Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s postcard comes from Rebecca, a 24 year old Brit who is a self-confessed travel addict. While a full time PR job pays for her habit, her spare time is spent planning her next adventure in great detail (much to the horror of her far more laidback boyfriend), dreaming of far off shores and keeping the world updated on her travels and top tips for their own visits through her blog, The Ramblings of Rebecca.
Hi Rebecca! Where have you been recently?
In June this year, I was able to finally fulfil a lifelong dream and visit Siem Reap in Cambodia. Why visit Siem Reap? The temples of Angkor. These are one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and feature on the UNESCO World Heritage list. As an avid history buff, a visit has featured high on my bucket list for some time, and it lived up to my expectations when my boyfriend and I were able to spend a week there this year exploring both the temples and the surrounding countryside and villages. I was surprised to learn that Angkor’s long history stretching from 9th to 15th centuries means that there is such variation in architecture; no one temple looks the same which is part of the appeal. It also means that it is near impossible to be ‘templed out’!
Did you stay anywhere nice?
Feeling like treating ourselves a bit, we splashed some cash on a fairly pricey hotel by Cambodian standards, but gosh, was it worth it. The Pavillon D’Orient is a boutique hotel just outside the town that captures the laid back yet luxurious vibe of travel in years gone by. A fantastic yet affordable spa and a free personal tuk-tuk for the duration of the stay complimented the personal touch from the staff. I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.
What did you get up to?
The main purpose of our trip to Siem Reap was to explore Angkor, so we spent the best part of three days doing this. It is easy to do so when the site covers almost 400 square km! Top temples that I would recommend you visit include Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world; Bayon, the temple of many faces at the heart of Angkor Thom city; Ta Phrom, the temple made famous by the Tomb Raider film; and Preah Khan and Ta Keo for some really stunning architecture.
In the evening, the Angkor Night Market makes a good place to stock up on souvenirs to take home, or to buy some new clothes/sunglasses. Shop around as many of the stalls sell similar items. The Island Bar in the middle also does a great range of cocktails and beers at very affordable prices so you can take a break from shopping or can leave the other half there!
On our day off from the temples, to try something a bit different my boyfriend and I took part in a quad bike ride with Quad Cambodia. We went out for two hours with a guide (just the three of us) exploring the countryside and small villages that are surrounding Siem Reap, which showed a new side to Cambodia outside of the tourist led atmosphere of the town.
Do you have a highlight?
It’s hard to pick a favourite or a highlight out of the temples in Angkor, but I think an unsung one is Ta Keo. While Bayon wins out for me in terms of the scale and the sheer work that went into creating such amazing pieces of architecture, Ta Keo provided the real ‘explorer’ aspect that I know my boyfriend loved, with the steepest steps up to the top I have ever seen.
I absolutely loved our quad bike ride as well which was fantastic and exhilarating. Small children running out of wooden huts to wave at you absolutely fascinated as you drive by is a memory I won’t forget. The fact that we set out in monsoon rain and got to splash through huge puddles only added to the fun! Even if you don’t have much or any experience, the team there seem to be able to cater for you to make sure you don’t miss out.
I’ve heard lots of good things about the food in Cambodia. How did you find it?
Cambodian food was delicious, and I have a new found love for fish amok (a traditional Khmer fish curry baked or steamed in a banana leaf bowl). Try it and I bet you will feel the same! The best food in Siem Reap we had was had at lunch in a place called the Blue Pumpkin in the heart of town. It seems quite out of character with big white sofas and amazing air conditioning, but the food had proper Cambodian heart.
Were there any disasters?
Unfortunately, a bout of traveller’s tummy left me feeling rather unwell and dehydrated in the Cambodian heat. This led to an unfortunate turn of events where I actually passed out in style in the hotel bathroom (note to self and others – pack rehydration sachets, just in case!)
How was the weather?
The weather when we travelled was hot, hot, hot! June in Cambodia sees the rainy season about the kick off, and you are almost guaranteed rain most days. However, it is quite regular and predictable unlike UK weather, and if it is going to rain, it will be in the early afternoon (around 1-2pm we found). It normally dries up again by the evening, but it is torrential when it does fall. With the temperature averaging around the mid to late thirties in Celsius most of the time, the rain was actually refreshing. Just makes sure that you carry plenty of water with you when out and about to avoid dehydration.
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone planning a similar trip?
Not much beats a sunrise over Angkor (we choose the famous Angkor Wat to view ours) but to really make the most of the amazing atmosphere the ruins provide, hang around while the tourist coaches head back to the hotels for breakfast. Not only will the crowds drop to such an extent there will be times you feel you have the place all to yourself, you can get exploring before the draining heat really hits.
Another handy tip you are planning to visit the Angkor temple tip is to buy your pass from the official ticket office on the outset of the park after 4pm the night before you intend to spend the day there. This then allows you a ‘freebie’; after 4pm you can then enter the park without your pass being stamped and losing a day. This entitles you therefore to a free sunset effectively.
Finally, although not the official currency, all of the monetary dealings you make will be done in US dollars, so make sure you bring plenty and in the smallest denominations you can find as most items only cost a couple of dollars. Be careful though as the Cambodian people are very picky about the quality and condition of the dollars they will accept, so keep them as neat and rip free as you can.
READ MORE: 16 Things to do in Siem Reap
And finally, did you pick up any of the local language while you were in Siem Reap?
Khmer, the official language of Cambodia, is quite a complex one. However, the usual key words were simple enough to pick up – ‘Sues-Day’ is hello and ‘’aw-koon’ is thank you. Overall though, it surprised me how many Cambodians speak excellent English, mainly thanks to the influence of the Americans during the Vietnam war.
NB – All photos are owned by Rebecca Thomas