Cambodia: Siem Reap


March 3 to March 6, 2012: Siem Reap

March 3:

It’s a pleasant short flight to Siem Reap on Cambodia Angkor Air (operated by Vietnam Airlines), and surprised they even served us snacks on about an hour flight duration. We’re happy to see someone waiting with our names when we landed. Siem Reap attracts more tourists due to its main attraction, the Temples, thus more developed for tourism.  There are lots of big and nice hotels along its main highway.  We like The Pavillion Hotel so much in Phom Penh, I wonder how Golden Temple Hotel would fare in comparison.

I booked our 3 nights stay directly with Golden Temple Hotel (GTH) to be eligible for their VIP package offer that includes free airport round transfer, free breakfast, one free dinner, free snacks  to go, free massage for 2 and daily fresh fruits. We arrived at the hotel, and are greeted with the typical Cambodian hospitality, we have become accustomed, warm & friendly smiles, wet towels, cold & refreshing  lime tea and snacks of peanuts and/or banana chips. The attention and care we received from the Staff during our stay is beyond compare and definitely more than we’re given at a 5* hotel.  They constantly offer us drinks and snacks. Greets us daily with “Hello” and “How are you?”

Hotel is painted in cheerful, bright orange color, decorated “Bali” style, Buddha statues and artful ornaments. There’s a lovely pond in the front, plenty of seating in the lobby and free internet  There’s a swimming pool and spa, to relax and cool off, lounge chairs & cabanas.

Golden temple Hotel

Golden Temple Hotel (receiving area)

 Our room has a view of the pool located on the ground floor, our own seating area and convenient access to the pool; but with one drawback, lack of privacy. However, there are curtains we can draw so people can’t see our room as they head toward the restaurant.

Our bedroom

Sample of snacks given to us daily

Our breakfast artfully presented

 For breakfast, the restaurant offers 3 menu selection: choice of poached eggs, fried eggs; omelette with ham; banana or pineapple pancakes presented artfully on a tray with fresh fruits, bread, coffee or tea and choice of fruit juice.  And in case you’re still hungry, they have a buffet  of fried rice, noodles with vegetables, and vegetable dish with beef.

We end our 1st day in Siem Reap by attending an Apsara dinner show at Koulen restaurant . Being guests at GTH, we paid $10 usd instead of $12 usd per person.  The show is so-so, which include folk dancing and 2 or 3 Apsara dance, with exquisite & elaborate costumes, head dress…usually performed only for the Kings in the past. There’s loads of foods and variety of menus on their extensive buffet: Khmer dishes, Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese cuisines and all kinds of unusual desserts plus fresh fruits. We especially like papaya salad, Amok fish, fried fish Singapore style and skewers of grilled chicken.

 March  4:

I had pre-arranged before leaving California a 2 day tour of Angkor temples with Mr Sophathi, an independent tour guide, that is also used by GTH.  He speaks English very well, and have a beautiful accent.  I was initially put off by his demeanor & has hard time understanding because of his “French” accent? I want to cancel our 2nd day tour; he insist I keep our arrangement, then later agreed to cancel him (tour guide) but request to keep the car driver.  Realizing it is not fair to cancel at the last-minute  (he may have turned down  other’s request to book with him), I eventually agreed to keep him for the 2nd day as well.  I warmed up to him, he is receptive to my requests and able to change our itinerary  without any problems. For example, he took us to a local market and sort of gives a tour explaining foods & vegetables as we pass by them. He even purchase fresh lotus seeds for us to try. In the end, we are happy with him and even gave him a big tip.

We leave our hotel at 5:00am to see sunrise on Angkor Wat temple.  We ride on the Tuktuk and get to Angkor Wat still dark.  My anticipation for seeing the temple has built up, having read TA reports that it is amazing, and breath-taking. I’m ready to be impressed, mesmerized and awed.  At last, I see my 1st glimpse of Angkor Wat and its reflection on the lake in front,  with its whole when its image emerged from darkness. I did not find it spectacular from the distance, but as we get closer and get inside the temple my disappointment vanished.  Dwarfed by its massive structures, tall towers reaching up high and intricate carvings telling stories of its past. I can’t help but changed my impression of Angkor Wat. There is so much to be intrigued and captivated by as we explore the 3 levels of this temple.   Unfortunately, we did not witness a spectacular sunrise for it is cloudy this morning.  Per our tour guide suggestion, we stayed to explore Angkor Wat, while most of the crowd disappeared to return to their hotels for breakfast.  Good idea, for I am able to get lots of photos without tourists in the background.  We get back to our hotel at 9:30am and arranged with Sophati to pick us up at 2:30pm to tour Angkor Thom. After breakfast, we went back to our room, took a nap for 1 ½ hour, then went for a dip in the swimming pool.

My 1st glimpse of Angkor Wat

 

Refreshed and rested, we are ready for Angkor Thom. But before we head to the temple, I made a request to stop at Somatoa, a silk tailoring shop at the Old market.  I read on TA that Cambodia silk is renowned worldwide for their fine silk. I don’t like silk that much but hey why not, I may find something I like that is affordable, i.e, within my budget.  However, the colors are limited and styles not to my liking. I find one blouse in teal color, and style is OK, but does not fit well. They offer to make a custom tailored one for me,  if I return before 8:00pm so it will be ready when we leave on March 6. Ultimately, I decided to wait until we get to Hoi An.

Bayon temple is a Buddhist temple with 54 towers and more than 200 faces of Buddha.  I’m intrigued and like this temple more than Angkor Wat, and our tour guide tells me this is 1st choice for many tourists as well.  It must be because of the happy faces of Buddha staring at me from all directions, are so infectious leaving me good & happy feelings too.  Sophati tells many stories to help us understand & appreciate the history of the temples;  and for this reason glad we hired him. But truth be told, I hate history and has troubles remembering facts…so goes in one ear, then out the other.

Bayon Temple

Mr Sophati, our tour guide

Having "Nose to Nose" with the Happy Buddha

We did not bother to stop at nearby temples which are parts of the Angkor Thom complex, just drive by and occasionally stop for pictures. The next temple, Ta Prohm, however, deserves some time to see. It is where the “Tomb Raider” starring Angelina Jolie was filmed.  Most appealing is to see giant roots and portions of trunk of  trees engulfed part of the temples, seemingly embracing each other  almost as  “married”, entwined as one.

Ta Prohm Temple

One of many children selling souvenirs at the temple

We head back to our hotel, same story as usual, hubby is tired and heat starting to bother him. We book our complimentary massage and dinner for tonight.  This time, we want to try a Khmer style full body one hour massage. It is good and relaxing, but I find the one in Phnom Penh slightly better.

On the way to the spa (entrance to my left)for our massage

 We take quick showers after the massage, then head to the hotel restaurant for dinner. We pick Khmer BBQ, as suggested in the TA forum.  Had we known it is some type of “Hot Pot”, we would have gone for the other choice. Who wants to have hot soup on a sweltering, hot & humid weather typical of Cambodia this time of the year?  Huge electric fans at full blast offer no relief. We sweat profusely while eating, but nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyed our meal.  Let me explain how they prepare the dish for us. They pour broth on a special “hot pot” cooking device, added onions & vegetables, while all you can eat thinly sliced beef is cooked on the center dome. You dip your veggies and meat on 2 dipping sauce (one made from fermented soy bean, don’t know the other one) that add more flavors.

March 5

For a change, we get to sleep in late as our pick up is  not until 10:00am.  We are taking an air-conditioned car for our long distance travel today, about 60 km from the city of Siem Reap.  On our agenda is to visit Beng Melea, then Banteay Srei, Landline Museum and see sunset at Pre Rup…at least, this is our plan. But before we head to Beng Melea, Sophati surprised us by taking us to the largest local market having overheard we like to visit local markets when we travel.  Now, I give him A+ for listening and taking initiative to please his clients.  We tour the market and see many familiar vegetables & fruits found in California. This is not surprising, for California is known as a “Melting Pot” with immigrants from all over the world bringing their culture & importing or growing their produce in the US.  Sophati buys fresh lotus flower for us to try the edible seed which tastes like fresh almond nut. Visiting a local market is always fun, interesting and educational. It’s a good way to learn about the culture of a foreign country and its people.

 

The edible seeds of fresh Lotus

It takes an hour from the city to get to Beng Melea, and a drive along country side. We pass different villages and see many houses built on stilts as protection from floods, and during dry season to provide extra space for storage, hang hammocks for relaxation.  What a practical & brilliant design idea.

Temples at Beng Melea are mostly unfinished and have collapsed.  It has many tall trees to provide much-needed shade on very hot days like today.  Many gigantic roots have engulfed portion of the temples (similar to Ta Prohm), piles of rubbles of big stones, with occasional small plants peeking thru showing signs of life, and many tropical ferns thriving well in this environment.  This place has a  mystique feel, with a sense of adventure and made my top 3 favorite temples in Siem Reap.  Sophati, “Melea” means beautiful woman and a very common name for girls in Cambodia.  Entrance to this temple is not included in our 3 day pass, and cost $5 usd per person. It’s definitely worth a visit if you have time.  We have lunch at a restaurant near the entrance of the temple. I ordered noodles w/ beef and veggies and hubby, stir fried chicken w/ cashew nuts.  We are quite surprised  all dishes we’ve eaten so far in Cambodia are very tasty. It must be the Khmer spices they used in cooking that give their dishes great flavors.

Beng Melea Temple

 

From B. Melea is another hour drive on a dusty, unpaved road to Banteay Srei.  You definitely want to take a car if you plan on visiting this temple, unless you want your hair turned “red” from the red dust. Banteay Srei is also known as “Citadel of Women”.  It’s a small temple (Hindu?) built with red/pinkish sandstone with beautiful, ornate architecture.  The top or roof design is commonly used in big, expensive hotels and other buildings.  Hubby is getting very tired, profusely sweating so we cancel the plan to visit the Landmine Museum and Pre Rup to watch sunset, and returned to our hotel.

Banteay Srei Temple

 

At Golden Temple Hotel, we are greeted by Richard (not sure of his position or title), but he acts like our personal Concierge/Butler.  It must be obvious from our looks we are hot & tired, he sent  2 tall glasses of cold grape juice to our room.  A few minutes later, he knocked at our door and gave us a tray of fresh fruits with bananas, mango, longan. One time we are lounging at one of the cabanas by the pool, he came by & placed clean towels so our clothes would not get dirty. When I inquired what kind of tea was given for our welcome drink, he automatically ordered some for us.  We are truly treated as VIP’s, staying true to VIP package we got for booking direct with the hotel. I book another massage this evening.  My hubby does not care for it as much as I do, so he did not go.  Massage is a luxury I cannot afford in the States to go regularly, so whenever we visit a foreign country with very affordable prices , I take advantage and have them daily if our schedule permits.

 While in town, a visit to the Pub Street is a must.  This is a very lively place, esp. at night, when they close the main road for cars so it is just for pedestrians.  There are so many restaurants to choose from, but menus & prices are posted up front. I can’t believe the prices for dishes costs anywhere from $3 to 5 usd.  We ordered Mojitos, mango salad, Amok fish and one other dish. The night is still young and so after dinner we walked around. We check out prices for shopping for some souvenirs…T-shirts & ladies handbags, find one place easy to deal with and prices lower than most, yet owner still willing to negotiate. We bought T shirts, ladies handbags, summer dress , few scarves and some herbs.  Somehow, we’ll just have to figure out how we can stuff them all between our two luggage and not go over the weight limit.

Tuktuk takes us to Pub Street for $1 usd

March 6, 2012

It is time to say goodbye to the wonderful staff of Golden Temple Hotel.  While waiting for our ride to the airport at the cabana, Kimsan from the restaurant came to chat with us. We are joined later by Ane’ from the reception desk, who asked if we can adopt her after finding out we have no children.  We talk like friends sharing things about our family, had photos with them. I asked for their emails so I can send copies of our photos. I can honestly say, this is my favorite place during our 3 weeks trip to Cambodia & Vietnam.  Their friendliness, service, amenities and hospitality is etched in my memory, and became the standard I compared all other hotels we stayed for the rest of our trip in Vietnam.

With Ane & Kimsan

 Upon check out, they give us parting gifts of T-shirts, water bottle holder, and request to have photos with us. Richard and Vicchey and the rest of the Staff…Thank you for making our stay at your beautiful hotel so pleasant & memorable! What is not to love about this place? We have few minor ones we gladly can overlook:  very tight space in our room, small bathroom and awkward shower set up.  The toilet is right next to the shower separated only by curtains, so the floors get entirely wet. You must stay at this place, it is conveniently located and you can walk to the market but hubby insists on taking Tuktuks which cost $1.00 usd each way.

Richard (red tie) our "Concierge/Butler" and Vicchy (black tie) who always make us feel special

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5 thoughts on “Cambodia: Siem Reap

  1. Lena O.K. O.K. yeah I could be a Buddhist or a Hindu after seeing your last blog!! It all makes sense to me! Youve created a masterful experience and I will now get there ,nothing will stop me! The best part is Ramon ALWAYS has this serene look of the Lord Buddha on his face, like he really does possess all the worlds wisdom! If its confusion or exhaustion, he masks it all with “that look”! Ill revisit you site for contemplation. Cant say that about any other adventure site Ive ever seen….. Dad will love it, and maybe moved to take me there, or Ill finagle a way to go with some one. Thanks tons, Lana

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  3. Lena, Reading your blogs has inspired me so much. I’m leaving for Siem Reap and HCMC in a few days, but have been able to contact Mrs. Nhung per your recommendation, and will be taking her 2 day 1 night private tour of the Mekong. I’m just thrilled. I’ll also study your Siem Reap, and take notes for my visit there. Thank you, you’re the best! Would love to travel with you both some day……anywhere of your choosing! I like the way you think and do.
    Safe travels, Leslie

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    • Leslie, I’m very pleased to be of help and you were able to get a hold of Mrs Nhung. Enjoy your tour to Mekong. Thank you for your compliments, the best I’ve received so far. You are most welcome to be our travel mate! Unfortunately, I’ll have to put on hold any travels this year and have to focus on my hubby getting a total hip surgery. We ended up cancelling our 4 week trip, including a 14-day cruise from Singapore, to the Far East last month as he suffers from much pains.

      Be safe and have a wonderful time.

      Lena

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