Siem Reap, Cambodia

We almost didn’t include Cambodia in our journey, it would have been a BIG mistake. Luckily, we have some friends who were out there last year that didn’t let us make it. Siem Reap is known for the Temples of Angkor, which, in our opinion, put the Mayan ruins to shame. The deep reds and brown sandstone are astonishing, the fact that they are so old and still so delicately carved even more so. During our time there, of course, we visited the temples, because duh they’re incredible and the largest religious structure on earth, once housing over a million people! But more importantly to us, we wanted to take part in the Khmer culture and get to know the spectacular people that comprise this city. We spent hours talking with locals about life in Cambodia, the most meaningful part of travel to us.

We arrived on our flight from Phuket, Thailand on Air Asia with ease. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about our flight leaving Cambodia on Cambodia Angkor Air headed to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. It definitely wasn’t our favorite airline. Make sure you read the fine print on baggage fees! We didn’t and had to pay $65 each to check our carry-on backpacks. It was a real bummer. On a more positive note though, arrival into Cambodia and the visa process was among the smoothest of our trip. Be sure to have $30 per person in USD on you and know the address of your hotel. And if you can, always opt for an early morning flight to escape the crowds.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by our tuk-tuk driver with another one of those “make me feel famous” signs with our name on it. Of all the ways to travel in ALL of SE Asia, tuk-tuk was by far our favorite. The wind blew through our hair as we listened to the buzz of motorbikes and horns weaving their way in and out of traffic. We quickly picked up on the fact that driving in Cambodia is based on a lot of trust! We landed at our hotel, the EoCambo Village, around 8 am, and were greeted with the with most uplifting smiles and delicious ginger tea. We filled up on a delicious breakfast, caught up on emails, and set out to explore!

About 15 minutes into our walk and roughly 2 gallons of sweat later, we realized that Cambodia is HOT! There’s a reason everything shuts down mid-day. Luckily, our hotel had an amazing pool so we came back, jumped in, cooled off, and prepared for a night of adventure before embarking on the temples the next day. Now, I know this may sound odd.. going to Cambodia and eating at a Chinese restaurant, but we found the best dumplings and spicy noodles we’ve ever had in our lives that night!! We were headed toward pub street, as suggested on the inter-webs, but immediately found it to be a bit too westernized. So we just kept walking toward the night market and stumbled upon Old Beijing Dumpling House. OMG!!!! We ate here 3 times in 4 days. Jay, our server every time (and now our new friend), was simply magnificent. He shared how his family owned and operated this restaurant and that everything on the menu was specific to his hometown. Each dish is made to order, something evident in every bite. Since leaving Cambodia I think I’ve told 20 fellow travelers to go here. We dream about these dumplings. If you ever get the chance to visit Siem Reap, it’s an actual must.

The Temples of Angkor

Day 1

The following day we set out for the Temples of Angkor. These ancient structures are incredibly majestic and massive in size, they really cannot be done in a day so I’d recommend purchasing the 3-day pass. We didn’t have a lot of time so we packed it into 2 days but if you’re able I’d recommend going for the full 3. The most common way, the way we would recommend, to get to and around the temples is by tuk-tuk. The drivers will take you from your hotel (city center is about 35 minutes from the entrance to the temples) to the ticketing office, then to each temple and wait outside for you while you delve into what each has to offer. Upon returning to the tuk-tuk after each temple our driver always had a cold bottle of water and wet towelettes for us because again, Cambodia is WARM (see the red-faced photo of me below that was kept in this blog as a PSA for future visitors) and you will sweat more than you ever thought possible. *Hot tip- bring gold bond. It will save your life.* the driver for the whole day all is a mere $20! And let me express, this was easily a 7-8 hour day of sitting out in the hot sun waiting for us, so please understand that while the base fee of this is very cheap, tipping is incredibly appreciated and we HIGHLY encourage you to do it. Between temples, our driver also educated us about the history of what we were seeing and passing by and even took us to lunch!

Another important thing to note when visiting the temples is the dress code. Knees and shoulders are expected to be covered and if you show up wearing what they deem to be revealing clothing (tank tops, short skirts, etc.) you will likely be turned away. They take this very seriously and it is strictly enforced. So be respectful and follow the rules, fools!

We started our first day to the temples around 9 am and headed straight to Angkor Wat, the largest in the complex and were greeted by some playful monkeys. As we were standing there watching the babies play one of them ran over to me, jumped on my leg and gave it a big squeeze. Was this dangerous? Yes. Did I still love every second of being hugged by a baby monkey? You bet I did. But you know, be careful! After exploring Angkor Wat for a while we were a little overwhelmed by the crowd and decided to continue on and return the next morning when the crowds weren’t quite as heavy to see the rest. We set off for the Angor Thom complex, visiting the Bayan and Ta Keo temples where we climbed approximately 5 million steps. From there we made our way to the last stop of the day, Ta Prohm. Basically, it went like this: I ran around pretending I was Laura Croft from Tomb Raider and Taylor was a natural Indiana Jones. It was our childhood dreams come to life.

The Temples of Angkor

Day 2

On our second day, we wised up and arrived at 4:30 am to catch the sun rising over Angkor Wat and beat the crowds. But as you’ll see, I think the rest of Siem Reap had the same idea. It was still significantly less crowded than the previous day and we would highly recommend starting at least one of your days there at sunrise. Not only are there fewer people, but it is also one of the most stunning sunrises on earth. The first day we played the hits so our second was spent exploring the smaller circuit of temples. After discovering the rest of Angor Wat that we hadn’t seen the day before we set off for the Preah Khan, Neak-Pean, Ta Som, and East Mebon temples. I think we enjoyed this day even more than the last. Having arrived early we were among the first to visit each temple so the crowds were far less and the temperature was MUCH more tolerable. We felt free to roam throughout each structure at our own pace and really take our time appreciating the architectural riches before us.

After two very full days, we still hadn’t even scratched the surface of everything to see in this vast empire but sadly it was time for us to move on to our next stop. We left mesmerized, reading and wanting to learn everything we could to understand the enormity of what we had just experienced.

Cambodia is a definite cannot miss on any trip to SE Asia. And if you’re headed there we can’t recommend EoCambo Village and the Old Beijing Dumpling House enough. We can’t wait to have the opportunity to visit again and spend a little more time getting to know this astonishing city!

Share this story