Chum Reap Sur Angkor: Around the old city

September 07, 2012 ASEAN Backpacking

After a long bus ride and a restful sleep, my mind was a bit hazy. I had planned a strategy to stay energetic throughout our adventure—catching up on sleep during our land travels. With the excitement of visiting three countries and crossing two international borders, our great Mekong adventure had a lot in store.

As soon as we entered our home in Siem Reap for the next three days and two nights, all the enthusiasm rushed back. It's probably one of the best places I've stayed so far, and I've experienced a variety of fancy hotels from different parts of the world. 

Golden Temple Villa is ♥.

We were welcomed by a lush tropical garden, and the sight of a hammock was a bit tempting, but first, we had to check-in. Fortunately, the process was fast, and the staff were friendly. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that we were entitled to complimentary amenities, including free wifi, bike rentals, a one-hour massage, coffee, jasmine tea, and bananas.


We decided to stow our bags in our room before indulging in our welcome drinks.

Upon entering our room, we were impressed. It was the first time someone had adorned my bed with flowers.

After savoring our room for a while, we strolled to the restaurant for our lunch. By then, it was already late, and hunger had set in.

To our delight, our welcome drinks were ready, accompanied by chips and cold towels. The pampering continued.

While my travel companions engaged in a game of billiards, I opted to test out the hammock.

I was glad that Mervin, our friend who arranged the trip, chose this place for us to eat. Our first taste of Siem Reap cuisine set the bar impressively high.

The food at Golden Temple Villa is amazingly good and surprisingly affordable. I'm not usually a big fan of hotel food, but this restaurant changed my perspective on it.


I was pleasantly surprised to receive a free shirt with our order of the Amok Set, priced at US$7.00. The set included Amok fish, Amok chicken, and Amok beef, all cooked in coconut and wrapped in banana leaves. Amok is one of Cambodia's well-known and well-loved dishes.

After indulging in the sumptuous flavors of traditional Cambodian cuisine, we geared up for our afternoon adventure—an ATV tour.

Quad Adventure Cambodia promptly picked us up from our hotel.

Before embarking on the tour, all guests underwent a briefing and safety test. Fortunately, I passed with flying colors.

It felt great to be on an ATV again, bringing back memories of the time when I was consulting for Enchanted Kingdom, where the ATV was one of my favorite attractions.

During our tour through communities and rice fields, residents went out of their way to greet us, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere. While there might not have been grand landmarks to see, Mervin and Quad Adventure truly delivered on the promise of a relaxing sunset tour.

As darkness enveloped Siem Reap after our ATV adventure, we headed straight to the night market.

Mervin had some fun secret activities in mind. For this leg, our mission was to find a shirt that we would all wear during our Angkor Wat tour scheduled for the following day. That became our shopping agenda, alongside the usual hunt for souvenirs.

After dinner inside the night market, accompanied by celebratory beers, we marked our first day in Siem Reap—the third city on our itinerary and the fourth day of our Mekong Adventure.

The highlight awaited us the next morning: catching the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

The main reason I joined this trip was to witness Angkor, one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia and the largest Hindu temple complex in the world.

We all woke up very early for this eagerly anticipated trip. It was day 5 of our Great Mekong Tour, our second country, and our third stop (after Ho Chi Minh and Phnom Penh), and our energies were still running high.

As dawn broke, we arrived at Angkor Wat, one of the most famous and iconic temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, situated about 5.5 kilometers from Siem Reap. Many tourists had already secured their spots at the northern reflecting pool, the most popular sunrise location, hoping to capture a stunning silhouette shot of the temple against the colored sky.

Sadly, the day was too cloudy for us to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Nevertheless, the temple's grandeur remained breathtaking and picture-perfect. 

After capturing a few shots, we decided to have breakfast, ensuring we had enough sustenance for the upcoming half-day tour of the vast 400 km² archaeological park. This expansive area contains the magnificent remains of the various capitals of the Khmer Empire, spanning from the 9th to the 15th century.

An Instagram photo of Angkor Wat

Trying to take in everything as I walked the pathway leading to the temple felt like a daunting task. Despite the buzzing crowd of tourists, the temple offered a genuine trip back in time, where the ancient surroundings transported me to a different era.

Up close, the carvings revealed their equally spectacular intricacy. I wandered away from my group for a while, allowing the ancient surroundings to envelop me, creating a personal connection with the past.

After about half an hour of gallivanting, I rejoined my friends for this photo op.

Our next destination was Angkor Thom, which translates to 'Great City.' Angkor means town, and thom means great. A short tuktuk ride from Angkor Wat brought us to the south gate, a causeway adorned with stone figures.

We wanted to take a short elephant ride around Angkor Thom, unfortunately all the elephants were booked that day.  So proceeded with our walking tour.  

The most popular temple here is Bayon, the center of the town, which is known for its carved faces on the temple.

On our way to meet the rest of the group and our tuktuk driver, we stopped by Phimeanakas Temple. While it can be climbed for a good view of the complex, we opted to explore the lower sections.

As we made our way to the parking area, we came across the Elephant Terrace, another significant landmark in the area.

Our final destination was Ta Prohm temple, situated east of Angkor Thom. This temple is renowned for its distinctive feature—trees growing out of the ruins and the lush jungle that envelops it.

We were supposed to meet our tuktuk driver at the exit, but amidst the throng of tourists inside, finding our way proved challenging. Eventually, we exited the same way we entered and ended up paying another tuktuk driver to take us to the exit.

After a rewarding half-day tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park, it was time for a break. This called for my first bottle with an easy-open cap. Nice! I liked it! This bottle commemorates the experiences we've shared so far, from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

After a few rounds of beer, our tour leader Mervin scheduled an afternoon nap for us. Despite feeling tired, my energy was still high, and with my last few hours in Siem Reap, I wanted to make the most of it. Along with one of my travel companions, Erwin, we decided to explore Artisans Angkor, conveniently located only a few steps away from our hotel.

Artisans Angkor is an artists' village dedicated to promoting Cambodian fine arts and crafts.

Inside the compound, there are several workshop areas, including silk weaving, silk painting, and stone carving, where tourists can observe the artisans at work. 

After visiting the showrooms, tourists have the opportunity to purchase fine arts and crafts at their souvenir shop. It was here that we found the perfect thank-you gift for Mervin, who organized the entire trip for us.

After, we reunited with the group for dinner at Haven.

Haven is truly aptly named because they not only serve delightful Asian and Western food but also nourish the soul. Every order supports the company's training program for young orphans, providing them with accommodation, food, medical treatment, and comprehensive training. After their training, Haven also assists them in finding employment. 

The establishment, inaugurated in December 2011, operates as both a training restaurant and a sanctuary for young adult orphans who must leave the orphanage and have nowhere else to turn.

And this, to me, is my own little piece of haven. This vegetarian delight is called Zuri Gschnetzlets with Swiss Rosti, a traditional Swiss dish with a vegetable twist. It features ingredients my body loves, including tofu, mushrooms, onions, cream, white wine, and cognac. The result is a delightful combination of crunchy, creamy, and scrumptious flavors.

I couldn't leave without having my photo taken with the Swiss couple, Sara and Paul Wallimann, who brought Haven to Cambodia.

After exploring the nearby Pub Street, we set out in search of the infamous happy pizza. We found it on Hospital Street.

and also this little place that offers another kind of high. We also found a bookstore.

Further down the street is the kind of high girls love: shopping.

I got myself everything I wanted—ref magnets, fabrics, and other souvenirs. It was a long day filled with pleasant conversations over bottles of beer and happiness. Leaving Siem Reap was difficult, but I made a promise: I will come back.

See you soon, Siem Reap! Up next on our Mekong Trip log is Bangkok.

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