Getting to Siem Reap after a day in Saigon and before heading back there for a couple of more days was a relief. Don’t get me wrong. I like the Vietnam city. The energy of the place, the urban sounds, the food, and most of the people. But when you get screamed at in the marketplace, get almost run over by one of the millions of motorcycles (how predictable, right?), and get screamed at by the driver of said motorcycle (because I’m the newbie at crossing the Saigon streets, hence my fault entirely) on your first day, it can get a bit overwhelming. Thank God for helpful hostel and hotel owners, nice Banh Mi ladies, sublime bowls of pho, and cold Vietnamese coffee. (More about Saigon here.)
It was also a relief because we were finally in the town just outside the Angkor temples, a town that–at least for the next couple of days we were there–offered a little time of quiet and not a massive number of motorcycles.
We got things started on the right foot when we got to our inn. We booked a room at Angkor Discover Inn, a lovely little 2-story boutique hotel located in a quiet part of town, but a short 15-minute walk from the Old Market Area. The inn was supposedly designed in a traditional Khmer house manner. Loved how it look, loved the greenery around it, loved coming home to our room (though a bit small was still pretty and always kept clean), loved the very helpful staff, and how nice and quiet everything was. There were other people booked in the inn, but we only saw a couple of them during breakfast and while we were waiting for our tuk-tuk driver to pick us up before sunrise to head over to Angkor Wat.
(Another point about Angkor Discover Inn, it’s got a low rating on Hostelworld because one traveler found that the place smelled after the flooding last year. That was back in November. I’m happy to report that we didn’t get that smell when we got there by December. Three out of its four ratings in Hostelworld are 90% and above. Also depended on Trip Advisor for the reviews. I would stay here again should I find myself back in Siem Reap.)
After almost an entire day of going around the temples, with the sun beating down on you, it was nice to come home to a quiet and lovely little place. And not have to pay an arm and a leg for it. (25 USD for a deluxe double room)
To take a break from all the temples we saw in the span of two days (seven in the first day, only three the following day–yup, we were getting all ‘temple’d out’ after only two days), P and I would go around Siem Reap–take in everyday sights in the laid-back town beyond centuries-old temples.
We would walk from our inn to nearby Pokambor Avenue, which runs parallel to the Siem Reap River. Running alongside the river is a little stretch of park where we found ourselves in more than one occasion taking a seat on one of the benches, watching monks passing by, or having a pancake from one of the street food vendors.
A couple of people were lined up at this food cart selling pancakes (more of like their local version of crepes) one afternoon so we decided to try it out ourselves. While I ate it, I just tried not to think about the fact that the guy kept touching the dough with the hand he used to give me change. It’s street food after all. (My friend OCMominManila would not be amused.) But it was still a nice little, sweet treat in the afternoon while we waited for the sun to set and pondered the very important matter of where to eat for dinner.
There are a lot of dinner options in the streets of nearby Old Market Area. The popular Pub Street is there, but the other streets are also lined with a lot of restaurants, pubs, cafes and pizza joints. Pizza, ribs, and pumpkin soup in Blue Pumpkin and Le Tigre de Papier offered our taste buds a welcome break from all the traditional Khmer food in the eateries surrounding the Angkor temples.
The Old Market Area is pretty quiet in the morning as most folks were probably exploring the temples or still asleep. At around eight in the morning, vendors were still setting up their wares in the market so you can pretty much do some nice and easy shopping. No vendor screaming at you and shooing you away from her store. (Yup, still stuck on that.)
I know I probably just barely scratched the surface of Siem Reap, but I loved what I saw. I loved the easy-going atmosphere. Loved the everyday quality of walking in the park by the river. It was a great antidote from the overwhelming sights of many temples and a good and quiet way to recharge before another long bus ride back to busy, busy Saigon.
Angkor Discover Inn: #0126, Wat Bo Rd., Slorkrame Village, Siem Reap 855, Cambodia
Blue Pumpkin: 2 Thnou St., near the Old Market
Le Tigre de Papier: Pub St., Old Market area; they also offer cooking classes, where most of the profits are donated to charity