Back in my 20s, I had spent three months in South East Asia and I had fully intended to visit Cambodia. However, my diving obsession took over, and I spent a little too long in Sumatra submerged to get to Cambodia. 17 years on, I managed to rectify this by getting to spend the weekend in Siem Reap.
We had flown overnight on the Thursday from London Heathrow, and then we took a connecting flight through to Siem Reap with Bangkok airlines. The flight was just under an hour. The airport at Siem Reap is just 6km from the town, so it really doesn’t take long to get to your hotel.
As you can imagine, we were shattered after a long journey. We checked into our hotel and luckily we were in time for happy hour and a swim in the pool!
That we night, we also ate in our hotel, and enjoyed our first Khmer curry!
On Saturday, we took to our bikes and cycled around Angkor Watt. I’m writing a separate post on the temples and how best to handle them. However, my main points would be to limit how many you do in one day – it’s exhausting, and there are LOTS of people doing the same. Also, I found the children quickly got temple-fatigue!
We ventured to Pub Street in the evening. This is a concentrated area of bars, restaurants and shops. There’s plenty of loud music and neon lights, but really don’t let this put you off. It’s actually remarkably family friendly, with lots of great places to eat. We all really loved this area from eating ice cream rolls, checking out the ‘designer’ goods and enjoying putting our feet in the fish tank for a pedicure!
Another early morning, we were up and off to Angkor Zipline. Now, although this filled the kids with joy, and me with horror, I have to say, this experience surpassed my expectations. Set in the lush forests surrounding Siem Reap, this is a little place of magic.
Set in the ancient jungle, the park has set about preserving this rainforest, while still making it accessible for tourists. There is an abundance of wildlife – the gibbons popped down to say hello, and there were plenty of butterflies and birds fluttering around. Once up in the canopy, zipping between the trees, the guides were excellent at pointing out various fauna and flora, as well as the wildlife.
My kids loved this adventure, and it was definitely worth doing after a days temple trekking!
In the afternoon, we took a trip out to Chong Kneas, what is locally known as the floating village. Here, you will see houses on stilts and yes, you guessed it, a whole village which is set on the river. We jumped on a long tail boat and whizzed up the river. Again, like Angkor Wat, there are huge amounts of tour groups here, and it does make the place busy. Some of the groups were as interested in us, as they were the place, and we even had our photo taken by one group …
However, don’t let that put you off, and it was an immensely educational trip for the kids. My children, through no fault of their own, have a privileged life, and find it hard to see there is a different way that children grow up. Our guide explained that many children in this area leave school by 11, partly because they are required to work, but also they just don’t have the money to send them to school in the neighbouring town.
In addition, seeing children and adults trying to earn money through selling good, with snakes around their necks put a whole new perspective to how they spend their time. Of course, we also saw children playing, running about, swimming and floating about in their makeshift boats – playing like they had no care in the world, is this maybe a more innocent way to live? The trip certainly gave the children another view to how other people live and how it’s not wrong, it’s just very different to the existence they have.
In the evening, we visited Phare Circus. As we know, the recent history of Cambodia has been rather tragic under the Kymer Rouge regime. Following the downfall of the regime, nine young men returning from a refugee camp found enormous benefit in at the art therapy they received, so much so they went on to take their newly acquired skills to street children, which eventually led to opening a school specialising in teaching arts, theatre, dance, music and film.
The circus began running in 2013, and it draws the skills of the people within the schools and supporting the local area: Meaningful job opportunities for Cambodian performers, as well as revitalising the art scene in Cambodia which was pretty much destructed by Kymer Rouge.
The Phare circus is set in a beautiful area, the circus marquee is surrounded by a beautiful area adorned with lights. There’s a shop and cafe, so perfect for a pre show meal and a little retail therapy. All the merchandise has been produced locally. The show itself is an absolute delight. A wonderful story acted out with acrobatics, humour, dance and beautiful music. The circus was a real highlight to our trip, and knowing the background to the enterprise, makes a visit or the more worthwhile. I personally think they should come and do the festival circuit in Britain next summer!
After one last drink on the vibrant Pub Street, our 3 days in Siem Reap came to an end. I would have loved just one more to day to wander about our leisure and soak it all up. We’ll just have to come back!
How we got there:
We flew from London Heathrow to Bangkok with BA which took roughly 12 hours. We then transited and caught a Bangkok Airlines flight to Siem Reap, which took roughly an hour. We had already arranged a car with our travel agent, which took us to our hotel. Siem Reap main centre is roughly 20 minutes drive from the airport. A taxi costs roughly $10.
Please note, on arrival to Cambodia, you will need a visa. These are available online from the Kingdom of Cambodia
Where we stayed:
We stayed in the Damrei Hotel, Siem Reap. This hotel was great for a family: A nice pool, with adjoining bar, which did happy hour cocktails and mocktails! We also had interconnected rooms, so a little space from one another with our own bathrooms, yet still attached! The rooms were well appointed and had very comfortable beds.
The restaurant attached to the hotel served a decent breakfast, and was also good for dinner on our first night. My husband also had a massage in the spa and said it was very good, even when the masseur dug their elbow up his spine! (Anyone familiar with an asian massage will realise this is quite normal!). Angkor Wat is just 10 minutes away by car, and the main town just a few minutes in a tuk tuk.
Recommendations for Cambodia:
Who we booked with:
Our itinerary was created and booked with the wonderful Stubborn Mule, I cannot recommend them enough.
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