There are just some places you visit that etch their way into your soul. For me, Siem Reap was definitely one of them.
The night before we landed in Siem Reap was a rather panicked one, to say the least.
I was feasting on bananas and Ritz crackers in our hostel room after almost fainting from dehydration in Ho Chi Minh city. Then, we realised our flight to Cambodia was at 9 am, rather than the 4 pm we had been expecting.
Cue a rushed fast food dinner, last-minute taxi booking (for 5.50 am, no less) and frenzied packing.
After dragging ourselves out of bed at the ungodly hour of 5am, we survived the tiny plane ride over (it had propellors) and finally landed in Siem Reap mid-morning. We’d spend the next 3 days here and I’d fallen in love with the place, as soon as we stepped foot in our hostel.
We stayed at the palatial Khmere Maison d’Angkor and, as it was rainy season, had our 6 bunk room to ourselves for the majority of our stay. We were welcomed with a warm flannel and a drink, as our room wasn’t ready until 2pm. Immediately, you could feel how spiritual and laid-back the city is.
Café culture and the circus
As girls who love to eat, we decided to head straight out to the Bayon Pastry School Coffee Shop for a spot of brunch.
The food was fantastic and all profits go back into training the disadvantaged women who run the café. As a human rights activist who is passionate about gender equality and the occasional croissant, this place was like heaven. In fact, the plethora of not for profits supporting local women across Cambodia truly restored my faith in humanity.
We spent the rest of the day napping. Then, after spending an hour getting lost on a tuk-tuk trying to find Indian food, we became all cultured and visited the circus.
I love the arts, the theatre in particular, and I have to say ‘Phare, The Cambodian Circus’ is one of the most innovative, inspiring and captivating shows I have ever been to. All profits made from the shows are fed straight back into the Phare Ponleu Selpak Performing Arts school, founded by nine Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
Founded in 1994, just 23 years ago and only one year before I was born, it is clear that the Cambodian nation is still healing from the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. Through telling Cambodia’s stories, Phare is helping the next generation of young Cambodian artists create a brighter future.
As a creative, this was definitely one of the most inspiring parts of my trip.
Of course, no trip to Siem Reap is complete without touring the temples of Angkor. After becoming acquainted with our quirky tuk-tuk guide, who we decided to name Ron (long story), we spent day one zipping around the 26 km ‘big circuit.’
We spent the morning eating breakfast at a local café called The Hive and spending 5 dollars on some heinous gap yah wanker travelling pants (so hipster it hurts).
Then, we took in the sights of the big players amongst the ancient temples of Angkor. My personal favourite was the Bayon temple, as the Buddhist King Jayavarman VII purposefully adorned it with loads of statues of his own face (talk about self-confidence).
I could write a whole separate post on the temples of Angkor, so let me know if you’d like to see that in the comments below!
For now, enjoy these beautiful photos…
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
No Angkor temple tour is complete without doing either sunset or sunrise at Angkor Wat. Unfortunately, we missed sunset as we were too busy getting blissful massages at Bodia spa in town…
After dining at fabulous vegetarian tapas restaurant Marum (can you tell we indulged on food yet?), we braved a 4am wake up call to try and catch sunrise over iconic Angkor Wat.
Unfortunately, the sunrise we experienced over Angkor Wat was somewhat anti-climatic. The sky was covered in cloud and so it ended up looking something like this…
Undoubtedly, Angkor Wat is incredibly impressive. Just make sure you check the weather forecast so that you get to experience the sun rise when it actually rises, rather than at 8am when it appears from behind the clouds…
From the receptionists at our hostel to our lively tuk-tuk drivers, Siem Reap was full of the most wonderful people. It sounds incredibly first-world to say but I feel like Sarah Jessica Parker in Eat Pray Love whenever I think about my time there.
I’ve developed this fantasy in my head of starting a not for profit café, moving to Siem Reap and spending my weekends meandering through the spiritual streets. I can’t wait to go back to this little city and reclaim the piece of my heart I left there!
Have you ever left your heart anywhere – where/why? Let me know if you’re planning to go and reclaim it in the comments below.