Retrieving Inspiration in Siem Reap

After saying goodbye to my boyfriend, I had another day in Ho Chi Minh City before flying to Siem Reap for four days. To be honest, saying goodbye to my boyfriend had thrown me off course. A really bad taxi experience right after I said goodbye to him at the airport only exacerbated my emotional state and really had me question my motivation to travel for another four months. I was at that point where I was asking myself if it was worth continuing my journey. I was walking back to my hostel crying. People who met me on the street must have thought their part and I don’t blame them. When I finally got to my hostel, I tried to reach my sister and mum without success. I just needed someone to talk to and to let off steam. It was by far the worst night of my entire trip.

The next morning, I felt a bit better, but still kind of numb and lethargic. In order to cheer me up, I went back to L’Usine for breakfast as my flight to Cambodia was only in the afternoon. I stayed there for the full morning and tried to distract myself by doing some research. When I finally boarded the plane to Siem Reap, I was telling myself that I would for sure feel better in Siem Reap due to the change of scenery. Well, it wasn’t that easy. Not even the prospect of staying at the Le Méridien Angkor cheered me up. I also just missed the Beatocello Concert by Beat “Beatocello” Richner, a Swiss pediatrician who is living and working in Cambodia. Richner gives a cello concert every Saturday in the hospital that he is working at in order to collect donations. I would have loved to see it, but as my flight had been delayed, I arrived only late in Siem Reap and didn’t make it to the concert in time.

On my first day, I felt dizzy and powerless and thus decided to take it easy and do the temple tour the next day. Around noon, I pulled myself together and rented a bicycle to drive into town for lunch. On my map, I had marked some restaurants and cafes that sounded nice and so I left to check the first one out. My first choice was Vibe Cafe, a vegan cafe that donates part of the profits to Cambodian school children. I got the Earth To Table Bowl for lunch and a gluten-free peanut butter cookie for dessert. Needless to say that I absolutely loved both choices. Exactly what I needed. So yummy!

After lunch, I cycled to the Angkor ticket office, which is a bit outside of town, to pick up my visitor pass for the next day. You can decide between a one-day (37$), three-day (62$) and seven-day pass (72$). I’d decided to get the one-day pass as I knew that one day would be enough for me. I’d read that you can already use the pass on the previous day after 5pm to see the sunset. However, the girl at the ticket office emphasised again and again that sunset is not included. So, they had not only doubled their prices but also changed their policies from 2016 to 2017. After I was all set with the Angkor Visitor Pass, I cycled back into town for a coffee at Sister Srey Cafe.

Originally, I’d considered renting a motorbike in order to get to the temples, but then I read that it is illegal for foreigners to drive motorbikes in Siem Reap. Apparently, you can get pretty high fines if they catch you. Since it was too humid and hot to cycle around for the whole day, I decided to hire a tuktuk driver for the temple tour. Most people choose this option. On my way to the Sister Srey Cafe, I noticed a tuktuk driver on the side of the street. He looked nice and I thus approached him and asked if he would like to drive me around the next day. He was over the moon and really grateful. He thanked me again and again for providing him with work. We arranged 15$ for the full day, which sounded great to me. When I told him where I was staying, I noticed his astonishment and probably also disappointment that he didn’t ask for more money in the first place. People who stay at nice hotels usually end up paying way more.

When I arrived at Sister Srey Cafe, I instantly knew that I would like this place as the interior design and the selection of drinks and meals really appealed to me. Another reason why I really liked Sister Srey Cafe is because the cafe supports Cambodian students and aims to make a sustainable impact in the community. The cafe latte was a real treat and when I had another look at the menu, the Banana Mania caught my eye. I just had to get it!  It’s a smoothie with fresh banana, natural yogurt, milk, ice and a touch of cinnamon – a pure delight! I stayed there for a while and read in my book before I went back to the hotel.

Fortunately, I felt a little better the next morning and was ready to hit the road with my tuktuk driver. He was already waiting for me at the reception and I could tell how happy he was to have work for the day.

Angkor used to be the capital of the Khmer Empire and was the largest city in the world during the 12th century. Today, Angkor is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of worship for Buddhists and many other pilgrims around the world. The temples of Angkor have been on my travel bucket list for so long. I was a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to appreciate them anymore as I’ve already seen so many other temples on my trip. However, as I would later learn, my worries were totally unjustified. I had done some research and talked to a friend who’s already been to Siem Reap in order to select the temples I wanted to visit. Five temples sounded like an appropriate amount for a one-day temple tour and so I chose Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Ta Som and Ta Prohm. Most people get up early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, but I’d heard that the sunrise had not been visible for the last few days due to thick clouds as a result of rain season. Therefore, I decided to rather stay in bed a bit longer.

We started the temple tour with Angkor Wat. Before my driver dropped me off, he asked for an advance payment as he wanted to buy some breakfast and clean his tuktuk. I’m broaching this because, for me, even after spending four months in Asia, it is still hard to imagine that so many people don’t have enough money for food and struggle on a daily basis. We take it for granted but it is actually a privilege to have the means to afford food.

Angkor Wat is not only the most popular temple of the Angkor Group but also the largest and best preserved. It is an architectural masterpiece and one of the finest monuments in the world. It is a massive complex and represents the grandeur of the Angkor region very well. There were so many tourists, but Angkor Wat was at least big enough to move around without bumping into other people all the time. It was definitely a magnificent temple.

After one and a half hours, I met my driver again outside of the complex and he took me to Angkor Thom. Bayon Temple was by far my favourite! It was the most crowded temple I’ve visited but so extremely beautiful and detailed. I was so impressed by the hundreds of large faces carved into stone. They give this temple its majestic character. I could have spent hours at this temple, but the crowds were too much for me after all.

Our next stop was Preah Khan before we made our way to Ta Som and Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm was my second favourite temple. Ta Prohm is partly cloaked by massive roots, which makes it appear very atmospheric. After visiting five temples, I was absolutely exhausted. I struggled not only with the humidity and the heat but also with the tourist crowds. Therefore, I was more than ready to go back to the city for lunch. As Sister Srey Cafe was closed, I asked my driver to drop me off at Footprint Cafes. Like Sister Srey Cafe and Vibe Cafe, Footprint Cafes supports the local communities. I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the fact that they served breakfast all day long. Afterwards, my driver took me back to my hotel where I spent the rest of the day working on my blog and going to the gym.

For my last full day in Siem Reap, I had first planned to go to Tonlé Sap to visit the floating villages. Yet, in the end, I decided to just enjoy the rest of my time in Siem Reap as there were still so many cafes and restaurant I wanted to try. I started early and went to ARTillery Cafe for breakfast. I got Three Eggs & Toast and an Almond Oatmeal Smoothie. It was so delicious! The Almond Oatmeal Smoothie was the best smoothie I’ve ever had. No kidding! As I’d gone through the menu, I noticed that you could create your own salad bowl. That was reason enough to come back for lunch! And that’s exactly what I did after going back to the hotel for a gym session. So for lunch, I got a bowl of sauteed spinach, broccoli and aubergine as well as roasted chickpeas and tofu. It was a bowl of pure happiness! So yummy!

In the evening, I went to New Leaf Eatery, another great restaurant that donates the profits to educational projects in Siem Reap. There, I ran into the American that I’d met at ARTillery Cafe during lunch. It was a nice coincidence as I like company for lunch and dinner. We chatted for hours before we decided to end the night with some ice cream. I’d read about Gelato Lab and so we decided to try it out. It was delicious, but we couldn’t manage to finish our bowls as it was too much.

While other people were dancing (or drinking) the night away in the Pub Street, I cycled back to the hotel because my flight to Krabi was leaving early the next morning. It was a perfect night to finish my time in Cambodia though.

I hardly scratched the surface in Cambodia as I only visited Siem Reap. I know that there is so much more to see and do. I have by no means explored enough of Cambodia to talk about its rich history, i.e. the Khmer Rouge. Therefore, I deliberately do not talk about it in this blog post. I will hopefully be back one day to learn more about it.

Overall, I was really positively surprised about Siem Reap. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from Siem Reap – except the temples of Angkor of course. However, the city was great and really appealed to me. I  loved the myriad of amazing, healthy and vegetarian friendly cafes and restaurants in particular. Exploring the temples of Angkor and the cafes / restaurants of Siem Reap definitely helped me to distract myself from the pain after saying goodbye to my boyfriend. My experiences in Siem Reap helped me to motivate myself again and see why I was doing what I was doing. I will be forever grateful for that!

 

 

SIEM REAP

Accommodation: Le Méridien Angkor

Restaurants / Cafes: Vibe Asia, ARTillery Cafe, Sister Srey Cafe, Footprint Cafes, New Leaf Eatery, Gelato Lab

Sights: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Ta Som, Ta Prohm

 


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