This spring, my husband and I decided to make use of the low season in Southeast Asia and to scratch-off another cultural treasure from our travel list: a visit to the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia, another superlative UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated in Cambodia's northern province, Angkor Wat is one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. Stretching over some 400 square kilometers, this religious complex houses magnificent remains from different capitals of the Khmer Empire from 8th to 13th centuries. You will find more details and helpful tips on Angkor in my next article.
From Bangkok, Thailand, we flew to Siem Reap, which is the local city and typical jumping-off point for visit to the Angkor complex. ...There are regular morning, non-stop flights from DMK Bangkok airport (the budget airlines airport -- and it's less than a 1-hr. flight from Bangkok). In our case, we arrived at 11:00 am. The airport is only a few years old, very modern. Given the fact that was Monday, going through the customs was quick.
Travel Tip: There is a Visa on Arrival requirements for US Citizens $30, cash only (ATM available). Bring your own passport pictures, but in the event you forget, it's just a $2 extra charge for pictures to be taken.
Our hotel, Pavillion d'Orient, had arranged for driver who was waiting for us at the arrival gate and made our transfer quick and seamless.
Travel Tip: A hotel transfer arranged ahead of time, especially in Siem Reap is important. ...The main reason travelers visit Siem Reap is to see Angkor Wat, and the locals have, shall we say, "tuned-in" to the popular demand from tourists (in fact, sometimes you can hear the term "scam-bodia" jokingly applied).
The Pavillion d'Orient Boutique Hotel was recommended to me, so I had a vague idea of what to expect, but our stay very much exceeded any expectations. There are many choices in terms of luxury and/or Western-ized accommodations in Siem Reap, but what elevated this one among the others are the people who work there. Pavillion delivered 5-star personal service at 4-star rates, so just an outstanding value. Designed in a French Colonial Style, the hotel is located slightly outside of the city center, but just 5 min. away from the Angkor ticket center. We later learned that is a family-run property with a French owner. We were welcomed by the hotel manager with a refreshing towel and delicious, home-made, lemongrass tea cocktail. A book of Ancient Angkor was handed to us to use during our stay (we ended up purchasing one!). Our reservation included breakfast and a private tuk-tuk driver for our entire stay.
Travel Tip: If possible, reserve the same tuk-tuk driver for your entire stay, if he is good and speak English, it's a great value to support the local economy, and he/she can be your go to local source!
The hotel grounds were well-manicured, quiet, with lush exotic trees and infused with aromatic sense of jasmine flowers. Our room was spacious, with artfully-designed, locally-sourced furniture & artwork, and a balcony overlooking the infinity-design style pool (see video). A fresh fruit basket welcomed us and was replenished daily. Every night the hotel staff left us a paper note on the door -- it was a local Cambodian tale, meant to be read before going to sleep. On our last night besides the note we found a pair of a hand-made Cambodian tablecloths to take home.
Due to the low season, there were just few other parties, and my husband and I had the entire infinity pool for ourselves. The French-style a la carte breakfast was delicious and featured freshly made smoothies. Lastly, our tuk-tuk driver really made a difference in our stay! He was the one who drove us to the Tonle Sap lake, which was about a 30 min. drive each way (complimentary), arranged us a private boat tour on the lake, and took us to Siem Reap downtown for ATM's and refreshments. He spent the entire day with us at Angkor Wat complex, drove us between the temples and kept a cooler full of ice cold water.
Siem Reap is a fast-growing city, and the economy largely contributes to interest in the Angkor Wat archaeological complex. The downtown had a quite different feel compared to Bangkok downtown. Yes, it was busy, but the traffic wasn't as hectic, and somehow felt more exotic and adventurous. The scooters and tuk-tuks are the most popular way of transportation. The "downtown" is pedestrian friendly and has a wide mix of trendy, Western-style restaurants and locally run establishments. This is the place to bargain for local souvenirs and textiles that can accommodate every budget -- you can find flea markets next to boutique artisan stores.
Travel Tip: US dollar is widely accepted in Cambodia, at some places is preferred.
Lastly, you can reward your feet after a long day at Angkor Wat with a traditional Cambodian Massage for only $3 or, if you feel more adventurous you might choose a Fish Massage :)
In my next article, follow me for an excursion to Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and the local people living on one of its "floating villages"!
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