After a good few days sightseeing in Cambodia’s capital, we moved to arguably the most famous part – Siem Reap. This was also our home for Xmas day 2018.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
Blossoming Romduol Lodge
After a 6-hour bus journey and a 15-minute walk in the 30-degree heat (we firstly couldn’t find the hotel as it was wrong on James’ maps.me) we found it! It has a lovely entrance with a small pond that doubles as a fish spa, with a water wheel feature for decoration.
We were welcomed in by staff and offered a cold towel to freshen up. We checked into the ‘Love room’ which was definitely very spacious and clean and cool, although quite old fashioned. The bed was big and we had a balcony, but no view so we only used it for clothes drying!
We spent a few hours by the pool, relaxing in the sun and shooting some basketball in the water. We also had a game of pool on another occasion and ordered reasonably priced beers from the bar. The pool area was really chilled and played modern music – perfect for our tropical Christmas day!
Where to Eat in Siem Reap
This place had top spot on TripAdvisor for cheap eats so we thought we would try it. It was a really sweet area with garden cushions, a treehouse area and a ‘hipster’ vibe.
This place specialised in spring rolls and had a whole variety including a pepperoni and cheese, a taco style one as well as a traditional vegetarian.
We opted for vegetarian (my fave) as a snack before dinner and without doubt were the best spring rolls I have ever tasted! I could have ordered loads but we restricted ourselves with the promise we would return.
Unfortunately, when we did return, they were fully booked and had no space for us. Lesson learned – book early to avoid disappointment!
This was next door to wild and also highly recommended. They offered both Cambodian and western dishes and the portions were pretty decent – as were the beer prices!
We came here again when we couldn’t get into Wild. It was nothing spectacular, but tasty and filling, especially when on a budget!
There were a couple of these restaurants – one on each end of the strip. We popped in for lunch and took advantage of their deals – $1.50 tacos and $3.50 nachos. Good portions and really tasty for a snack! Worth a go if you are in a mexican mood!
This restaurant was a little further out from the town/our hotel but we thought we would try it, as it suggests!
It was really busy (always a good sign) and we were seated upstairs on one of the last tables. We both had Asian dishes and they were really tasty and big portions! The prices were cheap too so perfect for us! If you are close, do what it asks you!
We walked all the way here for dinner and it looked like a lovely restaurant. We were planning to spend just a tad over our budget on a nicer meal for Xmas day and this looked spot on.
However, when we arrived, we were told they were all booked up and there were two other couples waiting for a table to open up. We were starving so didn’t want to wait. I was slightly surprised, as I am aware Cambodia doesn’t celebrate Christmas!
Christmas day choice 2! This place also had good reviews and was just around the corner. It was a chilled-out pub vibe but quiet – at least they weren’t booked!
We ordered our food which was ok but nothing special and portion sizes were small considering how hungry we were. Good place for a snack if you are nearby. The big cocktail I had made up for it though!
Things to do in Siem Reap
There seemed to be night markets everywhere in Siem Reap! We firstly walked through the Arts Night Market, which was a maze of jewellery, souvenirs, clothes and of course artwork!
Following this there are strips of stalls weaving their way to Pub Street. There was even a big LED sign advising the Siem Reap night market in another location! If you like shopping, this is the place for you!
Also, carts of street food lined the road around the canal offering Cambodian dishes, noodles, fruit, ice cream and even pizza!
The main party strip of Cambodia! We were there quite early so didn’t see it as busy as it probably gets but as usual strips go there were big lights, signs and copious amounts of bars and restaurants! The nice thing was, the prices didn’t really rocket – beers were still 50-75p!
We enjoyed a drink at a bar called ‘Angkor What?’ mainly because it made us laugh (simple things) and it became a common phrase for the rest of the trip!
We saw the usual Asian delicacies on sale such as scorpions but we encountered a new one – snake on a stick! No thanks! There was also a little girl with a live tarantula – I ran completely in the opposite direction!
Sunset in Angkor Wat Temples Complex
We paid $5 to see the sunset before we explored the complex the next day.
We were taken to the large ticket office that opens at 5pm to buy our ticket. James had researched that your one-day ticket ($37 each) also covers sunset the night before which is useful!
Our tuk tuk driver then took us to Pre Rup Temple and we were a little confused as we were expecting to go to Angkor Wat but apparently this isn’t the case for sunset.
However, the sun quickly disappears behind lots of trees so we finished the sunset overlooking the lake. Didn’t feel like anything spectacular but worth it as it was in our ticket price.
Plus it gave us a feel for the place, ready for the next day…
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Ok, so I wasn’t impressed with the 4.30am leaving time but I knew it would be worth it! We had hired a tuk tuk driver for $28 for the short and grand tour – the complex was huge, much bigger than I had expected! There was no way you could walk or cycle it unless you had a lot more time than us!
When our driver dropped us off, we had to navigate over a floating pier, through dark temples and walkways to find a spot to watch the sunrise. Luckily, there were groups of people and plenty of phone torches guiding the way, but it was a little like an ambush!
We found a spot on the left side of the temple. James held his ground at the front and I sat slightly behind next to some Australians who wouldn’t tolerate people turning up and getting in front!
We were waiting sometime for the sunrise and I did get fairly anxious at times as there were lots of people and I am very impatient anyway.
However, as time ticked on, the view was so mystical turning from black, to purple and getting lighter. The famous temple changing from a silhouette into a detailed building. The lake offered beautiful reflection photos. James was in his element and in his prime spot even offered to take photos for me on my phone as people had still squeezed their way in front of me!
After the sun made an appearance, glowing over the temple, a lot of people left to explore but we held back a little longer. Really lovely experience, even though I was already tired!
We then explored the famous Angkor Wat Temple, taking in its ‘magesticness’ (pretty sure I just made up that word) – old ornate carvings, details and statues. We waited in line for 10 minutes or so to get to the highest part of the temple and see the views and it was special overlooking the grounds.
I even captured a nice moment of a guard on a break sitting on the edge of the temple (where tourists can’t go) watching the world go by!
Couldn’t stay too long though – much more to see!
Angkor Thom/ Bayon
This was actually my favourite temple. Still a few ruins and rubble around but still impressive.
There are lots of areas to climb up inside the temple and when you reach the top you see numerous face carvings in the building. It was so interesting and incredible they have lasted so long with so much detail!
We took lots of photos and drank lots of water – temple sightseeing is thirsty work!
We walked over to nearby temples Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Prasat Preah Palilay, Tep Pranan, Temple of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants.
I won’t go over these in detail as there are too many to speak about and nowhere near impressive as the first two! A lot of the temples were fairly similar in design. If we had a guide and we had a little more knowledge of what we were looking at, it may have been a completely different story!
This was my next favourite and probably the next famous one! It’s a very old temple where trees and tree roots have taken over! Very cool and rather spooky.
There were lots of people queuing to take photos with one of the backdrops used in the Tomb Raider movie.
In total, through the day we visited 17 temples – it was hot, exhausting and a full on day but I think I preferred that to separating it out with a more expensive ticket.
I think our tuk tuk driver got a little annoyed with us as James had meticulously planned the areas he wished to visit, and this included all of them within the complex! The driver tried to argue that we had the smaller route ticket, but out of principle we made him take us on the full circuit.
Sunset at Phnom Bakheng
This was the last temple we visited knowing it was the best place for sunset.
However, due to safety reasons, they only let 300 people up there so you need to get there early! We managed to get there as part of the 300 and saw the queue grow behind us! It was a pretty difficult walk up a steep hill for 20-30 minutes, especially after 13 hours of temple viewing!
However, the view was worth it – high up so no trees in the way, and even a view of Angkor Wat on the opposite side. I will admit I was defeated by this time and left James to his GoPro and camera and waited until home time!!
It was definitely worth visiting the complex from sunset and recommend it to all. Personally, I would say just go for the short tour (around $15 for tuk tuk) and see the main events, unless you are desperately interested in temples and ruins.
You can definitely do it all in a day if you are willing to, but make sure you have water and snacks! If you prefer the more relaxed approach, go for a 3-day ticket!
Christmas Day in Asia
It was a mix of emotions on Christmas day for us. We are more than grateful for the experience we are having but we definitely had a bout of homesickness. Its not quite the same spending our Xmas in 33-degree heat by a pool.
We made sure we video called home, sent messages to friends and relaxed by our pool with a few beers for our own day.
We were expecting cards and a parcel from home which hadn’t shown up, and magically one of them arrived just as we were leaving for dinner – cue more tears and emotion! Especially for James as it was a very special present from his family.
Christmas will definitely be a big deal next year as we didn’t realise how much we would miss it!
Overall, I really enjoyed Siem Reap. The town is fairly small so everything is walkable, we had some great food and really cheap drinks! The temple complex is massive but so worth doing – massive check off the bucket list! Now off to our last stop of Cambodia – Battambang!