We made our way to Siem Reap after spending a week in Bangkok. The plan was to spend 20 days here. To give you an idea of how long that is, most people spend around 3-4 days in Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. But we decided to travel very very slow in Siem Reap because we initially planned a jam-packed month in Myanmar.
That was the plan. We even booked non-refundable hotels to lock in a good deal before we left for our year of travelling.
It wasn’t until month two of our slow travels where we decided to avoid Myanmar and go to Penang instead. Now 20 days in Cambodia felt a bit of an overkill, especially since we were only staying in one city. We could have visited different parts of Cambodia, but I had already done Cambodia a few years back.
Flying from Bangkok to Cambodia
It was bittersweet to be back in Cambodia again. The Siem Reap airport holds memories of the time I lost my Swiss Army knife by not checking it in. It was a bummer because work gave that to me. The funny thing is that I made fun of my friend for losing her Swiss Army knife at the airport earlier that same year.
The airport is quite small. Going through immigration was quick, and our luggage was right behind the immigration offices.
Once we got our luggage, we were off buying SIM cards before looking for our driver.
The ride to the hotel was interesting, to say the least
Because we arrived during the rainy season, flooding was still an issue in Siem Reap. We also saw a lot of trash and dirt and experienced the smells that came with that image. What we saw during our ride was a reminder of how most of the population is still very poor. Even the cows are so thin that we could count their ribs. I thought of my parents, who grew up in conditions not far from what I saw in Siem Reap. So crazy how their lives are so different now from their childhood.
First things first… nap time
I was so tired from our flight that the first thing I did when I got to the hotel was nap for five hours. I was THAT tired. Here are the luxuries you can afford when you are slow travelling.
Once we finished napping, we wandered outside to look for food. Because it had rained all day, the streets were muddy and covered with red dirt. Everything was so dirty, and we kept having to step over murky waters. The downside to Siem Reap is the lack of development – simple things like convenience stores are rare.
After a fruitless attempt to find food, we made our way back to our hotel and settled for $2 USD noodles. Not bad.
USD dollars in Cambodia, you ask?
While the official currency is Cambodian Riel, prices are in US dollars, and it’s easier to get around with USD. Change is in Riel, leaving for a weird dual system where you always have to convert prices in your head.
Tip: Always bring enough USD cash, even for hotels who accept credit cards because sometimes their machine will be down
Because we were in Siem Reap for a long time, we wanted to explore the city and see more than just Angkor Wat
There’s a lot of social enterprises and NGOs in Cambodia, particularly so in Siem Reap.
One is called Bloom Cafe, a social enterprise that teaches women how to bake and learn transferable skills.
There are a ton of other NGOs in Siem Reap, which I will write in a later post.
The food in Siem Reap
Remember how I mentioned we pigged out in Bangkok because we were preparing for not so great food in Cambodia? Turns out, I was quite wrong about the food. Most places we tried were delicious.
I can’t help but compare this trip with the last time I was in Cambodia
This visit is a stark contrast from my last trip to Cambodia. The previous trip was a mad dash to see the Angkor Wat, and then I left, not knowing much about the country. I’m sure many people do the same.
This trip is different.
We are spending a long time here, and we are absorbing life as we see it.
“No matter how far you travel, you can never get away from yourself”
My first visit to Cambodia was all about me because I was running away from my sadness (which I’ve talked about here the last time I was in Bali). I had no room to learn about the culture of Cambodia. My experience was very superficial.
And so I never cared to learn about Cambodia. Now coming back, I took in a lot more than I did before. I was curious; I created situations where I could hear life stories. But back then, I could not take that on. I ask myself, was it because I was younger, or because I did a tour group? Maybe, but I also think it was because I wasn’t mentally able to deal with anything other than my sadness.
The Cambodian people
We found the people to be very nice, something that we don’t often hear when Cambodia comes up. In fact, the hospitality we experienced reminded us a lot of the Balinese.
Another thing about Siem Reap is that most people speak pretty good English. Definitely a lot easier to get around than you’d imagine.
It was pretty cool to hear some stories on what it’s like to do business in Cambodia. We also had some meaningful conversations with some of the locals, where they shared their dreams with us.
Tuk-tuks in Cambodia are different than the ones in Thailand
Siem Reap is better at night
It’s cooler, feels less dirty, and there are more people on the street. More food stalls are open, and there’s a livier ambiance. Wandering the central location of Siem Reap is fun – you would not imagine stumbling upon Little Italy in Siem Reap!
It’s a love-hate feeling with Cambodia
I see so much poverty here that I don’t know what to do, and I want to leave. And then I realize I want to go because I feel helpless and uncomfortable. I’m not one to shy away from profound questions, but Cambodia is something else. For once in my life, I prefer to be ignorant of the problem because it will hurt my brain too much if I try to think about it.
Sometimes we hear dogs wailing. It is likely because they got hit by a motorbike. It’s sad, and you can hear their screams of pain.
I’m supporting the local mosquito community
It gets worst near the river so if your hotel happens to be near a river, please cover yourself with bug spray. I took out the big guns (aka deet) and layered myself with toxins. I had to pick between poison or bites.
The rainy season was not bad after all
There was supposed to be a storm heading towards Siem reap during our time there. That storm would have brought two weeks of continuous rain. But luckily, it diverted to a different region at the last minute.
Still, there was a lot of flash rainfalls
We brought raincoats but found that it was SO hot that we were dying in our raincoats.
We saw a cow walking through a neighbourhood once
A change of plans four days before we leave Cambodia
Four days before leaving Cambodia, we had a conversation with a cool Aussie couple about Myanmar. When we told them why we decided against going, they gave us a “are you crazy?!?!” look and stats about the country. They then told us their opinion and said to flip a coin so that they won’t be responsible if we regret our decision. So we did. Our coin told us to go to Myanmar.
So… we got to the airport with two potential flights to take
We had our original flight, which was heading to Mandalay, and our second flight, which was booked for Penang.
Guess which one we ended up taking?
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