Siem Reap, Cambodia.
First, a brief history of Siem Reap courtesy of the Tourism Cambodia website.
Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city). The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia. The name of the city literally means Siamese defeated, referring to the victory of the Khmer Empire over the army of the Thai kingdom in the 17th century.
At the turn of the millennium Siem Reap was a Cambodian provincial town with few facilities, minor surfaced roads and little in the way of nightlife. Tourism industry catered largely to hardy backpackers willing to brave the tortuous road from the Thai border on the tailgate of a local pick-up truck. There were a couple of large hotels and a handful of budget guesthouses. Tuk-tuks and taxis were non-existent and the trusty motodup was the chosen means of touring the temples of Angkor.
Getting to Siem Reap is a simple flight from Manila. The Cebu Pacific flight we took arrives at around 9:30pm (local time) in Siem Reap. Oh, do remember that Siem Reap is, time-wise, an hour behind the Philippines. Flying time is approximately 3 hours. There’s no need to apply for a visa when entering Siem Reap. Just make sure you have a valid Philippine passport before you fly out. Immigration is a breeze and it not much of a hassle at the Siem Reap airport. As for money, I suggest bringing US Dollars. Siem Reap is very much dollarized. The locals there transact in dollars. Even the street side vendor who was selling grilled frogs transacted in dollars. If I were you, no need to exchange money to their local currency.
We were picked up at the airport by a van courtesy of the hotel we stayed in – La Residence Blanc D’Angkor. Travel time to the hotel from the airport was around 15 minutes. The hotel is a boutique hotel with a very home-y feel to it. The staff were very welcoming and always were ready to flash a smile when they see you. Basically, if you’re going to Siem Reap for the first time, I’d recommend booking your stay with this hotel. Check out the reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor.
Day 1: Temple Run
The major Angkor temples are all bundled up in an area that’s easy to cover when doing a tour. They call this the Angkor Archaeological Park. Our itinerary for the day was Angkor Wat, Ta Phrom and Bayon in Angkor Thom. Before you head out to the temples though, you’ll need to stop by the tourism center to buy tickets. Get the 3-day pass. Also, make sure you bring a bottle of water with you when you’re out and about exploring the temples. It’s hot hawt out there and dehydration is not a good thing.
Day 2: Temple Run (Again)
Our second day of running around temples were a bit more packed. We covered more temples. Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon and Pre Rup. Again, don’t forget to bring water with you to keep yourself hydrated.
Day 3: Fun in the City
Our third day was easy-going. We started at a coffee shop – Brown Coffee – for our much needed dose of caffeine before heading out to visit a souvenir shop. We hired a tuktuk this time instead of a van for that local transportation vibe to it. After coffee, we headed out to the Angkor National Museum then to a souvenir shop. And after the souvenir shop we headed back to the hotel for a bit of rest. Come nightfall, we went to the night market for a bit of shopping and fried ice cream.
Day 4: Cafe and Massage
We visited a couple of local cafes and then had an hour’s worth of the traditional Khmer massage before heading back to the hotel and prepare to get to the airport for our 3-hour flight back to Manila.
Siem Reap was a pleasant place to visit. The people are warm and welcoming. The food is great. And if you’re into history and have the interest in ruins, the Angkor Archaeological Park is a treat. We didn’t get the chance to go on a tour at Tonlé Sap and the War Museum. Perhaps, for another trip. There are a whole lot more temples to explore in the park. And if and when I do go back there to visit, I’d book a bicycle tour for a more pleasurable look-see.
I have to say thank you to my girlfriend, April, for booking this trip way ahead of time and basically taking care of everything in this trip. She the superwoman!