Golden Week ’15: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, whilst not the capital of Cambodia, is definitely its cultural and spiritual capital centre, thanks to the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is Angkor Wat; the biggest religious monument in the world (apparently…) but it definitely is pretty!

Taking over the Mad Monkey

Arriving at the Mad Monkey, its entrance is down a gravelled alley, about a car’s width wide, that enters onto the pool and lounge area, the reception and a bar, that form the courtyard to the back of the property. The pool is a respectable, small size that really helps to take the edge of the heat, rather than tests your swimming prowess, with big loungers to lie back and tempt skin cancer with.

On the roof of the property is the rooftop beach bar, that offers a sand floor, drinks and cocktails, food and partying until up 0000 every night. And on top of all this, a sun lounge deck.

In what would be a common theme at this hostel, the staff were competent, yet unwelcoming, and took us up to our dormitory.

The hostel also offers ‘free’ vest tops/singlets to those that can complete a number of challenges. Well two, firstly, consume ten ‘grenade’ cocktails – red bull, tequila and jagermeister and win points for your country on the leaderboard. Secondly, purchasing 20 alcoholic beverages (that aren’t grenades) allows you to unlock the second vest. Needless to say, with such an offer available, we pretty much said goodbye to the boys, and left them in the pursuit of the challenge most afternoons!

With only three sleeps in Siem Reap, and the fun fast setting on our first day, we went out to explore and find dinner. Heading down Bug Street, obviously home to a bug cuisine restaurant, we discovered another restaurant that perhaps takes the title for worse ever, with one main arriving, and being eaten before anybody elses arrived, a few orders with the incorrect meat/fish, and that was only if you were lucky enough to have a meal cooked – which I wasn’t.

No longer in the best of moods, we headed back to the hostel for a few bevvies.

Turn it down for Wat? Oh, Angkor Wat…

Side shot of Angkor Wat – see what I did there?

This was it! We were going to Angkor Wat! Built in the 12th Century it combined some religious iconography, using the fairly standard layout, something to do with facing west rather than… East? All I know is by the time we got their at 9am, the sun was high, it was hot, and the light in the photographs rather flat.

Inside the outer perimeter building, currently under renovations with support from some aquatic Germans

The tuk tuk picked us up from the hostel, after a swift (full English) breakfast and we were on our way. As you enter the complex of temples (yeah, there are many religious, temple things), non-Cambodians must pay for a special visitor’s past – it looked more authoritative than the Cambodian visas we got! The photo was in colour and the image not at all distorted!

No experience is complete without the obligatory group shot

Before you get to the entrance, you pass around the huge, square moat of Angkor Wat. Pulling up, the buildings almost appears to be floating above the surrounding lake. The building itself is strangely covered in a heavy dark, almost sooty coating, which helps to camouflage the bas-reliefs. The compound is huge, lined with palm trees, and grass, and in the distant was the famous quincunx of towers.

This does no justice as to just how hot it was here!

Not one for verbose descriptions… The sheer volume of effort and skill to coat the entire monument with bas-reliefs is a testament to the importance placed upon the building and its construction.

A close-up (if slightly blurry) close up of a bas-relief

On a side note, my recommendations for visiting Angkor Wat would be to definitely take the sunrise tour, as much for the spectacle as the photo opportunity, and to avoid a lil of the heat – there”s precious little shade for much of it. Secondly, there is very little information for the site, so a knowledge of what you’re looking at before hand would be helpful; I highly recommend the Angkor National Museum before visiting, to learn about Buddhism, Hinduism to understand the reliefs, and to learn about the meaning behind the design.

Next was another temple, it made for some lovely photos…

Tomb Raiding Taylor with his accomplish KJ
Seriously though, why did he deem he must be in every photo at this temple?

The we headed to Ta Prohm; the Tomb Raider temple!

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider

Maybe one day I’ll work on a videogame and can make excellent use of this photo

Left to fend for itself, Ta Prohm has been invaded by trees. Trees that now seem to be the only thing holding it together, as the trees’ skirts coil round the walls, and roots meander down into the soil. Parts of the temple have collapsed with time, and lie moss covered and untouched, reminding you of the age and fragility of this place, and providing a sense of over worldliness. The trees also provide a refreshing coolness, and the higgledy-piggledy path through the buildings provides much more mystery than the other temples we visited.

I think the only thing holding the building up is the tree

Coming back to the hostel for a late lunch time, Martyn, Savvy and I headed out onto the mean streets of Siem Reap, eventually finding a delightful cafe in the back streets around Pub Street, that offered a number a meals comprised of several class Cambodian dishes, the tastiest of which was the chicken Amok.

Amok is awesome as it is traditional cooked within a banana leaf bowl, and makes heavy use of coconut cream, and spicy flavours to make something tear-jerkingly delicious and flavoursome, and definitely the number one dish I would recommend to visitors.

In the evening, I took some time alone to go off exploring, and stumbled across ‘The World Bar’ on bug street. A nice little venue with an open front and small bar, I soon made friends with a number of expats, who, were if memory serves correctly, super friendly, and each with weird stories as to how they ended up in Cambodia.

With some of the boys nursing hangovers, the rest of us headed down the road to check out the National Angkor Museum.

Day 5: Exploring Siem Reap

The building looks grand, almost hotel like, and mercifully features air conditioning! Though its downsides are that you aren’t allowed to carry your water around with you, and the steep entry fee of $12, versus $20 to access all the temples, or $0.50 for a beer.

The museum was well designed, and informative, with displays featuring the histories of Buddhism, Hinduism (between which Angkor Wat has been converted over the years) as well as information about the Angkor Wat temple, and it’s symbolism. As I said before, well worth doing this museum the day before going to Angkor Wat.

After a happy dosing of frozen yoghurt with toppings, and a splash in the hostel pool, the group split down further, until only Martyn, Rachael, Savvy and I were wanting to head out for cocktails, whilst the boys pursued their mission of attaining the free vest tops from the hostel’s challenges.

Taking a more scenic route, we got to see a slightly less touristy side of Siem Reap. I’ve always found hospitals to be one of the more interesting aspects of the countries I’ve visited, and this was no exception. The hospital we passed looked more like a school, filled full of people sat in outdoor seating areas, with only a roof over them. It’s always fascinating to see how much more exposed to the exterior buildings are in hotter climates.

After a few drinks and rounds of Ellen Degeneres, the hunger set in, and we were off on the hunt for some happy pizzas. What we got was ecstatic pizzas, if the name of the restaurant is to be believed – it was a pretty decent pepperoni.

Satisfied, we headed back to the hostel, and began preparations for the traffic light party taking place on the rooftop bar. Shortly afterwards I found myself snuggled on a bed with Martyn and Savvy, listening to the most bizarre, psychedelic, Japanese rock and chill music.

After a couple of hours, I found myself in the mood to join the party and was promptly playing flip cup – much to the detriment of my team, when we lost on a few occasions when the cup stopped on me. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who held up the whole team during the game!

Alas, then the bar closed, and along with my new kickboxing best friend, we headed out for some late night culinary delights, before hitting the hay at around 0330, ready for our 0745 pick up for Phnom Penh.

It had been an interesting time in Siem Reap. On the one hand it hinted towards the holiday to come – it had a pool and booze! But it had also offered us one of those bucketlist events – seeing Angkor Wat. At this point we had managed to survive one major travel plan, and it had gone off without a hitch, and with everyone on good terms. At this point it felt like the holiday (and the travelling) would never end! Especially with the number of inside stories and jokes we had already accumulated!

Onwards to Phnom Penh >>> and Koh Chang >>>

By J.Molkenthin

James Molkenthin is an enthusiastic and energetic British Designer, with a background in Graphics, Website and Product Design.

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