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8 Apr 2016

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cambodia. I didn't have many expectations before going; it isn't particularly a "hot spot" destination for luxury travel, nor one being talked about anywhere near as much as neighbouring countries like Thailand and Malaysia. None of my close friends had yet been, in fact the only person I knew who had was Jarv - fifteen years ago.

It's a country with an extremely heart-breaking, tragic history (Google Pol Pot to read all about the injustice and suffering these people have endured). So, to see them slowly rebuilding their country is a wonderful thing, and to experience first-hand the kindness and helpfulness of the welcoming locals was truly heartwarming. It was obvious during our stay there that this is still a poor country, relying desperately on tourism and the money we bring in as visitors. So, without further ado, let me give you a few reasons to visit Siem Reap!

Where we stayed: Park Hyatt, Siem Reap


Smack dab in the middle of the city, it's perfectly located for evening walks towards all the excitement whilst still providing a peaceful, safe haven from the madness. My favourite feature - the gently swinging daybeds. I can't describe well enough how wonderful it is to have breakfast outside before it gets insufferably hot, listening to the birds singing, being served fresh coconuts and Cambodian noodle soup, and enjoying the sight of the beautiful ancient banyan tree in the middle of the courtyard.

We had a Park Executive Suite, complete with our own little plunge pool (practically a necessity in the 40 degree dry heat). There was also a gorgeous salt water pool just outside our room, as well as a chlorinated main pool on the 2nd floor.

Euriental - Park Hyatt, Park Executive Suite, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Park Executive Suite, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Park Executive Suite, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Park Executive Suite, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Park Executive Suite, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Park Hyatt pool, Siem Reap, Cambodia

What to do:

If you're visiting Siem Reap, it's all about the temples. To be quite honest, there isn't that much else to do in the city itself except for eat and drink, which you can do in the evenings anyway (it's very lively). In order to see more than just Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, you'll want to hire a driver, at least for a day. Some of the temples are two hours away by car, and I found that even whilst taking a tuktuk at night just down the street to dinner, the dust was bad enough that I had to squint my eyes the entire way there. The temples we saw are:

Angkor Wat


The most famous of the bunch, Angkor Wat is actually the largest religious monument in the world. It's also very close to the city center and only a 15 minute drive from our hotel. Jarv had told me of how wondrous and deeply affecting he found it when he was a teenager; his parents let him wander off for an hour and he spent the time exploring the temple inside and out, feeling much like Indiana Jones. We were both disappointed to find the place simply overrun with tourists (hardly surprising, but not ideal for photography, haha) and tour groups. I felt like I understood its charm a little better when we headed away from the hoards and towards the East Gate as the sun began to set, Angkor Wat looming proud and peaceful behind us. It was also quite magical lingering behind and exploring the sunlit corridors as everyone was ushered out at closing time.

Euriental - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - monks at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Koh Ker & Prasat Pram

In the jungle, a few hours outside of Siem Reap, you'll find Koh Ker - a lonely archaeological site teeming with temples overgrown by forest and roots. There are many monuments there that as of now are still unsafe to visit, as the areas have not yet been de-mined. The ones that have been, however, are well worth making the trip out to. In particular, Prasat Pram (first few photos below) is hauntingly beautiful; remote and abandoned, tree roots have been growing around these temples for centuries. I've never seen anything quite like it.


Euriental - Prasat Pram, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Euriental - Prasat Pram, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Prasat Pram, Siem Reap, Cambodia

This little temple below is known as the "Black Lady Temple" - Prasat Neang Khmau. Although it appears as though the facade has been burned by fire, it's the stone itself, high in iron and blackened with oxidisation over time.

Euriental - Prasat Neang Khmau, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Also fascinating is the seven tiered pyramid of Koh Ker - what is a pyramid doing in Cambodia? Although for a long time the pyramid itself was closed to climbers, we wandered round to the back and found, to our surprise, a wooden staircase. A local group of children and their teachers/parents were clambering up it, so we followed closely behind. It was intensely hot, but the view from the top stretched out forever and the incredible breeze that greeted us up top was most welcomed!

Euriental - Koh Ker pyramid, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Koh Ker pyramid, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Koh Ker pyramid, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Beng Mealea

Maybe my favourite of them all, Beng Mealea is set in a stunning forest environment. At one point, we wandered away from the main path and came across an elderly local man, sitting on a large slab of stone. He gestured, without a word, for us to be careful and not to stand on the left, where the stone was wobbling. He then beckoned for us to follow him. For the next half an hour, he showed us all the temple's hidden treasures - a thick, twisted tree branch that acted as a swing, another that we could hang and swing off, stunning carvings embedded deep in stones that once formed temples and had long since collapsed into rubble. He guided us all around these 'secret' areas without a single word and left us back where we'd met him at the end of our adventure. I'm sure there are a few of these 'guides' and our little tour wasn't really so special, but it certainly felt that way.

Euriental - Beng Mealea temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Beng Mealea temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Beng Mealea temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Beng Mealea temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Beng Mealea temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

On the way back one afternoon, our driver recommended we stop by the roadside and try one of these rice snacks. They're wrapped in bamboo and consist of sticky rice, black beans and water, chargrilled over a fire. The layers of bamboo are then peeled back, revealing a thick cylinder of slightly sweetened rice for you to munch on.

Euriental - roadside bamboo rice snack, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Banteay Srei

A beautiful temple adorned with stunningly intricate wall carvings and built predominantly with sandstone, which gives it its gorgeous, red colour. It's much smaller in comparison to a lot of the other temples and won't take long to walk around.

Euriental - Banteay Srei temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Banteay Srei temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Angkor Thom

The final monument we visited. Angkor Thom is also located very close to the city centre, about 20 minutes out. The name literally translates to "Great City"; it was the last capital city of the Khmer empire. The area spreads out 9km wide and is comprised of a number of sites and temples, the most impressive of which is Prasat Bayon, adorned with a multitude of calm, smiling buddha faces sculpted into the stone.  

Euriental - Prasat Bayon, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Prasat Bayon, Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia


Other activities:

After sightseeing all day, evenings were reserved for dining out and frequenting what quickly became our favourite bar (we returned every single night until we flew out) - Miss Wong. If you find yourself in Siem Reap, please go - their cocktails are fantastic (they're even willing to go off menu and make anything you request, as long as you can tell them what goes in it) and insanely affordable.

For dinner, Haven serves delicious food in a lovely courtyard setting with the ethos of teaching locals the intricacies of working in high end food establishments, and L'Annexe serves up appetisingly rich French dishes by way of very friendly waitstaff.

Euriental - Miss Wong, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Miss Wong, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Haven Siem Reap, Cambodia
Euriental - Haven Siem Reap, Cambodia

Finally, it is important to note that it is incredibly - almost intolerably - hot during the dry season when we visited, in mid-March. Be sure to always carry a LOT of water and find a driver who has a car that can blast air conditioning. Even better if he has an ice box with cold water bottles and refreshing towelettes to greet you after each temple visit.

Although we found Siem Reap very safe, welcoming and friendly with not a single negative incident, there are some scare stories of muggings, extortion, tourists being taken advantage of, etc. Make sure you always book a reputable driver (via Tripadvisor recommendations, for example), stay in a secure hotel and obviously, don't wander off alone at night or leave any belongings unattended. Otherwise, don't worry yourself. There are plenty of other tourists around in the city centre and almost everyone in the city speaks at least a little English. 

It's a place well worth visiting, rich with culture, history and tradition. Have you been before, or are you planning a trip there soon?

10 comments :

  1. This is magical!

    http://violettedaily.com

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  2. Wow, wow, and wow. I am just in awe of this beautiful place. And that bathroom in the hotel... GORG. I am so in love with this post Kamara and those photos. Simply beautiful.

    Kia / KTS
    www.houseofkts.com

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    Replies
    1. It's a pretty beautiful bathroom - serious marble porn! Thank you, dear Kia :)

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  3. It looks like you had an amazing time! I've never been to Cambodia either but it looks so gorgeous from your pictures. It's great to see they are rebuilding a country, I mean it looks simply stunning! Now you have me having major wanderlust right now. ; )

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    1. I'm glad you're intrigued, Madeline! It's truly different from a lot of South East Asian countries I've experienced. Hopefully you'll visit sometime :)

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  4. Amazing! Pinned to my Wanderlust board!

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  5. Absolutely gorgeous. Everything about the resort and the sites of Cambodia. Amazing photos!

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    1. Thanks, Chrissa! The temples are incredible.

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  6. Wow what an incredible looking hotel!! I love Siem Reap, although it's SUCH warm place, it's oh so magical! Xx

    http://theemasphere.com

    ReplyDelete