Koh Kong/Sihanoukville/Koh Rong:
We had purchased our $30 Cambodia visas in advance, but that was the only part of our whole trip to Cambodia that we planned out ahead of time. We had planned the rest of our RTW pretty much completely before we left the states (including flights, buses, hotels, activities, etc.). If you know the Staves, you know we’re planners and we like to know what we’re going to be doing well ahead of time. This time though, we were completely winging it, and I for one was very excited to have some flexibility in our plans and to see how just playing it by ear would go for us. As you may know from my previous posts, if we had played Everest Base Camp by ear, we literally would have saved $500/pp.
We bought our $20 bus tickets to Koh Kong on Khaosan Road the day before we wanted to leave. As we were buying our tickets, a girl warned us to bring extra money because sometimes the people working at the border will give you a hard time and make you pay extra. She also warned us that the roads in both Cambodia and Laos were not very good, so we should expect serious delays and probably even a bus breakdown (or two). So, we were expecting some pretty significant delays along our trip.
We were picked up in front of our guesthouse at 8am on the dot and we set off on our 6 hour trip. We had been expecting to be taking a bus, but instead were picked up in a 15-passenger van. Maybe this ride wasn’t going to be so bad afterall.
After about 4 hours, we reached Trat, where we switched vans, and then continued on our journey to Koh Kong. After another hour or so, we were at the Cambodia border. Aside from being charged $2 for a quarantine fee (not really sure what that is but we were handed a slip of paper warning us about diseases we could get in Cambodia), we had no problems and got through to Cambodia within a matter of minutes. We hopped in a tuk tuk and told our driver to take us to the city center. He dropped us at a guest house, and we had planned on doing a little shopping around, but when they told us it was $10 a night for a private room/bathroom with a fan, we were sold.
We realized pretty quickly that the city of Koh Kong was extremely small. We had planned to spend a couple of days there, one of which we were going to take a day trip to Koh Kong Island. The weather was pretty bad though when we got in (monsoon season was upon us), and when we asked the hotel receptionist about a boat the following day to KK Island, she said there likely wouldn’t be one. We decided then and there that we weren’t going to stick around and hope the boat went out the next day. Instead, we’d head to Sihanoukville early, which we heard was much bigger and much more lively. As an aside, most people who travel overland (ie, driving) from Thailand to Cambodia go from Bangkok to Siem Reap. However, because we were planning to meet one of Dave’s best friends (and roommate of 5 years) in Siem Reap in the beginning of October, we went south first through Koh Kong.
This actually worked out pretty well considering the fact that we pretty much added a whole other trip to our trip (Laos for our work visas). While before we had plenty of time to play around with, now we figured we’d be lucky to fit it all in (though with Dave’s great planning skills, I had no doubt that we somehow would). We bought a Cambodia/Laos/Vietnam Lonely Planet book, and as soon as we found out that we had to go to Laos to get our work visas, Dave got started on planning our Laos trip, which of course involves 2-3 side trips (one to a placed called the 4,000 islands, another to a 7 kilometer cave that you boat through, and another to a river tubing/boozing place that we read was one of the party capitals of the world) on top of the capital where we need to get our work visas.
Even though we weren’t staying in Koh Kong for very long, we still at least had to get one good meal in there. While walking around the town, we saw a street stand selling huge, amazing-looking ribs. We got a couple of those, and a pig ear. The ribs were great, but the pig ear was a little chewy for our taste.
Our bus to Sihanoukville was actually another van and took about 5 hours. Again, the trip went seamlessly and we arrived at the bus station at around 1pm. Once again, we hopped in a tuk tuk and told our driver to take us downtown. Instead, he took us to the “Golden Lions” and dropped us off at another guesthouse with a deal too good to even bother shopping around again. This time it was $5 for the same private room/bathroom/fan. We didn’t have wifi in our room, but did have it in the main restaurant at the guesthouse, which was fine with us. And, we were just a 5 minute walk from Serendipity Beach, the “lively” and “touristy” beach in Sihanoukville – exactly where we wanted to be!
We dropped off our stuff and set off to explore the town (and take advantage of the fact that it wasn’t raining). Our plan for the day was to find a scuba diving trip for sometime in the next couple of days. Because of the rain, we weren’t sure if we’d even be able to dive, but we were hoping we’d be able to so that we’d be all set to go for all of our diving over the next year. Since it had been a while since our last dive (in Belize almost 2 years ago), we wanted to do some kind of refresher course since we couldn’t remember much. We stopped into a restaurant to check out the menu and saw a sign about scuba diving, so we inquired. A guy came down who had just moved to Sihanoukville a few weeks before. He had lived and worked as a diving instructor all around the world (from Indonesia to the Maldives to Egypt) and he gave us what we thought was a great deal for a day of diving off of Koh Rong (an island a two-hour ferry ride from Sihanoukville). Everything that we had read said that a 2-dive day should be around $85. We got that, plus a refresher dive (ie, another tank of oxygen which is pretty much the most expensive part of scuba diving) for $100. Not too bad. We were debating whether or not we should do 2 days of diving, but decided against it after considering the weather and the fact that we heard the diving off of Sihanoukville and Koh Rong wasn’t the best (whereas the diving in Thailand where we’ll be living is supposed to be among the best in the world). Instead, our plan was to take an afternoon ferry to Koh Rong the following day and then spend the day after that diving. Sounded pretty perfect!
By the time we were done figuring out our scuba diving, we were starting to get hungry. It was still really nice out so we decided to head to the beach for a seafood dinner. We walked along the whole beach and then decided on what we thought was the best place… the one with buckets of whiskey and redbull for $2.50. We sat in big comfy chairs just steps from the ocean and enjoyed our first taste of summer and the beach in a very long time (we left for our trip at the beginning of July and went to South America during their winter, so this was our first “summer night” since our last summer in NY). It was glorious!
We finished our bucket, ordered another, and then a little Cambodian boy came up to us and asked if we wanted to buy a bracelet. Considering I’ve already got a nice little collection of them, I said no, but he was persistent… and very cute. Finally, I gave in. He said he wanted $2 for the bracelet, I said I would pay $1. He suggested we settle it with a little game of arm wrestling, which seemed fair for me. We set up on our table, and this kid put up a really good fight. I almost got beat in arm wrestling by an 11-year old. But, I came through at the last second, and we gave him $1.50 for his good efforts.
We finished our second bucket and then started to think about dinner. Pretty much every place along the beach offered the same deal: a mixed seafood platter (3 types of seafood) with fries or potatoes, coleslaw, and garlic bread for $3. We both got squid and prawns and then I ordered tuna and Dave ordered barracuda. Of course, we shared. The dinner was amazing and I couldn’t wait to have that exact meal for the next few nights… Especially the squid, which we both agreed was the best.
When we were almost finished with our meals, a waiter came outside and told us to get inside, quickly! I questioned why we had to go inside but Dave told me to just do it. About 30 seconds later it started pouring rain! So, we finished our food inside, ordered a couple more drinks, and then Dave took over the pool table. He started a game with a couple of other guys in the bar, but within minutes, about 5 little Cambodian girls came into the bar and asked if they could take a shot. These girls were insane and literally did not miss a shot! After they put all of our pool games to shame, we thought it was probably time to call it a night.
We woke up the next morning and set up shop in our hotel’s restaurant with our computer and iPod. There was another night-time Bears game, so we were watching with Bob and Linda. And, it was Bob’s birthday, so we were very happy to get to spend some time with them. We had a very nice, relaxing morning, the Bears won, and by the time the game was over, the weather was just starting to clear up. Perfect timing for our ferry ride to Koh Rong.
A bus from the dive shop took us to the ferry station and we ran up to get a seat at the top of the boat. Before we had even gotten settled in our seats, the guy sitting next to us was already starting to roll a joint for the trip, which shows you how they feel about pot in the islands of Cambodia. They even have joints, “happy pizza” and “happy shakes” on most restaurant menus (the “happy” means pot, mushrooms, or both).
The ferry ride was beautiful and very relaxing. In fact, it was the most relaxing couple of hours we’d had in a while. It felt really nice to be on the ocean and heading to our first island of our trip!
We arrived in Koh Rong two hours later. It is probably the least inhabited island that I’ve ever been on. We were told that there’s less than 100 people living there and there’s one strip of bars, restaurants, and guesthouses right when you get off the ferry, but other than that, the island is uninhabited.
We were told that we should stay in one of the bungalows down the beach for around $25 a night. When we saw a guesthouse with an ocean view for $5 though, we couldn’t pass it up. As you’ll see later, this was a big mistake!
We dropped our bags off and set off to do a little exploring, but shortly into our walk it started to rain (again; in truth, the rain here isn’t really that bad. It only rains for an hour or two a day, usually in the morning and then again in the afternoon, but even when it rains, it’s always warm and so it’s not that bothersome and sometimes even a welcome relief if it’s hot. It’s much better than the cold rain in Chi/NY and the snow). We got back to the main area as fast as possible and found the first bar with a good happy hour special that we saw – Coco’s. We ordered a couple drinks, and then a couple of more, and chatted with the bartender working there. He had come to Koh Rong for a few days, and 3 months later, he still hadn’t left (and didn’t plan to anytime soon). In fact, we met several other people who just kind of “got stuck” on the island. They got a job as a waitress, bartender, or scuba instructor (including our scuba instructor for the next day), got free food and accommodation, and other than that, they didn’t really need any money while they were there. All of these people had been traveling indefinitely and just stopped their trips once they arrived in Koh Rong. It’s pretty unbelievable.
Dave and I discussed why we had never “gotten stuck” anywhere, and if we ever did or could, where we thought it would happen. All we knew is that neither of us could imagine just living on a beach for 3 or 6 months, or more… but getting stuck there for a week or two wouldn’t be so bad! The difference between most of these people and us is that none of them had an end date to their travels. They had a list of places they wanted to go but if they got through their list in 6 months, a year, or 5 years, it didn’t really matter. We, on the other hand, have a very hard end-date for our travels. Neither of us could see sacrificing any of the places later on in our itinerary to spend more time in a place that we got to halfway through. What if we liked one of the places later on even better?? Since we couldn’t allow ourselves to “get stuck” anywhere, we vowed that if there were any places we loved and felt like we needed more time in, we’d come back either during a break or once we were done teaching. That sounded like a good compromise to me. And as you’ll see further down, for Dave, one of the places he already wants to come back to is Sihanoukville (and maybe even Koh Rong Island for another night or two).
We had another amazing seafood feast for dinner, but this time we got one mixed seafood grill and one whole red snapper. The red snapper was amazing, probably one of the best fish dishes that I’ve ever had. By the time we were finished eating, it was getting late and we had to be up early for diving so we called it a night… or tried to.
We fell asleep for a few hours and then at around midnight, we were both woken up by the music blasting next door. We had chosen our guesthouse because it was above a convenience store and next to a burger restaurant, so we thought it would be relatively quiet. Little did we know that the burger place next door was also the late night party spot, and apparently the only one on the island! The music didn’t stop until 6am and suffice to say, we were a little annoyed. But, for $5 a night, I guess we got what we paid for.
The next morning, we were at the dive shop at 9am for breakfast and to pick up our equipment. As our instructor was going over how to assemble all of our equipment with us, we realized how good it was that we were taking a refresher course – we literally did not remember a thing.
During our first dive, we went over all the skills we had learned in our open water certification – basically what to do if something goes terribly wrong underwater. It was not very fun filling up our masks with water, having our air turned off under water and having to breathe from our “buddy’s” tank, or taking off our vest and tank under the water (among the many other exercises we had to do), but we both felt good once we had completed it all. We hoped this would be the last refresher course we ever had to take, at least while living in SE Asia.
Our first “real dive” went really well. The visibility wasn’t great, but we still were able to see tons of fish and coral. And, it felt great to be back in the water. It’s such a cool feeling being down there, when you’re used to using all 5 or your senses all the time and then are only able to use one (your sight), it’s really unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
Our 2nd dive wasn’t as great. There was pretty much zero visibility. We were lucky to even be able to see each other. It’s scary being down there and not being able to see anything because all of the sudden a fish or something will come out of nowhere. After this dive, we were very glad about our decision to not dive for a second day. But nevertheless, we were glad we took a refresher course and got a couple of dives in so that we’re all ready to go when we visit the South of Thailand with Dave’s parents and sister/bro-in-law in Dec/Jan! Koh Tao (the supposed diving capital of Thailand), here we come!
At 4pm, we were back on the ferry to Sihanoukville. As we were checking into our guesthouse again, we started talking to an Irish couple who had just arrived from Phnom Penh, our next stop on this trip. They told us that there were tons of protests going on there and they didn’t feel very safe during their trip so they headed out early after seeing the killing fields and the prison/museum, the two primary reasons we were going there (well, that and the fact that you need to go through PP on the way to Siem Reap). We told them that’s where we were headed and they suggested we maybe rethink our itinerary. We had planned to spend 2 days in Phnom Penh, but now we were thinking maybe we would stay another day in Sihanoukville instead (perhaps we would get stuck somewhere after all!). We had already bought our bus tickets for the next day but figured we could probably change them if we wanted. We’d think about it.
We showered and changed and headed back out to the beach for a couple more whiskey redbull buckets. This place really was like paradise!
As we were sitting down, we saw our new Irish friends again and they ended up joining us for drinks and dinner. They were traveling for 6 months (both had gotten 6-month leaves from their jobs), and started in Thailand. They spent a month in one of the islands in Northern Thailand (though they had only planned on spending a week or so) and now they were traveling through Cambodia for 2 months. They were planning on staying in Sihanoukville for an entire month. After a few buckets each, we ordered another seafood feast for dinner and then went back inside for another few games of pool.
Dave woke me up in the middle of the night to tell me we were going to stay in Sihanoukville for the day tomorrow. He woke up and had worked out our new and improved itinerary. I had missed him waking me up in the middle of the night to chat about our plans (he used to do it all the time before we left for our trip).
A couple of hours later, we woke up for good, had a couple of coffees at our guesthouse and got started with our extra day in Sihanoukville. Our plan was to rent either bikes or mopeds and drive around the island – so far we had only seen one of the 3 or 4 beaches. We quickly ruled out the mopeds after the people at our hotel told us we’d likely get a ticket if we didn’t have a motorcycle license. So, bikes it was. But after going to three or four places, all of which told us they didn’t have any bikes available, we were starting to lose hope. We decided to try one more place before giving up, and luckily, the 5th time was a charm for us!
It was supposed to be a 25 minute ride to Otres Beach, but after getting a little lost, we got there about an hour later. It was paradise. Much less crowded than Serendipity Beach, we could tell that this was the more “luxurious” beach in town. A perfect spot for our extra day at the beach! We walked down the beach to find a spot for lunch and were distracted by the menu selling magic mushroom shakes. Dave had been craving a banana shake for days, so we stopped for one. Whether it was a magic mushroom banana shake or a regular old banana shake though, we will never tell 🙂
We went to another place for lunch for a seafood platter for two. They brought us a huge plate filled with prawns, squid, fish, and more. After spending about 20 minutes de-shelling all of the prawns, we were in heaven.
We spent a little bit of time relaxing on the beach before getting back on our bikes (we were very happy they were still there) and riding to downtown, which we had yet to see. It was a pretty decent ride and by the time we got there, I was pooped. Dave wanted to keep going to see the few other beaches but I just didn’t have any more biking in me.
So, we headed back to Serendipity beach, returned our bikes, and decided to take a break from seafood and the beach for the night and instead do dinner and a movie (we haven’t seen a movie since we left the states in July). We headed to Galaxy Cinema, which isn’t exactly a real movie theater, it’s actually a big screen TV in a room filled with couches, comfy chairs and A/C. They had a library of over 3,000 movies (many of them new releases, some still in theater), and for $3pp, you can get a private screening of any movie you want. So we had a “private screening” of The Heat (Sandra Bullock/Melissa McCarthy), which we had been wanting to see.
It was great to relax and see a new movie, and afterwards, we headed to a restaurant nearby for dinner. We got ribs and a burger, both of which were awesome (especially the burger). Our dinner and a movie night was just what the doctor ordered, though we still weren’t quite ready to leave the beach for another big city in the morning. In fact, Dave was pretty upset about it, but seeing as how we now had to go to Laos to get our work visas, we didn’t really have much of a choice unless we wanted to forego some very cool sounding side trips that Dave read about in Laos. So in the end, as suggested above, we decided we had to move on but we could always return to Sihanoukville further down the road in our travels. Something tells me however that after we see the beaches of Thailand, if we return anywhere, it will likely be there.
We had another very smooth bus ride to Phnom Penh (this time in an actual bus). We stopped along the way for a quick lunch, and were at the PP bus station within 5 hours. Not bad at all! This time, we had picked up a little booklet at our hotel in Sihanoukville and we were ready to go with a hotel name for our tuk tuk driver. These guys are funny though. They wait at the bus station and try to get you to ride with them for twice the price that the ride should be. And then, of course, the bargaining begins. This time, there were actually prices listed to different destinations in the city, and they still tried to charge more! Anyway, we finally settled on a price with our tuk tuk driver ($3) and were on our way to our new guesthouse, this time for $8 a night. Along the way, we arranged a half-day trip with our driver to go see the Killing Fields and the SR-21 Prison the following day. After some more haggling, we settled on $12 for the next day’s tuk tuk ride – our Irish friends told us this is what they had paid so we knew we were getting a fair deal).
We got a map of the city and set out to explore the riverfront area where we were staying (this is the “tourist” area in PP. The main street is 136, but we stayed a few blocks off of that on street 19), but first, we stopped for a snack – a bubble tea and a coffee smoothie, both of which were amazing, especially for $1 (we ordered these drinks from the same place for the next 2 days, to the point where the lady working the counter said “see you tomorrow” after our final day’s purchase).
We had walked about 10 minutes when we saw a big street market filled with men’s work clothes. We had both done a little bit of shopping in Bangkok when we first arrived and had planned to do the rest when we got back, but the one thing Dave hadn’t seen anywhere was work pants/slacks. And now he was pretty much in work pants heaven. He whispered to me that he’d probably pay $10 a pair, so when the lady told us that each pair was $3 (and shirts were $2.50) we knew we had pretty much hit the jackpot. Dave made out like a bandit with 6 pairs of pants and 2 shirts for $23.
As soon as we finished shopping, it started to rain. And by rain, I mean pour. We stood under an awning getting soaked for about 10 minutes before it started to clear up. As soon as it did, we continued on our way to the river. Definitely not as nice as the beach we had been on the day before, but it was still nice to be near the water in PP. We thought that maybe we’d come back for dinner that night… that is until it started pouring again and didn’t stop after 10 minutes or at any point in the night. Luckily, our guesthouse had a decent (though semi-expensive) restaurant and a big TV with tons of DVDs to choose from. Even though we’d done dinner and a movie the night before, I definitely was not complaining. We ordered pizza and spaghetti carbonara (sometimes you just need a little American/Italian food:) and watched The Beach with Leo DiCaprio. Dave and I have this thing where we like to watch movies about the places we’re visiting while we’re visiting them (eg, Jaws in Martha’s Vineyard, Casino Royal in Monte Carlo, Into Thin Air on Mt. Everest, etc). We tried to watch the Killing Fields at our hostel but they said it always gets stolen. So instead we settled for the Beach which takes place on Kho Phi Phi island in Thailand, and we bought the Killing Fields at a street market for $1.50 the next day:).
We were up early for our day of Cambodian history. I didn’t know much about the killing fields or what had happened in Cambodia when the Khmer Rouge took over, but I was very anxious to learn about it. Our first stop of the day was the killing fields, located about an hour from where we were staying. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off and we spent the next couple of hours walking around the site and listening to an audio tour teaching us all about what had happened. Basically, in 1975, the Khmer Rouge (the communist group of Cambodia) took over Phnom Penh, forcing everyone out of their homes and basically into slavery. They believed that there should be no private property, no education, no religion, etc. Just like in the Holocaust, they believed that anyone different than them or anyone who didn’t agree with their ideals or beliefs should be killed. And that’s exactly what they did. Between 1975 and 1979, they killed 3 million of their own country’s citizens. The killing fields that we visited was the execution site of over 20,000 people. We saw where the buses brought the prisoners in, where they were executed, and many of the mass graves that they were buried in – the largest one contained 450 bodies when it was excavated. Another one contained over 100 bodies of women and children. The last stop on our tour was the memorial that was built to honor those who died there. It contained 17 levels basically filled with the skulls and bones of those people. I have never visited one of the concentration camps from the Holocaust, but I imagine the feeling you get is similar. It was a very sad couple of hours, to say the least. And perhaps most remarkable of all, the killing fields we visited (the one visited by pretty much all of the tourists) is only 1 of approx. 300 killing fields in Cambodia. Many others are scattered throughout the country and there are likely many more that haven’t even been discovered as they’re deep in the jungle and/or surrounded by land mines strategically placed by the Khmer Rouge.
Next, we visited SR-21, which was a high school turned into a prison for holding people before they were sent to the killing fields. People were brought here (and to the killing fields) after being told that they were being relocated to a new home or a new job. Instead, they ended up in a prison where they were beaten and tortured until they admitted to bogus crimes that had nothing to do with them. We read stories of some of the survivors – these people were well educated, had good jobs, and were basically just plucked off the street and taken by the Khmer Rouge into slavery. They were fed almost nothing, slept lined up next to dozens of other inmates, and then tortured day in and day out until they either died at the prison or were sent to the killing fields. Again, it was very sad and the whole time I just couldn’t believe something like this could happen and so recently.
Right before we were about to leave the prison, it started to pour and once again, we got stuck waiting it our for a few minutes. When it started to die down a little, we took out our umbrellas. Mine was broken so I tried to fix it and ended up cutting my finger pretty badly. It started bleeding a lot and I started to cry a little until I started to think about all of the torture and other horrible things that happened in the same place, and then I felt a bit silly (but it still hurt!).
The rain finally stopped and we left the prison with a new plan in mind for the rest of the day. After studying our map again, we realized we were right by the Russian Market (though we didn’t really know what this meant) and the Central Market was very close to where we were staying. We decided we wanted to check out both. First we went to the Russian Market, and quickly realized that we probably could have skipped it. It was big and had a lot of stuff, but it was inside, and was very smelly. We wanted to leave pretty quickly.
Next, we went to the huge Central Market, which we liked a lot better. We spent some time walking up and down all of the aisles, Dave bought a new belt for work (he better still go shopping with me when we get back to Bangkok!), and then we started our short walk home.
Tonight, we were determined to go out to dinner and try some Khmer (aka Cambodian) food. We explored our area a bit looking for a restaurant and when we walked past a place that was roasting a whole cow, we knew we had found our winner. We picked up a bottle of wine on our way back, spent a couple of hours relaxing, and then headed back our for a great dinner of beef, rice, and spicy frog. It was delicious and much more food than we were expecting.
On our last morning in PP, we went for a run along the river. Of course, Dave found an outdoor gym and was in heaven! Before checking out of our hotel and hitting the road for Siem Reap, we had brunch and our final coffee smoothie of the trip (our bubble tea lady will be so sad when she doesn’t see us tomorrow).
Not only did we have another smooth bus ride (the ride itself was not actually smooth though, it was a very bumpy) to SR, the company we used in PP had even arranged a tuk tuk to pick us up when we arrived and take us to our guesthouse. He dropped us off and asked us about our plans for the rest of the week, in particular, when we were going to visit Angkor Wat. We had talked about getting a tuk tuk for the day, so when he told us he’d pick us up at 5am and spend the whole day with us for $15 taking us around the temples, we quickly agreed and told him we wanted to go not the following day, but the day after.
We checked into our guesthouse (another great place for $8 a night) and within 15 minutes, Rob was knocking on our door ready to take us out for the night. We spent our walk into the Pub Street area filling each other in on all the details of our travels and just catching up on life. It was great to see him and Dave and I were both so excited to spend the next few days exploring the city that he had told us so much about.
Siem Reap is very similar to Austin in that it’s a smaller city (approx. 300,000 ppl) with great nightlife, awesome restaurants, and just an overall fun scene and place to be. There are tons of young people, expats, etc. and throughout our tour of Pub Street, we realized that Rob knows pretty much all of them (no joke, every few minutes, we ran into someone that he knew – it was pretty incredible to see all the friends he’s made in such a short amount of time).
Pub Street is basically a two block long street filled with bars and restaurants It’s where everyone goes out and reminded us of a mini Khaosan Road. It’s awesome! After checking out a bunch of menus, Rob told us that there was a place with 50 cent drafts and free popcorn that he went to for drinks a lot. Dave was sold on the 50 cent drafts, but it was the free popcorn that got me. We had a couple of drinks and then headed to dinner.
Dave and I had read about traditional Khmer BBQ, where they grill all sorts of different kind of meats, and that’s exactly what we were in the mood for. We saw a place called Cambodian BBQ, which had an awesome selection of meat (kangaroo, alligator, beef, chicken, pork, fish, and shark). This looked like the best place to us, but it was also probably the most expensive restaurant in Siem Reap. We were planning to look for somewhere else since we figured we could probably get a similar meal for half the price elsewhere, especially if we went off Pub St. But Rob said that he wanted to treat us for our wedding present. We couldn’t say no to that – Thanks, Rob!
They brought us out all of the raw meat and a grill to cook it on. They also brought us bottomless veggies, noodles, and rice. We asked our waiter if he would cook for us, but then somehow I ended up doing it. Everything was awesome, but once we got about halfway through the meat, we realized our platter was missing the shark. This was the thing we were most excited to try, so we asked about it and were told that the restaurant was out. Rob asked to speak to a manager, who told us that we could come back later in the week when they got their shark in and we could have a try for free. Perfect!
After dinner, we were ready to party. We headed over to Angkor ? Wat Bar, which was the first bar on Pub Street. We ordered two pitchers of whiskey redbull (our go-to drink of the trip) to get us started. Although the pitchers were $6 instead of $2.50 like in Sihanoukville, when you ordered two pitchers, you got a T-shirt for free! Dave said I could have it since I’m still rebuilding my wardrobe from the Buenos Aires theft:(.
Some of Rob’s friends/coworkers met up with us and we had an awesome night drinking, dancing on tables, and barhopping. It was the latest Dave and I had stayed out on our entire trip (3am). We love Pub Street!
On our walk home from the bars, we discussed our plan for the next day. Rob told us he’d come pick us up around 10 and we told him that was way too late. 8 or 8:30 would be better. Well, Rob showed up at 8:30, let himself into our room and we were still passed out and very hungover. It was a rough morning/day but we’re glad Rob made us get an early start.
We rented bikes and our first stop was to see Rob’s apartment which was great! After that, we needed some serious brunch to help with our hangovers. Rob took us to one of his favorite coffee shops, Joe 2 Go. He ordered a shake, while Dave and I ordered 2 shakes and 2 huge sandwiches, a chicken pesto and a club. Hey, we were hungover and VERY hungry!
After lunch, we had planned to ride to Ton Sap Lake a couple of hours away. But after making it about 30 minutes we quickly realized that the road we were taking was completely flooded, with water up to our calves. It was pretty amazing to see that even with the floods, everyone just carried on with their lives like it was nothing. Everyone was still happy and going about their business, even though they were walking/driving/biking through ankle or calf deep water. There were kids playing in the mud, people sitting at their underwater food stands, and people riding through the streets and no one seemed to be bothered by the flooding at all. I’m glad that we came to Siem Reap during this time of year just so that we were able to experience that. It was pretty incredible.
We made it about 30 more minutes before we decided that it would probably take us all day to reach the lake, rather than a couple of hours. So, we turned around and decided to just explore the city on our bikes instead. We made a pit stop back at Rob’s apartment to relax for a little while and then went to explore the market in town and also the night market.
By 4 or so, we were all exhausted (and still hungover), so we parted ways for a few hours so we could all relax before dinner.
Rob picked us up at around 7 and took us to a Khmer restaurant near the market for dinner. It was cheap, low key, and the food was great. We tried Lok Lak, which is a traditional Khmer dish with beef, and then got several other dishes to try. After dinner, we called it an early night since we had a very early pickup the next morning for our day at Angkor Wat.
Our tuk tuk driver was at our guesthouse at 5am on the dot and by 5:30, we were buying our Angkor Wat tickets. We pulled up in front of AW while it was still dark and waited (along with about a thousand other people) for the sun to come up. Once it did, we saw the massive temple standing before us and we couldn’t wait to get in and explore.
Literally there had been about a thousand people waiting outside to get pictures of AW at sunrise. It didn’t look like anyone was going inside though, so we went to check it out and pretty much had the whole inside of the temple to ourselves for an hour or so. We spent two hours walking around and were amazed not only at the size of AW, but also at the detail and intricacy of the carvings on pretty much every stone. We couldn’t believe that people had built and carved all of this without using any machines. It was amazing.
After we explored pretty much every inch of AW, we came back outside where the thousand or so people had been earlier, and now there was literally no one because they had all gone inside by then. So we took a few more pics from the front and then spent the rest of the morning seeing the Angkor Thom complex, which is made up of several different temples, most notably, Bayon. Bayon was amazing and also had very detailed carvings everywhere you looked, mostly of faces carved into the rock. It was very, very cool.
By the time we were done with Angkor Thom, we were ready for lunch (though it was only about 10:30 – that’s what happens when you wake up at 4:30am!). We were walking around looking for our tuk tuk driver (we were going to treat him to lunch) when a lady came up to us telling us that she’d give us a discount if we ate at her place. That sounded pretty good to us, so we told her we’d come back once we found our driver. When we did though, he told us that he had a better and cheaper place for us. Once we got there, we told them that another lady had offered us a discount and we wanted them to do the same. The woman said ok and that she would give us $1 off each of our entrees (which were each around $4-5). We said no, instead we wanted our driver to eat for free (that would save us about $4-5 instead of $3). The woman said, “ok ok, your driver will eat for free and I will give you $1 off each of your entrees.” That was definitely more than we were bargaining for, but sounded great to us – we couldn’t complain! Why hadn’t we been bargaining for all of our meals? Going forward, we likely will, especially at places where there are tons of the same restaurants, all begging for your entry.
After lunch, we saw a few smaller temples, before heading to the last of the big three, Ta Prohm, where the movie Tomb Raider was filmed (the temple is now nicknamed Tomb Raider). On our way in, we decided that we should try to find the movie since neither of us had ever seen it (as we mentioned earlier, we love to watch movies about the places we visit!). Almost immediately, we saw someone selling it. He wanted $10 for it, and we eventually got him down to $3. We walked away and Dave went to read the back of the DVD to see if they mentioned anything about the temple, only to see that this guy had sold us Tomb Raider #2, which didn’t even have AW in it. We were so mad! I decided that we should go back and try to get a refund. Dave didn’t think there was any way this guy was going to give us back our money, but when I went up to him while he was with some other customers and said he sold us the wrong thing, he wanted to get rid of me and quickly gave me back our $3. No one cheats the Staves!
Tomb Raider has trees growing all throughout the temple, actually into and on top of the concrete stones. I have no idea how trees can grow on top of stones with no soil, but it was pretty awesome! And, on the way out, we found the right Tomb Raider movie. Yes!
We saw a few more smaller temples and then it was time to call it a day. We had been at AW for about 9 hours, and it was one of the best days of our trip (though also a very long and tiring day). We decided that this ranked #1 on our list of things we’ve seen, not only on this trip, but also in our lives. While Machu Picchu is still the single most beautiful sight we’ve ever seen, Angkor Wat is definitely the most impressive just because of its size, enormity, and the fact that it’s a whole city of hidden temples in the jungle.
Rob picked us up once we got back and decided to take us to a traditional Khmer beer garden for dinner. I drove with him on his motor bike and Dave went on another with a driver. This was both of our first motor bike rides (at least this trip)! Rob told us that he had never been to the beer garden without his Khmer friends, but he got a few reccos from them, so we should be good (and it was lucky that we did because this place actually didn’t even have a menu!). We sat down and immediately ordered a $5 tower of beer for the three of us. We each had taken a few sips of our drinks when all of the sudden, we noticed that our napkin holder was on fire. I tried to blow it out and a fireball shot across the table and landed right on Rob. He stood up to try to put out the fire that was now on him, and ended up knocking over our entire beer tower! These people working at the beer garden must have thought we were crazy, but luckily they gave us a new tower for free (and Rob’s shirt didn’t get burned).
Minutes later, a group of Rob’s friends/coworkers showed up to join us. We ended up with three beer towers and a bunch of food, including a dish called “beef with ants.” Yes, this actually has ants in it. I wasn’t a huge fan of this dish though. While I couldn’t really taste the ants, just knowing that they were in every bite I was taking kind of grossed me out.
We spent the next few hours drinking and hanging out before heading home with the three of us on Rob’s motor bike. Our whole time in Asia we’ve seen whole families riding on these things, but even with just three of us, I can’t say it was very comfortable. Luckily, Rob’s a good driver.
We were picked up early again to be taken to the school that Rob has been working at, Feeding Dreams Cambodia. We were planning to spend the morning there seeing the school and meeting the kids. We arrived and I was shocked at the number of kids that were there. Rob had told us that they have several hundred in the morning, and then several hundred different kids in the afternoon, but I couldn’t really grasp just how many kids were going to be there until I saw it for myself.
Immediately, tons of smiling and laughing kids came running up to us, talking to us, saying hello, asking our names, giving us high fives. Within minutes, Dave was taking part in a 2 on 2 basketball game. At 8am, we had assembly, where all of the kids line up and sing several songs to start the morning. Dave and I were introduced and all of the kids clapped for us, it was very cute.
After assembly, the kids break up into their smaller classrooms. I went into a classroom of very young students and Dave’s class was a little older. As class started and the kids began speaking, I was amazed at how much English they actually knew. They knew how to spell, count to 100, and were able to interact very well with the teacher and with me. And this was the youngest group! Later, I walked into Dave’s classroom and he was teaching them the planets. I guess one of their vocab words for the day was galaxy and when he asked the teacher if the students knew the planets she said that they didn’t (she didn’t even know them!). By the time I got there, the kids were repeating each of the planets after him, in order by their distance from the sun. Regardless of the fact that Dave included Pluto in his list, which is no longer a planet, and mixed up the order of Mars and Mercury from the sun, he was a natural!
After just a couple of hours at Feeding Dreams Cambodia, we were able to see why Rob decided to stay there. Everyone that works and volunteers there is awesome, the program is great and helps so many kids and families all over Siem Reap, and of course, the kids are all adorable. We were so happy that we were able to visit Rob’s school and see where he’s been working and talking about for the past 6 months.
Next, we were taken to a local village to visit a family that Rob’s school has been working with. The mom, dad, and one of the kids have HIV, among many other diseases and problems. Feeding Dreams provides them with medicine, food, and many other things that they need to live and survive. Somehow, even with all of their problems, the family still greeted us with smiling faces and the kids were still laughing and wanted to play. For me, it was very hard to be happy and playful with them knowing how sad their situation is. Visiting the village was a great experience, but also one that I found to be pretty difficult.
After the village visit, it was lunch time. Rob made a reservation at #1 rated restaurant in Siem Reap (as voted on TripAdvisor, out of approx. 350 restaurants) called Haven. It’s run by a Swiss couple who employs orphans and teaches them the restaurant business. It’s a very foodie place and Rob said the food was fantastic. We tried the pumpkin soup and chicken cordon blue, both of which were great (and still only $5-7 an entree!). It was a great last lunch in SR.
We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and getting ready to leave for Laos early the next morning. We had our last dinner with Rob at another great Khmer restaurant near the market. We tried another traditional dish, fish Amok, which was probably the best dish we’ve had in SR. We realized it might be a while before we see Rob again, so it was sad saying goodbye, but now we’re off to our unexpected trip to Laos to get our work visas! But first, a quick pit stop back in Bangkok because the road that goes directly from Cambodia to Laos is closed due to flooding:(