Siem Reap, Day 0-1: Arrival + Park (1st Day)

FEBRUARY 18-19, 2016 (THURSDAY-FRIDAY)

Kim (my best friend) and I booked a trip for Siem Reap last month. Our flight to Siem Reap was scheduled on the evening of 18th. There was a 30-minute delay but we did not mind it that much.

We arrived at Siem Reap International Airport at around 10PM (Siem Reap is 1 hour behind Manila). We had a tuktuk driver, Mr. Somnang, who would pick us up from the airport. He was recommended by our Airbnb host. Charge is USD 7. Yup, Siem Reap uses USD as currency especially for tourists. I read in forums and blogs that it is better to already have USD with you rather than having it exchange in Siem Reap since some money changers can rip you off. Do not exert effort anymore to exchange USD to Cambodian riel.

The ride from the airport to our Airbnb home is about 20 minutes. Bunthai, our kind host, waited for us even if it was already quite late. She showed us to our room and briefed us on other details we should take note of during our stay. We chose to stay in her listing (https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/5140353) because of the following:

  • Near proximity to Angkor Archaeological Park (just 5 minutes away by tuktuk)
  • Clean bedroom (with aircon) and bathroom
  • Strong and reliable Internet/Wi-Fi connection
  • Has swimming pool — perfect for the hot weather
  • Responsive and accommodating host
  • Last but not the least, very affordable rate per night

After settling down in our “home” for the next five days, we decided to call it a night since our tuktuk driver for our Angkor Archaeological Park trip would pick us up at 4:45AM.

The next morning (02/19) Mr. Kim, our tuktuk driver, picked us up from our Airbnb home. He was able to speak with Bunthai and get directions how to get to our place since it does not have an address.

Upon arriving in Angkor Park, we bought a 3-day pass for USD 40. They took a picture of us first then printed the ticket with our own picture in it. Do not lose this pass because every temple you go to checks this before you get to enter the place.

How did we go about our temple run adventure in Angkor Park? I researched itineraries shared online on avoiding crowds, compared each one of them, and came up with my own. The itinerary in this travel series is quite similar to one of the itineraries I encountered online (forgot though where I found it T.T). I’m proud to say that with the route I made (and with a dash of luck), we experienced very few to no crowd at all in most temples we visited. The only exceptions are Angkor Wat and Bayon which are crowded any time of the day, and Phnom Bakeng which is very popular during sunset time.

Our 1st activity was to watch the sunrise in SRAS SRANG. We were already there a few minutes past 5AM and it was really dark. Kim and I were a bit afraid to go alone and find a spot since we might fall down (too paranoid lol). Mr. Kim seemed to sense it so he offered to accompany us. He told us some details about the place then he showed us a picture of him as a student. Apparently, he is currently studying nursing and working as a tuktuk driver helps in his education.

How did I end up with Mr. Kim as our tuktuk driver? I was researching about Siem Reap when I chanced upon a blog that recommended him. I checked out Mr. Kim’s website (Kim Cambodia Driver) and found his rates for tuktuk driving. His rates are reasonable — either at par or cheaper than other tuktuk drivers. In addition, we had unlimited bottled water supply for the whole day, and he stored these in a cooler so we always feel refreshed. Prior to arriving in Cambodia, we talked to each other through e-mail and I had a gut feeling already that he was kind. I have a more detailed review of him in my post on our last day in Siem Reap: https://itskeanne.wordpress.com/2016/03/31/siem-reap-day-5-shopping-more-food-trip/.

Back to Sras Srang — when we already found a good spot, Mr. Kim went back to the parking area. A few tourists started coming at past 6AM…

Watching the sunrise made me feel grateful to be alive as I get to witness the beauty of nature. We took some pictures after and asked another tourist to take a shot of the two of us.

An area near Sras Srang to see the sunrise

After Sras Srang, we decided to have breakfast first. We asked Mr. Kim to take us to a place he would recommend and he picked Angkor Reach Restaurant, which is located near Angkor Wat. We were quite hungry already and since it was not yet that hot, Kim and I decided to get flat noodle soup (chicken for me, pork for her). We both loved our food plus it was quite cheap compared to the other international breakfast food items they have.

Angkor Reach Restaurant (near Angkor Wat)
Flat noodles for breakfast
Flat noodles with chicken for me

After breakfast, our 2nd stop in the park was PRASAT KRAVAN. No one was around when we arrived so we had the place all to ourselves at first. After a few minutes, a small group of tourists arrived although they also left early.

Back view
Front view

After taking some pictures, our 3rd stop was PRE RUP. We were quite shocked to see it up close since the place was huge and there was a long, steep flight of rock stairs at the main area. We were already excited to explore the place after seeing these.

A local employee taking care of her child

Whenever I go inside a unique building or place, I always LOOK UP

After almost an hour of roaming around Pre Rup, our 4th destination was EAST MEBON. It originally stood on an artificial island as it was surrounded by East Baray reservoir. However, it is now dry so no more water around. A unique point of East Mebon are the elephants found in each corner of the 2nd level.

 

The place was quite small so it took us a short time to explore the place. After this, our 5th stop was TA SOM. I fell in love with Ta Som right away because it was surrounded by nature, particularly huge trees. When we reached the end of the area, it was there where we saw a structure that resembled part of Ta Prohm (based from what I initially saw in pictures).

Checking out the other side before entering…
…The view from the other side! Similar to Ta Prohm, eh?

We traced back our steps to the parking area and headed to our 6th stop — NEAK PEAN. We walked a looooong path before reaching the main area of Neak Pean. From a distance, we could hear a traditional instrumental music playing. Turns out the people playing music were men who were victims of land mine. I did not read any scam about this so I left money in their small basket.

Braving the intense heat at around 11AM

After a few minutes of walking, we finally reached the main area. A LOT of tourists were already there but good thing they were not blocking the structures in the area.

Our 7th destination after this was PREAH KHAN. We walked a pathway of trees before entering the temple proper.

Tourists having fun posing here… but after 5 minutes, they were not done here so we had to move on T.T
Before exiting Preah Khan

We went back to Angkor Reach Restaurant for lunch but it was very disappointing. We ordered lok lak, fish amok, and a breakfast item… and nothing tasted delicious. Total disappointment since we were looking forward to tasting Cambodian cuisine. 😦

In the afternoon, our 8th (and last) stop for the day was ANGKOR WAT so that we can see the buildings lighted by the sunset. We entered through the East Gate since I read a few bloggers recommending this route if we wanted to get a good spot for sunrise. There were lots of monkeys around and one of them tried to steal my water bottle. T.T But the view of Angkor Wat from the East Gate was awesome — since the sun was already at the other side, it illuminated the whole temple.

Did we enter Angkor Wat using this gate for sunrise during our 2nd day trip in the park? Find out here: https://itskeanne.wordpress.com/2016/03/28/siem-reap-day-2-food-trip-shopping-and-atv-ride. 😉

Monkey, I’m scared T.T
Back of Angkor Wat, view from East Gate

It took us more than an hour to explore the place as Angkor Wat is insanely huuuge. It was a good thing this was our last stop for the day so we could take our time to go around. I read that visitors can climb the highest tower in the temple. We were supposed to do so but the line was so long + out in the open so the heat of the sun was a killer. We just moved on to the other areas of Angkor Wat.

Looks like a stage or a place for fighting?

After taking pictures here and there, we went to a spot with very few people to watch the Angkor Wat get illuminated by sunset. Since this is the only temple facing west, it is more ideal to watch the sunrise here; but, I do agree with other travelers that being present here during sunset is a sight to behold as well.

After a whole day in Angkor Park, I told Mr. Kim that we will have dinner in Cuisine Wat Damnak. When we got there, we were told that we should have a reservation to be entertained. This was quite weird to me because I researched about the place and no one mentioned that it was just a reservation-only place. I decided to take Kim to Marum Restaurant instead.

Marum is managed by an NGO that focuses on helping street children and marginalized youth. Most of the staff are students in training but during our visit, I saw two people who had “teacher” at the back of their shirt. Curious on what kind of food they have? This restaurant serves Cambodian cuisine but they put a twist in every dish.

We were given free appetizers and one of them is silkworm. We gave the teacher a weird look when he told us what it was but he just laughed and said that it tastes good plus there’s a creamy texture inside. We contemplated for quite some time whether to eat it or not… in the end, oh come on let’s do this for experience. True enough, it did not taste weird so we were able to finish this.

Free appetizer — the one at the rightmost side are silkworms

For dinner, we had mushroom and rice brie balls, dumplings, and fish amok. Everything tasted delicious and Marum was able to redeem fish amok to us. We also ordered Cambodia Beer and Angkor Beer since we kept on seeing these in the restaurants inside Angkor Park. Kim and I prefer Cambodia Beer over Angkor since the bad beer taste was not prominent.

Wild Mushroom and Brie Rice Balls with Marum Leaves and Beetroot Mayo
Fish Amok
Dumplings (but I forgot what the ingredients were)
Happy ladies because of the delicious dinner. Bawing-bawi ang masamang lunch!

We ended up with happy tummies because of our dinner in Marum, and we highly recommend this place to anyone visiting Siem Reap. Do not expect though that their prices are dirt cheap. Price of dishes start at  USD 4 and above.

Headed home after dinner to catch some z’s and be prepared for the next day.

 

LINKS TO OTHER SIEM REAP 2016 POSTS:

Siem Reap, Day 2: Il Forno, Quad Adventure Cambodia, Miss Wong, Pub Street

Siem Reap, Day 3: 10 Park Stops in 1 Day, Touich Restaurant

Siem Reap, Day 4: Outskirts of Angkor Park, Bugs Cafe, Lemongrass Garden Massage

Siem Reap, Day 5: Il Forno x2, Blossom Cafe and Training Centre

 

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