Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top tourist destination and it is understandable as to why after visiting Angkor Wat. The city itself is smaller than we expected. However, just a few kilometers down the road is the largest religious monument in the entire world: Angkor Wat.
We spent a few days in Siem Reap waiting out the rain, tasting delicious food (one of our favorite pastimes), and wandering through the ancient temples of Angkor. Although pretty touristy, Siem Reap was empty by comparison to places we had visited recently in Thailand and Malaysia. Since tourism is still restarting and it was the end of the rainy season, we had a lot of the city and temples to ourselves.
A Khmer Cooking Class
Because of the weather forecast, we pushed our trip to Angkor off a few days from our arrival. Our goal was to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat but the forecast said RAIN RAIN RAIN. Instead, we booked a cooking class near town. The cooking class took place at the home of the teacher and we were the only guests! Ms. Dary, as she was introduced, was a mom of two boys (who sometimes came to help during the class) and was married to a local tour guide.
At the beginning of the class, we collected herbs from her garden and some palm leaves for crafting later. During the cooking workshop, we learned to make tofu and mushroom soup, a Khmer noodle salad, and a ginger stir fry.
Each meal included tofu, oyster mushrooms (that are called “Chicken Leg Mushrooms” locally), and a variety of veggies including cucumber, carrots, and lettuce. We also used lime juice in almost every dish as well as a vegan oyster sauce, palm sugar, and something that was lost in translation Ms. Dary called “seasoning”. It looked like salt with a few spices mixed in but it had to have been different than salt though because that was added separately.
Getting to Know Each Other
With a bit of a language barrier, sometimes understanding what to do next was an obstacle, but luckily with cooking, it’s a lot of showing step-by-step rather than verbal instructions. We took notes of every step so we can try to make it all again one day just like our cooking classes in Sri Lanka and Croatia!
When we’re not sure how much English someone knows, we’re often nervous about what conversation to have that doesn’t put them in a position where they feel like they don’t know enough to respond. So many times people will apologize for not having very good English when really WE are the ones that only know ONE language at all! We do learn phrases like hello and thank you in each country we visit but not enough for conversation.
Ms. Dary was also quite shy at first, we think because we were only her second set of guests for the class. However, by the end, we had all warmed up to each other and were talking about her family, childhood, even religion, and numerous other things that came up.
Sharing a Meal
After our meal was complete, we sat down with Ms. Dary, her sons, and her husband (who had come home from his job as a tour guide at Angkor) and enjoyed our meal together.
In many parts of SE Asia (and we believe Asia as a whole but can’t assume since we haven’t been to many places), sitting on the floor for a meal is common. Families often have mats that are rolled out for eating specifically. So we ate just like that and enjoyed each dish!
After dinner, Ms. Dary taught us how to make some crafts out of palm leaves. The only thing we knew how to make (sort of) was Sam remembering the palm crosses she made for Palm Sunday before. Ms. Dary shared that as kids, she and her friends would make all sorts of things out of them and showed us how to make palm leaf hearts, flowers, and even glasses!
We had such a great time with Ms. Dary and can’t wait to remake the dishes we made in Cambodia!
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the most recognized temple in the Angkor Archeological Park. In the 400 sq. kilometers of land that the complex encompasses, there are hundreds of temples and religious sites.
Angkor was originally built around the 12th century. It began as a Hindu temple but was turned into a Buddhist site not long after construction. In many of the temples, you will find carvings depicting religious symbols for Buddhism and Hinduism, mythical figures, and historical events.
When visiting most people do one of two circuits, the “small loop” or “big loop”. Don’t let the name of “small” loop fool you though as you can still spend 6+ hours wandering the temples on this circuit alone.
First Visit to Angkor
To buy our tickets, we got a Grab tuktuk (like Uber) to the ticket center and bought our passes. At the time of our visit, we were very lucky because the normal 1 Day pass came with an extra day to be used within one week of the first visit. With prices at $37 a piece, we were VERY happy to get the extra day for free!
Another tip: if you buy your ticket around 4:30-5 pm the day before you plan to visit, you can enter the temple area until closing. Many of the temples close at 5 but some close at 6 pm. This allowed us to watch the sunset from one of the ancient temples!
Sunrise at Angkor Wat
We had made plans with a friendly tuktuk driver, recommended to us by friends we made in Thailand earlier this year, for sunrise the following day. Mr. Rara picked us up at our hotel around 4:45 am and we headed straight for Angkor Wat for sunrise.
We LUCKED OUT with the weather. It had rained every morning for the past two weeks but the day we chose to visit stayed dry. The sunrise was beautiful and the temple itself is so grand!
We roamed around the massive temple after sunrise for almost an hour before rejoining Mr. Rara and being handed ice-cold water. He drove us to each temple in the small loop and always had ice-cold water for us to drink. (which was wonderful because it was HOT out). Although he wasn’t a tour guide, he did share some information about the temples and himself. He was so friendly and an absolute gem.
Exploring More Temples
We spent HOURS roaming around the ancient temples of Angkor with Mr. Rara. Some of our favorite sites include the Bayon Temple, Terrace of Elephants, and Ta Prohm, the temple used in the film Tomb Raider. It was crazy to see the intricate details carved into the stone and the plant growth taking everything back over.
Angkor by E-Bike
After our long day with Mr. Rara, we RESTED because even being driven around we still walked a ton and it was a hot HOT day. We weren’t exactly what our next plans were but decided we wanted to visit the other temples we missed on day one. Luckily, we had the free extra day included in our ticket. Instead of visiting by tuktuk, this time we went by E-bike.
We rented e-bikes from town. They were super easy to drive (even for Sam who had never driven a scooter before). There are pedals but they are really just there to rest your feet. Powered by a battery, they work similarly to a small automatic scooter or motorbike.
We had good weather for most of the day but did get caught in the downpour once or twice! Even after visiting 20+ sites, we were amazed by each new temple we visited, the architecture, the details, and just the fact that we were here seeing it all in person!
Even though it’s a top tourist destination and can be crowded, it’s a place to add to your bucket list!
Goodbye to Siem Reap
After our second day in the temples and another work day in town, we said goodbye to Siem Reap. We left still blown away by the stunning structures at Angkor.
Next on our journey through Cambodia was Battambong!
Until next time,
Sam and Ty