Better late than never: Christmas in Cambodia

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.

Gorgeous sunrise at Angkor Wat

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.

Bang Melea, the jungle temple that has fallen into disrepair over the centuries

We basically hiked Bang Melea as our guide insisted on eschewing the marked paths in favor of the more adventurous and harrowing climbs on the rooftops of the temple ruins. He continued to laugh and ask us if we were scared and as we gracefully attempted to crabwalk over a giant precipice we definitely answered Yes!! multiple times.

Fishing village of Kompung Pluk

Houses on stilts to protect from the floods of the Tonle Sap lake

Mangrove river outside the fishing village

Sunset on Tonle Sap lake

Only part of the hoards of people sharing the sunrise with us at Angkor Wat. Beautiful - yes; peaceful - no

Entrance to the massive Angkor Thom temple complex

Bayoun temple in Angkor Thom. This temple is famous for the many faces of Buddha still intact

The many faces of Bayoun

Our Hollywood moment - at Ta Prohm temple, where Tomb Raider was filmed and where trees have taken root inside the temple walls

One of the dancing ladies carved into the walls of Angkor Wat

Intricate and elaborate carvings at Banteay Srey temple

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.

I think this one is pretty self evident. The town definitely made sure there was no chance you would miss Pub Street.

In case you can't read it, the caption for Dr. Fish very convincingly advertises If our fish can not make you happy we'll not charge. Please feed our hungry fish your dead skin. Fish can do massage and pedicure. Just take a look!

Fish eating Isaac's foot. The whole thing was a bit creepy and gross but chalk it up to unique experiences!

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!

Pineapple and squid salad at Viroth's Restaurant

Additional information:
Guide: Sopheaktra Sim

Viroth's Restaurant and Hotel
Tel. +855 12 826 346


This entry was posted in Cambodia, Cambodian, Siem Reap and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Better late than never: Christmas in Cambodia

  1. Joanne Rosenthal says:

    These photos are wonderful!!! Quite the contrast from the ancient sites to the neon Pub and the entrepreneurs of the fishy foot massage!!

    Sent from my iPad

  2. Charlie says:

    Great description and photos of a fun, magical place. Love amok. You also didn’t mention the $1 beers.

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