I had expected to be amazed by the temples of Angkor, and I was. What I hadn't realized was just how wonderfully hospitable the Cambodian people are, how charming Siem Reap is, and how delicious Khmer food can be. In short, I had an absolutely wonderful four days in Cambodia and left wanting to experience more of this fascinating country.
A friend had recommended that my husband and I get a private guide to spend a few days helping us understand the history and splendor of the many temples that comprise the Angkor Wat area. For thirty dollars a day, our guide was an enthusiastic and energetic host, hiking the jungle ruins of Bang Melea with us, accompanying us at dawn to watch the sunrise over the famed Angkor Wat, teaching us about the history and architecture of the many temples we visited, and taking us to a Kompung Pluk, a fishing village built on stilts on the banks of the ever flooding Tonle Sap lake. We had fascinating conversations with him about current politics, the relationship between Cambodia and its neighbors, and the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime.
At the end of each sweaty day of temple hopping, we explored a different facet of Siem Reap. The town has grown as a tourist hub in recent years and it has done so in the most tasteful way I've seen, with charming budget and boutique hotels, a night market with beautiful and inexpensive handicrafts, and a surprisingly pleasant central area called “Pub Street,” which is a brightly lit mini-mini Times Square with tons of cute restaurants, bars, and foot massages on the street. We were even brave enough to try “Dr. Fish” one night, a “massage/pedicure” where you put your feet into a tank of fish and they supposedly nibble off your dead skin. It felt bizarre, and I'm pretty sure it was entirely ineffective, but it was fun and ridiculous and the two of us now feature in dozens of photos taken by other tourists not interested in plunging their own feet into water swarming with hungry fish.
The best food we had was at Viroth's Restaurant, a bit away from the hubbub of Pub Street. Set on a large bamboo platform with golden lanterns and swaying saffron curtains, the food matched the charm of the environment. We ordered fish amok, a very typical Khmer dish that surfaces on most menus, but was prepared at Viroth's with a sophistication we encountered nowhere else. We also had a fantastic pineapple and squid salad that was tangy, spicy, and bursting with flavor. Everything we ordered was fantastic – we tried to go back for a second night but they were all booked!Additional information:
Guide: Sopheaktra Sim
firstname.lastname@example.org Viroth's Restaurant and Hotel
Tel. +855 12 826 346
#246 STREET WAT BO
SIEM REAP-ANGKOR, CAMBODIA