Phnom Penh & Siem Reap

My summer 2016 vacation was spent exploring Cambodia. I had a short stop over in Ho Chi Minh, before heading back home for 10 days for my friends, Amelia and Pennell’s (who I met in Korea), wedding. After a great time back home, catching up with friends and family, and having an awesome celebration and reunion at the wedding, I was off to meet my friend Phill and her boyfriend Hutch in Cambodia, our first stop being Phnom Penh.

First impressions of Phnom Penh weren’t great, the airport was quick in sorting your visa, but not very organised and a bit dingy. I ended up getting a long tuk tuk ride to the hostel (Rachana Hostel) where Phill and Hutch were already settled in. The hostel was actually great as there were no windows in our room, and this meant we could have a long sleep in if we wished. We definitely took full advantage of this. The first night we had some food and drinks, and got in a good sleep before our first full day.

We started the day off right by having a delicious brunch at ARTillery, a little hidden art cafe. The coffee and food were both great, and we took time to use their wifi and plan our day. We decided to head to the killing fields, something I wasn’t too clued up on, so wasn’t sure what to expect. You buy some headphones and pop in the corresponding number to wherever you are in the route. You can take as long as you want wandering round, listening to the harrowing stories of what happened 40 years ago to the Khmer people, under the cruel regime of Pol Pott. I definitely learnt a lot that day.

By the time we had finished walking around the fields and had returned back it was early evening. So we met up with my friend Robyn, who I met in Korea and was now working in Phnom Penh. We had some food and drinks on our hostel’s rooftop bar. we had wanted to do the killing fields and the genocide museum in the same day, but we started the day late, and so didn’t have enough time. Instead we visited the museum the following day. It was again another somber and shocking experience. I definitely wish we had done both in the same day, as it takes it’s toll on you a little, but was glad that I got to learn about Cambodia’s sad history.

We spent 3 nights in total in Phnom Penh, but apart from the killing fields and genocide museum, there wasn’t much to keep us there. It was kinda ugly and, to me, didn’t have much character. Cambodia’s capital certainly didn’t bowl me over, or leave me wanting more. We were happy enough to go to our next destination in the country, Kep.

Phnom Penh and Siem Reap weren’t done in succession of each other, but I’ve plonked them together as they were my least favourite places in Cambodia, but had the biggest, and most famous attractions and sites of the country.

Like with Phnom Penh, Siem Reap didn’t impress me from the get-go. We got their late afternoon, so by the time we had dropped our stuff off in our dead-bug infested hostel (note to self: never stay in a place called a ‘pub hostel’ again…) we only had time to wander round the town. Oh God, it felt like I was on an 18-30’s holiday in Magaluf again, with their pub street, and loud ‘uns uns uns’ beats blaring everywhere.We avoided the pubby area and went to the old market for food, if I thought I loved savoury pancakes in Vietnam, they were about to be out shadowed by the ones in Cambodia, YUM.

Ready to give Siem Reap the benefit of the doubt, we went for a meander around the city. We stopped off in some nice cafes and coffee shops along the way, Sister Srey and The Little Red Fox being our choices for the day. Again, the city lacked in character or pizzazz for me, but a nice city getaway wasn’t why we were there, it was to see Angkor Wat. That afternoon we got to the ticket office for 5pm and purchased our tickets for the next day. By buying our tickets at this time, we were also able to quickly zoom over in our tuk tuk to Angkor Wat and catch the sun set there. Some pretty nice views, but we were waiting for the main show…the sun rise .

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Slightly creepy there Hutch

Up bright and early at 5am the next morning to head back for the sun rise. The place was packed, as you can imagine, everyone setting up tripods and cameras, hoping to snap the money shot. When the sun had risen I wasn’t sure if that was it…the sun was up but everyone seemed to be staying around, I was confused as to what point sun rise finishes, as surely it just keeps moving?!

The next few hours were spent walking round the ancient temples. They were definitely impressive. So much detail and so huge in size. It is hard to believe that they got left behind, and left for nature to swallow up. I would’ve loved to have been the guy who discovered it. Crazy! Angkor takes awhile to walk around, and we also visited four more of the main temples, including the famous Tomb raider temple, made famous in the Lara Croft movie. My favourite of the five was Bayon temple, the cloudy sky above made for some eerie photos, which my instagram loved.

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Bayon temple

I think the wonder of Angkor Wat is something you have to see for yourself, the sheer size of it and how well it has stood for so long is just too impressive. The price has pretty much doubled since I went there (I think it did in Feb 2017), which I think is a little steep. I’m not sure I’d pay  $37 for a day, but I guess I’m lucky in that I don’t have to make a choice in that ‘would you…?’ question.

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