I spent a total of 4 hours here skipping lunch an emerging from the museum at almost 5PM. And you guessed it correctly, I am a museum junkie.
They have a number of exhibits that show their religion Buddhism, Hinduism, and King worship, as well as how and why the temples were built.
Museum entrance cost USD 12. But if you would like to have an audio guide with you, you need to pay additional USD 3. The audio sections of the museum are a bit limited but the additional information are just OK. No need also to take the tuktuk, you can easily walk it from where ever your hostel is located. Or better yet, take a bike with you to get there.
2. Temple hopping at the Angkor Archaeological Park Cambodia
Entrance to the Angkor grounds costs you per day:
- 1 day pass = USD 20
- 3 day pass = USD 40
- 7 day pass = USD 60
They may appear costly, but believe me they are worth it! I only took the one day pass and hired a tuktuk to take me to the temples. Your local hostel will most probably have packages available for you depending on the temples you would like to visit. They have the small circuit (consisting of about 5 to 8 temples) and the big circuit (consisting of 8 to 12 temples). Apart from that they also have sun rise and sun set packages where you can see the rise and fall of the sun on selected temples.
I opted to visit Bantay Srei, Pre Rup, Ta Phrom, Angkor Throm (Bayon), and Angkor Wat . The trip cost me USD 25 which I think was worth it because Bantay Srei was really FAR. I took us almost 2 hours to get there but it was worth it! Bring a bottle of water to quench your thirst. It can really get hot
TIP: the tuktuk drivers will tell you that biking to the temples is really far. But in reality it is doable! I’ve met a number of tourist who did it. So I decided to do it. I made it to the place where you buy tickets but was stopped mid cycle by police (afraid!). Apparently, anyone can pass through the road 5:30 pm onwards. But since my bicycle didn’t have lights for night travel, I had to turn back. So if you bought the 3 or 7 day pass, you can go biking and you will save up on your tuktuk fare.
TIP: Share the tuktuk to be more cost effective. If you meet people in your hostel that would also like to visit the same temples you would like to visit, it is worth it to share.
TIP: as you might have read on other blogs, if you purchase your tickets at about 5:00 to 5:30 PM, you can have get in the temples for free to view the sunset and come back the following day for a full day of temple exploration!
3. Bike around the town
Siem Reap is a really quaint town and very picturesque at that. Especially, the park along the river with several benches along its banks. I was there during the Loy Kratong festival but was not able to witness the festivities that happened along the river mainly because it was a bit crowded with tourist and locals alike. A big mistake on my part as it was by chance that my travel period coincides with the festival. Well, maybe I’ll just come back next year for it.
There are also a number of Wats or Buddhist temples that you can visit around town. Some of the Wats are really old and you can see monks within the compounds doing their daily routines of praying, cleaning the temple grounds or tinkering with their smart phones and tablets (yes, they also live in the 21st century).
All the Wats are right next to schools and had a chance to get to see Cambodian students in school. Make sure to ask permission first and check if you can walk around. Be mindful also not to distract children and the teachers in their class. You might get lucky and a class might take a break during your visit.
I actually took a bike and just rode around town. I followed the river and got to see how everyday life for the locals are. I highly recommend doing it also. The town is a bit small and I am sure your can find your way back into the city and your hostel.
Bike rentals at your hostel can either come for free or would range from USD 1 – 2 per day. Yes. That is per day. So this is the cheapest mode of transport there is.
TIP: as always, double check the tires and breaks of the bike that you are renting. Some bike rentals may offer cheap rates but will charge you USD 1 for any damage.
TIP: bring your own bike locks. I read somewhere that there are cases that the bike locks provided have duplicates and are stolen by people and returned to their rentals while you are hassled looking for it and would have to pay for it. Better sure than sorry.
4. Go on a shopping bonanza at the Old Market
The Old Market is the place to buy souvenirs, live produce, exotic food, silver ware and antiques. Yes! You can find them there as well as fried crickets or fried black beetles while you shop.
You have the tank tops and t-shirts that have different designs of either “I love Cambodia” or elephant designs or cultural designs. There was even a tank top that I bought that reads “SAME SAM” in the front and reads “BUT DIFFERENT” at the back. Apparently, this design is popular with tourist. I bought two tank tops actually. Well, I think I got what the wordings meant. Now the tank tops and shirts costs about USD 5 to 8 per piece.
There are also wallets sold of different designs where you can buy USD 3 to 5 for 5 pieces (these comes in packs); while there are ones that costs USD 1 each.
There are also pajama like pants (I don’t know what they are called but you will get it when you see them) that comes in thin fabrics that you can use to sleep in or walk around in. these items are generally unisex (well, it depends on your preference). BUT the absolute things to get here are the pajamas that are triangular when spread out. It looks like a skirt when you wear it but it is actually a pajama too. It is kinda hard to explain but again you will get it when you see it. These stuff also costs about USD 8 to 10 per piece
There are also silver trinkets that you would might want to take home with you. I believe that Siem Reap have amazing artisans around the city who make these stuff. You can get bangles and figurines of elephants or apsaras or little silver boxes where you can put stuff in. Really pretty. I was not able to ask how much they cost.
TIP: HAGGLE! Yes! As with any market place you can haggle for prices specially if you are planning to buy more than 3 pieces of the items. Now, call me cheap (by all means, I accept this comment well), but I haggled my best here to get stuff for people back home. The tank tops I was able to get USD 3 a piece for two pieces; the shirts, I was able to get USD 24 for 5 pieces; the triangular pants I was able to get USD 5 per piece for 3 pieces.
TIP: If the seller would not budge on what you want, the ultimate technique is to slowly walk away. Then count to about 3, and the seller will call out to you and give you another offer or your desired price.
5. Party at Pub Street
There is a fairly decent party scene in Siem Reap by the Pub Street. Don’t worry about not locating it. You will find it. Just follow the neon lights. You won’t miss it promise.
Like in every city, the Pub Street is where you can let loose and party the night away. The hippest place seems to be Temple Bar and Angkor What? which are situated in front of each other.
A new found friend went out with me to the pub street and we checked out Angkor What? The place just stood out for me because of all the graffiti that you can see from the outside. While Temple Bar was just a bit the same as a sort of posh bar. For me Angkor What? had more character.
Now a glass of draft beer cost USD 1.50 for Angkor Beer and Anchor Beer. Don’t be confused with the spelling now! But either way, they are both local beers and it would not matter anymore when you get drunk now would it? Eh? Now cocktails are also available. But if you want a bucket of beer or cocktails, you will be literally be given a bucket with the alcoholic concoction with straws to sip. Seems hygienic enough plus the bucket contains alcoholic beverages some of which are known to be disinfectants too so I would not worry about it too much. Again, all of this would not matter if you are drunk.
There are other bars and pubs along the street, but the Temple Bar and Angkor What are the, let’s say, happiest and there is a time that the crowds pour out on the Pub Street and the party pics up from there.
CAUTION: there would be locals offering you marijuana. I was SO tempted to try it but the image of me being locked up abroad in a foreign country didn’t appeal to me as much so I begged off the drugs.
Yes eat! There are a number of restaurants lining up and down the city. Cafes, restaurants, pizza joints, ice cream parlors litter the town. Everything is just walking distance from the Old Market. There are actually Thai, Mexican, Western, Indian food joints also. Meals range from USD 5 to 18. A bit pricey indeed.
Now since I am on a budget, I only ate at USD 1 to 3 places. But I would recommend this joint run by Wan and she specializes in stir fried noodles Cambodian style. Each order is only USD 1. You have an option of using Cambodian noodles (short stubby ones that kinda looks like bean sprouts) and Vietnamese ones (these comes in pack). Each order also comes with a sunny-side up egg. Wan’s Cambodian Noodle joint is located at almost the end of the airport road. It is this small food cart next to a school on the left side of the temple. You won’t miss it. And Wan is just an amazing person to talk to. Please give her place a visit and eat her noodles and you will be coming back for more.
If you are into the exotic, you may chance upon a person who would sell fried crickets and fried beetles. I personally tried the fried crickets and it surprisingly tastes like small deep fried shrimps. It is was surprisingly good. The beetles were a bit daunting for me so I skipped it. But I would have tried deep fried tarantulas and scorpions though.
7. Learn to cook Khmer food or make pottery.
Some restaurants offer Khmer food cooking classes. These are located in the alleyways within Pub Street. It is not dingy as you might think. These one are legit though I forgot that name of the restaurant. But for sure, you can check with you hostel.
Pottery classes are also offered.
8. GIVE BACK
Based on history, we know that Cambodia went through a lot. And they need all the help that they can get.
You can research the best possible way that you can give back but I recommend visiting Life and Hope Organization online or go to Wat Damak in Siem Reap and ask the monks to volunteer. They would be able to assign you.
The monks of Wat Damak together with Life and Hope Organization are working hand in hand to teach English to their students, build houses, provide food to remote communities, teach livelihood programs to locals. Robert Pattinson (yes, the hot vampire LOL) donated shelter for female students who were taught how to sew.
There are other organizations definitely but please do select carefully.
Siem Reap has definitely a lot to offer same as with any other country. Because of the locals that I met, the small town grew close to my heart honesty. I would have stayed longer if I had the time. But alas, everyone has to go back to reality right?
Do proper research and plan accordingly to make any trip organized. Or you can just wing it like I did.