A resilient country, recovering from a dark past, Cambodia has now become a tourist destination for both luxury travellers and backpackers alike. With stunning landscapes and exotic temples, ten days in Cambodia gives you ample time to cover Siem Reap, the charming gateway to Angkor temples, Phnom Penh; the scenic riverside city and Battambang ; known for its bamboo train rides.
Our home for the next few days was the beautiful Golden Temple Retreat. There was no particular reason for choosing this but the reviews were great so we thought – why not?
We were greeted at the airport by “May” the Guest relations officer with cold towels and king coconut water, along with a few traditional sweets like milk rice and jak fruit wrapped in betel leaves. The hotel is small, snug and the staff extremely friendly. Genuinely friendly. They go out of their way and are very obliging.
Trying out various kinds of food is always interesting, and during lunch, we sampled a few dishes like the Khmer chicken curry and beef along with lime pickle rice. (We washed it down with Angkor beer, a must try when you are on holiday!) The food, quite similar in taste to our local cuisine, more a mix of Thai and Sri Lanka so far. Mild spices and lots of coconut milk.
The pool at the Golden temple is quite large and despite the high occupancy, you still feel at home and it was never “over crowded”.
We hopped into one of the local Tuks and headed over to the Phare, Cambodian circus. If it’s your first time in Cambodia like myself, this is certainly a must watch. Pre book your tickets via get your guide or Viator to avoid the queues and disappointment. It was rather crowded with around 350 people and the circus was unique and entertaining.
The circus consisted of street kids passionate about arts and theatre and they are gifted with an amazing talent. It’s around one hour and well worth the money. If you are unable to follow the story, you do have giant TV screens with English and French translations but I bet you really wouldn’t care when you’re fixating on the well-built boys somersaulting and juggling ten oranges all at once!
A few reasons why you should stay at the Golden Temple Retreat:
- Golden Temple Retreat gives you easy access to wherever you want to go
- There’s a free airport pick up and drop off option included
- The rooms are spacious with large balconies. (Bathrooms have no doors so if you are traveling with a friend; this might be… Well… interesting to say the least
- The staff: Icing on the cake. Helpful, always with a smile and absolutely amazing
- The Spa is excellent, clean and quite affordable
- Cocktails: generous
- They even have an Apsara show with dinner and a cooking class in the morning with a certificate for participation
Our temple hopping adventures took place during day 2, 3 and 4 and it really was an amazing experience.
Wandering around Siem Reap is truly something else! This ancient city boasts 292 temples, our trusty tour guide mentioned that 37 were actually accessible. (No, we did not visit 37 temples…) Siem Reap is not only famous for its temples, but also the amazing food, night markets and cultural experiences.
No doubt, Angkor Wat took our breath away. Originally built and dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the intricate Apsara carvings are unique and beautiful. One of the most well preserved temples, Angkor Wat requires at least 2-3 hours to take in the awe-inspiring details. It’s the heart and soul of Cambodia and a source of fierce national pride.
Don’t forget to climb the steep stairs all the way up to the upper level. The view is worth every aching step. (Nothing a fantastic massage can’t solve later on!).
Our next stop was the “Tomb raider temple” Ta Prohm; A battle between architecture and nature in Cambodia. Swallowed by jungles, Ta Prohm is a buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman the seventh. Bound by massive roots of humongous trees, this is certainly a must visit.
Similar to Ta Prohm, but on a lesser scale lies Ta Nei, in much rougher shape than the rest.
Take a walk to the Elephant Terrace where the Angkor rulers viewed their returning armies and visit the Bayon Temple, built to represent Mount Meru and known for the mysterious faces on its many towers.
Don’t forget to include an Apsara dance along with your dinner during your visit to Cambodia. As depicted on the Angkor walls, these women with shimmering silk tunics and coy smiles will perform a graceful ancient art of the apsara dance.
So as you can see, Siem Reap is a city filled with fun, adventure, culture, history and some amazing food and hospitality.
Our adventures in Cambodia will continue with Battambang and Phnom Penh in the next edition. Until then remember, “Of all the books in the world, the best stories can be found between the pages of a passport”.
By: Nadia Issadeen