As part of our trip to Southeast Asia, my partner Daniel and I visited Cambodia to explore the temple ruins in Siem Reap and to discover the Khmer culture.

Despite the influx of resort hotels and the tourist-saturated Pub Street and Night Market, we found that Siem Reap was still able to offer an authentic taste of Cambodian life.

  1. Explore the Angkor Archaeological Park

    Half and full day trips throughout the Angkor Archaeological Park can be arranged by many hotels and villas in the city. As we approached each new area, our tuk-tuk driver told us a bit about the history of the temples we visited.

    Stone faces of the Bayon temple, Angkor Thom
    Stone faces of the Bayon temple, Angkor Thom

    If you’d like to learn more about the history of these temples, I’d suggest hiring a guide to understand the historic carvings detailing the stories and traditions of the kingdom.

    Baphuon’s recently restored pathway toward a steep ascent
    Baphuon’s recently restored pathway toward a steep ascent

    Small temple visits can range from 15–45 minutes. Allow 1.5–2 hours for larger temple visits. If you go during Cambodia’s wet season, you’ll also spend a bit of time sheltering from sudden, tropical rain showers. Comfortable and steady footwear is necessary for climbing up and down steps with care.

    Ta Phrom’s famous doorway, restricted to preserve its structure, and the safety of travellers
    Ta Phrom’s famous doorway, restricted to preserve its structure, and the safety of travellers

    Thommanon – a small Hindu temple located just beyond Angkor Thom’s East Gate
    Thommanon – a small Hindu temple located just beyond Angkor Thom’s East Gate
  2. Phare, the Cambodian Circus

    We were thrilled that the best entertainment in Siem Reap was both the source and result of a compassionate cause. A group of performing arts schools and the PPS non-profit Cambodian association work with vulnerable children and young adults to provide them with circus training and educational/personal development workshops.

    Exciting acrobatics paired with pyro performance
    Exciting acrobatics paired with pyro performance
  3. Khmer Ways Motorbike Tour

    A scenic, 4-hour motorbike cruise took us through the back roads of the city. It was refreshing to experience the positive energy of village life in Siem Reap, and to observe the daily lives of the Khmer people.

    A contrasting display of working resources
    A contrasting display of working resources

    A temple once home to a king and his family
    A temple once home to a king and his family
  4. Dining at HAVEN Training Restaurant

    During our final dinner, we were fortunate enough to strike up a conversation with Paul and Sara, a Swiss couple that founded Haven. They told us about their incredible story of building HAVEN from the ground up.

    HAVEN provides young adults with shelter, culinary and hospitality skills, and the emotional development they need to become financially independent after leaving the orphanage. The program aims to give youth a real chance at life, and to capture tourism opportunities. Learn more about HAVEN’s story here.

    If you plan to visit Haven, make reservations ahead of time or arrive by 5:30pm to beat the dinner rush. Ask Paul about his favourite bicycle routes along the countryside, as he will happily share them with you.

    HAVEN’s best dish: Beef Lok Lak prepared by Cambodia’s top chef
    HAVEN’s best dish: Beef Lok Lak prepared by Cambodia’s top chef

    As their program continues to grow, Paul and Sara are expanding their capacity with the HAVEN Training Guesthouse in 2014. To learn more about the project and how to provide your support, visit Dragonfly.

    After four days of amazement, we left with no shortage of curiosity and desire to discover more of Cambodia.


Travelling to Cambodia? Here’s what you need to know:

Visas & airport fees

  • Visa upon arrival in Cambodia for Canadians: $20 USD per person (maximum of 30 days).
    There is a photo requirement with your Visa and a small fine of $1 USD is charged to those without photos.

Local currency & ATMs

      • Cambodian cities prefer US dollars; be cognizant about breaking large bills; change is usually returned in Cambodian currency, which is more useful for small item purchases or bike and motor rentals at local shops.
      • Ask your tuk-tuk driver to take you to a Canadian bank machine. It won’t charge the same fees on withdrawals made by foreign ATM cards.

Rainy/wet season

      • During the wet season (June-October), umbrellas, ponchos and footwear with good grip make exploring and climbing steep temple steps safer and more enjoyable.

Bicycle rentals

      • Bicycle rentals can range from $1 (cruiser) to $4 (mountain bike) per day.
      • Avoid becoming overheated: take breaks and bring plenty of drinking water with you, even during short rides.

Have you been to Siem Reap before? Share your experience with us by leaving a comment below!

Happy travels,

Vanessa

VanessaVanessa joined TuGo in 2013 as a Junior UI/UX Designer. She loves travelling to tropical climates, immersing herself in different cultures, and staying active through yoga, paddle-surfing, and hiking.