Dry and Hot, but Firing with Culture – Siem Reap June 2015

I’ve been to a number of places in my life but I’ve never had the chance to document them down in a series of blog posts. Such a shame but all these years, I never thought I would be interested in blogging my thoughts and whereabouts down until a few months ago thanks to my previous and current jobs after graduating. YES I’M FINALLY DONE WITH MY BSC IN COMMUNICATIONS & PSYCHOLOGY. BOOYAH! My previous job exposed me a lot to the world of WordPress and blogging; I never thought it could be this entertaining!

Although having to go through teenage years in the 21st century, I was never fully equipped to the world of technology, gadgets and especially, blogging. So, this will be my first and fully written blog post EVER and I am very excited to start this little blogging journey of mine.

This blog post is about my short trip to Cambodia’s up-and-coming little city, Siem Reap. My side kick and I were there for 4 days and 3 nights.

Kuala Lumpur > Siem Reap (Tuk tuks are transports to heaven, the good way)

IMG_20150619_101232 Morning ride on the way to our hotel by a local tuk tuk.

We were actually contemplating between Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap. At the end of the day, we chose Cambodia over Vietnam simply because I have traveled to Thailand many times and to my understanding and research, Vietnam seems somewhat modern and developed just like Thailand. I wanted to experience a rawer side of travelling around South East Asia and its culture; Siem Reap seems like the perfect place to satisfy the curiosity I’ve been yearning to ‘kill‘ over the past year. Our flight was early in the morning and we arrived at Siem Reap at about 7 am. Siem Reap is 2 hours away from Kuala Lumpur and they’re an hour behind us.

Siem Reap took me back to at least 20 years ago. Owning cars here seem to be a luxury to a majority of the locals as most of them either ride on motorbikes, travel by tuk tuk (it’s like their local mini taxi on 6 wheels – 2 in the front and 4 at the back!) and many use the most traditional transportation mode of all – walking. Depending on where you want to go, traveling by tuk tuks will cost you around US$1-3 for a 5-15 minute distance. Many tourists also opt to rent bicycles, e-bikes and also motorcycles.

The weather in Siem Reap was awfully hot and dry; I recommend wearing sunglasses and face masks if you plan to travel without a roof over your head, especially in tuk tuks. The roads in Siem Reap are dry and dusty; talking while going on a windy tuk tuk ride will leave your mouth sandy, I kid you not! I’ve spat little stones out a few times during these rides.

Seeing how the locals drive was a bit of a culture shock for me, and I thought drivers in Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Thailand were crazy! Sorry guys, we do drive a bit crazy in Malaysia and we have to admit that. Drivers, tuk tuk experts, bikers and cyclists are ecstatic here! They literally go with the wind! I still don’t understand Cambodian roads – when the light turns green, people from left, right, top and bottom go berserk but what fascinated me was it seemed more than normal to them. Plus, I’ve never seen an accident here. It still amazes me how 11 year olds ride motorbikes like Harley Davidson rock stars!

People seem to drive less than 50km per hour here and to me, that’s beautiful. It’s all about appreciating time and slowing it down. Nowadays, we don’t get to do that in major cities we live in. Also, don’t get shocked by the constant honking as they are mostly reminders that someone is in their way or behind them rather than, “F*CK YOU, YOU PIECE OF SH*T! DON’T YOU KNOW HOW TO DRIVE?!”, you get the drill. Ohm, ohm, ohm is the way to go here.

Our Home for 3 Nights – Retreat Villa Boutique & Spa

IMG_20150620_080007Bicycles for rent per day at $4 and above at our hotel!

After a complimentary 15 minute tuk tuk ride from the Siem Reap International Airport to our hotel, it took Retreat Villa Boutique & Spa at Wat Bo Road about an hour to check us in. 12 pm was the supposed check-in time but I think they didn’t have many guests so they checked us in early. We also found out on TripAdvisor that many tourists have been misled when they went to the hotel by themselves upon their arrival. Many have gone to their sister boutique hotel, Petit Villa Boutique & Spa, which is located at Wat Damnak and it’s 10 minutes away from Retreat. If you plan to stay here at Retreat, do take note that their phone number is not available online. It’s advisable that you email them a week in advance when and what time you’ll be arriving so that they can arrange a tuk tuk to pick you up from the airport. FYI just in case, they won’t email you back for confirmation.

IMG_20150620_080108A little seating area at the entrance – on the right is their dining area and kitchen counter.

I didn’t take any pictures of the room or the swimming pool because I was utterly disappointed. AirAsiaGo offered us RM500 per person for 4 days 3 nights inclusive of air tickets – what more can I ask for, right? Their electricity derives from their neighbouring country, Thailand, and it’s inconsistent. On the first night, there was a blackout at around 5 am and then another one in the evening. It gets really dark, especially during sun down and it was quite inconvenient for us when we wanted to shower. I don’t know if the electricity and water supplies are co-related to one another but whenever there was a blackout, the water would run out too.

Besides being unsatisfied with the electricity and water, we had some plumbing issues too. Drinking too much the night before, side kick had to clean up my puke and he flushed a bundle of tissue papers into the toilet bowl. It got stuck and we had to ask the hotel’s receptionist for help. Although it stank a bit, I still love Cambodians’ hospitality.

The swimming pool, oh, the swimming pool! Initially, I thought it would be a great time for a tan under the hot, scorching suns of Siem Reap but it was totally the worst time and place for it. The swimming pool was tinier than I thought it would be, with only 3 sun beds and some couches at the side. Not only was the water a bit murky, there was construction going on next door too! I couldn’t possibly dare myself to sunbathe alone in my (newly bought) bikini with paranoia of Cambodian construction workers staring down from their work place next to the hotel. So much for my tanning dreams 😦 

Image credit: Agoda

Image Credit: Agoda

IMG_20150620_083257But, on the bright side, we had a private balcony!

Happy food, happy tummy!

Okay, enough of the hotel, let’s move on to the food! We had the famous pizzas along Pub Street where you can easily find at Hospital St. Side kick was happy and I was more than just happy. I was dizzy and puking, probably also because of a suspected heat stroke I got on our second day of the trip. I can tell you in confidence that I had the worst 2 days of my life.IMG_20150619_103844Coffee is LIFE. Surprisingly, this milk coffee was one of the best local coffees I’ve tasted in Siem Reap – they can be easily ordered anywhere at $1-2.

IMG_20150619_104607We’ve tried a couple of Carbonara dishes in Siem Reap – often dry and cheesier than expected, but still decent! Pastas at pizza joints go no more than $6. This one’s topped with lean, yummy bacon strips and green capsicums. Enough for 2

IMG_20150619_105405Happy pizza topped with generous amounts of chicken, spinach and mozzarella cheese. The prices don’t topple over $6 per pizza too. Available in small, medium and large sizes

IMG_20150620_105726Blended lemon shake – garnished and blended happily with too much sourness and yogurt for my liking

IMG_20150619_130231

Again, Siem Reap is really HOT. It was 36 degrees Celsius when we landed so it’s advisable to show as much skin as possible and I mean it literally. Luckily, the sun didn’t burn my skin but the air was really dry. I imagined myself in a scene from a Cowboy movie. I wonder how those Cowboys and girls lived their days with covered-up apparel, leather boots and long lace gowns! And we always complain that Malaysia is hot… Puh-lease! The dryness in Siem Reap is no where near comparable to Malaysia’s scorching heat.

We also had a short visit to Sister Srey Cafe at Pokambor St that’s located really close to Pub Street which is about 5 minutes away walking distance. I love that the owners of the cafe (who are both sisters from Australia, by the way) give back to the community by letting young locals work there. Another lovable plus point goes to their major objective by supporting young Khmer students who need to work and study at the same time. Besides closing at early 6 pm (that’s early for a good cafe and restaurant that’s often packed!), they also give a flexible roster, training and fair pay to their employees.

I love it when people do good for the community; I adore rare gems! I also had a very terrible heat stroke here. Dizzy and puking on their table (I’m so embarrassed and if anyone of concern is reading this, I’m soooooo sorry!), two of their lovely waiters had to assist me down their very spiral staircase and one of the sisters were so kind enough to offer a bottle of water and some fruits.

Before the unwarily disgusting event happened, I managed to take this picture;

IMG_20150620_114641(From the left: Flat White, Coconut banana bread with honey, watermelon mixed fruit juice, I forgot what was in it exactly)

Again, the flat white is to die for! It’s seriously a cuppa joe not to be missed!

IMG_20150620_120733My favourite corner upstairs.

This world needs more lovin’ and my heart’s all warmed up with what these sisters do. I’m an avid consumer of coffee and I do believe that good coffee beans need to be roasted correctly to get that distinctive aroma and taste. The coffee beans are not the only thing that’s important, the frothy milk is equally as important as well! Here at Sister Srey Cafe, all I can say is, you won’t regret the coffee. You’ll probably have another cup!

Okay, back to more food. Romantic dinners at The Sugar Palm are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and when I say dinners, it’s worth coming back here for more of them. As I grow older, I got pickier with my choices of food. Good food is always worth every calorie you take in, poorly cooked food is a big no-no and no food should be poorly cooked! If you’re like me and you’re afraid Khmer cuisine would be too bland or not tasty, this place will change your mind.

IMG_20150619_190952The Sugar Palm’s seating area at the entrance on the left.

IMG_20150619_175828The Sugar Palm has two floors – this is the entrance view upstairs.

IMG_20150619_182009The Pomelo Salad – This was one of my favourite Khmer fusion dishes; refreshing, sweet and sour pomelo salad with fresh prawns, basil leaves and crushed peanuts

IMG_20150619_184933The famous Fish Amok topped with a bit of coconut cream

To my surprise, I hated the Fish Amok! Although a crowd favourite with almost everyone and online reviews alike, it was a terrible dish for me. I love my savoury foods uhm, salty and my desserts sweet. This main dish is SWEET! The texture is like otak-otaksoft, creamy coconut milk and curry soufflé with fish is not my kind of romantic dinner dish. Side kick loved it though. Khmer cuisine is very similar to Thai cuisine – just slightly blander and not as spicy.

Overall, Khmer cuisine VS Thai cuisine = THAI ALL THE WAY FOR ME! I can’t live without spices. Primarily, spicy chilies keep my taste buds alive and salivating.

But of course, not all Khmer cuisine was bad. I actually quite enjoyed their local food at the morning market most locals go to. Barely 10 minutes away from our hotel, the morning market had almost everything. Clothes, shoes, local street food, groceries, even gold and money exchanging services with all kinds of currencies! If you urgently need to exchange some cash, it’s at the heart of the landmark.

IMG_20150621_090818French baguettes everywhere!

Baguettes are very common in Khmer street food; there are many vendors who sell yummy sandwiches by the side of the roads. Cheap too! They’re usually less than 1000 Riel which is about (USD) 25 cents! You can opt for meat strips – usually pork – and smother it with spicy or non-spicy sauce. Mmm mmmm!

IMG_20150621_093017Mixed beef with thick, flat white noodles and bean sprouts

I could confidently say that I enjoyed this dish the most during my stay in Siem Reap. If you like your steak medium rare, then this is the dish for you. Hearty beef broth with medium rare strips of tender beef is bliss for the tummy in the morning. There’s no signboard to this small corner restaurant at the morning market; just watch out on your right if you enter from the main entrance at the front. There are also rice with Khmer dishes at the side! Pretty similar to Malaysia’s Chinese dai chow and/or stir fried meat at the side.

Lastly would be the prestigious Viroth’s Restaurant at Wat Bo St. The prices are above average and the food is so-so. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have much appetite after a day of my puke fest. We visited for lunch. Decor was wonderful and the place was spacious. If it was night time, the environment would be perfect. Airy and full of hospitality, it’ll be worth paying for.

IMG_20150621_133610(From the left: Pork curry, stir-fried brinjal with minced pork, sweet and sour fish)

Gentle reminder for spicy curry enthusiasts: Khmer cuisine is quite bland for my liking and the curry wasn’t spicy at all.

My favourite dish out of the three is the stir-fried brinjal with minced pork. Not overcooked and full of flavour; it’s perfect for pork lovers. Bear in mind that I’m all for spicy and sour foods but the sweet and sour fish was too sour for me. Also very similar to the Chinese style of cooking but the fish was fresh and lightly stir-fried instead of it being deep fried, again like the Malaysian style of dai chow.

Half of my trip is covered in this blog post. Will blog about the second part soon! Psst, Angkor Wat was magical.

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Author: Stephanie Leong

Making thunderstorms go pow-wow. Talk to me at stephanielkm@gmail.com

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