AW-KHUN, or simply thank you in the Khmer language of Cambodia.
Earlier this week, I went on a short five-day trip to Siem Reap with my (other) best friend. On our first day, like most other tourists, Angkor Wat was on our itinerary. Woke up at 4.30am and took the Tuk Tuk to catch the first light of day. To witness the beauty of the sunrise was truly magical! The sky was all gold and pink, turning first purple then blue. We were ready to start our little Cambodian adventure!
A visit to Angkor Wat is not just to the main temple itself, but involves the other smaller temples within the vicinity. Each with a unique characteristic – shrubs on its rooftops, pretty pool surrounding it, steep climbs for spectacular views. My favourite was Baphuon Temple (not in photo, the one above is Bayon Temple) with the long stone walkway entrance; something like out of a game of Temple Run. I can imagine myself running along collecting coins.
There are two routes: the short circuit and the long circuit. We took the short circuit which lasted 3-4 hours and did not cover all the temples in the outer district. But it was good enough for me to do morning climbs, admiring the beauty of the temples and annoying my friend with questions as to how people could have built such majesty back in the 12th century. Quite honestly though, we were pretty tired walking about under the scorching sun. What was lovely is that the Tuk Tuk driver at the start of the morning was chauffeuring us the whole day hopping temple to temple for US$12.
Chased the sunrise, would definitely chase the sunset. The view was just as spectacular from the top of Pre Rup Temple, hanging out with our new German friend and just patiently waiting for dusk. Had to be sure to make our way down before the darkness completely came though, as the climb is very steep.
I loved taking the Tuk Tuks, with the wind in my face (though the dust is not cool). How amusing it is to see the lack of traffic lights but drivers somewhat have a silent understanding of giving way to each other. When not on Tuk Tuks, exploring the town of Siem Reap by foot is the next best alternative. But be ready to get called out by drivers every 20m of walking: “Lady, Tuk Tuk for you?”.
No, thank you. Not today.
The Old Market. I personally preferred this place compared to the night market across the canal. Yes, it is old with the zinc roof and one-of-a-kind smell. But it has character. On the outside you will find souvenir shops and vendors selling dried goods from crackers to rice to spices. Take a walk deeper and you will find fruits, vegetables and seafood, with food stalls selling Cambodian dishes. I enjoyed looking at the greens and noticing some of the fruits that you just cannot find in Singapore.
Pub Street. Nice place to socialise over a drink or two, people-watching over the terrace and laughing at ridiculous tourists with even more ridiculous selfie-sticks. Favourite haunt has got to be the Angkor-What Bar (notice the pun hahaha), with its slogan of “promoting irresponsible drinking since 1998”. Too cute.
Physical Rehabilitation Centre of Siem Reap. This was an accidental find while wandering about the streets. It was nice of the director to take us on a mini tour of the place. I learnt that many of the clients at the centre are victims of landmine accidents. While there were no occupational therapists at the place, their services are mostly provided for by physiotherapists and orthotics. I was told that their ambulatory training with BKA prosthesis or crutches involves not only flat terrains and steps (like Singapore) – but rather sand, rocks and bridges as many clients are working the paddy fields. It was an eye-opening experience to witness some of the third world equipment and how creative the service-providers are in constructing walkers and wheelchairs.
Upstairs Cafe. This French cafe was a quirky find in the middle of Siem Reap. It was a nice refuge from the outdoor heat, spending half an afternoon away reading a book and playing a game of old-school Scrabble. Enjoyed their yummy chocolate fondant cake and the vintage interior. Look up its location here.
We decided to try out quad biking one evening. Oh my, I only wished we had a longer time as the one hour was not enough! I was new to quad biking so the local Khmer guide had me go on a 10-minute trial, correcting my turns. It took some getting used to biking on the right side of the road. We were taken through the villages and countrysides, where we stopped to catch the sunset overlooking the paddy fields. Gorgeous! I really enjoyed the trip as it was a rare chance to see the local people and their everyday lives as we passed through the villages.
If only we had more than five days, we would have gone for a day-trip to visit Phnum Kulen and its famed waterfalls. Otherwise, Siem Reap is also a great place to take a sleeper-bus trip down to Phnom Penh (which we did for the genocide museums), or neighbouring countries like Vietnam or Laos.
As I spent our last morning doing yoga on the balcony, fascinated by our expat teacher and his travel stories of India, I thought to myself: It’s too soon to be leaving Siem Reap behind.
Thank you Siem Reap, for you have been lovely to us. Aw-khun ch’ran.
My recommendations for hostel-stay and a fantastic tour:
The Siem Reap Hostel http://www.thesiemreaphostel.com/
7 Makara Street, Wat Dam Nak Area, Siem Reap, The Kingdom of Cambodia
Visited November 2014, stayed in a private 6-bed dorm for US$10.50/night
The first thing that surprised me was arriving at the airport to find my name board, and realising the hostel had already arranged a complementary Tuk Tuk pick-up. Stayed in a 6-person all-girls dorm, the beds and toilet were generally clean. Daily breakfast were provided for at USD2 and I love the additional facilities they had – pool, yoga classes, lounge area with a pool table and hammocks, pre-arranged trips for sightseeing. The hostel was just a 5-min walk from the Old Market and Pub Street, with a convenience store just across the street. What sets this hostel apart is that the local staff are extremely helpful and dedicated! A thumbs-up, we could not have found a better lodging! -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)
Siem Reap Quad Bike Adventure http://www.srquadbikeadventure.com/index.php/en/
165 Wat Dam Nak Road, Wat Dam Nak Village, Sala Kam Reuk Commune, Siem Reap, The Kingdom of Cambodia
Visited November 2014, US$30/pax for a 1-hour quadbike tour
Took the 1-hour quad biking itinerary and I must say, I wished I had a longer time! We were given a Tuk Tuk pickup from our hostel and the staff were kind enough to drop-off us at the end. I was new to quad biking so the guide had me go on a 10-minute trial, teaching me the basics. The guides spoke excellent English. We were then biking through the villages and countrysides where we stopped to catch the sunset overlooking the paddy fields… gorgeous views! I really enjoyed the trip as it was a rare chance to see the local people and their everyday lives as we passed through the villages. The only thing that I had to get used to was biking on the right side of the road! Would definitely return for more. -My TripAdvisor review (NaniSG)