Natalie has been to Cambodia around 4 years ago, and it is still one of her favorite cultural destinations to visit. Aside from the special culture, Cambodia is a good destination if you are looking for a country that won’t burst your wallet. A couple of weeks ago, The Travelling Foxes co-blogger Cecille visited Cambodia, and here are her tips when travelling to this temple-filled country.
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Cambodia is definitely one of the most popular countries to visit in Asia. To those touring around, Cambodia would always be part of the travel bucket list – and it was always on mine! I have been so fascinated by Angkor Wat ever since I can remember, but never really read so much about it until I knew we were going there. I knew that the Angkor Wat was from the ancient civilization and is one of the biggest religious monuments in the world, but what I learned about the Angkor complex made this place one of my favorite places that I’ve visited in my entire life. I don’t want to write about the history because it is just too long and I might not get all the facts right. But just a quick history – the first temples were built by the young King Jayavarman II based on the inscriptions on the existing temples. Initially, the temples were for the main religion which was Hinduism, that’s why you can see Hindu gods like Vishnu and Shiva on the temples. The kings that followed also practiced Buddhism which later became the Khmer’s practice too.
Cambodia is a World Heritage site so people from all over the world flock to the place especially Angkor Wat. Busloads of people visit the temples every day and it can get really annoying with the crowds. Even if you wake up at 4 am to watch the sunrise, you will watch together with hundreds of other people who are also trying to get a photo of the sunrise. We didn’t want to be overwhelmed with the temples so we decided to visit 2 or 3 temples per day which is a pretty good idea in the end. In this blog, we will share how we avoided the crowd and had a spiritual and memorable time visiting the temples.
We made a list of the temples we wanted to visit because if you don’t know where to go, the tuktuk drivers will take you to the usual temples where the crowds will be. The temples except Angkor Wat opens at 7:30 AM. Tickets to visit the temples aren’t really cheap, for one day it’s $37, $62 for 3 days and $72 for 7 days. It is impossible to visit all the temples in one day, we got the 3 day pass and visited the temples that we thought were interesting and beautiful.
For our first day, we were in the temple an hour early because we were too excited! This temple is a major temple of King Jayavarman VII, this is the most popular one after Angkor Wat, as this was the location of the movie Tomb Raider. The trees are interlaced among the ruins because this temple was chosen to be left in its natural state as an example of how it looked like when it was discovered.
This temple is located in Angkor Tom and is one of our favorites! We got a tour guide for this particular temple because we found it so interesting. If you look closely at the towers you can see many enigmatic faces and it feels like you are being watched. Bas-reliefs can also be found on this temple and it tells so many stories like the battle with the Chams and scenes of the Khmer’s daily life.
As much as we were anxious about the crowd we still decided to come for sunrise, however, it was too cloudy so we didn’t see it. So, it’s always best to check the weather too, good thing it didn’t rain! There are a lot of people who go there for sunrise especially on the left side of the temple. You can still see the sunrise on the right side and the people are not as many as on the other side. We then headed to the North gate of the temple and there were only a few people and sometimes we would be alone. The energy of the temple is just amazing, it’s the best place to do a little yoga or meditation. We stayed for 3 hours and when we left that’s when the huge crowds of people started to arrive.
This was more than a temple as it was also a Buddhist university and was dedicated to the king’s father. We explored the East side and much of that part is not completely restored, it definitely had that jungle feel and I saw a scorpion just a few meters from me!
It rained heavily on our way to the temple but weirdly stopped when we arrived there. No one was there of course so the place was a little bit of creepy but not in a bad way. This temple you can have a quick visit since it is a miniature version of Ta Phrom.
This is the most beautiful temple that I have seen in Siem Reap, it is a bit far though 45 minutes away from the city. The name means “Citadel of the Women”
If you have ASEAN passport, it’s very easy to get to Cambodia. I have a Filipino passport so I was visa free in Cambodia but for Manny, who has a German passport he needed to get his e-visa before our flight. It is easy to get a visa online, however you have to be careful and go to the correct website. The visa fee is only $36.00, see E-Visa.gov, the official government website for e-visa. We mistakenly got the e-visa from the other website, Cambodia Online Visa which looked like the official one and it was $99.00! Thankfully we got $63.00 back after questioning them why we had to pay so much.
Mode of transport
At first, we wanted to rent a motorbike so we can go ourselves but it is illegal in Cambodia for tourists to rent a motorbike. You can however rent an e-bike or a bicycle but we thought the place was too big for a bicycle and we didn’t want to risk losing power while driving the e-bike. The tuktuk was definitely the best mode of transport in Siem Reap. We arranged from our hotel for a tuktuk to pick us up at the airport ($7.00) and we also decided to hire him for the next days. It is better to arrange a driver from your hotel because it is fixed price. If you hire from the streets they can be a little cheaper but they can also change the price while on your tour without a legitimate reason. The prices of the tuktuks vary where you go, the temples that fall on the the red line is $15.00, the green line is $18.00 and $25.00 or more if you go out of the green line. You also need to add $5 if you go to watch the sunrise.
They prefer to be paid in dollars than in Cambodian Riel so it’s better to change dollars before you fly to Cambodia. You also have to be sure that the money is not torn or have any ink on it because they only accept perfect bills. When you pay in dollars you will get your change in dollars and in Riel if it’s below $1.00.
Where to stay
We stayed at a bed and breakfast called Maison 557 and it was fantastic! The room was around $60.00/ night, it was really lovely and clean and it had an outdoor shower which was my favorite part. Our host, Pam was also really helpful and accommodating during our stay. If you tell her that you would leave early she would pack a breakfast picnic for you. There are also a lot of big hotels and hostels around Siem Reap so you have a lot of options!
We love to try local food every time we travel so we asked our host about which Khmer food we should try. She told us to try the Amok which is considered by most people to be the national dish in Cambodia and also the, Loklak. The Amok can be any meat but the Fish Amok was the best, it is cooked inside a banana leaf with coconut milk, curry, ginger, lime and other spices. We also tried the Beef Loklak, it is thinly sliced meat which is dipped into a tangy peppery sauce. You can easily find them in most Cambodian restaurants! There was also a local barbecue place in front our hotel, there were no tourists there but it was full of people. We had the grilled beef, local beer and some stuff we don’t even know what they were. The place didn’t disappoint at all!
The best meals we had was with our tuktuk driver Mr. Vireak when he stopped by the street to get barbecue for his wife. It wasn’t the normal barbecue when I saw it up-close, I realized it was actually frog! It was very tasty and much better than the normal barbecue I would say. He also made us try the fish noodle soup which was amazing!
If you’re also looking for a healthy vegetarian/ vegan friendly restaurant there are a lot to choose from, the best ones are Artillery and Sister Srey.
Other stuff to do in Siem Reap
Visit the National Museum
I was blown away by their world class museum, it was definitely worth to have a visit. You can do it before or after you visit the temples and it’s best to get an audio guide when you are there.
Visit Les Artisans d’Angkor
This is a really special place where you can buy your souvenirs because it’s a social enterprise company where they give opportunities to locals that need jobs, nurture their talents and skills. Some of their artisans are also selected to help restore the Angkor site. In this place they do carving, silk weaving, silver plating and much more. We bought a soapstone carving of a Buddha and a pure silk pillow case to bring home.
Visit Pub Street
This is where most tourists go to have a drink or some food. What I like about it is it wasn’t too crazy crowded with people. You can also get a massage or a fish spa if you like.
Visit the markets
There are many markets or night markets in Siem Reap but the best one is the Made in Cambodia market. Some of these markets have items coming from China or Vietnam that’s why they don’t have the best quality. You can find so many nice things at the Made in Cambodia market like paintings from local artists, clay jewelry, and gemstones.