Our accommodation offered free transport from the airport to the villa which we readily accepted. It was a relief to see my name on the sign and we exited to the airport. Looking for our transport; we expected a car or a van and therefore were surprised to say the least when a tuk tuk showed up. How were our 6 cases going to fit on there? To our surprise this was no problem to the driver who tied on our cases and put them all around us! All secured and ready to go and laughing at how bizarre this situation was we headed off to our accommodation.
Upon arrival Nigel’s daughter and her boyfriend were there which was a lovely surprise. We checked in and were shown our rooms. Rather than waste time we headed straight out into town for something to eat with our local tour guides to point us in the direction of the best restaurants. We headed for Pub Street which is the busiest place around and apparently the same no matter what night of the week it is! here there are copious bars and restaurants and we headed for Cafe Latino a Tex Mex restaurant which we were reliably informed serves some of the best frozen margaritas around! We were not disappointed and the food was also lovely. Meals on average were $6-8 and the jug of frozen margaritas were $5.50.
Next stop was the Temple Sky Lounge which overlooks pub street and has bean bags on the roof where you can sit and chill. There is also live music in here although there appears to be a preference for Shakira songs in this particular bar. We chilled out taking in the ambience of the place and then headed back to our accommodation to get some well deserved sleep!
The next day was Halloween, something which is celebrated widely in Cambodia. To start our day we arranged to go to the school where Nigel’s daughter teaches for some trick or treat fun. Armed with sweets we headed to the school for the fun activities ahead. The children were great fun and there were activities such as apple dunking, pin the tail on the witches cat and mask making going on. We had a great time here and it was great to see how great Elisa was with the children there. The school is an International School and therefore there were children there from many different countries including Korea and China. After some lunch at Rosy’s which serves a traditional English breakfast we headed back to our hotel for a relaxing afternoon by the pool.
We stayed at the Tanei Boutique Villa which is located in the Steng Thmey Village area of Siem Reap, just a few minutes walk from Pub Street and the Night Market. Despite its close proximity, it was on a very quiet street so there were no noise disturbances throughout the night (except the tree frogs!). The accommodation itself was clean with air con; the only thing missing was tea and coffee making facilities. We booked two double rooms next to each other on the first floor which cost £250 in total for the 8 nights. The pool was more than adequate and was a welcome oasis from the stifling heat of Siem Reap.
That evening we organised to go out for a Chinese meal with the staff from the school. We had been warned by Elisa that last year they were served turtle however this year there was none to be seen. We indulged in sweet and sour chicken, noodles and a variety of other dishes washed down with Angkor Beer. Yum. After the meal the girls went their own way to celebrate Halloween and Nigel and I headed back to Pub Street. If it was possible the street was even busier than the night before and we could hardly move. It was fun to watch the street dancing; however we decided to head back to the Temple Sky Lounge for some Long Island Iced Teas. Feeling more than a little merry and via another bar we headed back to our accommodation.
After a bit of a lie in the next day we met up with Elisa and went for lunch at a place round the corner from our accommodation called the Kuriosity Kafe; a place which impressed so much it became a regular haunt of ours for breakfast. We spent the afternoon chilling by the pool and Nigel and I went for a massage at Happy Massage which was on the same street as our accommodation. We had a 1 hour massage for $7 each and this consisted of laying on the floor on mattresses and the masseuse climbing on top of you :-/ certainly a different experience and was quite painful at times but enjoyable none the less. That evening we visited Elisa and Mike’s new house, met the dogs and had dinner which was lovely before heading back to our accommodation for a very early start the next morning.
The next morning we arranged to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise; this meant a 4.30am pick up by Tuk Tuk. We agreed a price of $20 (due to the early start the Tuk Tuk drivers charge more). We were picked up on time and headed to the ticket office where you have a choice of passes, 1 day, 3 days or a week. We chose the 1 day pass which cost $20 each and it was a relatively quick process. Off we headed to Angkor Wat for sunrise. We were not disappointed!
Angkor Wat is a 3 tiered pyramid with 5 towers rising 65 metres from the ground. It is the centrepiece of Angkor and was thought to have been dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu. The grounds are 1km square.
Be warned however when walking through the back of Angkor Wat of the monkeys, one of which charged Nigel to try and grab his carrier bag with water in it. Also if you stop for too long the ants are quite fond of biting your ankles as Tilly found out!
We returned back to our tuk tuk and continued our tour of the temples. We paused at the South Gate of Angkor Thom where we spied some rather scary faces on a bridge.
Next stop was the Bayon, Temple of Faces, which is in the centre of Angkor Thom. This was built in the late 12th century and has 37 towers however who the faces represent remains a mystery.
After Bayon we moved on to Chau Say Tevoda and Baphon Temples both of which were built in the late 11th/early 12th cemturies. Baphon has been newly restored and features a reclining buddha to the right hand side.
By this point we were definitely hot, sweaty and getting a little ‘templed out’ however we had one final stop which was probably the most interesting of them all. Ta Prohm was used in the location of the Tomb Raider film staring Angelina Jolie. The temple is famous for the trees growing out of the ruins and remaining largely unchanged since it was built.
We headed back on our Tuk Tuk at 11am tired and hot and went for breakfast and then a swim in the pool and sleep. It had been an early start and it sure took its toll. After a few hours to recover we headed out to Happy Pizza with Elisa and Mike. What we didn’t realise was that a ‘happy pizza’ was available with a special topping and not a smiley face on your meal. We declined this option and headed for some shopping at the Night Market before heading to a bar near our hotel to meet Chilli a friend of theirs for cocktails and then back for sleep.
The next day we had a bit of a lie in and then breakfast before hiring a Tuk Tuk to take us to Kampong Plouk to see the water village. The tuk tuk cost $17 and it was a bumpy ride but we made it in time to see the village before sunset. It cost $20 each for the boat trip and there was an optional mangrove kayak trip which Nigel did for $10 but felt it was a bit of a con due to getting pestered to buy drinks and sweets for the lady and her child.
We picked the boat up again and headed towards Tonle Sap lake for sunset. Unfortunately for Tilly and I we do suffer from a bit of sea sickness and therefore asked to leave and head back before sunset. Nevertheless, we got some great pictures on the way back.
That evening we headed out for dinner with Elisa and Mike again and went to Viva restaurant which is another Tex Mex. We were really impressed by the food and I had an amazing burrito. Afterwards we went and got dessert from a street vendor and managed to watch ice Cream rolls being made with our choice of toppings. They are definitely worth trying if you see the stall. Stuffed we headed back to our accommodation. Also available were some exclusive dishes which Nigel decided he would like to try …
The next day we had an easy one; breakfast at Kuriosity Kafe and a visit to the night market during the day to get some more presents. In the afternoon we chilled by the pool and then went back to Cafe Latino for dinner. We got the night bus at 11.30pm heading for Phnom Penh which cost $10 each way and was quite an experience. The bus we booked was the hotel bus which had flat beds, a pillow and a blanket. Whilst it sounds quite comfortable it was quite claustrophobic and we didn’t get that much sleep. If you are claustrophobic we would recommend an upstairs bunk.
We arrived slightly ahead of schedule at 4.50am and managed to get a tuk tuk driver at the bus station for $24 dollars for the day. We started off our tour with a drive around Diamond Island, a huge development in the city which is still under construction. We then went to the Royal Palace as it was getting light and then headed for the Choeung Ek Genocidal Museum which opened at 7am. There was a cafe outside and which served breakfast although it wasn’t the best and the coffee was horrible! Elisa managed to engage with several of the children who were begging when we arrived.
The museum itself costs $6 to enter and to receive an audio tour. It highlights the genocide undertaken under the Regime of Pol Pot and was set on a site where mass graves have been discovered. Even now after heavy rain bones and clothes rise to the surface. The memorial at the end of the tour shows hundreds and hundreds of skulls that have been discovered and they are categorised in ways in which the individual was killed.
From here although our appetite may have been someone vanished we stopped to have some lunch prior to heading to S21 otherwise known as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was again $6 for an audio tour. The site is a school which was converted into a prison by the Khmer Rough between 1975-79. It is estimated between 17,000 and 20,000 people were tortured and killed there and the museum shows cells and describes stories from survivors about the conditions.
It was a harrowing experience but a place that should be visited by anyone in the area in order to gain a full understanding of what people went through under the Regime of Pol Pot. We had the honour of meeting two survivors of the centre; Chum Mey, a mechanic, and Vann Nath, an artist. Pictured below is Chum Mey.
Near S21 we managed to locate a barber shop; as is obligatory Nigel has a haircut when we are on holiday to experience the different styles and techniques (and lets face it not too much can go wrong with his hair). His haircut cost $3 dollars and it wasn’t a bad job except it was left a little longer on top rather than a grade all over.
We headed to the Russian Market which was like a giant jumble sale and so busy you could hardly move and then onto the Royal Palace.
The Palace itself is spectacular (although do remember that shoulders and knees need to be covered here). The Royal Palace serves as residence for the King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni, and monarchs have resided here since it was built in the 1860’s. It cost $6.25 each for the entrance and we got there just before closing so couldn’t see some areas but it the buildings inside were quite spectacular.
Next stop after here was a brief trip to Wat Phnom, which is a buddist temple which stands 27 metres high and the only hill in Phnom Penh. It is thought the first pagoda was built here in 1373 after 4 buddha statues were washed down the river and discovered by lady Penh. The statues were housed in this pagoda and this is where the name Phnom Penh is said to have come from (Hill of Penh or Phnom Penh).
After the arduous climb back down to the stairs our Tuk Tuk driver took us to a restaurant which overlooked the Mekong river which gave us a well earned sit down and then a quick trip to the Phnonm Penh night market. This was a busy spot and it is somewhere you most definitely want to keep hold of your bags and wallets. A few purchases were made before heading back to the bus station to get the night bus back to Siem Reap. All went to plan the bus was there and this time we managed to get a top bunk (phew). The journey was pretty good and we ended up getting back to the bus station around 1am. (Please note you may not return back to the bus station you left from) – Tuk tuk back to the hotel for sleep.
The next day was our last full day in Cambodia as we were heading back to Thailand the next day. First stop for us was the launderette; in Cambodia there are plenty of places that will wash and dry your clothes for $1 per kg. We stopped at the Missing Socks launderette which is self service and had a coffee while we waited, then headed to the faithful Kuriosity Cafe to meet with an old workmate of Nigel’s who had just arrived in Siem Reap. After this the girls went off to have some time on their own and a sleepover so Nigel and I went back for a swim and then headed out at dusk to see the giant fruitbats (flying foxes) that fly around in the trees of the Royal Independence Gardens. Unfortunately our pictures weren’t so great but they were very loud and worth going to see!
We headed to our old faithful tex mex Cafe Latino for our final frozen margaritas and then to the night market for some last minute shopping. We decided to get a few herbs and spices and some last minute gifts and also a relaxing foot massage for $3 each. We headed back to the hotel for our last night’s sleep in Cambodia!
The next morning we were reunited with the girls who had a chilled out night including some fish pedicure treatments and some sister time. We said goodbye to Nigel’s daughter and her boyfriend and headed off to Siem Reap airport for our 11.45am flight to Phuket via Don Mueang Airport Bangkok.
Overall impressions of Cambodia were that it is a great place to live cheaply; Siem Reap was definitely a preference Phnom Penh as it felt a lot safer in Siem Reap where you didn’t feel you had to be quite so vigilant about your belongings. The tuk tuks were generally cheap and reliable, food and drink reasonable and also good quality accommodation with air con is available for a very reasonable price. We saw a lot of Cambodia in the week we were there but wouldn’t rule out a return visit!
Carol & Nigel x