Travelling Cambodia – Siem Reap

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The MacInnes family – apart from Campbell – take on Cambodia and Vietnam for a family holiday that will sure to bring a lot of laughs, a lot of arguments and a lot of drinking. 

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It all started on November 11, a mid-morning flight to Ho Chi Minh with a connecting flight to Siem Reap. An espresso martini at 10am and it was time to board the flight, it was 12pm somewhere I think. Then it was off to the gate. Melbourne airport had the Vietnam Airlines sign at gate 16 “Hang Pho Thong”, Dad had worked out Vietnamese already so he reckons “no things or photos”. 

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So thoughts on Vietnam Airlines? Loved it! The movie selection was quite good, the little travel packs with toothbrush, slippers etc were cute and the food was not bad for airplane food, like dumplings for snacks? Yes, please.

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Two movies, editing of a podcast and some window viewing and we had reached Ho Chi Minh with 3 hours before our next flight. So the confusing part, do we need to get our bags? No, okay. Before heading to the departure land we had what I’d call a minor family debate or argument next to a desk, little did we know a lady was sitting very low behind that desk and heard the whole thing, good work gang.

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Anyway, the departure gate was confusing and seemed silly but we got there in the end and headed for a look at the shops and a small bite to eat, we were just praying our bags would show up in Siem Reap. 

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For some reason, not sure what it was whether the pressure on the flight got to me or what but the pressure in my lower abdomen was painful, like to the point I thought maybe it was my appendix. Ohh good we had been in a different country for only an hour if that Anyway I got there in the end and we boarded our flight to Siem Reap.

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Hot tip – you need a visa for Cambodia. Buy it when you get there and have a passport photo ready for you to take with you. It’s $30USD and you can fill out the form when you arrive. The lines can be quite long and slow so you can pay one of the security guards standing around the visa desks to fast track you through, we weren’t sure if it was dodgy or not but people who did it got through okay. 

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The airport is only close to town, cars and motorbikes go fairly slow, around 40km/h. If you haven’t booked a transfer and have minimal luggage get a tuk-tuk, but we had that all sorted. Our van driver Mr. Sow from Buffalo Tours was very helpful and chatty on the way to our hotel and continued to give us a lot of tips and tricks. 

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Where did we stay? At the Prince D’Angkor Hotel and Spa. The hotel is beautiful, the breakfast is good, the pool is amazing, happy hour from 5:30-7:30 was Dad’s favorite and the gym is quite big for a hotel gym. The staff are very friendly and we were definitely happy to get to our room. At this stage it was 10pm, leaving at 7am Australian time and getting in at 2am Australian time plus the stomach pains, so it was a shower, room service, and bed. 

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Dad was the last to shower, he got confused with the bath/shower and didn’t see the actual shower, next minute water everywhere all over the floor, like everywhere. Classic Dad, always finds a way to make break or use something wrong. It was actually hilarious. 

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Our second day in Siem Reap was our biggest with the Angkor Temples tour. All up it is a seven hour tour. Our guide Davith took us on a journey to wander through the most spectacular remnants of a once magnificent ancient civilisation. Temples date back to the 11th century and were built by the king of that era, each King must build himself a temple and when he dies it becomes his tomb. 

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Now you need to remember the rules when visiting Angkor, these include no smoking, no littering, wear clothes that cover your knees and shoulders, no giving money to children and no climbing the temples were the main ones to remember. 

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Our first visit for the day was my favourite, Ta Prohm, the temple surrounded by jungle, took three years to uncover due it being so overgrown when the French discovered it. It is one of the largest temples at Angkor, built in 1186 and was also where Angelina Jolie filmed Tomb Raider. These temples were stunning, like amazing!

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The tree that wraps around these temples are majestic, hollow and just bring the culture to life. Also, the detail in the stone will blow you away, one even had a dinosaur in the cravings, the only dinosaur in any temple and adds to the proof they did exist in this time. 

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At these temples our guide continued to make jokes along the way, he spoke five languages you know? English, Australian, American, Canadian and New Zealand. But he did teach me an awesome camera hack using panorama on my camera to make the pictures like below.

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Most of these temples are being reconstructed and some will even take longer to reconstruct than they did to be built. Then we went on to visit the monumental magnificence of Angkor Thom ‐ the last capital of the great Khmer Empire.

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We saw the sprawling Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King and the enchanting Bayon. The 12th century masterpiece lies at the very centre of Angkor Thom City and is an archaeological wonder of symmetry and grandeur, with 1,0000 steps which nearly killed us on a 30+ degree day.

 

 

The exterior gallery walls have extensive bas‐reliefs but the main features are the towers each with four gently smiling faces, over 200 in total, which stand for compassion, empathy, kindness, and sympathy. 

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Then it was lunchtime, as the Angkor Wat temples are so close to Siem Reap we were taken to a local restaurant called Viroth for a traditional lunch. The fish in amok curry was amazing, loved it. 

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Next stop was the famous, Angkor Wat, arguably the largest religious building in the world, with a volume of stone equaling that of the Cheops pyramid in Egypt. It is unlike all the other Khmer temples in that it faces west, and is inspired by 12th Century Hinduism. Its symmetrical towers are stylised on the modern Cambodian flag and symbolise the five elements.

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Angkor Wat took an estimated 37 years to build and has a man made mote around it, which helps keep it from moving over time because the ground keeps the stone soft and moist. To this day it is still level, our guide got out a leveller on the iPhone and showed us the centre of the temple, perfectly on 0.

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It was hot, but my god those temples were beautiful and we truely learnt a lot, one of them being we can work up and down those many stairs without passing out. This is also when we learnt the national Cambodia sport, lying in a hammock. Ohh then we also tried leaves from a native tree that taste like sour plums, yum! 

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The temple tour is a big day so I definitely recommend an afternoon by the pool, if your hotel has one. Then head straight to Pub Street, that place is crazy. Similar to Bangla Road in Thailand, here you can buy a ‘snack’ which is scorpion or tarantula, $2USD for both and I can tell you, they do NOT taste like chicken like I was promised, the opposite in fact. Watch my reaction here, as you can see I l. 

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Pub Street has many restaurants to try, some we went to included Cambodian BBQ, which was amazing! For a taste of all the meats, which is enough for three included chicken, beef, different types of fish, ostrich (not the best tasting), crocodile, frog legs, duck, squid, pork, pawns plus you get broth, vegetables and rice for like $15 all up. 

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On this particular night Dad made the most of the 50 cent Angkor Beer and by the time we dropped Mum off and headed back out he was very much half charged. The song Fancy by Iggy Azalea attracted me to Cheers, a bar of Pub Street and we spent the rest of the night there. With $2 Jager Bombs and good music, I was set!

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Dad and I even took on the dance floor after watching the street come alive with locals and tourists. The Tuk Tuk was a blur for Dad but we managed to book ourselves a Tuk Tuk tour for 9am with our driver and I insisted on getting cooked crabs from the street food cart out the front of our hotel, I also do not recommend these! Bless the driver for nearly catching Dad as he fell up the gutter! 

 

 

 

 

Safe to say the next day was seedy for Dad and I and our last night Tuk Tuk driver was on time to take us on a city tour. We ended up at the War Museum ($5USD) where we saw the old tanks and equipment used when the Khmer Rogue was in power. This was the beginning of our education on the Khmer Rogue, there are a few museums in Siem Reap including the National Museum, we didn’t get there but I think it has a lot more information.

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To get the most out of Siem Reap it is a great idea to get dropped by the river and walk about the Pub Street and Old Market area. Here we found some of the cutest laneways with restaurants and cute boutique stores. Then it was lunch at Traditional Khmer Food Restaurant for an amazing Duck Amok Curry, those flavours were amazing, the laneways were my absolute favourite. 

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The landmines in Cambodia are a massive issue with many people losing their lives or limbs from landmines that are still present in the land from the war. It is a goal for Cambodia to have all their landmines cleared in the next five or so years. Today they now use rats to help sniff out landmines in designated areas in the Cambodian land. So I highly recommend going to the APOPO to learn more about how the rats find these landmines, you even get a demonstration. It is only $5USD but it is so interesting and the rats are pretty cute, plus very well trained.

 

 

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So our time in Siem Reap was limited to three nights but we definitely made the most of our time. Our last night was spent on Pub Street in the fish skin eating tanks, eating and drinking. Yolo Bar was a little dirty but seems like a place for younger people especially later at night. X Bar was the same, but they had an amazing rooftop with a skate ramp, which you could sit up the top and take in the views of Pub Street, even if it was impossible to get up! 

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Another night and more food including duck – again, at Temple and for dessert ice cream rolls, which are very popular on the streets. The night comes to life in Siem Reap with many night markets and people looking to make a dollar or two, the atmosphere is truly amazing. The people you meet on these streets you will always make you laugh, like the guy who I made eat the rest of my spider or the ones who be cheeky because they know you’re Australian “G’day Mate”. 

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Before an afternoon flight to Phnom Penh, it was time for one last look around the streets, down by the river this is where you find you’re still discovering new places. We came across a beautiful temple, Wat Prom Rath and it takes your breath away at the amazing architecture and detail put into these places of peace. It will always amaze me the true believe these people have towards their religion, everything has a purpose, everything has a story and they believe in goodness in everyone even if they have been dealt a bad card. 

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Exploring Asian countries you also bring amazement to me, even if I have been to a few. Like the safety control, changing a traffic light blurb in Australia is definitely done a lot different. Or how a bidet works, as you will hear in my podcast my parents still can’t work it out. Mum testing an automatic one saw the water shoot out the open door and onto the wall in front of her, was probably one of the funniest things I’ve seen and the pressure of that a little frightening. 

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Siem Reap, will I come back? Absolutely! The Pringle’s you supplied from across the road was also delicious, your hospitality was incredible, the knowledge your people have for your country is outstanding and quite frankly I think we should all take a leaf out of your book and learn more about our own country and be proud of where we are from. If you find it hard with a language barrier just remember, their English may be bad but your Cambodian is worse. 

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Read more:

Travelling Cambodia – Phnom Penh

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