Well known for its tragic past, famous temples, and year-round hot weather, Siem Reap is a destination that's on most travelers' list. Cambodia has the nicest people we've encountered thus far on our trip. They're warm, welcoming, and always ready to chat about anything and everything. We were in Cambodia for two weeks and ended up staying in Siem Reap the whole time. We loved it too much to leave! The dirt roads are a rich red color, reminding us of the red dirt of our hometown. A piece of home mixed with tropical lush jungle plants were a welcomed change after the chaos of Hanoi. The good vibes were flowing!
where to stay
Sojourn Boutique Villas - After long hot days exploring the temples, we hopped into a car and headed fifteen minutes to the paradise that is Sojourn Boutique Villas. From the second we walked onto the property, the smell of lemongrass seeped through the vast vegetation and put us instantly in relaxation mode. We were greeted into the open reception with cold towels, smiling faces, and fresh lime aid. For our stay, the staff spoiled us with a private garden villa. The villa had a quaint front porch for reading, a spacious room, and even an outdoor shower. Our days were spent reading and working at the pool, tasting delicious Khmer food, visiting the on-site spa, and even taking a cooking class. These villas are a dream all around! The staff was so friendly and the on-site spa was a great escape after the long hot days in the sun. We couldn't have possibly asked for a better experience. Sojourn would be a perfect honeymoon destination/romantic getaway and has recently been named the "Most Stylish Boutique Hotel 2018 - Cambodia" by Tourism & Hospitality Awards.
Even more than the beautiful property, one of our favorite components of Sojourn is their non-profit efforts. We had the chance to visit Husk Cambodia one morning. Anyone who has been following Jipse Interiors knows that one of our major goals of traveling long term is to give back and find ways to help the communities we visit. While Siem Reap is bustling with tourism, the benefits from tourism don't extend further than 5 kilometers outside of town. Those living in smaller villages are often living in poverty, with farming or construction as their only outlet to make money for their families. Husk works directly with these communities to improve lives through education, clean water, housing, health, construction, and others. We visited two of Husk's schools that provide free education to over 500 students! By recently adding classes through 12th grade, many students are being educated to work in one of Siem Reap's thousands of hotels or restaurants and therefore provide for their villages. Anthony, one of the owner of Sojourn and Husk, works day in and day out to help these locals live a better life! It's refreshing to find these non-profits around the world. So much so that we are making a video about our day with Husk! Stay tuned for that hitting our blog soon.
In addition, Sojourn is offering a wonderful discount to our followers! Sojourn is a destination that is perfect for visiting year round, but March-Nov is low season and offers the best rates for bookings. Plus, you'll be fighting less crowds! Anyone who books through this link will receive 25% off their stay at Sojourn, plus a free massage and free cocktails through the end of 2018!! This offer is exclusive to our readers and an offer you won't want to miss out on!
Popular Residence Hotel - The beautiful hotel of Popular Residence is nestled into a jungle of solitude with easy access to the area's attractions. The hotel is a five minute tuk tuk ride away from downtown. Popular Residence offers unlimited free transportation to town, so you can experience the best of both worlds. We'd head into town typically twice a day to eat or explore and there was always a tuk tuk readily available. The staff was so welcoming, accommodating, and went out of their way to make sure we were taken care of! They would greet us each morning, offer us cool towels when we returned from a hot day of temple exploring, and loved to chat about our travels. During our stay, we spent many days by the pool -- can you tell Siem Reap is HOT? Good food, comfortable beds, and an on-site gym make this a great (and affordable) option for the area!
As long term travelers, we have realized that the little details are what we end up remembering down the road. The hotel staff decorated our bed with our names and flowers -- showing they really care about their visitors. Another detail that stands out was when the staff packed us a to-go breakfast in reusable totes the morning we attended the Angkor Wat sunrise. Other travelers at the temples were commenting on how awesome and eco-friendly our containers were compared to their Styrofoam and plastic bags. The hotel also offers refillable glass water bottles to help reduce the plastic bottle waste that is such a problem in the area. At the end of our stay, the staff members were sad to see us go and even asked if we could connect on social media. We will remember these small details about Popular Residence!
Grand Elysee La Residence and Angkor Elysium Suites - These sister hotels offered us the best of two very different, but equally wonderful, experiences. At Grand Elysee La Residence, we enjoyed the close proximity to town, taking a dip in the pool, and the beautifully designed rooms. To get to town was a short three minute tuk tuk ride. This would've been totally walkable if it weren't for the overwhelming heat! The staff was very well trained and available to assist with temple plans, rides into town, etc.
Angkor Elysium, on the other hand, offers a great solution if you're coming into Siem Reap mostly to see the temples and plan to only spend a day or two in town. The location is near the airport (and the temples), so it's secluded from the hustle and bustle of town. The location is perfect for taking a break from traveling and reading a good book by the pool. The hotel has large rooms (think ballroom size), a restaurant, a spa, a huuuuge pool, and a swim up bar. They also offer free transport into town if you want to go explore Siem Reap, but the ride back will cost you $4-5 USD. We ate every single meal at their restaurant and never left the property!
what to do
Temples - The most obvious reason travelers visit Siem Reap is to wander the incredible temples of Angkor. The temples are the Khmers pride and joy after facing many years of trauma. A beautiful blend of Hindu and Buddhist, the oldest temples were built in the 9th century! Many of the temples are undergoing restoration and are constant works-in-progress. We opted for the three day pass to see the temples. Although not cheap ($62 USD/person), we recommend this option. There are also one day passes and ten day passes available, but three is the sweet spot. The grounds cover an enormous span of land, so you must hire a tuk tuk driver each day at a price of roughly $20 USD/day.
Our first day, we opted for sunrise at Angkor Wat. It was an early morning leaving our hotel at 4:30 AM. After purchasing our tickets and entering the grounds, we were shortly surrounded by thousands of people also out to catch the sunrise. There is a lot of hype around sunrise at Angkor Wat, but we admit that there is some sort of magic when the first sun beam peeks through the clouds. Around 8:00 AM, we found our driver and headed to Ta Prohm (made famous by the movie Tomb Raider). This was our favorite temple, and we actually went back the next day. It's covered completely in trees and tumbled stones. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but nature is a beast! Our last temple of the day was Banteay Kdei. It was nice but nothing to write home about.
With our Canadian friends Carine and Derek @wediditourway in tow, we set out on our second full day of exploring. We started at Bayon Temple, or the temple of 216 faces. This is a Buddhist temple that, according to Lonely Planet, "epitomizes the creative genius and inflated ego of Cambodia’s most celebrated king." Although busy, this large temple is not to be missed. From there, Daniel and I visited Ta Prohm again because our friends hadn't gone yet. It was just as magical the second time! We ended the day at Pre Rup temple to watch the sunset. We were surrounded by a million other people, so we'd suggest skipping this unless you really want to see a sunset.
For our last day, we headed out on a far journey to the Banteay Srei (the lady temple). It's an hour away from Angkor city and cost us $35 USD for the driver. This temple was so different than any other temple we'd seen. It was a pink/red color and had more detailed intricate archways. It was beautiful and worth the drive through the countryside if time is on your side!
Night Market/Pub Street - We were surprised how much we loved the town of Siem Reap! It's so laid back, tropical, and full of good restaurants and people. We loved wandering around at night. The Night Market is an interesting place. The main attraction is eating bugs. Think skewers of crickets, tarantulas, you name it. While eating bugs is completely normal to the locals, we couldn't get ourselves to do it! I understand they are a good source of protein and fiber, but I guess there's a reason we're vegetarian. Daniel was all for trying the crickets, but we couldn't find the vendor the night we went. Darn! ;)
Cooking Class - After drooling over Cambodian food for the past two weeks, we opted to take a cooking class our last day in Siem Reap. The class, led by the head chef of Sojourn, gets amazing reviews -- for obvious reasons! We began the day by walking to a local villager's home to see her garden and kitchen. We saw many of the herbs growing, the water filtration system each home uses, and their outdoor kitchen. Each house in Siem Reap is built up on stilts. This is to not only avoid water damage from flooding, but to also provide a shaded spot under the home for the kitchen. From there, we headed back to the kitchen where we each had a station set up for cooking. We first made amok paste using a mortar and pestle before adding in the tofu, veggies, and coconut cream. The amok soup was served with rice and was so savory and delicious! We also chopped up a fresh mango salad that had carrots, tofu, peanuts, tomatoes, and tons of fresh basil. Even the mango-hater of the two of us thought the salad was pretty tasty. The basil saved the day! Our last dish was a super, super sweet coconut banana dessert. The base of the dessert was a palm sugar sauce. It was a bit overwhelming for us, as we don't love overly sweet things, but had good flavor. We are excited to practice Khmer cooking in the future!
what to eat & drink
Tuk Tuk Tacos - Through a personal connection, we'd heard about Tuk Tuk Tacos long before we visited Cambodia. Our friend Kyle's roommate's brother owns this restaurant. What started out as a tuk tuk stall selling tacos is now one of the most popular restaurants in Siem Reap. We visited this restaurant an embarrassing five times for the jackfruit tacos and insanely tasty margaritas! A must visit.
Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant - We shared a delicious meal here one night with friends. The flavors they use are out-of-this-world! We went back the following day for lunch and found the whole building gone! After some research, we discovered they were shutting down for a month of renovations. The vibe is casual and inviting, so we recommend checking out the new space once it's open.
Khmer Grill - This restaurant features local Khmer cuisine. This place is heaven for vegetarians and meat-eaters, as they offer a separate vegetarian menu. The owner is a 33 year old woman who is outgoing and loves to chat and joke around with her customers. The veggie coconut curry and any dish with mushrooms are a must try!
For the love & adventure,
d & b