Siem Reap and ancient temples of Khmer EmpireReading Time: 6 minutes
Following famous South East Asia backpacker route, after Thailand, we decided to go to Siem Reap, Cambodia which is a home to iconic ancient temples and the largest religious site in the world—Angkor Wat. People travel to Cambodia from all over the world just to visit the temples and marvel in their rich history and craftsmanship.
Although direct tickets from Krabi to Siem Reap were quite expensive, we had a quick stop in Kuala Lumpur.
Arriving in the evening, we didn’t have much time to explore the city, so after our check in at Dragon Inn Premium Hotel, (very basic budget hotel close to the centre) we headed to find some food. To combine our dinner and view of Petronas Twin Towers, we found a place called Simple Life Healthy Vegetarian Restaurant. Quick stop in Malaysia gave us opportunity to try vegan version of traditional Laksa, which is basically spicy noodle soup with tofu, made from red curry paste and coconut milk.
After long day, we felt overwhelmed by Malaysian capital even though we were pretty impressed by the tallest twin building in the world. Our flight to Siem Reap was scheduled in the morning, so after arrival we had the whole day to explore Khmer culture and around.
Cambodia seems to be cheaper than Thailand, but it’s good to consider that it’s is still recovering from Civil war and there is a lot of poverty in the country. That’s probably one of the reasons why local people will try to scam you as much as they can and take advantage of your “touristic nature”. Fake police officers taking your passport away from you, “mothers” with their children on the streets begging for money and constant ripping off everywhere you turn – that’s the reality of Cambodia every traveler should be aware of. However, there are many guide books like this one and lots of material on internet to read and prepare yourself before crossing the border. Make sure you always research any country you are traveling to but the most importantly use your common sense!
Following good reviews we booked our stay at Owl Inn hotel, situated near night markets area and very close to our researched food spots. Friendly staff recommended their tuk-tuk driver, who was about to come next morning and drive us to Angkor Wat temples for sunrise view. The best way to explore the city is definitely renting a scooter but we were a bit sceptical about it so were mostly walking and bargaining for local transport.
In the end of December the average temperature in the city will be around 35 degrees. If the heat will make you lazy and tired, hit one of our favourite cafes in town, Sister Srey, where we had one of the best coffees while traveling in Cambodia. Delicious raw vegan cakes are also a must!
After endless Pad thai’s and papaya salads in Thailand, we struggled to find vegan options in Khmer cuisine. Fortunately, Siem Reap has a lot of conscious, plant based restaurants to offer. Little research before helped a lot and Vibe Café seemed to be the best spot in town.
Vibe is first 100% vegan café in Siem Reap, with incredible interior design and every single detail very well considered. We decided to head there for breakfast and couldn’t be more excited about Acai smoothie bowls served in coconut shell, topped with fresh fruit and lots of mixed seeds. What a good start of the day! Besides that, café offers lots of goodies on the go, such as raw pressed juices, raw energy balls and selection of homemade nut milk.
We started Ankgor Wat tour with an early morning bell to our doors – tuk-tuk driver was already waiting outside. We were driving through the empty streets in the dark, slowly noticing that we were not the only ones who decided to wake up 4 am and experience sunrise in ancient temples.
The closer we got, the more people we saw and it made us realise why we have been always avoiding very touristic places. After queueing for a 20$ ticket we headed towards the lake for the spectacular sunrise. People were still coming, unstoppable, and at some point we gave up searching for a perfect spot, grabbed coffee instead and decided to chill on the side. Magnificent sunrise certainly blew our minds, it was truly mystical.
I do agree Angor Wat is the place we all should visit once in a life time, although we have got an impression that swarming tourists are slightly changing the vibe. Following our intuition we left the crowd and explored temples by ourselves. Quite a bizarre thing that rounded up our visit was a massive pig running next to the lake, trying to make her way out through the screaming crowd.
One day it’s definitely not enough to explore whole archaeological site.They do offer to purchase two or three days pass which allows you to come back to the temples next day. After some time we realised that it would have been better to rent a scooter and make your own trip which would allow you to plan your time as you like, even though tuk-tuk driver was always nearby.
January in Cambodia is considered as a cooler season, it was still very hot so very important tip – take comfortable shoes and lots of water. We also noticed a small camp, right next to Bayon Temple, where cheerful parents were riding elephants with their kids. It was very sad to watch that from such an early age kids get totally different understanding about these lovely giants and that they belong in the wild. Please consider to find out the truth about this horrible industry what it takes to sit on an elephants back.
Lots of walking in the heat made us completely exhausted and we finally decided go back to the city. To get that long awaited caffeine dose we chose The Little Red Fox Expresso where they serve delicious turmeric and coconut milk iced lattes with bamboo straws.
Few more places to cool down after exploring ruins:
- The Hive – aussie owned caffe with a great selection of coffee beans like Rumblefish, nice choice of music!
- The Veg G Table Café –all of the dishes made from scratch, unique menu created by the owner who is always around for a nice chat, hard to forget that beetroot burger with sweet potato fries!
- Gelato Lab – for those who crave ice cold vegan sorbets and all kinds of ice creams!