Ah Cambodia, the land of big smiles, warm hospitality and amazing food. It takes a fair bit to get such a jaded traveller as myself excited, but Asia just keeps on serving up the most diverse and provocative destinations!
The most popular time to travel to Siem Reap is between November and March when it’s cooler and dryer. There are no direct flights to Siem Reap so I had a short transit in Vietnam in both directions. You can bypass this by flying into Phnom Penh and travelling by road to Siem Reap, but as this is about a 6-hour drive, I decided to take my chances with Vietnamese airports.
The first order of business was securing my Angkor Wat admission pass. This needs to be done in person before you can enter the Angkor Archaeological Park and costs US$20 for one day or US$40 for three days. Your photo is taken on the spot and you must carry it with you at all times.
I willingly surrendered my entire first day and a half to clambering around, over and through temples. You may read that and sigh that in Asia, you’re always being dragged off to another temple, but Angkor Wat is something different and truly special – dredged straight from history and plonked on your doorstep to astound you with the imagination and ingenuity of the past! We entered the Angkor Wat temple via the South Entrance, crossing the moat that once was a haven for crocodiles but is now a sanctuary for tortoises and the occasional illegal fisherman. I was happily astounded that the initial small outer building that we climbed through before getting to the main building was absolutely deserted.
After visiting Angkor Wat, we went to see Ta Phrom, otherwise known as the Tomb Raider Temple. It appeared as if it was created for the movie instead of being a 900-year old temple! Bayon Temple with its many faces of Buddha left an indelible impression as did Bantey Srei, with carvings so detailed and intricate that they appear to have been forged by nature into the stone itself.
Next, we headed out to the floating villages and Tonle Sap, the largest lake in Southeast Asia. The villages are along the edges of the river and stretch most of the way up to the lake. The individual houses are built on about three stories worth of bamboo stilts; during the wet season, the river swells to that level and the only mode of transport even between houses is boat, but in July the land between them is still dry. It was an enjoyable trip and the fresh breeze was very welcome after the mugginess of the temple compounds.
On my last day, I decided to do something a bit different – quad bike riding! For hours, I hurtled around the Siem Reap countryside trailing after my guide who was on a normal dirt bike. I got soaked and covered in mud… and I loved every minute! This was the real Cambodia that I was hoping to be able to see – rice paddies, tiny villages, farms.
Khmer cuisine bears a slight resemblance to Thai food, with lots of vegetables and curries; fish is a staple. Head to Touich for good food and amazing service; Viroth’s Restaurant, a trendy eatery offering traditional Khmer cuisine, is another favourite.
There were still many things that I didn’t see or do, but I’m still bursting with stories to share – how when we stopped to feed some monkeys on the road, one mugged me for my bag of bananas… how daintily perfect the traditional apsara dancers were… how the tuk tuk drivers string hammocks up inside their tiny tuk tuks to nap in between fares… It was a different world, one that I’m grateful to have caught a glimpse of and that I would heartily recommend for you all to experience.
Other Flight Centre tips:
- Brings lots of wet wipes
- Everything is in USD in Cambodia
- For a more romantic experience, try watching the sunset over the Angkor Wat with a 10-minute hot air balloon ride
- It gets really hot mid day, so we suggest booking a hotel with a pool so you can chill and unwind in the afternoon; we recommend Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
FLIGHT CENTRE DEAL: Get flights to Cambodia and three nights’ accommodation at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, with a bonus full-day temple tour, from only $8,829! Call Flight Centre on 2830 2899 for more info.
Belinda Rothwell is a Flight Centre travel consultant. She has spent most of her life travelling and exploring the world and has been to over 33 countries.
For assistance on your travels, visit www.flightcentre.com.hk. Flight Centre’s team of travel consultants can help you book everything travel-related, as well as make excellent recommendations.