Cambodia: Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, and Phnom Penh

We’re almost exactly one month into the trip and have traveled through four fabulous countries thus far: Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and most recently, Cambodia. After selling the climbing gear, we decided to focus our energy on taking in some history and culture. What better place to do that than the temples of Angkor? We hopped a quick flight from Surat Thani, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia and spent five fun days exploring this fascinating place.

Angkor Wat

Although Angkor Wat is massive (~500 acres), much of the beauty is in the intricate details

Siem Reap is the launching point for endeavors into the Angkor region. As such, it’s quite touristy – more developed and crowded than we would have thought. It seems as though they are trying to capitalize on some of Thailand’s tourist circuit of young partying backpackers. Pub Street is the center of the city, although in Cambodia, “pub” clearly has a different meaning… It seems to mean something close to raging rave party, rather than a dark bar full of Englishmen watching football.

Pub Street

“Pub Street” – not quite what we expected…

However, if you are willing to wander a few blocks off pub street, you can find many small bars filled with friendly, local Cambodians and delightful, affordable restaurants.

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Angkor Wat at sunrise

We met a European couple at our hostel who agreed to share the cost of a tuk tuk and guide for a day of visiting the temples.

We were hesitant to pay extra for a local guide at first (most just pay for the tuk tuk), but it turned out to be well worth it for us.

Connor Ta Prohm

Connor takes in the incredible trees at Ta Prohm temple

Not having known much about the history of Cambodia, having a guide made the day far more interesting. We visited Angkor Wat at sunrise, and also the nearby temples of Banteay Srei, Ta ProhmBayon, and Phnom Bakheng, in that order.

Bayon

Buddha faces of Bayon

It was a challenge to decide which temples to visit (there are many), but we felt that these were great choices! It was a long day of learning and wandering temples in the heat, but an absolutely unforgettable experience.

Templing is hard

Templing all day in the heat is hard

Three nights in Siem Reap went by quickly, and although many days could be spent exploring these ancient temples, it felt like the right amount of time for us.

We decided to head to Vietnam via bus, spending one quick night in Phnom Penh on our way to Ho Chi Minh City. Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital and is a large bustling city on the Mekong River.

Phnom Penh Palace

The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

We stayed at the Bright Lotus Guesthouse, a lovely affordable spot just a block off the river. We had a fantastic dinner at David’s Handmade Noodles, where the owner makes the noodles fresh right in front of you, and we enjoyed an evening walk along the river. We also went for a morning jog through the riverside district of Phnom Penh – this was a fun way to see some more of the city and get some exercise before getting back on the bus.

Spring run

Spring is in the air in Phnom Penh

While on the road, certain characteristics of cities and towns have started to stand out that seem to define the places we go: how friendly the locals are, the aggressiveness of street vendors, the level of noise, whether or not there are sidewalks, how many other travelers are there and where they are from, the availability of public transportation, the presence and health of street animals, etc.

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Sunrise, Angkor Wat

Cambodia seemed to have a wide variety of these characteristics. There is certainly a lot more we could have seen in Phnom Penh, and in other parts of Cambodia as well, but Vietnam was calling… Deciding where and how to spend our travel time is a challenge! But a fun challenge for sure. How lucky are we?! Forward and onward!

5 thoughts on “Cambodia: Siem Reap, Angkor Wat, and Phnom Penh

  1. We just got our Bali postcard in the mail! The boys were so excited. We didn’t have time to map it today but we will be pulling out the map tomorrow. Thank You!

      1. The boys loved the new postcards and can’t wait to check the mail every day! We may even be checking on Sundays (they know no mail comes Sundays, but I am told ‘just in case mom, just in case!’)
        Thank you again for taking the time to do these. This week we are going to look for library books about the countries. We got a book about how rice is grown after the Bali postcard and they now ‘harvest’ rice out in the yard.

        The map is up in the hall and Christian studied it for a good half hour this morning before preschool.

      2. That’s so great to hear! We are happy to send them, it’s fun for us too. Writing you one from China today! Glad it provides them with some excitement and educational material 🙂

        Sending our love to all of you! xo

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