I had actually wanted to go somewhere else for the Mid-Semester 2 Break (Aug 18-26, 2018) which also coincided with the Eid Al-Adha celebration. But going there would have meant missing out on the Raya celebrations at home. I felt bad about choosing to go on a holiday over celebrating Raya with my family so I shelved my original plan. Thus, Kak Safrina & I decided to go to Siem Reap, Cambodia instead. The flight there is a day after Raya so it's a win-win situation.
Further, some of my friends (Maizura, Nisha & Nisa) had been there and they gave me many useful recommendations with regards to places to visit and how to get around there.
Day 1 (Aug 23, 2018)
Despite the long holiday, we managed to check-in, drop our baggage and pass immigration in good time. Air Asia has really embraced automation. Besides printing our own boarding passes and luggage tags, travellers are now required to check-in their baggage themselves. There are no longer Air Asia staff manning the baggage-drop counters, instead there are machines with which you have to scan your bags yourselves. The bags will then be carried along automatically on the conveyor belt.
The two-hour flight was uneventful except for the rather rough landing. When we arrived, the weather in Siem Reap was sunny and warm. The airport is charming, clean and well-run. Immigration went smoothly. Malaysians do not require a visa to enter Cambodia (for visits less than 30 days). So we did not even need to queue for visas-on-arrival, we just got our passports stamped and collected our bags from the baggage carousel.
Our tuk-tuk driver, Nasri, was already waiting for us outside the arrival hall. Nasri was recommended by my friend, Nisa, who used his service when she went to SR in 2016. Truthfully, I had reservations when I first saw his tuk-tuk. Is the motorcycle strong enough to carry the attached remorque and its passengers? Turned out my fears were unfounded as tuk-tuks rule the streets in SR. It is, by far, the most popular choice of transportation for locals and tourists alike.
Before we checked into our accommodation, we stopped to have a quick lunch at Muslim Family Kitchen. The waitress proudly told us that they were once featured in an episode of Jalan-Jalan Cari Makan.
After our lunch (around USD4 per person), we checked into our Air BnB accommodation, the Melody Villa. The townhouse can comfortably fit 4 people and it only cost RM132 per night. Besides the various amenities (a kitchen, an iron, a microwave, air-conditioning, WiFi, a washer, etc.), I also loved the books the host had provided for the guests' perusal. Besides the two copies of Lonely Planet Cambodia, there are also books that explain in great lengths about the temples in Angkor. There is also the bestselling book, First They Killed My Father, which has been made into a movie, directed by Angeline Jolie.
Later that night, we went to see Phare, The Cambodian Circus. The highly-energetic performance is rated as one of the top things to do in SR by TripAdvisor. I definitely concur with that assessment. Besides being entertained, buying tickets to see the show will also help the school rescue children out of poverty.
Day 2 (Aug 24, 2018)
The highlight of the trip was definitely a visit to the Angkor Archaeological Park. The 400km2 complex boasts innumerable temples but we only managed to check out ten. The revised rate for a one-day pass is USD37 (since February 2017). We only saw a fraction of the sights available because after seven hours of walking & exploring (for roughly 16km), we were so tired and temple-fatigued.
The sights that we covered during those 7 hours were:
1) Angkor Wat - The best-preserved and most impressive of the monuments. It is unsurprising that it has become a symbol of Cambodia, most notably featuring on its national flag.
2) Bayon - Bayon's most notable feature is the smiling faces on the many towers (a guide book puts the number at 216).
3) Baphuon - Much of the temple had collapsed but restoration work has been carried out for years. It has been called "the largest 3D jigsaw puzzle in the world".
4) Phimeanakas - Literally means 'Celestial Palace'. Previously, you could climb the three-tiered pyramid but the staircase is now closed.
5) Preah Palilay - The ruin looks magnificent because of the silk-cotton trees growing in its midst.
6) Terrace of the Leper King - Truthfully, aside from its awesome name, I have no idea what this temple is all about 😂
7) Terrace of the Elephants - The 350-metre long terrace, with carvings of elephants on its walls, was used as a platform from the King would view public ceremonies.
8) Prasat Suor Prat - A series of 12 rugged-looking towers, symmetrically-arranged, whose function remains unknown.
9) Chau Say Tevoda - Not far from the Victory Gate, lie Chau Say Tevoda and its twin Thommanon. But because our legs were already aching by that time, we just had a look at Chau Say Tevoda.
|The Victory Gate|
10) Ta Prohm - We saved the best for last. Ta Prohm looks mystical because of the trees that seem to sprout out of the ruins. It is best-known for the movie Tomb Raider which was shot at the temple in 2000.
After a lunch, we rested for a while before hitting the road again to catch the sunset at Tonle Sap Lake. The ticket for the boat ride cost USD15. Before reaching the wide expanse of Tonle Sap, we passed through Kampong Phluk, a very scenic floating village. Every building there is built on high stilts, from the houses, to the school, to the police station.
Nearing sunset, our boat was moored to this unfinished structure in the middle of the lake. We sat there awaiting sunset while the 15-year-old boys who steered our boat jumped off the platform and swam in the lake with his friends. We left after the sky got darker and it was starting to rain.
Day 3 (Aug 25, 2018)
After yesterday's packed itinerary, we took it easy today. In the morning, we went to Wat Thmey, also known as Siem Reap's Killing Fields. It was here that we learnt more about Cambodia's sad history. Around two million people died (that's a quarter of the population) due to executions, forced labour and starvation during the Khmer Rouge regime. The Khmer Rouge only controlled the country for 3 years (April 1975 until Jan 1979) but it left a trail of destruction that still festers until today.
After Wat Thmey, we went to Senteurs d'Angkor to check out the local handicraft. Later that afternoon, we went on a quad-bike adventure. It was exhilarating riding our bikes alongside paddy fields. Again, we didn't get that intense sunset we were hoping for due to the cloudy sky but it was so much fun!
Our quad-bike instructor was hilarious. In his safety briefing, he told us to avoid cow dung along the way.
"You know cow?" he asked as though we had never seen one before.
We nodded to show that, yes, we do know what a cow looks like. In fact, we have plenty of them in Malaysia.
"You know the smell?
Again, we nodded.
"It's not Chanel," he said, deadpan.
Later that evening, after we had freshened up, we spent our last night in Siem Reap, exploring Pub Street. The street is overflowing with massage parlours, pubs, cafes, restaurants, souvenir shops and other retail stores. We chose a cafe to indulge in some coffee and people-watching.
Day 4 (Aug 26, 2018)
Our flight was at 3.00 p.m., so we had a few hours that morning to cover a few sites. First, we went to Angkor Silk Farm, where we were given a free tour of the silk-weaving process. Then we stopped for a while at West Baray. A baray is a water reservoir and this particular baray is a popular spot for swimming and boat rides among the locals. Lastly, before heading to the airport, we stopped at the War Museum.
Cambodia is a beautiful country but I was saddened by its poverty and myriad other problems:
One in five of its population live below the poverty line (less than $1 a day),
It doesn't have free-and-fair elections,
The government cracks down on dissent,
The people lack access to education and health care,
There is rampant corruption, and
There are limited job opportunities and upward social mobility.
Despite these entrenched problems, the beautiful country is filled with beautiful people. Travelling makes you realise that most people just want to lead a life of dignity and self-determination for themselves and their families. Some of us are lucky that we live in a peaceful country that affords us a lot of opportunities. Many people around the world are not so lucky 😢
1) If you need a transport to get around, I highly recommend our tuk-tuk driver, Nasri. Since he once worked in Malaysia for two years, he is fluent in Bahasa Melayu. So it's very easy for us to discuss changes to our itinerary and to communicate the time and place for us to be picked up after we were dropped off at various places of attraction. He is also very patient and punctual. Two thumbs up!
2) However, if you want to visit places that are further away like Phnom Kulen Waterfall or Beng Mealea Temple, you will need to charter another vehicle. There are many operators offering day-tours to these locations.
3) Though the food and accommodation are cheap, the entrance fees and activities at the places of interest are not. Thus, the bulk of your spending will be paying for these. I think for a 4D3N trip, USD250 will do. Most transactions accept USD so you need not change your money into the Cambodian Riel (KHR).
Siem Reap is just a 2-hour direct-flight away from Kuala Lumpur. You may go there for the temples but the country will leave an indelible mark on you for many other reasons 💓
My advice? Just book your tickets already 😉