We were promised rain the moment we arrived at Siem Reap International Airport. And we expected that much, it’s in the middle of rainy season after all. We were even told to prepare a raincoat for tomorrow biking. It was a 15 km track, to which I was looking forward, except the raincoat bit.
But all that immediately escaped my mind when warmly greeted by our Siem Reap team waiting at the arrival gate. We were all presented with a scarf, which we all later appreciated its importance in the humid weather, a very “Cambodian gift”.
And then there was a surprised second gift, and a very thoughtful one at that.
Consider this: there are around 130 million plastic bottles used by the tourists only every year in Cambodia, and 17 of us would have used around 150 bottles in the 3 days we were here.
But as we are a part of Refill not Landfill program, each was given a refillable aluminum water bottle and thanks to the refill stations at the hotels we work with and the portable stations on the car; we were able to contribute just a little bit to the environment.
Imagine the impact it will make if all travelers do the same thing! And with that thought, our trip was already off to a great start.
As we were passing shops, restaurants and buildings on the way to our dinner, Siem Reap seemed a lot livelier than I remembered.
Our stop was Jaya House River Park, a lovely boutique hotel with well-appointed room and beautiful décor. The GM was one of the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever met and they are also one of the strong supporters in community project and sustainability tourism. Naturally we get along well.
The dinner menu at Jaya was well thought out and balanced. We had some of the best Tonle Sap fish, but the curry paste was the highlight for me. That says a lot as I’m very much a curry kind of guy. Overall, we were pleasantly surprised at how delicious the food was.
Like a blessing, we had the perfect weather the next day despite all the rain coat preparation. We were all ready with our water bottle (very important to remember) at 7.30AM at the hotel lobby then transferred to the rally point for our biking tour.
We started with an easy 3km on paved roads passing temples, shops, locals doing their daily routine and beautiful scenery to reach the South gate of Angkor Thom. From there, we veered off onto an off the beaten track, up a rather steep slope and found ourselves on top of the walls surrounding the whole complex. This 12 km long wall is the outer line of Angkor Thom where soldier used to patrol day and night.
The more we ventured, the more the scenery started to unfold. We reached Prasat Chung (Corner Temple) and the view was simply breathtaking that we had to stop to take it all in. From here you can just sit and enjoy the spectacular view of the river.
Our agents at the Corner Temple
We went down the slope and found ourselves on a beautiful road leading right into the heart of Bayon, a temple that you can almost feel the history within its stone. Looking up at the surreal smiling faces, I feel like we have been transported to a different time and place.
We then exited from the South Gate and continued our journey to Ta Prohm, from north to east gate. This temple was very different from what we had seen so far, intimate and shadowy, with massive rooted trees built up inside the walls of this ancient structure.
And there are ruins, results of power struggle between old and new kings in the past, that make walking here feel a bit eerie, like there’s actual magic within this place.
The call of the guide brought me back to reality, and it was time to move on.
We headed to our brand new charming and comfortable local village house, where we would have our BBQ lunch. For the house overlooks a 900 year old Srah Srang baray (man made lake), also called the Royal Bath, it’s named after it too.
After a delicious meal, we casually walked to the bank of the lake. There were few kids swimming in the baray and some locals fishing. It was peaceful & quiet and away from the noise & crowd. The 30 minute foot massage back at the house was the last touch to make this a truly great experience.
Before we knew it, it was time to continue our exploration of the Angkor complex. After the 15km biking in the morning, we took the tuk tuk (naturally) to the East Gate of Angkor Wat, the iconic symbol of Cambodia. I was prepared to see a lot of people, but no one was around! The guide explained that we were entering through the back entrance (East) and that gave us some moment to truly appreciate the marvelous Angkor Wat.
Every surface was covered with carving, unique architecture and spirituality. The temple’s design is intended to represent the mythological home of the Hindu deities, Mount Meru, considered the centre of the universe. We made all the way to the top and appreciated every moment of it.
The sun was setting when we made it to the front (where the crowd was) and it’s the perfect ending to our Angkor tour.
The tuk tuk took us back to Heritage Suites for a needed shower and some rest time before our dinner in a private villa. It was a luxury and exclusive dining experience, one that we have sent many clients to and they all loved it. Our team had a great time with delicious three-course meal, a fusion between French and Cambodia cuisine, and chilling by the huge pool.
The next day started at 8 AM. Our 1 hour drive took us to the Kompong Khleang where we boarded a small local boat. We moved easily from the village and along the various canals leading to the Great Lake, passing by many house on stilts, temples, local people doing their daily routine and children jumping into the lake.
Once at the end of the canal, you will realize the immensity of the lake, the largest in all of Asia, over 7,400 square smiles. Millions of Cambodian live around the lake and depend on it for survival.
The boat stopped in the middle of the lake and suddenly time stood still and we could appreciate a pocket of this region that somehow untouched by the rest of the world.
We then returned back to the village and stopped at a local stilt house for lunch. Hammocks and refreshment were ready and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while waiting for fresh shrimp and fish to be cooked. The local house’s owner even offered us some Cambodia fish soup, and with that we had lunch in the middle of local village, over water and with a spectacular view. Life never felt this good and simple.
We then headed back to our hotel. Heritage Suites kindly offered us all late check out so we had sometimes to chill. Some decided to spend their times by the pool, some went to the local market. I never turned down a chance to get to know more about the local so my choice was an easy one.
The best coconut milkshake, seriously. $1 each.
After checking out, we stopped by the Siem Reap office to say a big “Thank you” to the team. We had such an amazing time here all thanks to their effort. Each of us came back with a gift basket: palm sugar, pepper and sun dried fish!
But that wasn’t the end of our journey. The last minute surprise from the amazing Siem Reap team was a visit to Theam House, a famous home cum atelier of the Cambodian artist and designer Lim Muy Theam. This tranquil house with its lust tropical garden holds a unique private collection and products that are designed and created on site.
Aperitif and finger food was served as we watched in awe the vast number of gorgeous art pieces, showing up at every turn. Mr Vu Huy, our founder, was mesmerized by a Buddha statue and wanted to buy it. Unfortunately the statue wasn’t for sales.
For guests want to stay longer to appreciate the art, we can also arrange private dinner.
Then just like that it was time to leave already. I bade farewell to Siem Reap and made a mental promise to come back soon and discover other parts of Cambodia that I have heard so much about from our team here. It was a short but very meaningful trip. We learnt, enjoyed and bonded as a team and this experience was tremendously helpful in helping our clients with their Cambodia trip.
Once again, we would like to say thanks to our Siem Reap team for such an awesome journey. You guys rock!
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