Siem Reap: Really old temples, Missing Socks and $1 meals

After thankfully a painless and comfortable journey from Battambang we arrived into Siem Reap at about 5.30pm. We had booked a night in Le Tigre Hotel cheaply on booking.com and they gave us a free tuk-tuk pick up from the bus drop off point. Our plan had been to stay in Le Tigre for the night and move if the prices went up for the following nights. They did go up to about $15 a night after our first night but we were in a “fuck it” mood and ended up staying there for our whole stay. We did have to move rooms after the first night though as I accidentally booked a twin room rather than a double. Our room was a clean, generic hotel room but it had AC and a hot shower which felt like luxury after the heat we had been sleeping in within the Battambang dorms. There was also a small pool we could use to cool off in after being in the really humid heat of Siem Reap.

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La Tigre entrance
Pool
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The restaurant area

We had planned to explore the area a bit in the evening however this plan was foiled by the weather. We were staying on Sok San Road which is a small off shoot road about 5-10 minutes walk to pub street. We were grateful we were staying here though as this whole street is filled with super cheap restaurants where you can get a meal for as cheap as $1 if you look. We made it nearly to the end of this road when it started chucking it down with rain so we ducked into one of the cheap restaurants and had $1.50 meals (pork and rice and a noodle dish). When the rain had stopped briefly we headed back to our hotel as Dave wasn’t feeling well and we didn’t fancy staying out to get soaked. It continued raining heavily for the rest of the evening and the thunderstorm actually caused a power cut for about an hour. Luckily we had battery on the laptop so just chilled out watching War Dogs before having an early night.

We slept in and then got ready just in time to check out at 11 am to move rooms. We went to Two Sisters restaurant for $1 rice and egg breakfast before heading to the Asid Place supermarket. We spent time back in the hotel garden typing up blogs whilst waiting to be able to check in as we had all of our valuables on us. Once checked in Dave stayed in the room and slept as he was still feeling ill whilst I went out for a walk to explore the city a bit. I walked down Sok San road past all the restaurants, found pub street which is ladened with overpriced restaurants and bars, walked past then explored a local pagoda, found the river and old market filled with jewellery, clothing, souvenirs with lots of people asking “lady you buy” before heading back to the hotel.

In the evening we headed out and explored several of the night markets. There are about three different areas labelled as the night markets; all of which don’t really have any food which was disappointing. If you want clothing, souvenirs, antiques, textiles or jewellery there are plenty though. We had dinner at a restaurant called Street Foods having beef fried rice ($2) and a beer ($0.50) whilst watching people get their feet munched by fish at one of the fish massage places across the street.

The following morning we sought out Missing Socks cafe. This is actually a lovely little cafe attached to a do-it-yourself laundromat (a very clever idea!). They are known for their waffles and coffee so we had to try it. I had a standard waffle with syrup ($2.50), whilst Dave had a waffle with scrambled eggs ($3.50)- very tasty! Their coffee was really good too. It was nice to be able to have a hot coffee for a change as their shop was air-conditioned. Whilst in there we bumped into one of the Israeli girls that we had briefly met on Koh Ta Kiev so we spent a while talking to her about her plans, the Israeli army (mandatory service still exists in Israel for both men and women) and her plans to study to become a doctor now. Talking to her about Israel was really interesting and it sounds like a fascinating place to visit with stark contrasts between modern and traditional depending on which city you go to. At midday, we went for a swim to cool off and made plans for visiting Angkor Historical Park. Our hotel had standard tuk-tuk prices listed for certain things such as visiting at sunset or sunrise, doing a small tour or a large tour. Then you have to add on a few extra dollars if you want to visit places that are further away or make more stops outside of the usual three. Most people usually do a couple of things. We spent a while deciding what we wanted to see and how we wanted to visit as we could only afford to get a one day pass as it is $37 for one day. We ended up choosing to visit one of the temples for sunset as well as doing the typical small tour where you visit Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. If you buy your one-day pass the evening before you can go for sunset in the park, then the pass is still valid the next day getting to see more and more for your money.

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The Missing Socks cafe
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They do great coffee and waffles

We ended up choosing to go to Pre Rup temple for sunset. We chose this one as it was recommended to look really nice at sunset and it was not one of the standard choices for sunset so we hoped there would be fewer people there. We met our tuk-tuk driver who was very nice and he drove us to the ticket office to buy our passes first. There were a lot of people there doing the same thing but it was very efficient and there were a lot of counters open. Buying it the evening before also means you don’t have to wait and queue the following morning; particularly useful if you plan to go for sunrise.

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Everyone waiting to buy tickets in the evening
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Even the monks have to queue

We drove for a few kilometres before you even get to the park then we drove for about half an hour into the park. On the way, we passed Sreas Srang reservoir which looked gorgeous in the setting sun. We arrived and there were quite a lot of other tuk-tuks there and quite a lot of people already gathered around and on top of the temple. However, it wasn’t too crowded. We explored around the bottom of the ruins and then climbed up the stairs to the top. It had good views of the site’s ruins and the sunset was great. It was very hot at the top though and places in the shade were limited. Once we had taken a few pictures we made our way back down to the boundary wall. Instead of watching the sunset we watched and took photos of the sun setting on Pre Rup itself, giving it fantastic lighting. When the sun had set most of the way we headed back to the tuk-tuk and back into town. We discussed the next day’s itinerary with our driver as we wanted to do the route differently to the normal way around to avoid the crowds and confirmed the time we were going to meet him.

Driving to Pre-Rup for sunset
Selfie at Pre-Rup temple before going in

After going there we headed to a small Japanese Restaurant were we had Yakatori Don (rice, veg and pork with lots of Japanese flavour) which was delicious at $3.50. We explored the old market; I bought a new hat as I had lost mine (even bigger than the last one!) and the street connecting it to where we were which was filled with drink and desert stalls. Dave found a rolled ice cream stall where you could choose flavourings and toppings that they make and mix into ice cream using a cold plate and milk.

Robata Japanese restaurant
Dave super happy about finding Japanese
Yakatori Don
Pork, veg and rice with Japanese flavourings


Fried Ice Cream rolls
Street with all deserts
and drinks

At 6.30am we were up and met our tuk-tuk driver. Our plan was to go to Ta Prohm temple first, as Dave remembered it being the most interesting, to avoid the crowds, then Angkor Thom temple area and finally Angkor Wat. The standard route you purchase for the small one day tour is the other way around meaning everyone is there at the same time and it gets very crowded and impossible to take any photos. The following evening our tuk-tuk driver had said we would not be able to do this as the police would fine us; however he had thought about it over night and said he would find a different route if necessary. We got to Ta Prohm before it opened so chatted with our tuk-tuk driver about his life and buisness which was interesting. We were allowed to enter at 7.30am and there were only a handful of other people there. Out of the whole day this was definitely the most interesting place we visited as the ruins have been destroyed or pushed around large trees showing how impressive nature can be. The place was fascinating to look at. They have begun to do some conservation work here in order to preserve the temple, however, the more interesting parts to look at are the ones that are more just ruins and huge rocks now. We got quite a few good photos with no people in them and got to explore the site at our own pace not being rushed by a flow of people.

 

When we were done we met back up with our tuk-tuk driver and he dropped us at Angkor Thom area. We entered the way that is usually the exit for most people so we got to see all the sites at the back of this area that are not as explored such as Prasat Suor Prat (12 towers), the terrace of elephants, terrace of lepurs and other large temples in the forest- Phimeanakas and Baphuon (which you can climb up to the top giving you great views of the old pathway up to it).

From here we walked out of Baphuon down the street past the macaques to Bayon temple. This is also an incredibly stunning temple with lots of serene and smiling faces jutting out of the terraces. It is a bit of a maze to work your way around and can be a bit confusing on where you are when you come out… especially if you have arranged to meet your tuk-tuk driver in a certain place! After consuming lots of water- Angkor Park is incredibly hot as the stones hold a lot of the heat from the sun, you are constantly climbing up and down stairs and there is very little shade in places, we found our tuk-tuk driver.

We headed down the road we weren’t supposed to go- from looking at the signs it looks like tuk-tuks aren’t allowed in the direction from Bayon to Angkor Wat until after 11am or you are fined, they can only go the other way. Luckily it was not far off 11am and the police had already left their stations so we did not have to pay any extra. We asked to add in another temple to our tour, stopping at Phnom Bakeng before heading to Angkor Wat as we had wanted to see as many places as we could but you have to add on a few extra dollars for any extra places you want to see on top of the flat fee for the tour. We were dropped off on the side of the road for Phnom Bakeng where we then made our way up the hill along the path for about 20 minutes. It was hot but luckily in the shade. When we got there there was hardly anyone here due to the time of day. We walked up more steps to get to it and round the top. From here you can see Angkor Wat in the distance. It is one of the main places visited at sunset but gets very busy. It was very hot and we didn’t stay here too long. It is another place where it looks like they are putting a lot of work into restoring it again. It was interesting to see the old station where they used to do elephant rides from the bottom of the hill to the top to drop you at the temple. It was great to see that this looked disused now and we didn’t see any elephants during our whole day there whereas Dave said he saw a lot with his Dad being used for tourist rides 10 years ago. We sat at a view point for a few minutes looking out over Angkor Wat, which looked very impressive from a distance before making our way down and back to the tuk-tuk.

We arrived at Angkor Wat at 12.30pm which meant it was incredibly hot and walking up the really long entrance way with little shade was hardwork. However, showing up at this time meant very few people. Most people come here for sunrise, in the morning or the late afternoon avoiding the heat. There were points when we were in the large inner area of Angkor Wat where there were no other people, meaning we could get some great pictures. It also meant we could climb up to the top of the inner area (which is normally too packed and crowded at sunrise to do so) and wander round taking pictures out of the windows without any issue. It’s sheer size and the buildings themselves are impressive however both of us did not find it as interesting to look at or explore as some of the other temples we had seen earlier in the day. At the end of exploring here we were exhausted and dying from the heat. We made our way back to the tuk-tuk about 2pm and our lovely tuk-tuk driver took us back to the hotel, tour over, so we could cool off in our air-con.

In the late afternoon we made our way to a place on Sok San road we had been meaning to try- Tuk Tuk Tacos. This is a really new, fun taco joint decorated with a great tuk-tuk mural. We had al pastor (pork and pineapple) and chipolte chicken tacos ($1.50 and $2) which were delicious. Our feet were very tired so in the evening we decided to try out one of the “fish massage” places. It was weird and felt very tingling but for $2 we got to try it and got a free beer. I swear my feet felt softer after but Dave wasn’t sure. We headed back to Tuk-Tuk Tacos in the evening so we could sample their margahritas- frozen and fresh ($2). Dave’s dad was also having margahritas in Singapore sending us pictures, these definitely weren’t $2 each though!

Our last full day in Siem Reap was not a healthy one. We went back to the Missing Socks cafe for coffee and waffles. Then we did some house keeping things such as changing money, booking the bus for Bangkok (another palava) and writing blogs. In the afternoon we ventured to bloom cafe and sampled some of their cupcakes (3 for $4.85) which were amazing. Then we found the Siem craft pub and had sampler sets of 4 of their craft beers for $3. For me much nicer than the ones in Vietnam (plus much cheaper) and they came in really cute little glasses. We walked around the Kings road area looking at the craft stalls and I found a magnet to buy, haggling down the price. In one of the night markets I also found some really nice wrap around loose trousers and ended up buying them for $3.50. In the evening we headed back to Sok San road for food and went to temple restaurant. Temple is a huge brand in Siem Reap and they have multiple pubs, restaurants and bars. They advertised cheaper food outside on a board than on their menu but when we asked we were told certain dishes were 50% off (glad we asked and didn’t just order out of politeness). We had fresh and fried spring rolls, I had  Khmer Sam Lor (like a red curry with chicken) and Dave had fish amok curry washed down with draft beers to celebrate our last night in Cambodia as we had had a great time here.

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Cupcake selection at Bloom cafe

 

We chose peanut butter, salted caramel and mocha truffle
Elephant biscuit
Our craft beer samplers
Riverside
Kings Road market
Kings Road market craft stalls

We were pleasantly surprised during our stay in Siem Reap and the whole of Cambodia really. When Dave had visited last he experienced constant begging for money from the children and hassle from the tuk tuk drivers. During our trip here we had hardly anyone ask us for money and it is something that is not activitely frowned upon within Angkor Wat as the authorities want the children to attend school rather than be used to get money from tourists for their families. Similarly the only place we felt unsafe and were truely hassled by tuk tuk drivers was Phnom Penh. Everywhere else the people were incredibly friendly, smiley and polite. As they try to gain business you are often asked if you want a tuk tuk but if you say no thank you they move on to ask someone else. It was overall a much more pleasant experience than I was expecting and the whole of Cambodia itself was very beautiful and interesting with so much to see. In the future, I hope to return to Cambodia and explore more of the North East area closer to Laos as it is supposed to be stunning there and we did not have time to fit it in within this trip.

In the morning we journeyed to Bangkok, but that’s for a whole other post!

Alex

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