THE ASIA DIARIES #6: SIEM REAP

Sunday, 20 March 2016

 //all photos taken on my 35mm film camera//

001. After a very relaxing time down south on the beaches of Cambodia we eventually ventured north up to the city of Siem Reap and home of the famous Angkor Wat Temples. It sounds simple enough but unfortunately to get up there you have to take a bus back to Phnom Penh the capital and then up to Siem Reap. It was a VERY long day to say the least but we decided to take the journey with a nice bus company call Giant Ibis which made the ride more enjoyable than we were expecting. Yes they are a tiny bit pricer than other companies but you get free wifi, free water, a free snack, stops at nice places for food/toilets, air con, the option to book online and most importantly a bus that actually turns up on time. Definitely recommend Giant Ibis if you ever find yourself travelling around Cambodia. 

002. The city of Siem Reap itself is quite small and easy to navigate on foot. I really loved the whole feel and atmosphere of the city. It was very tourist friendly, with lots of street markets and funky souvenirs. It even had a nice mix of boutique stores that sold really well made and ethically sourced products-  not that a backpackers budget allows shopping but hey the window shopping was good! We ate at small Cambodian restaurants, a couple of Indian places and feasted on the fruit shakes sold on every corner. During our time in Siem Reap the Water Festival was on. It is essentially a big festival where people from all over Cambodia come to watch the dragon boat races along the river and to celebrate with lots of music and food. I will emphasise that Cambodians LOVE a good party- it is definitely not unusual to see piles of huge speakers stacked on top of each other to make a sound loud enough to blast away the whole neighbourhood!

003. Of course while in Siem Reap we had to visit the famous Angkor Wat Temples. We hired a tuk tuk driver for the day, bought our 1-day-pass tickets and set off to explore. The temple complex is HUGE- there is no other way to describe it. You most definitely have to have a driver for the day because you have no hope in seeing everything on foot. The entire day I really couldn't wrap my head around how we were walking through, exploring such beautifully crafted ancient temples and ruins. If you were in Australia or any Western country for that matter entry would be three times the price and there would be a barrier ten metres away from the temple itself! Seriously such a surreal and beautiful experience you must do when in Cambodia. My top tips for visiting Angkor Wat... take lots of water it is HOT, takes snacks too because food there is pricey, wear comfortable shoes and clothes because you will be doing a LOT of walking, and remember to dress appropriately because it is a religious and sacred place for many people. I really recommend stopping in to see Angkor Wat if you are in Cambodia, even if it is only for a day like us. It is such a unique experience and something you probably wouldn't have the opportunity to do anywhere else in the world. 

004. My favourite experience in Siem Reap was a 1 week yoga and mediation retreat we did at Hariharalaya. We hunted around a bit online for retreats and prices- and Hariharalaya was by far the most affordable and we had the most incredible experience. Now before you freak out at the idea of a yoga and mediation retreat I can promise you this one is not as full on and scary as you think. You woke up each morning for practice of yoga and mediation, then again in the evening. You get the whole day time free to explore the nearby village, use the facilities and just have some "me time" for reflection. We stayed in a little jungle hut, strengthened our bodies with yoga, our mind with meditation, met fellow travellers from all over the world and feasted on a vegan buffet for every meal. Waking up to the first morning light and falling asleep to the sound of cows mooing with crazy Cambodian parties going on in the distance... It truly was a magical little experience. I really learnt a lot about myself, along with yoga and meditation. If you are looking to do something different and just step back from the world for a while I recommend Hariharalaya 100%!

005. That turned into a rather long post, congratulations if you made it this far! I'll give story time a break now and come back with the next instalment of when we crossed the Cambodian border into Laos.

Lena x

THE ASIA DIARIES #5: SIHANOUKVILLE

Thursday, 10 March 2016

//all photos taken on my 35mm film camera//

001. After crazy Phnom Penh we hopped in a mini van to Sihanoukville, to hopefully find a little beachside paradise, peace and quiet. A 20 minute tuk tuk ride later out of town we arrived on the beautiful Otres beach. We were greeted by crystal clear blue oceans, flat and calm as far as the eye could see. We had a feeling we would like this place. 

002. For the first few nights we stayed in a beach shack literally on the beach, then moved just a street back in search of some air con for a cheaper price. Days along Otres were very very relaxed. We spent our time munching on fresh fruit from the local Cambodian women, soaking up the sun and dipping our feet in the sea. The beaches in Cambodia are very different to what we Aussies are used to- no waves, warm water and a lot less sand. However they are none-the-less beautiful and give their super touristy Thai neighbours a run for their money. And who could complain about lying on a sun bed with the ocean shore lapping at your toes? 

003. My tips for anyone considering staying at Otres Beach are 1) maybe book your first night or so online if you are there in peak season, then go door knocking and asking around to find somewhere that may be a better price. 2) Don't leave your litter on the beach! Cambodia is a developing country that already has their own issues with waste management- don't contribute to it please. And 3) you must eat at the Papa Pippos Italian at the end of the beach at least once, SO GOOD! 

004. While staying on Otres you may notice that some Cambodian people come up to you and try to sell you a day trip tour to the nearby islands. Now, myself and Ben were a bit sceptical of this at first but we bartered the price down to US $10 each and decided to give it a go. If you aren't planning on going to explore the islands yourself this option was great! It included a nice little lunch and breakfast, snorkelling, cliff jumping and just some chillout time at one of the less commercialised islands. Honestly a great way to spend $10. I really do recommend it! The beaches and water at every island is so beautiful! 

005. That wraps it up for this post... stay tuned for the next part where we journey upwards to Siem Reap! 

Lena x

THE ASIA DIARIES #4: PAI AND PHNOM PENH

Thursday, 3 March 2016

 
//all photos taken on my 35mm film camera// 

001. During our stay in Chiang Mai we decided to venture up into the mountains to the little hippie town of Pai. One Agoda bungalow booking and a nauseating 4 hour mini van ride later, we made it. Pai was a small Thai town with lots of places to eat, hills to explore and dogs on every corner. Literally I think Pai was the place we saw the most street dogs in Asia- just lying all over the road with no intention of moving for scooters. The dogs really did embody the whole laid back and chill attitude that Pai was famous for. We both loved it!

002. During the week-or-so spent in Pai we stayed in a nice little bungalow at Rainbow Huts. Located just a short walk over the bridge out of town surrounded by mountains and fields; we spent a lot of time just lazing around in the hammocks with the peaceful surroundings. We rented some mountain bikes for a couple of days to explore and found ourselves having a mooch around the little night markets before getting dinner most days. Unfortunately our trip to Pai took a turn for the worst when Ben and myself were both struck down by food poisoning. The worst time and only time we ever got sick in Asia! Our accommodation was so lovely about us needing to stay another night, they even gave us a discount (seriously can recommend Rainbow Huts 100% for nice basic accommodation in Pai.) Trust me, you do not want to be heading back onto the mini van if you are feeling nauseous prior, the extra night was necessary! 

003. After Pai we returned back to Chiang Mai for a few days before heading to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It was hands down the most insane city we stayed in throughout our time in Asia but it did manage to grow on me during the 3 days we spent there. It is really obvious that there is a lot of poverty in Cambodia, particularly with people begging on the streets in Phnom Penh, however there is still such a positive energy and essence about the city which is hard to describe. Yes it was smelly, dirty and chaotic but seeing such a hopeful, friendly and positive young Cambodian population going about their day-to-day lives made me really appreciate my opportunity to travel and see everything the world has to offer. Apologies there are no photos in this post of Phnom Penh, we were too busy caught in the whirlwind of our introduction to Cambodia! 

Lena x

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