At the ripe age of fifteen, I learned about the (rough) history of the world. That’s when I formed my bucket list featuring Angkor Wat. However, my parents weren’t exactly thrilled about me traveling Southeast Asia alone after high school. So, I put Angkor on the backburner. Then, I moved to Bangkok and booked my ticket to Cambodia with one of my closest friends. Here are a few snippets of our time there–it was filled with history, art, and many western tourists.
The town of Siem Reap feels very community-driven. I arrived alone and immediately hoofed it to an expat cafe (Sister Srey) that served me a trendy acai bowl. It felt like art galleries and aesthetic coffee shops were plentiful in the small town. In a country that thrives on its tourism, it makes sense. These cafes and communal spaces tended to send sustainable messages and give back to the community in the form of education or small entrepreneurial investment. Later on we also visited a textiles museum/shop and saw how the famous clothing was made, but I didn’t take pictures in the shop.
I don’t want to speak dryly about Siem Reap, because I truly loved it. And I don’t fully know how to describe why. I loved that we could walk through the night market multiple times and still notice different stalls. I felt strange about how much gratitude each vendor expressed when we spent money, but it did encourage me to spend more. I bought a large bedspread (that I will use as a tapestry) made of Khmer silk and embroidered with images of Angkor Wat in golden thread. The drinks were also quite inexpensive so we did have a night out (with some other friendly traveling women!) and enjoy ourselves. Of course, the street/non street food is good too–just look up reviews on tripadvisor for restaurants if you want to know what you’re getting into.
Now, I really couldn’t stop taking photos of Angkor Wat. And I felt like the turmoil and anger and revenge involved with the history of the ruins were not so evident today. They were of course extremely respected and Buddhist devotes were still frequenting the place. We covered our shoulders and legs, braved the extreme humidity & heat (seriously, not for the faint of heart!), I ripped my traveling pants so bought new ones, smelled a good amount of bat dung, ate food on the campus, and let ourselves be amazed by the intricacy of the temples.
I recommend a trip to Angkor Wat to all history lovers, maybe even go on the biking tour if you’re up for it. Then, you’ll have some wind whipping through your sweat-drenched clothes every now and then. We had a rickshaw driver we hired for the day from our hostel (for a reasonable price). However, I’m not sure if it’s a good place for the elderly in the summer. The sun was very strong and there isn’t much shade. We did sit down at one point to sketch for a bit, which was quite relaxing really. I recommend you take it slowly, drink lots of water, buy a coconut from a stall, and take frequent breaks to replenish yourself. It can be done in a day or you could buy a 3 day ticket and spread it out.
We rounded off the trip with a few visits to some more cute cafes (The Vibe & New Leaf Eatery). The Vibe was spacious and well air conditioned, but not too many drink options. I highly recommend New Leaf for some food & a few cute knick knacks to shop from.
Overall, Siem Reap feels like a place that people traveling for months could just stay awhile. The hostels are everywhere, people are friendly, and cost of living is quite low. We just stayed a weekend, but I could definitely go back a few more times in my life.