Friday, November 11, 2016

Travel to Cambodia - An unforgettable experience! (Part 1)

Yum

We are back!!! Almost a week ago and I've been wanting to write this post from the moment we landed, but you know, the lazy me... Editing the mountain of photos we clicked had be bogged down the whole week. Back to the essence of the post - Cambodia.

We loved Cambodia and none of us wanted to come back.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
All of us at Angkor Wat
I admit I was once not even interested in going to Cambodia (thankfully that changed) until I saw pics of Angkor Wat. After that, Cambodia as a vacation destination made place somewhere in the corners of my mind. 

What I saw and experienced in Cambodia in a short time of one week can only be described in many many words and hence, I'm splitting this post into two parts. The first part to describe my experience, how to travel, visa, food, shopping, stay etc and the second part is dedicated to the sights to see. Watch out for the second part next on www.oneteaspoonoflife.com.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
Angkor Wat at Sunrise

The Experience:


What strikes you first when you land in Cambodia is not the magnificent temples, or the heat, it is the people of Cambodia. I believe it is the people that make a country and the people of Cambodia make a very fine country. Everywhere we went we found people always smiling and ever courteous, which is very heartening to see. Something our guide Mr. Chanty said to us, stayed with us – “We were fighting for so long, we forgot to develop our country”. He informed us that Cambodia has been at war for centuries, and one would expect that people from a war ravaged country would be bitter towards everyone. However, this is not the case here, the people welcome you wholeheartedly.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com

Among the four of us, we’ve been to 10 different countries, and Cambodia was our 11th, and we all felt that of all the countries we’ve been to, Cambodia had the softest, the nicest people. The Cambodian people speak softly. While most of them speak better English than you will find in the rest of South East Asia, even those who barely scrape through with English will try their level best to communicate with you. They understand when you say “No”. The tuk tuk drivers or the Night market vendors will ask you just once if you want something, they don’t pester you.

We did not find one rude soul there. If I go back to Cambodia, it will be more for the people there than the sights to see.

Apart from the people, we also loved the Temples, the Food (Yay!) and the Shopping.

Travel  + Visa:


Cambodia is well connected by air. You have many other local and major airlines flying into to Cambodia. Check what works for you in terms of cash and convenience. You can fly into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap airport, but if you plan the temple trail, then Siem Reap works best.

We took a Thai Air Asia flight via Bangkok on a Friday night and reached Siem Reap on Saturday morning. The flight from Bangalore to Bangkok takes around 3.5 hrs and Bangkok to Siem Reap takes about 1 hour. Thai Air Asia does not have any vegetarian food on board, so it's better to eat at the airports. You are allowed to carry your own food, but not eat in on board.

Siem Reap Airport
Visa is on arrival and they provide the forms in the flight. The Visa costs $30 per person. All you need is a completed visa application form, a passport size photograph and the money. The speed of the officials who approve the visa is commendable. We were done with our visa in 15 minutes. Immigration and baggage clearance takes a little longer but neither of that should hold you in the airport longer than 30 minutes.

If you plan on buying a SIM card, you can at the exit of the airport. There are representatives of several service providers stationed there. You can get a SIM card for as low as $5.

Tuk Tuks are the way to travel in the country once you are there. They are cheapest and best mode of transport according to me. Since the temple trail is pretty much surrounded by forests and there is minimal pollution, the open air travel seems nice and fresh as compared to a closed AC car.

Tuk Tuks

Hotel:


We booked our stay through www.agoda.com. We booked Silk D'Angkor Boutique Hotel on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. It is located around 9km from the airport and 2km from the city center. It is a quiet hotel with exceptionally friendly staff. We had requested them for airport transfer and they sent us 2 tuk tuks for 4 of us. We were greeted by ever-smiling Daniel, the manager, at the reception who helped us plan out the next 2 days of our travel. The hotel arranged for 2 tuk tuks and a guide to take us around the temples. One tuk tuk cost us $19 and the guide $40. This may work out cheaper if you hire an independent tuk tuk or go through a travel agency. However, the tuk tuk drivers were nice and our guide was knowledgeable, so we had no regrets paying a little extra.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
Extremely friendly staff at the Hotel
The stay included breakfast. The breakfast was a standard fare and tasted good. The hotel also had a pool, a restaurant and massage facilities. We tried the Khmer massage and I recommend it only to the brave. Do not expect a soft sweet massage, Khmer massage includes a lot of kneading and while it can seem painful at the moment, the pain does not last beyond the massage. There are massage parlors all over town that offer it for very low rates, you can also get it done there.

Food:


What can I say about the food except that it was FANTASTIC!!! I love my Thai curry and Cambodian curry did not disappoint. Infact, it may have just beaten the Thai curry to become my favorite. I could not have enough of it. I even picked up some curry powder there and am dying to try it out.

In Siem Reap it is very easy to find awesome vegetarian food. For all you non vegetarians out there, I believe there is no shortage of food you'd want to try. You get everything from your regular chicken to fried insects.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
Peace Cafe ROCKS!!!

For all you vegetarians like me, there are several cafes around the city that serve veg food like Peace Cafe, Banlle, Artillery Cafe, Chamkar House to name a few. There are several Indian restaurants in the city like Currywalla, Vanakkam, Maharajah, Namaste, that serve you a mix of South and North Indian food, both in veg and non veg.

I tried a lot of things there like the Khmer Red Curry, Thai Green Curry, Vegetarian Amok, Fried Rice, Durian Ice Cream, Bubble Tea, Coconut-Rice cake (num krok) along with some western cuisine like Spinach Pizza, Veggie Burgers, Nachos, California roles etc. I loved everything we tried.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
Vegetarian Amok

I specially recommend the Vegetarian Amok, Cambodian's national dish at Peace Cafe. Peace Cafe is a beautiful restaurant surrounded by greenery. They serve only vegetarian food that is fish sauce free, MSG free and shrimp paste free. They have a long exhaustive menu and we tried a lot on it and it very soon became our favorite place to eat. They also have a small but slightly overpriced gift shop that holds beautiful things. I picked up my curry powder from here. They also conduct Yoga classes. You can find out more from their site.

We loved the "Flying Zebra" for Pizza. It is a tiny little place in the city with a wood fired oven. We tried their Spinach Pizza which was amazing, so was their Cheese Garlic Baked Potato. Just don't kiss and tell, they are generous with their garlic. We also tried the vegetarian pizza and a quirky spicy mango pizza which you can try for an experience.

Also, there are a lot of French Bakeries across Siem Reap where you get amazing bread. The cakes may be good too, but I did not try any. I just fell in love with the bread and sorely miss it here in Bangalore.

Last but not the least, you cannot leave Siem Reap without having the "Cold Coconut" which is tender coconut kept under ice. It is nice and sweet and healthy. You will find it being sold outside pretty much every major temple and is a must have. It cools you down instantly. Be aware that these coconuts are huge and extremely filling. They cost $1.

The average cost of a meal ranged from $5 to $10 per person for us.

Night Life:


Pub Street is the place to be when the day starts to fade. It is the most happening place in town. Noisy and fun. You can buy draft beer for as little as $0.5. The Angkor What? is the most famous pub which has tourist flocking in there just to say "we went there" and to leave their mark on the walls of the pub. The other pubs around are slightly cheaper and some also serve food. Some pubs serve traditional barbecues while others can get you filled up on regular burgers and fries.

We were on Pub Street on the night of the Halloween Party and it was amazing. A little too loud, but fun nevertheless.

Cambodia Vacation, What to do in Siem Reap at www.oneteaspoonoflife.com
You have not experience Siem Reap, until you've been on the Night Scene

There are also several carts all across that serve you everything from the coconut-rice cakes, to fried ice cream rolls, pancakes, insects to cocktails. Yes, you have carts that sell you cocktails along with carts that sell you fruit smoothies.

I cannot describe night life without the Night Market. My favorite activity in Siem Reap was bargaining at the night markets. There are several night markets around the city. Almost all sell you similar stuff and at similar prices. Don't pay what the vendors ask you for, haggle for at least half the price. Look around the market and don't buy at the first place you see.

Most Night Markets are open from 4pm-11pm, however some are open throughout the day. We liked shopping at the Angkor Night Market and the Noon Night Market. The vendors speak manageable English and are excited to sell their goodies. Clothes are sold here at a bargain and unless you already bought them outside the temples (where they are sometimes cheaper), I highly recommend buying them here. T-Shirts are for $2, and you can buy 3 for $5. Same with the cotton pants. This is also a nice place to shop for souvenirs and gifts.

Currency:


Thanks to Matt from LandLopers, we did not exchange our US Dollars into Riels, the Cambodian local currency which worked just fine. In major cities, all the vendors deal in USDs only. So if you by something for $3.5 and pay with a $10 bill, they will return $6 in USD and the $0.5 in Riels. However, if you travel to interior places or to small villages, you may need to carry Riels.

Watch out for my next post on what to do and see in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Until then, you can read my reviews on Trip Advisor:








8 comments:

  1. Very informative post. Really liked :-)

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    1. Thanks Sapna... Watch out for the next post this week with information on "What to See"..

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  2. Amazing post.. Very nice to know about the friendly people of Cambodia.. :-)

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    1. They were lovely... They make an amazing community.

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  3. Wonderful post Anu.Cambodia seems to be a beautiful warm inviting place.. best part about the post- how you described the vegetarian food out there! I never expected it to be as easily available and so yummy as you mentioned..waiting for next part.

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    1. Right? We were surprised too. And the food tasted great!

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  4. Very informative.. this is my husband's no. 1 must visit place.. so will definitely plan to go someday...I shall contact you when we make a trip...

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    1. Sure. Use the contact me tab to get in touch with me. Also, read my next post that will be up by Wednesday, it is a long post on "What to see" in Siem Reap.

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