Travel to Cambodia: Siem Reap and Koh Rong Island

When you are told Cambodia, what do you think of? I think adventure, culture, flavor and warmth, relaxation and discovery. Is that all!

Of course, there is history in Cambodia, a lot of history itself and that is why I consider it a rich country. During our trip, we explored the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap and Koh Rong Island. So, let’s go on an expedition! Here is our 10-day itinerary during the month of November.

History of Cambodia

Four highlights to get adjusted before venturing out into the country.

  • It was in the ninth century that the Khmer Empire appeared (term used for the language, population or citizenship of Cambodia) with the Emperor Jayavarman II under Hindu and Buddhist influence.
  • In the 12th century the king of the empire was Suryavarman II from 1113 to 1150. He was also the builder of Angkor Wat, the most famous temple in Cambodia (which is even on the country’s flag as a national emblem). All the kings who took the throne have built state temples which have remained (incredible but true) still intact today in the Siem Reap region. Many ethnic groups are fighting for the empire, especially those from Vietnam and Thailand. The Siamese of the kingdom of Siam, formerly Thailand, took power in Cambodia until the 19th century.
  • From 1863 to 1953: Cambodia becomes French protectorate. On November 9, 1953, the country finally obtained its independence as a sovereign state and remained a constitutional monarchy.
  • 1975 to 1979: The Khmer Rouge, communist regime, led by Pol Pot took power and a dictatorship began with a genocide that led to the deaths of nearly 2 million people. In January 1979, it ended with the invasion of Vietnamese troops.

Today the king of Cambodia has been Norodom Sihamoni since 2004 with Prime Minister Hun Sen. Despite all these years of war and conflict, it is a country that is culturally and economically starting to rebuild itself. It deserves to be known and recognized!

Siem Reap

Siem Reap was our favorite city! Located in the north of the country about 5-6 hours by car from the capital Phnom Penh or by plane in 45 minutes by flight. Formerly the capital of the Khmer Empire, the ruins and temples of the city have been part of the UNESCO world heritage since 1992. As much in the center of Siem Reap with all the festivities as in the temples of Angkor, it is another world that opens up in front of us, our senses develop on a very different culture from Western countries but is so enriching.

Where to sleep in Siem Reap

We stayed at the De Sonyn Boutique hotel, conveniently located near the famous Pub Street where restaurants, bars, markets and shops are located. It is 8 kilometers from the Siem Reap Airport and you can also request to include round-trip transportation from the airport. It cost us 140 USD with breakfast for 4 nights. The rooms are clean, and the staff are very attentive. Otherwise for adventurers and smaller budgets you will find many youth hostels. There is still the option of Airbnb with good deals on a whole house or even private villas at a lower cost.

At the same hotel we booked our excursion to the temples of Angkor, because to get there you need a means of transport. The Angkor site is 6 km from the center of Siem Reap and the temples are distant from each other.

Transportation to the Angkor site

It is an important archaeological site which extends to almost 400 km2, so to get around you will need either a tuk tuk driver or rent a car with driver, more expensive but convenient with air conditioning for those who cannot stand the heat. Travelers / tourists are forbidden to rent a scooter to go to the temples or even for any trip in Siem Reap, however we have seen some travelers driving in town, but they may have been residents. Another way for the bravest, there is always the bike, but you must be careful with the heat and the kilometers that separate the temples. It’s still doable, we had seen several on the site.

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Our tuk tuk in Siem Reap

Tour and price on the Angkor site

Our tour included transport with a tuk tuk driver, comfortable and economical, you will enjoy the scenery. There is a little and a big circuit with different routes: the little circuit includes the most famous temples like Angkor Wat and the big circuit includes the more remote and less popular temples, therefore less touristy, but just as majestic. It cost us 30 USD for 2 people, and we took the 2 circuits, we had the choice to take just one too. After talking to our tuk tuk driver, we could have negotiated with him or any other driver for $ 10 per tour. Do not hesitate to negotiate the prices because it is like that in Cambodia and in other countries of Asia.

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Map of the circuits – Angkor site

The cost to enter the Angkor site is USD 37 for 1 day or USD 62 for 3 days. It is recommended to do it in 3 days, because you will have the time and the freedom to do what you want, instead of being restricted to do everything in one day. It’s still a lot of kilometers to walk, sometimes under a very strong heat of around 35 degrees Celsius. Note that the entrance to buy tickets is not the same place as the main entrance to the temples.

The temples of Angkor

We started with the little circuit to see the famous temple of Angkor Wat right away. Watching the sunrise at 5 a.m. with its reflection on the lake is a magical moment that I had the chance to enjoy during another trip. Otherwise, you can also do it without, it’s just as beautiful. It seems redundant to see temples for days, but I can assure you that they each have their history and architecture. They are definitely worth a visit!

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Angkor Wat temple – Cambodia

The little tour includes: Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (with Bayon), Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Thommanon and Prasat Kravan.

The big tour includes: Banteay Kdei, Preah Khan, Ta Som, Pre Rup, Mebon Oriental, Srah Srang and Neak Poan.

Some of them are faster to visit than others. The next time we go back, we will start with the big tour to finish with the little one and Angkor Wat. We had noticed that there was a chronology with a more Hindu influence and older constructions for the temples of the big tour. So, we can see the evolution of emperors, influences, history as we finish with Angkor Wat.

We loved walking among the temples and ruins of Angkor, a feeling of reliving the past and imagining how life could have been before. Ta Prom is the temple known for the shooting of the film Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie. In love with this country, she adopted a child and has now the Cambodian nationality. She also directed a film about the Khmer Rouge genocide called “First they killed my father”. Also in love with this country, I strive to make it known for its rich culture and its fascinating beauty of its unique landscape and inhabitants.

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Ta Prom temple ruins
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On the way to Neak Poan temple

Where to go out in Siem Reap

On Pub Street you will see festivity, some events are organized there. We were during the “Bon Om Touk” water festival where the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River meet and mark the end of the rainy season. In Siem Reap there were the famous dragon boat races along the Siem Reap river. For your information, Cambodia won the Guinness record for the longest dragon boat in the world (2018).

Everything we ate in Siem Reap was really good! Flavors and spices are unique to Cambodia. Cambodian cuisine has these two main elements, rice from many rice fields in the country and fish from the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. If you have never eaten this cuisine, I let myself say that it looks and is inspired a little by its neighboring countries like Thailand or Vietnam.

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Pub street by night – Siem Reap

Typical Cambodian dishes, to name a few:

  • Lok lak: a great classic and one of my favorite dishes. Made with sautéed and marinated beef before being cooked in a wok. Served on rice with salad, tomatoes and some chili peppers.
  • Amok trei: very popular dish. It is made of fish coated with coconut milk, steamed in banana leaves.
  • Bai sach trouk: a simple and delicious dish made with rice and grilled pork. It is found across the country. It can even be served for breakfast, because it is not croissants or eggs thar are served in the morning but a dish like this to start the day off right.
  • Num banh chok: made of rice noodles with a green curry sauce based on fish, on top we find fresh herbs, such as basil or mint. Known to be an ideal dish during hot season.

As for the drink, obviously what marked my boyfriend is that all the draft beers were at 0.50 cents USD, otherwise the cocktails are between 1 and 2 $ USD. We haven’t tried wine, but I don’t think Asia is known for its vineyards. Of course, always drink bottled water, not tap water.

Several bars and restaurants offer live music, such as the Banana Leaf or the Triangle. The Triangle lounge bar has a nice atmosphere where you can eat and drink comfortably on the swings tables while watching a group of singers.

If you are doing the sunrise at Angkor Wat, why not doing the sunset in one of the skybars or cafes with breathtaking views of the city and the river, like the Temple coffee where the chairs are multicolored ottomans. Perfect for relaxing and watching the sunset with a good cocktail.

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Sunset at the Temple coffee – Siem Reap

Another entertainment for lovers of video games or rather virtual games, we tested the K-VR Land in Siem Reap. For a few dollars (between $ 2 and $ 5), you can parachute, race motorcycles, play basketball and many other games. So do not hesitate to have fun in this city and take full advantage of its history both ancient and modernized over time.

Koh Rong

You don’t know the islands of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem? That’s fine, they are starting to develop in the south of Cambodia. It is better to go there before all the tourists invading the islands. They are still rustic so they keep this unique natural charm. No hotel or apartment towers, not all of that, just bungalows and tents by the sea. Life is good and simple. Between turquoise water, fine white sand, cheap drinks and food, splendid weather, a true little tropical paradise is at our feet.

How to get to Koh Rong

All the boats leave from Sihanoukville (or Kompong Soam), these are speed boats which serve Koh Rong and Koh Rong Sanloem, we just did Koh Rong, but I am sure that Samloem must be just as magnificent. We have read a lot of bad reviews about the ferry companies, but I don’t know if we were lucky because everything went very well for us. The boat left on time, life jackets, professional staff, a quick trip. The weather conditions on the return were difficult and the sea was rough, the boat did not leave on time for security reasons (obviously). But it goes without saying that it was not the fault of the company if the sea was very rough. We took the Buva Sea speed boat with a round trip for 2 people at 20 USD, our stop was Coconut Beach in Koh Rong. The journey was approximately 45 minutes.

We were very surprised by the town of Sihanoukville, a big mess, very dirty and the people are less welcoming. It seems that the city has changed a lot in recent years, the arrival of the Chinese and the massive construction of hotels and casinos has made this city unpleasant. However, one must be Cambodian to acquire property in Cambodia and the Chinese do not have the citizenship. So, it also seems, but I do not want to argue, that this agreement with China would be for the economic development of Cambodia for a limited time. These Chinese are therefore not technically owners of these buildings but bring a different type of clientele.

Where to stay in Koh Rong

Sunrise Resort in Coconut Beach: it is in this hotel which is just in front of the pier that we stayed the first two nights. The rooms look good at first, they are spacious, have hot water and air conditioning. There was still some work to finish in this hotel. Hidden holes in the walls, the rooms for example had a bath, but hot water was only connected to the shower, so I don’t know who would take a cold-water bath. Otherwise there is a beautiful and large swimming pool that overlooks the sea.

Coconutbeach Bungalows: After visiting the surroundings of the beach, we noticed that there were a lot of pretty bungalows, well maintained with a nice atmosphere. The first evening, we accidentally ventured in front of the Coconubeach Bungalows, there were music, travelers of all ages from all over the world, an upstairs restaurant with hammocks and a library overlooking the sea. The reviews on internet are unanimously excellent. So, we stayed there the rest of our stay for $ 15 / night, a room with shared bathroom. The bungalows were already full, they often show full due to its popularity.

Do not expect great luxury, no hot water or air conditioning, a Robinson Crusoe adventure, but that is how life is there and we lend ourselves well to the game. In the evening you may even see a show with fireworks and lanterns that you light yourself with other travelers. Excellent experience!

There is a Boat trip at USD 10 per person for a day with the meal included. We went on a boat with the other travelers and the locals take us for snorkeling, fishing with a rustic fishing rod, we could even eat the fish caught for our meal, with rice and vegetables. Beer is even offered. We stopped at Koh Touch, the main village of Koh Rong, it seems that it is very festive in the evening, but we did not stay at night. We were able to take the opportunity to withdraw money. Make sure you get enough from the city because there is no ATM on the island. However, a few places like Sweet Green Guesthouse offer ATMs from their terminal and give you cash from their cash register, interest rate is applied, but you have to go to Koh Touch.

The roads on the island are not really roads, it is still dirt that forms a path in the middle of the jungle. But it seems that soon new roads will be built for tourist buses. We had a scooter for a few hours that we had borrowed from a friend and from Coconut beach we went to Long beach, a wonder of this world! A beach with fine, soft sand like flour. The sunset is just beautiful.

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Long Beach Konh Rong

Finally, our stay in Cambodia ends with Koh Rong to relax and enjoy the sun after the temple tour in Siem Reap. A memorable stay that I recommend to everyone, young and old. Cambodia is a magical destination that I will return to a third time and even more!

See you soon for my next adventure! Guess where… 😊

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