Saturday, July 18, 2015

Visiting Cambodia: Siem Reap

I can be a more than a little neurotic when planning trips, and I was definitely worried about a few things when we started planning our trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. Was it insane to go at the hottest time of year? Would we get food poisoning? Would the crowds be unbearable? Would we constantly be hassled to buy things? Raku and I did extensive research beforehand, and to be honest a lot of the reviews and blogs I read made me more nervous than excited, at some points I started to question the entire trip. How wrong I was! Like all trips, there were things that went wrong, but in spite everything I'm so glad we did it.

Siem Reap is the town just outside of Angkor Wat Archeological Park where we stayed for the first three nights of our trip. Siem Reap is a really cute small town with a friendly, tourist sort of atmosphere. English is widely usable - there were always English menus and it was never a problem to speak to tuku-tuk drivers, shop keepers, or restaurant servers in English. (In fact, it was sort of a shock to come back to Tokyo afterwards.) Most people in Siem Reap are either travelers or work in the tourism industry, so it's easy to strike up conversations or make friends if you'd like to.

As I mentioned before, I had worried about food poisoning because of a bad experience on a trip several years ago. But I'm happy to report we had no such incidents, and that Cambodia food is delicious! There are lots of curries and noodle dishes that are similar to Thai food, though less spicy, and one of our favorites was a dish called Lok Lak which is sauteed beef with peppercorns. I never even knew you could eat peppercorns whole, but they were crunch and delicious. Another thing I fell in love with was the freshly squeezed juices in all the restaurants. The first time I saw it on a menu, I wondered who would order lemon juice, but then I realized it was a huge glass of lemonade. I got lemon or lime everyday, but I'm sure all the juices are fantastic. Below the photos I've listed the restaurants and bars we enjoyed and made notes of anything we especially liked.

In Siem Reap you can find guest houses for as little as $6 per night, but there is a pretty big range in the accommodations available. We ended up staying at the Sarai Hotel, which is a five star hotel that had only opened a couple months before, because we found an unbeatable deal for our rooms. Because they were so new they were working really hard to get good reviews online, and while I sometimes admired that forthrightness it also became tiresome. That said, I imagine this is not an ongoing issue. The staff was extremely helpful and friendly, assisting us with everything from making dinner reservations to helping when an ATM card was taken by a machine. The rooms were very comfortable, and the pool was the best part. The high walls around the pool guaranteed plenty of warm but shady areas, allowing us to hang out at the pool all afternoon without needing to apply sunscreen or getting sweaty (quite a relief after our intense morning excursions). They serve cocktails poolside with the most amazing mixed nuts seasoned with salt, sugar, and kaffir lime leaves. (I seriously can't stop thinking about them!) Breakfast is included everyday, and was quite generous with fresh juice, coffee or tea, a selection of breads followed by a main meal, and then fresh fruit and yogurt. We ate dinner there one night, but didn't find it to be anything special. If you don't mind spending the money (admittedly you can find comfortable accommodations for much less) it was really nice and much less than you'd pay for a similar hotel in another country.

Interestingly, in Siem Reap US dollars are the currency that everyone uses. The ATMs all dispense USD and you even have to pay for your visa in USD. Coming from Japan this meant that we had to change some yen in Narita airport because we weren't sure if there would be an ATM in the Siem Reap airport (there was, but it was out of order.) The Cambodian Riel is really only used for amounts less than one dollar. At roughly 4000 to the dollar a 1000 Riel bill is basically a quarter, so you might buy something and get change back in two different currencies. While this might sound strange it actually didn't turn out to be complicated at all, and no one ever tried to trick us or cheat us.

If you're even considering going to Angkor Wat, I can't recommend it enough. The park is incredible, and the town is so friendly and fun.

Breakfast at the Sarai Hotel
Refreshment and souvenir shops in Angkor Wat
Downtown Siem Reap
Afternoon drinks at the Red Piano
Tuk-tuks are everywhere, it's so convenient!

Relaxing at the Sarai Hotel Pool - these mixed nuts are soooo good!
Isn't the pool gorgeous?

Miss Wong's Cocktail Bar
The Night Market
Fresh juice and shakes are available all day and even late at night

Read About The Rest of Our Trip:
Visiting Cambodia: Angkor Wat
Visiting Hanoi: The City
Visiting Hanoi: The Food
Visiting Hanoi: The Sofitel Metropole
Afternoon Tea at The Metropole

Places We Enjoyed:
The Blue Pumpkin
One of the few places with air conditioning! Great lemon juice (lemonade), yellow curry, bakery items and ice cream.
Hours: 6:00 am - 11:00 pm
Phone: 063-963-575
Location: Sivatha Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Good for lunch or dinner. The best Lok Lak we had in Siem Reap.
Hours: 12:00-2:00, 5:30-9:30, Closed Sunday
Phone: 081-410-783
Location: Sok San Road, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Haven Restaurant
If you can't get reservations for dinner it's easy to walk in for lunch.
Hours: 11:30-3:00, last order 2:30, 5:30-10:00, last order 9:30, Closed: Wed lunch, all day Sunday
Phone: 078-342-404
Location: Sok San Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia

The Red Piano
Beautiful outdoor seating.
Hours: 7:30 am - 12:30 am
Phone: 092-477-730
Location: Street 8, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Miss Wong's Cocktail Bar
Really creative and tasty cocktails made with interesting local ingredients.
Hours: 6:00 pm - 1:00 am
Phone: 092-428-332
Location: Miss Wong, The Lane, Siem Reap Cambodia

The Sarai Hotel
Phone: +855 (0) 65-962-200

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