Nowhere I’ve been seems to hold such contrasting appeal for tourists as Siem Reap in Cambodia. On the one hand, it’s known for the magnificent, ancient temples of Angkor Wat, described by the Lonely Planet as “heaven on earth.” On the other, it’s famous for its buzzing nightlife, centred around Pub Street, a long neon-lit street heaving with bars and restaurants. The serenity of the temples that draw tourists in their thousands seems so at odds with the party vibe of the town, and yet, it kind of works. There is even a pub named Angkor What?.
It turns out that after a day of walking around temples in the dry heat and dust, a few cold beers and a bit of distraction is just what you need.
I arrived into Siem Reap, my first stop in Cambodia, feeling excited and slightly nervous. I had heard so many great things about Cambodia, but at the same time I was back on my own again, starting fresh in a new country.
I’d booked a place with good reviews that also had a pool – I knew my time in Siem Reap would involve a lot of walking around in the 35ºC heat, and I thought it would be nice to have somewhere to cool off and relax when I wasn’t wandering looking at temples.
The hostel was nice, but also very quiet. I’d hoped that I would arrive, meet a few other travellers, organise a visit to the temples and it would just be easy. No such luck though – there was hardly anyone else staying there! That evening I Skyped my friend Ciara at home and confessed that I was having one of those days where I was feeling a bit flat – being alone when you want to be is one of the great parts of solo travel. But being alone when you’re in a new place and would love some company is less fun.
I headed to bed early enough, and in the morning got up determined I was going to find my bearings! When I realised there was very little going on at my hostel, I headed up the road to One Stop hostel, and found that they had a range of tours available. They were offering a sunset tour of the temples for around $7, leaving after lunch, so I decided to chill by the pool for the morning and then join that tour. I’m glad I did as I had the company of four friendly people and saw some amazing temples.
As well as checking out the other hostels, I had also posted in Girls Love Travel, a Facebook group for female travellers that I’m a member of, to see if anyone was around in Siem Reap and wanted to hang out. A girl called Laura got in touch, and she was in town for a few days so we decided to meet up and check out the local bars on Pub Street. We had a really fun night out. I can say with confidence that there is no cocktail quite like the one served to you while sitting on a barstool in the street, at a cart-turned-cocktail bar covered in fairy lights, with tunes of your choice blaring from an iPhone attached to a speaker. For $1 mango daiquiris, you could do a lot worse!
I took the next day off temples and also moved hostels. I decided to move to Onederz, owned by the same people as One Stop, but with a pool on the roof. I could tell straight away that it was a better option – clean and comfortable, but a lot more social than my previous place.
I met up with Laura and we signed up to a cooking class in Le Tigre de Papier. It’s a pretty good deal. For $15 they take you on a tour of the local market, show you how to prepare and cook the food and (the best bit) then you get to eat what you’ve made!
It was really fun and I was lucky to have a great group of people in my cooking class. Five of us decided we would share a tuk tuk the next day to go to Angkor Wat for sunrise and see some more temples.
It also happened to be International Women’s Day, which seemed to be a pretty big deal in Cambodia! I noticed that one of the pubs was putting up a giant heart made of pink balloons outside its front entrance. I asked what was going on and they told me enthusiastically that it was for Women’s Day.
That night, as we were walking home after a few 50 cent beers, we met four guys dancing and handing out free samples outside a frozen yogurt shop covered in rainbows. They told us all the women they worked with had been given the day off, so they were working. They seemed remarkably happy about it!
The next day, we had an early start to see the temples at sunrise. Although it wasn’t the brightest morning, and there were a lot of people there, it was still a really cool experience to see Angkor Wat at dawn. Our tuk tuk driver brought us to see a few other temples, but by 11am we were all pretty exhausted. We decided to head back to the hostel and spend the rest of the afternoon at the rooftop pool. It’s a tough life…
In the evening, a big group of us from the hostel had dinner together and a few drinks at the hostel bar, which did unbelievably moreish passion fruit mojitos. There was a definite theme to my time in Siem Reap…
The next day, myself and my new gang of Sydney, Jason, Rhi and Lachie hopped on a bus and headed off for the next leg of the adventure in Battambang.