During my time at the IRC, my boss had mentioned her time serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa. On my last day of the internship, I asked her of any destinations she recommended while I was abroad, her answer…”hands down..Angkor Wat”. I embarrassingly had no idea what she was talking about, so when I got home that night, I googled pictures then immediately booked my flight.
I had 6 days in between my volunteer trip in Laos and Tanzania. This was a perfect amount of time to really soak in the adventure of Siem Reap, Cambodia. My intention of this trip was to reflect and rejuvenate from a month backpacking in Europe, a month of volunteering in Thailand and Laos, and before I headed to Tanzania and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Upon my arrival at the airport, I befriended a lovely woman, Kelsey, who has lived in Siem Reap for over a year and is ironically from Texas (small world!). We exchanged contact information and had plans to meet up during the week to explore. This is the beauty of solo-traveling- you are more inclined to meet new people.
Although hostels are my typical go-to places to stay, I decided to treat myself to a hotel. I got an amazing deal at a 5-star hotel called Anachak Angkor Residence. It included an amazing breakfast, 24-hour security guards, bike rentals, pool (sunset picture above from pool deck), spa, the kindest staff, AC, laundry, gym, kitchen, and free transportation to/from the airport. It was in a great location- only $2 tuk tuk ride to any place you would want to go. The staff would help me plan out my excursions and offered to call me a tuk tuk in advance to pick me up from my hotel. I chose to bike most places (be sure you have access to a GPS and a helmet!).
A tuk tuk is basically a motorcycle hooked up to a open-air wagon. This is the main form of transportation in most of SE Asia and can be found on everywhere. Prices are always negotiable, too. I never had a bad encounter with a tuk tuk driver, even late at night I felt safe.
Upon arrival, I took a tuk tuk straight to the ATM (located in downtown Siem Reap) which dispenses US dollars. Most of the time, stores will round to the USD but if change is necessary, they will give you “riels”. $1 = 4000 reil (so basically 25 cents is an easy way to think of it).
After the ATM, I decided to walk around to get familiar with the city and visit some of the markets. Some markets I recommend (all of which are located downtown):
1. Angkor Night Market
2. Artisans Angkor Market
3. Old Market
Fun story: Along the way, I met a new friend (picture above) from San Francisco. He was sitting outside of a restaurant with a tuk tuk driver who literally introduces himself as “Rock n Roll tuk tuk driver”. Highly recommend booking a trip with him which includes a cooler, karaoke machine, and some great tunes. These two friends saw me walking by and invited me to join them. Rock n Roll tuk tuk driver explained to me how all he wants to do in life is to spread love and positive vibes. He told me about the struggles he faces daily due to poverty. He dreams of one day coming to the US but knowingly recognizes the impossibility of this dream. My friend from San Francisco told me he only had a few hours left before hopping on a plane home so we walked around the city together. We said our goodbyes but I never caught his name. Walking away was bittersweet knowing I most likely would never see him again but exchanging such a beautiful day and fun memories. It was as if he was my Siem Reap angel.
The main attraction of Siem Reap is Angkor Wat. There are a few options of buying tickets which you must go to the Visitor’s Center to get. The most pass options are one-day pass, three-day pass, and seven-day pass. I decided to get a three-day pass so that I could go during sunrise, sunset, and to the farther away temples. Visiting during sunrise and sunset require a tuk tuk driver. Angkor Wat is also accessible by bike. I was able to bike the main loop in one-day.
Things to know about Angkor Wat:
1. Ladies, cover your knees and shoulders.
2. It’s hot!!! Bring sunscreen and water. Also, expect to buy a water or two while you are there, especially if you are biking. You cannot drink the tap water in Cambodia.
3. There are restrooms, places to buy souvenirs, and places to buy food along the way.
4. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
5. You will see monkeys and elephants, but I wouldn’t recommend getting too close to them. I have heard stories of people getting bit.
I also met a friend at the temples, Patrick from Arizona. He invited me to a drag show that night and to the floating village with some Aussie friends. In this case, we did exchange “WhatsApp” contacts.
The floating village is about 3 hours outside of Siem Reap. I recommend grabbing some new friends (Aussies are always a good time), a pair of sunglasses, and hopping on a tuk tuk (approximately $30USD). Upon arrival to the floating village, you will hop on a boat and they will give you about a 30-minute ride. Then, you head back to Siem Reap. Your tuk tuk driver will stop about halfway both there and back in order to fill up on gas. These stops are opportunities to go to local shops, grab a fresh coconut water, or use the restroom. Don’t forget your water bottle!
Nightlife is actually one of the best ones I experienced while abroad in the Eastern Hemisphere. There are a ton of backpackers that come through Siem Reap. Pub Street is basically the Bourbon Street of SE Asia. Another must-do nightlife is Phare Circus. They employ local student artists and put on an incredibly uplifting and light-hearted circus performances. I maintained a smile on my face the entire night that my cheeks were sore. Buy your tickets beforehand! The tuk tuk ride here is a little bit more expensive but it is worth every penny.
While in Siem Reap, I visited the Peace Cafe for daily yoga. They also offer cooking classes, fair trade souvenirs, and wonderful food. I walked into a random massage place (there are a million) for a good foot massage and body scrub. I surprisingly got my Mexican food fix, which had been plaguing me for the past two months. I recommend “Maybe Later“- it is a bit expensive but I didn’t know if I could make it another month without some chips and guac. It is owned by a Cambodian and her husband who is from the mid-West and brought his talents with him to open up a restaurant employed by his family. Kelsey also invited me to a local house church amongst a group of missionary families. The feeling of connectedness and the coexistence of cultures is truly what makes Siem Reap a gem.
This was my first solo-travel experience. It reminded me of the innate goodness within people. You attract what you radiate– if you remain loving and positive, loving and positive people will find you.