Landing in Siem Reap, Cambodia provided a very different view than that of landing in Borneo. In Borneo, from the air, we could see stretches of jungle. Well, on first inspection. Once our eyes had taken in the wider view it became apparent that the trees were positioned far too neatly to be wild jungle. In fact it was vast stretches of Palm Oil Plantations. In Cambodia, it was stretches of fields, similar to that of coming in to land at the UK albeit without any major motorways or towns obstructing the view. This wouldn’t be the last time these fields reminded me of home.
After the post landing ceremonies, which this time included getting a visa (apparently an incredibly labour intensive process as after handing over our passports, cash and photos they were passed down a line of 20 officials, each one doing some specific task – even if it was just to hand the items to the next official – before being given back to us) we made our way to our hotel in Siem Reap for some much needed rest.
There is an interesting story/folklore about how Siem Reap got it’s name. Siem used to be the name of what is now mainly Thailand. The Siem empire invaded and a battle ensued where Siem Reap now is. The Siem armies were defeated and the Cambodian King, to ensure the victory was never forgotten, decided to call the city Siem Reap which means The Defeat of Siem. Siem Reap today is famous for its temples (including Angkor Wat), it’s night market, traditional Khmer food, it’s national park and, what would be first port of call, its very own Pub Street.
Getting to Pub Street was easy – tuktuk! Just the presence of these wonderful machines made Cambodia instantly feel more Asian than Borneo (I hope that is considered PC). Reflecting on this did make me realise that Borneo came across as more of a mix of SE Asian, Indian and western elements than having an identity of it’s own (at least in the bigger towns and cities) which is probably a result of colonisation and occupation.
After two months in Borneo where beer is more expensive than the UK we were excited about the rumoured 50 cent cool crisp mugs of laughing juice. And whilst Pub Street isn’t as big or chaotic as places like New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, it still delivered. Bar after bar competing for your attention, their weapons of choice: loud music and promises of free shots. Joy.
The main bar on the strip is Angkor What?! A dingy but loveable rock bar which was apparently the first bar to set up on the strip and used to be the owners living room. Whether it’s true or not is for the historians to decide, all that’s important for you and me is that it plays great tunes and offers the chance to blow the froth off a few cold ones.
We had a great night in Angkor What?! and upstairs in Temple which offers a chilled out beanbag fill rooftop bar. This was followed by dancing in the street with a load of hippies and a nightcap cocktail from one of the mini kiosk bars which are cycled into place each night (and offer free WiFi!).
Around the Pub Street area you will also find a plethora of restaurants. The food in Siem Reap did not disappoint. There was a great selection of Khmer dishes (the local cuisine) and Asian/Western favourites on the menus all for a couple of quid. It was our 4 year anniversary whilst in Siem Reap so we ventured for some posh nosh at a little place called Embassy where we were delighted by the 7 course tasting menu.
One of the delicacies of the area is happy pizza. There is one street which has a number of these pizzerias – Happy Angkor Pizza, Happy Pizza, Happy Special Pizza and Ecstatic Pizza. Obviously, ecstatic trumps happy so we opted for this joint. The pizza itself was a bit of a disappointment, but walking around the elegant night market afterwards was a real hoot – who knew tacky souvenirs, elephant pants and hunting for pineapple could be so funny! That night ended with a few of us devouring Pringles in the hotel bar whilst uncontrollably giggling until the barman freaked us out with his all disappointing gaze…or were we just paranoid?!
Within the city there are also a number of Wats/temples which are free to visit. These are a lot smaller than the grand and ancient temples outside the main city cluster but are wonderfully colourful and beautiful places for a short stroll.
So this is how our adventure in Cambodia began. We ate, we slept, we Siem Reap’ed.
We’ll follow up with blogs on the Wats, the national park and our time volunteering in Siem Reap shortly. x
Siem Reap Recommendations:
If you’re traveling to Siem Reap here’s a few of our recommendations:
- Long’s Bar: Up a side alley off Pub Street this is a chilled out, modern, little bar serving cheap drinks during happy hour (5pm – 7pm). Go here to escape the chaos of Pub Street.
- Siem Reap Brewpub: I think there is always something nice about trying locally brewed ales in a place you are visiting. This places brews a couple of good ales on-site.
- Angkor What?!: You’ve got to have a drink here – it’s tradition!
- The Original Night Market: A beautiful market to stroll around and haggle over unwanted gifts.