Since arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia last September I've been itching to get out and explore. I'm also keen to share what this beautiful country has to offer aside from the Angkor Temples and The Killing Fields. Whilst these are absolute musts, there's a whole lot more to Cambodia, much of it off the beaten track, away from the tourist hoards. With that in mind, this series was born. Andy and I will endeavour to visit and write about one off the beaten track place here every month. The aim being to encourage people to stay longer in Cambodia and see some of it's less touristy offerings. First up is a Kulen Mountain day trip, where a group of us went on a day trip from Siem Reap in January.
Siem Reap is as being as flat as a pancake, but 40 km to the North East of Angkor Wat, in Svay Leu District is Phnom Kulen National Park. The small regular shaped plateau of the Phnom Kulen mountain range protrudes from the landscape, nestled amongst thick jungle. Locals consider Kulen Mountain or 'Mountain of Lychees' to b the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. It's frequently visited by Buddhists and Hindus's in pilgrimage. On top of the plateau is a sacred hilltop with about 30 ruined temples. Much of the land is yet to be de-mined, which means currently, the public can't visit many of the temples, and definitely not without an expert guide.
What to See and Do
As we stepped off the plane at Siem Reap International Airport the excitement took over. We were hit by the familiar hot, humid air and the smell of South East Asia. I think this unique smell is a combination of close, muggy air infused with incense, spices, cooking, gasoline, and in the rainy season, wet grass, leaves and mud.
Andy and I are now nearing the end of our first month in Siem Reap. Therefore I wanted to update you on our roller-coaster of an integration and assimilation to expat life here. Just a pre-warning...this is a lengthy post - I'll try to keep future posts on the little but often basis.
Integration and assimilation is normally over in a day or two after arriving in a new place. It involves finding our bearings, discovering how things work and generally getting into the swing of things. This time it's been different. I think this is partly because we've both been to Cambodia and Siem Reap several times before. It's also because we're not just travelling here, but living and working too.
As a result this post is about our 4 week stint house and pet-sitting, and running our friends guesthouse ( Rosy Guesthouse).
A friendly tuk-tuk driver from Rosy Guesthouse met us at the airport as usual. He whisked us straight there where we were welcomed by our friends and partook in several obligatory Cambodia draft beers, before getting settled into our favourite room for a few nights.
We then spent an enjoyable evening at our friend's house, where we had dinner and a good catch-up. We also got a tour of the house we'd be living in for the next 4 weeks and met the pets we'd be looking after.
The following day we were given a thorough handover of the day to day running of the guesthouse. We also got a grand tour of the important places in town that we might need such as the bank, money exchange, wholesalers, markets, malls, petrol station etc.
A Tourist Mecca
As we drove around town it soon became clear that Siem Reap has changed alot since our last visit 4 years ago. It's tourism industry has boomed since we first visited 8 or 9 years ago, which was inevitable given the proximity to the famous Angkor Temple complex.
During our first visit the roads were mainly dirt tracks, with a distinct lack of pavements and just a smattering of guesthouses. Now there are guesthouses, hostels, and hotels everywhere you look.
At the end of October we flew into Siem Reap, Cambodia which was to be our home for the next year. The rest of October we started to get settled into house and pet sitting for our friends and also into getting into the swing of relief managing Rosy Guesthouse for them whilst they returned to the UK for a visit.NovemberWe were kept very busy throughout most of November looking after the Rosy Guesthouse, which was a great experience and helped us to meet lots of other expats and start to make friends here.Our favourite part of this month has to be the 3 day Water Festival. Rosy Guesthouse over-looks the river and Royal Gardens, meaning we had a prime position for watching the dragon boat races. Cambodians love a good party and it was all pretty crazy in the streets near the river.
Lotus fields Siem Reap Cambodia Christmas was wonderful as we spent it with Siem Reap friends old and new. A lot of eating, drinking and partying was involved. Then 5 friends from the UK arrived for a two week holiday and to see in the New Year. It was fantastic to see some familiar faces and a great time was had by all.This post was originally published on Can Travel Will Travel.
We booked our tickets on the Mekong Express bus for 13$. I highly recommend this bus service about which there are glowing reviews everywhere online too. They provide a minivan pick-up from the hotel to the bus station and the buses themselves are super comfortable with plush seating, toilets, air-conditioning and most importantly, curtains to keep out the harsh sun. The Cambodian countryside is soothing to the eyes and after a while most people on the bus dozed off for a bit. We arrived at Siem Reap at 1:30 p.m. having left Phnom Penh at 8:30 a.m. and there were tuk-tuk drivers jostling for customers at the bus-station to take us to our hotel. Another Air BnB find, our hotel was very strategically located...just walking distance away from the hustle and bustle of Pub street but tucked away into a quiet lane right beside one of the exits to the Arts Market. At 4500 INR for three nights, we thought it was a steal.Our hotel reception, as I am guessing will be the case with all hotels, was a treasure trove of useful information about day tours to Angkor sites and other interesting sights around Siem Reap. It was from here that we booked tickets to the Angkor National Museum for 12$ each it saved us the expense of hiring a private tour guide to be with us on the two days that we planned to devote to Angkor temple sites. It was a smart move as it not only saved us nearly 60$. The hotel also helped us with hiring a tuk-tuk, who at 12$ a day was going to take us on a half day tour of all the major and minor sites.
In Siem Reap you can visit the Angkor Wat temple complex, the largest religious monument in the world - which is really worth the visit.You can purchase a single day pass or a 3-day-pass, depending on how you plan to spend your time there. There is lots of companies that offer a day trip to the temples, with a air-con van and water included. I really recommend these packages, because the weather is really hot.At night you can go to Pub Street, filled with backpackers from around the world. I would say it's a smaller version of Khao San Rd, in Bangkok.
Siem Reap happens to be a city that is stuck in a time warp. It is wedged between a rapidly growing hospitality sector and a bequest left behind by its former colonial masters. The province essentially serves as a bridge that travellers take in order to explore the fascinating temples and ruins of Angkor, possibly the most popular UNESCO World Heritage Site on this planet. The city on the other hand is a constant party considering its fancy restaurants and bars and an open-air discotheque of sorts in the form of the massively popular Pub Street.