Located in northwestern Cambodia, Siem Reap translates to the “defeat of Siam,” the vibrant and flamboyant city has been a world famous tourist destination for decades and is known for its scores of temples and historical sites, French cultural influences and the rich, multi-faceted Khmer culture. Here’s my experience and how I made the most in four days at Siem Reap.
DAY 1: 10 November 2017
As the plane descended into the riverside city of northwestern Cambodia, I gazed out the window at the snowy white, unbroken deck of clouds below. Not a single soul or building was in sight, only lush green rice terraces, rivers, and waterways marked muddy tracks across the landscape. It was scenically rewarding with the fractal patterns thousands of feet above. It was a surreal sensation. At 07:41, we touched down at Siem Reap International Airport, nine minutes ahead of the schedule. I traveled in economy class and waited for the Premium class passengers to finish disembarking. Eight minutes after our flight landed, I was on my way to the arrival terminal, capturing photos and snapping stories on Snapchat and Instagram. The airport exterior reflected long sweeping elevations with subtle Angkorean touches imbued with traditional Khmer architecture.
Only a few counters functioned at the Immigration that resulted long waiting lines; a mere fifteen minutes and I was outside the airport on the sidewalk. I approached a shop that was selling SIM cards just outside the arrival hall, just in time, an angry customer returned with a SIM card that he had bought the previous day when he arrived, he was screaming at the sales girl since he didn’t get the 5.5GB data plan he paid for. I changed my mind not to buy from them, and decided to buy it later when I arrive the city center. The tuk-tuk drivers outside the arrival hall demanded ridiculous fares for a trip to the hostel where I had booked my accommodation, so I headed to the drop-off point at the departure terminal and found a tuk-tuk driver that agreed $5 for the trip. We took off on a twenty-minute drive to the city center, the tuk-tuk driver wasn’t sure of the address and suggested me to pay him for the trip and to try walking around to find the hostel, I insisted and told him to ask someone for directions and finally we found the hostel. I got off the tuk-tuk and handed him a hundred-dollar bill expecting him to pay me the balance, but he didn’t have change. I tried changing it at the hostel’s reception and they told me since it’s morning, they don’t have enough funds to change a hundred-dollar bill to give me the balance. They directed me to a nearby fuel station to get it changed, a ten minute struggle and finally I had it changed and paid the tuk-tuk driver.
Just as I thought the hassle was over, the hostel reception informed me that although I had a confirmed reservation, I could only check-in at 14:00 according to the standard check-in policy – I immediately took out the printouts of the e-mails I received from them confirming that they would let me check-in early before I booked it a month ago. I was furious and told them the only reason I booked them was because they agreed to let me check-in early and it has been more than 10 hours since I left home, boarded two flights with a two-hour layover at Kuala Lumpur and I needed rest and some sleep. Finally, they requested me to allow them a few minutes before they prepared my dorm and let me check-in.
I slept until afternoon and woke up around 13:30, freshened up and took off to grab some food with Katie, also to plan our collaboration on solo female travelers. We had brunch at a nearby café, spent a productive hour generating ideas on how we will present and discuss the subject on our Instagram stories. By the time, I got back to the hostel, Mao, the tuk-tuk driver, also the photographer and tour guide for the Angkor Wat tour was waiting at the reception, I quickly drove off with him to buy a SIM card from Metfone, where I paid $5 for an unlimited data plan for four days.
I thought it wouldn’t take long to get a SIM card, but they only had one counter servicing the customers and I had to wait in the queue for a while. By the time, I got the SIM card, it was 16:10 and I was late for a Cambodian Pottery Class that I had booked online at the Khmer Ceramics Center. Mao hurried and dropped me at the pottery class and stood by my side throughout capture some photos while I was at the wheel. I finished the class at 17:30 and returned to the hostel to charge my phone and rest a bit. At sharp 19:00, Mao was back at the hostel to pick me and Katie to drop us for dinner at the Koulen Restaurant which also featured Apsara dance performances.
Traditionally, apsara means celestial maiden and relate to very beautiful women with supernatural powers. In present day, the apsara dance has become an essential part of the Cambodian culture and it’s performed by both men and women. The performances concluded by 20:20 and Mao dropped us back to the hostel. I went to bed early because I had to get up at 04:00 for a full-day tour.
DAY 2: 11 November 2017
We finished the tour at about 15:00, and what I realized was that one day will never be enough to visit and understand Angkor Wat and its significance, although the amount of time I spent on the tour of Angkor Wat was short, it will forever be engraved in my memories. Upon returning back to the hostel, there was a pool party, something the hostel runs on all Saturdays. I spent a few minutes chatting with others and headed to the dorm for a nap after a long day of temple running. In the evening, me and Katie hosted an amazing Couchsurfing meetup, which ultimately ended at the X-bar.
We got back late past midnight to the hostel.
DAY 3: 12 November 2017
Sunday was my last day in Siem Reap! I was picked from my hostel at 08:30 by a minivan to join a group tour to the floating village of Kampong Phluk. It made me understand the importance of preserving the Tonle Sap Lake, upon which so many living beings greatly depend their lives on and appreciate more resilience of Cambodians. We concluded the tour at about 13:30 and were dropped back in the same minivan. I spent the rest of the afternoon with Katie planning the rest of the topics for our Instagram. In the evening, we headed to the Phare Cambodian Circus, I felt going to watch the performance helped support the Cambodia of the present-day and for the future, and it also made clear why an evening at the circus has become the most popular thing to do at night in Siem Reap.
All my mornings during my stay in Siem Reap began super early — trying to fill each day with as many activities and adventures as possible. The next morning, it was time to say goodbye. Siem Reap truly captivated and enthralled me with its elegance and beauty. I left with memories of sights and sounds that charmed me with its ageless grace and experiences that will last a lifetime.