I’ve just spent over a week in Siem Reap, and it has been a total highlight of my South-East Asia experience. Allow me to explain…
I am not really a city girl. I love the city that I grew up in, but let’s be honest – no place truly can beat Cape Town! 😉 I have found the majority of other cities to be loud, dirty, and make me somewhat claustrophobic… this can especially said for Asian cities (although some of them do have their charm, I can’t say I regret living in Hanoi in any way). For my final two months of traveling, I haven’t really had an itinerary… I met up with somebody I met earlier this year, and we decided to just go where the wind takes us.
We went to Siem Reap to be able to experience Angkor. Angkor (“Capital City”) was the Cambodian capital city of the Khmer Empire. It is now the world’s largest single religious monument, attracts over 2 million visitors a year and is a UNESCO-protected world heritage site. Although neither of us are particularly religious, we are fairly alternative-thinking and find Buddhism intriguing in particular. Therefore, we made the deicision to come to Siem Reap without knowing much else about it. We were not disappointed.
I’ll write more about our two Angkor experiences in a separate post. For now, here are my top reasons to visit (and return to) Siem Reap:
1. Siem Reap has a pleasant tropical climate.
There are palm trees and a colourful variety of different plants and flowers, which all make for a very picturesque little town. Although red dust is a given, streets are kept very clean. Once again it is refreshing to see so much local pride going into a place.
I visited during November 2016 and the weather was truly wonderful. Not scorching hot, but no rain either – with the exception of a single evening downpour as we were cycling home from a day at the temples!
2. Food is delicious, affordable at any budget and available in abundance.
Cambodian food was surprisingly unique – ignorantly, I expected it to be comprised of the usual fried rice, noodles, and springrolls… let’s be honest, when one thinks of Cambodia, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t food; at least not as much as when one thinks of Thailand or Vietnam. Don’t let this fool you though…
Cambodian food often uses a delicious blend of lemon and pepper, lifting dishes to levels never reached… we all know this usual flavour combination, but I honestly have never tasted pepper like I did in this country. It’s a game-changer. Other interesting tastes can be found in Amok, similar to a Thai red curry with the addition of turmeric. This is usually steamed with fish in banana leaves. Although I didn’t taste the classic, I did have the vegetarian counterpart (pictured below) which was delish!
Cambodian food (probably) won’t make you sick. As I sit typing this, however, I’m recovering from what was definitely food poisoning. Not fun. As with any other place when traveling, stick to places that have a high thoroughfare of customers. Some of the kitchens I have seen during my travels have been appalling. I digress…
3. Siem Reap is hardly a city, it’s more like a little town with a good energy buzz.
One thing that stands out in particular is that there is no hooting (honking)! Even during the busiest hours of traffic, there is no incessant and obtrusive hooter noise. It keeps my Western nerves calm.
There is a street called Pub Street which can get pretty packed at night; otherwise there are some wonderful night markets where you can find cheap food and beer, as well as any and all souvenirs you might want to take home, including $1 t-shirts. If your haggling skills are up to scratch.
4. Locals do not aggressively push for you to buy things from them.
Anyone who has been to Asia can know how uncomfortable sales pitches can get, especially on your 100th time turning down $2 elephant pants. In Siem Reap, you will often get offered a tuk-tuk ride or asked to buy a t-shirt; the difference is that when you politely decline, you will get eye-contact and a genuine smile anyway. Unfortunately, from what I’ve experienced, I can’t quite say the same about Vietnam or Thailand…!
Below is a photo from a unique experience; one afternoon we headed in the direction of a local market we had heard about. It was clearly by locals, for locals, but we were very warmly received nonetheless. The markets sold everything, from fresh fruit and veg to jewelry. Some of the things I saw included entire pig heads, live fish literally jumping out of shallow buckets, bugs and scorpions… all about the experience I’d say!