Our first morning in Siem Reap! The second largest city in Cambodia, Siem Reap is famous for one thing and one thing only….Angkor Wat!!
But not today! Knowing how we normally pull up after long haul flights, we deliberately gave ourselves a free day to simply explore the streets and shops of central Siem Reap. Soaking up the sun and tasting our first Khmer delicacies!
While many people choose to stay in hotels out on the main highway closer to Angkor Wat, we were much more interested in ensuring we were within walking distance of the numerous markets, restaurants and local attractions (ie. bars) scattered throughout Siem Reap. The Golden Temple hotel met all these requirements, very conveniently located only a 5 minute walk from Pub Street!
Breakfasts always tend to be an unknown quantity in South East Asia, and Cambodia proved no different.
Looking back, breakfasts at the Golden Temple hotel were probably amongst the worst we had throughout the holiday. By no means horrible they just weren’t fantastic. We quickly learnt (the next day) that the omelettes were the best option, as they’re cooked fresh to order. The fruit was also fantastic; a common theme at all the places we stayed at. The set menu though, (see below) took forever to come out and all the hot food had cooled down.
Check out the ‘sausages’!! I’m not sure what they remind me of…looks painful though!
So of all the things we could possibly choose to start the day with, Karen chose….a pedicure and massage!!
Good choice if you ask me! Having heard good reviews of Lotus Dream Spa, we stopped by to see what they had to offer and how much it was going to set us back. Our jaws just about hit the floor when we saw that it was only going to cost us around $15 for an hour’s worth of massage!
First of all though it was pedicure time. While Karen’s an old hand at foot treatments and all things beauty, being a bloke I haven’t exactly made looking after my toes a priority!
15 minutes and much poking, prodding and clipping later, my feet emerged gloriously from between supple Khmer hands, bathed in scented oils and gleaming with renewed vigour!
Next up was a massage, but not your typical massage!! No…get your mind out of the gutter… We both decided to try a deep tissue massage with 4 hands. As I was to find out, this involved two petite Khmer ladies twisting, contorting and otherwise manipulating my body into all sorts of unnatural, yet painfully pleasant positions. At one point I could distinctly feel them both walking up and down my back like it was National Highway No. 1!
There’ll be more to say on the topic of massages in a later blog post. Suffice to to say that I’m one soft Aussie… 😀
Feeling much more limber we attempted to leave the building, only to find that the heavens had opened up (it is monsoon season after all!). While waiting in the foyer we had a great chat with the owner of the shop, a British chap that had married a local lady who only the day before had given birth to their first baby! Understandably, he was grinning from ear to ear!
Next up we decided to have a look at the large Artisans d’Angkor workshop where they train locals in ancient Khmer techniques for arts and crafts, ensuring that these skills aren’t lost over time.
The tour was guided and didn’t cost a cent. Being my typical sceptical self I was waiting for the big sales pitch at the end, but it never came. Instead we were left to wander the aisles of the shop, full of amazing art works and sculptures of a very high quality.
Picking up an awesome lacquer painting (which we were petrified about for the next four weeks, expecting it to get damaged in transit!) we then made our way back to Pub Street for some lunch.
Cambodia has two signature dishes when it comes to food; beef lok lak, and fish amok.
We were both keen to try these dishes, and ended up doing so numerous times throughout the holiday they were so tasty!!
Today though we were at For Life restaurant, and it was Karen’s first taste of the beef lok lak, while I had some marinated beef, spring onion, ginger and lemongrass rolls.
Beef lok lak is essentally marinated beef, served with fresh red onions served on a bed of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Together with this you get a little dish full of an awesome lime juice, salt and black Kampot pepper sauce in which you dip your beef.
The version below obviously has an egg on top, which I don’t believe is traditional, but is still a delicious addition!
This ended up being one of the best meals that we had in Cambodia. While Karen did try better lok lak later in the trip, overall the taste and freshness of this meal was unbeatable!
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets and checking out the old market in the middle of town. Narrow little aisles crammed full off cheap knick knacks, clothes, food and all sorts of other weird and wonderful goods. Really interesting!
When it started to rain again we found ourselves a comfortable little watering hole on Pub Street called the Soup Dragon where they had happy hour Anchor beers on sale for 50c a mug with complimentary popcorn. Bargain!
The next hour or so was spent watching the locals and tourists braving the rain, while sipping on ice cold, and surprisingly tasty beer.
Back to our hotel and after a bit of a relax we eventually got ready for dinner.
Haven restaurant was on our ‘must visit’ list! Haven was opened in 2011 and, unlike your average restaurant, is actually a training school for young orphans that have reached the age at which they have to leave the orphanage. After training for a year at the restaurant they are then assisted in finding a permanent job in the local area.
A fantastic cause, and the food was very good. We particularly liked the flavoured rice wine that is brewed in the Siem Reap area and presented in a tiny shot glass!
After a great meal we caught a tuk tuk back through the rain to the hotel and crashed.
The best possible start to our Cambodian odyssey!
Tomorrow? A 4am wake up…