The town of Siem Reap is pretty much a resort built solely for swarms of tourist traffic directed to the famous temples of Angkor. All the surrounding hostels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars are crammed in, creating the illusion the town is much smaller than it actually is. A short 1km ride North (for this I’d recommend the $30 quad bike tour, pricey but worth it ) and you will enter rural villages, rice paddies inclusive of actual village people and the most beautiful Cambodian children. A stark and stunning contrast indeed to a city whose fickle lights of ‘pub street’ and cheap Angkor beer (0.50-$1) can keep a traveller there for days doing little else.
I jumped in heavily at the deep end of the tourist trail by staying at the infamous Mad Monkey Hostel ($7)
Upon arrival, tired and hungry from my scam bus ordeal I was shown to my twelve bed dorm by the pool and then forcibly warned by a drunk room-mate that it was ‘a pretty big night (for him and his ‘lads lads lads’) so apologies if I wake you which I probably will!’.
It was 9pm and I decided my body needed fuel despite not feeling hungry and opted for the lazy trope of attempting to eat at the hostel bar.
Now the rooftop bar of the Mad Monkey Siem Reap is quite a structure designed to replicate a beach, complete with South East Asia’s “shoes off ” policy i.e.; When you enter most dorms / minimarts / establishments of any kind you go bare-foot. Here after what feels like ten flights of stairs you are greeted by sand and receive your free arrival draft beer. (Many a traveller at mad monkey has walked off drunk wearing someone else’s flip flops so just a side note here leave those Haviana’s in your room, I was eyeing mine like I would my child in a public park).
It appeared I had walked into mayhem. There were topless men wrestling in the sand, there were beautiful girls with pupils like dinner plates dancing on tables and Aussies referring to themselves as ‘the wolf pack’ whilst downing their jäger. Then there was little old me just trying to squeeze by the turmoil, take the only free seat at the bar (which meant from then on everyone leaned over me sometimes on me to shout their drinks orders) all the while with me attempting conversation every which way to an unwilling audience.
Mad monkey boasts great American style food and indeed it was but with it boasts a much heavier price tag of $1.25 for chips $4 + breakfasts and mains (which although expensive for Cambodia, in hindsight after visiting the Philippines and Indonesia is actually very good).
Next day I was due to move rooms to a six bed dorm upstairs and I couldn’t have been happier by this, for the dorm by the pool attracted only the most angriest of mosquitoes and the noise from the Wolf pack returning kept me up most of the night.
As soon as I entered my new room there were others entering too – sweet Jesus other humans!!! Naturally I latched on immediately – my first victim a musically spoken guy from Inverness – the loveable Innis, who spoke like a character from one of my favourite films How to train your Dragon. Innis had cycled from Bangkok to Siem Reap and told me stories of staying in temples and waking up to monks watching his family videos on his laptop – I liked him instantly of course :).
By the next day there were 18 of us going to dinner including a super hot US marine who came quad biking with me.
Why oh why had I made friends with the hot twenty something blonde swedish girls In my dorm, told them I fancied him and then invited them to dinner as well. He was definitely flirting with me, we went to a karaoke bar and he even made us sing summertime sadness by David Guetta (because nothing says passion like attempting to sing badly written EDM). After karaoke we retire to pub street’s most infamous bar/club – the aptly named Angkor Wat (or as I referred to as ‘Angkor wat? What the fuck!’). After buying me a tequila he begins kissing my Swedish dorm mate. Yes the one I had invited out, the one who had given me clothing advice on what to wear that night.
After they left I did what any mature feminist 27-year-old would do….I practically sobbed my soul out in an alleyway then I kissed an Irish man. What a grown up. I had devolved to an 18-year-old. Oh Siem Reap look what you’ve done to me! Get me to the ancient temples quickly, clearly I need the clairvoyance of ancient ruins.
The Temples of Angkor Wat
I am such an earth child and if there’s one thing I go wild for it’s not only a good sunrise and silhouette scenario, its ancient trees and forestry with half collapsed ruins whose stories I yearn for.
You can spend hours losing yourself in these great temples, imagining the engravings being carved, the people who may have lived there – or simply reenacting tomb raider.
A tuk tuk from around sunrise (4.30am) till 10am a good 5 hour stint will set you back $12 and between 4 people 4 dollars is not bad at all. For those with less time or the real hard-core temple runners you can go all day until 4pm for extra dollar dollar.
We had a lovely scrawny guy named Mr Sin who had a penchant for laughing manically at almost everything I did (including when I lost my temple ticket and had to buy another).
A day pass costs $20 and the next one up is the three-day pass ($40 which you can use over the space of the whole week not just consecutive days). For those on a budget or with time restrictions I would suggest purchasing the day pass and firing through the three main temples in one long day. However if time and budget permits and you are more of a cultural lover then stay longer – there are always more temples and ruins to roam.
Bring snacks for gawdsake and sunscream!
Mr Sin would often pull up on the side of the road and hand us sacks of sugar cane in plastic bags to sip. They have these giant caine smashers which juice them into an odd sweet tasting and rehydrating drink.
I absolutely adored the temples of Angkor most particularly the famous ‘Tomb Raider’ – Ta Prohm tree temple. However some of the best ruins for me were the ones that became parts of the forest lining the grounds leading to the main temples. Despite the famous temples drawing thousands of tourists there every day, the sheer scale of all the ruins allows for collecting of thoughts, walking freely in moments that make you feel not merely alone but transported.
Suffice to say I shed different tears that day to my previous immature ‘he won’t love me’ pub street sobs. Silent tears of awe and of empathy for the stories held within these great ancient walls and always of course, for the trees.
I give the ancient site of Angkor Wat a travellers TEN that’s 10/10 for overall experience from silhouettes at sunrise to touching trees which have grown around rock. A world wonder and certainly a must see destination for all age groups.