What we did: Explored Angkor Wat and surrounding temples – $37 single day entry ticket/$60 for up to 3 days + $25 total for Tuk Tuk for the day
Where we ate:
Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC)
Goat Tree (@ Sarai Hotel)
This trip to Asia was sadly a fleeting one. I pulled a classic Caitlin move upon realising there was a public holiday and thus long weekend in Australia and thought “how can I maximise my leave?” and took the 4 days afterwards as holiday, giving me 9 days off work.
Despite being fleeting, I’m still trying to learn as much as possible about the history and culture of the places I am going. Currently reading ‘Cambodia’s Curse: The modern history of a troubled land‘ by Joel Brinkley, also watched ‘First They Killed My Father‘. Both recommended.
The Friday evening flight from Sydney got me into Bangkok about midnight, where I was collected by an Emirates chauffeur and driven to my friend Roseanna’s house.
Roseanna’s boyfriend Pele is a pilot so they live very conveniently close to the main airport in Bangkok.
The chauffeur seemed a little confused about the location (you’d think they might check before!) but within an hour of touching down I was at Roseanna and Pele’s house and ready for a good night’s sleep. Yet another bonus of flying First Class was the priority immigration pass and the bags coming out first!
I was so speedy in fact that when I arrived all lights were off and there were no signs of life in their house. We’d landed 30 minutes early so I’d arrived at their door only 30 minutes after my scheduled landing time. They’d expected me to take a couple of hours at least, so had set alarms for a little later in the night. I tried calling but it didn’t ring through and so I scaled the gate (ninja) and circled the house, hoping I didn’t set off any alarms. I then got to the point where I wondered if I’d have to pee in the yard (don’t worry Roseanna…I didn’t!) but luckily my call to Pele went through and in no time we were reunited and I was tucked up in bed!
We had a relaxed morning the next day, heading for some lunch and an amazing foot massage
Mortifyingly the massage ladies asked Roseanna in Thai:
Did I eat a lot of flour?
Was I a boxer?
… And I thought the pre-holiday attempts to lean up had actually gone rather well evidently not.
That afternoon Roseanna, Pele and I headed to the airport for our mini-break in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Pele had some passes to the Bangkok Airways lounge (his airline) and we’d planned to relax there and have some snacks before boarding.
This plan didn’t quite materialise when we were going through immigration and realised it was only 45 minutes until our flight departed (and so 15 minutes until the gate closed). I’m not sure how this slipped past my spidey-sense instincts get to the airport 5 hours before a flight.
So instead of chilling in the lounge we were sprinting through the unreasonably large terminal at BKK. We made it just on time though, and thankfully there was a bus to take everyone to the plane so we didn’t have to do the walk of shame to our seats.
Roseanna and I had got Cambodian E-Visas online prior to the trip, an easy process costing about $30 and returning the visa a day after application.
We were VERY glad that we had done this when we walked to the arrivals hall upon landing and saw the mellay of tour groups all fighting each other with their mini flags to get to the visa on arrival forms. You’d be lucky to get out with both eyes.
Amusing moment when we went through passport control…Roseanna had a huge blister on her thumb and it was sod’s law that Cambodia requires fingerprint scanning for entry. She attempted to play it cool and lightly rest her thumb on the sensor when required, but it obviously didn’t detect any print and the official started barking at her, indicating she should press harder. Finally she gave in and thrust the offending thumb into his face, demonstrating the issue, at which point he quickly waved her through!
We were met by a driver from our hotel, Sarai Resort and Spa. Roseanna had found the hotel on Agoda and had been drawn to the Moroccan style aesthetics and large pool. We checked the reviews which looked positive and it didn’t disappoint!
It is a mid-sized ’boutique’ hotel, sleeping maybe 100 people. A lovely size in comparison to some of the behemoths we saw on the drive from the airport (I suspect the large tour groups were heading to these!)
There was some confusion on our arrival. Partly caused by the unusual use of “actually” in the Cambodian vocabulary. I’d liken their use to when we’d normally say “so….” before launching into something. It was slightly disconcerting when the receptionist sat down next to me and said “Actually Miss Wallis, your booking is for one person for 2 nights“. I processed that, trying to understand where the issue was, before realising there was none.
This quirk was something we noticed in various people over the course of our stay in Siem Reap. Not that I am judging in any way, since all I learnt to say in Khmer was ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’.
The confusion was partly also caused by a genuine slip-up…they had Roseanna and Pele’s booking as 3 nights (“actually….”) which was incorrect, but they then refused to show them the booking as it was “confidential”, which seemed a little odd since it was their booking. Anyway, all was resolved in the end, the booking was in fact for 2 nights as intended, and we finally got into our rooms and could clean off from the travelling.
The rooms were large and gorgeous, with big bay window seats that looked out over the pool.
That evening we went for dinner at Genevieve’s which had been recommended by a cycling buddy from Sydney. It was delicious and very reasonable. However it started a trend that was to continue for the rest of the trip of us being virtually the only people at any restaurant we went to!
The next day was TEMPLE DAY!! We hadn’t arranged any sort of tour in advance, and asked the hotel about the options when we arrived. Our preference was not to do a group tour but to get a driver to take us around, giving us maximum flexibility. “Actually…this is not possible…” Perhaps the hotel was bound to particular tours/operators so we headed out to the street and the first Tuk-Tuk we saw said he’d drive us for the day for $25 total.
Another way to see the temples which people had mentioned to me was by bike. At first it had piqued my interest, but in hindsight I’m so glad that we didn’t.
Firstly because of the heat. We actually (!) had pretty ideal conditions with a slightly overcast day, but it was still very sticky and hot. Secondly the distance. I knew the national park and temple complex was large, but I hadn’t realised the distance between the temples was so great. I’d say it averaged about 2km between each temple, sometimes up to about 5km. On a rickety old bike in the heat and humidity that would not be fun in any way! Whereas the breeze as we drove along in the TukTuk was divine!
I’d also envisaged that once you were inside the park you would be on smaller traffic-free paths, but it’s effectively just a regular road and then to get to each temple you walk from the road.
Tickets to the park were $37/day, recently increased from $20. That’s a nearly 100% increase in price! The ticketing has been operated by a private company since 1990, who are clearly doing pretty well for themselves. I guess they know that people will pay since they’ve come a long way to see the temples.
We had an amazing day exploring. Words can’t really do it justice so here are a whole heap of photos:
That evening we ate at ‘Spoons’, the restaurant of a catering and hospitality school. They were hosting a private dinner that evening so we were the last regular diners, food was fantastic but once again was just the 3 of us there 🙂
We then hit the night markets (you’ve seen 2 stalls you’ve seen them all!) before a giant rainstorm hit, forcing us into a bar for a cocktail – tough times.
The next day was very relaxed, a run (hot hot hot) swim (ahhh) and lunch at the highly recommended ‘FCC’ – Foreign Correspondents’ Club. You could just imagine the parties that place has seen. We were hoping to have High Tea there but it only started at 2pm and we had to get to the airport for our flight back to Bangkok.
The flight back was a little bumpy due to lots of rain in the air, but Pele sort of helped reassure (“If we go INTO that cloud, we’d die”) :O right then…let’s hope we don’t!
We went out for a late but delicious dinner in Bangkok, and poor Pele got a last minute call letting him know he had to fly at 4.30am the next day. Let’s hope he avoided all the cloud…
Next up, onto my solo trip to Bagan, Myanmar…