Temple Hopping through Angkor Wat after Eating Happy Pizza (Part 1)

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Angkor Wat’s nostalgic reflection in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Traditionally every year during the half of October I spend my birthday alone on a remote island in Asia.  Traveling to the final destination takes a lot of research and effort, but in return gives me valuable time to reflect on life and also become acquainted with a new culture.  Past destinations have included Okinawa and Yakushima (Japan) and Phu Quoc (Vietnam), which were all unforgettable experiences that have taught me a lot about myself and the stunning world around me.  This year I wanted to go somewhere similar that had tropical beaches and lush nature so I could relax and do photography.  Since I’ve already been to Thailand twice and loved it, I decided to try one of its adventurous neighboring countries: Cambodia.

Cambodia is beautiful, less developed country with a sad past (which I’ll get into later), but is now extremely safe for foreign tourists and backpackers to travel to.  Like Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of people you will meet speak English and are quite friendly.  On a rainy day while I was in Australia, I came up with a tentative Cambodia itinerary which I managed to successfully complete in the 10 days while I was here.  Please take a look at it for reference if you plan on traveling to Cambodia in the future!

Overall, this trip was extremely eye-opening and completely changed my outlook on how I should live my life.  Staying 4 days on a small Cambodian island in a village that only stretched for about a mile taught me how to live frugally compared to my extravagant city life.  The villagers there were extremely kind and I was always surrounded by friendly people that took care of me.  This really helped me let go of a lot of anxieties and insecurities I had that were holding me back recently.  Though I have many caring friends in all the countries I have visited, being in this setting helped me resurface to reality and form an entirely new perspective so I could enter a new mindset that I couldn’t reach before.  I am very excited to start this blog series and share the knowledge I have gained with others.

Exploring Siem Reap’s Pub Street

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Pub Street: A endless expat all-night party complete with strobe lights and neon signs.

I chose Siem Reap as my first destination simply because it is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo and has all of the famous temples to explore.  Fortunately getting a visa to Cambodia is quite easy; all you need to do is fill out a form and pay $30 to enter the country for a short-term stay.  You can do this upon arrival, but I applied for an e-visa through Cambodia’s official government website.  This will speed up the process and ensure your swift entry into the country.  *Please be wary of other advertised e-visa websites on Google because they are often double in price.

I arrived to the center of the city around 9pm, just in time to try some of the infamous “happy pizza” adjacent to Pub Street–every bar lover’s dream.  What is happy pizza exactly, and why is it sold openly around Cambodia?

According to The Culture Trip:

Traditionally, marijuana was used as a herb in some Khmer dishes to complement the flavour. In the provinces, it’s also used by some for medicinal purposes.

Though recreational marijuana is illegal in Cambodia and most Asian countries, the “happy” foods and drinks sold here create a loophole in which it can be safely consumed by travelers.  In addition to happy pizza, they also have regular pizza and food here as well.  I decided to try the Happy Angkor Pizza restaurant first due to its raving Google Reviews:

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Needless to say, I was extremely satisfied with the light vegetarian pizza I ordered, so I tried another nearby restaurant called Ecstatic Pizza too.  “Why just be happy, when you can be ecstatic?” the official website questions you.  After my long 10 hour flight, I definitely needed to relax and the “add some extra :)” for a mere $3 more on my receipt did just the trick.  I felt calm and ready to explore the rest of Pub Street.

What I walked into was a street full of strobe lights, loud music, and people from around the world dancing in a trance under the light of the moon.  Fortunately I was in the perfect state of mind to join them:

Angkor What?

The first bar I checked out was called Angkor What? which is a hilarious pun of the famous temple I was going to the next day.  It is actually the oldest bar in Siem Reap and has been “Promoting Irresponsible Drinking since 1998” (though the atmosphere was kind and welcoming with no overly drunk people like in Tokyo).  It’s mindblowing to think about how the oldest bar in Siem Reap is actually younger than me!

Though obviously aimed at expats, I enjoyed Pub Street more than I have other expat drinking holes I have visited in Japan and Thailand.  This is because the street only stretches for a few blocks and is not overly crowded with obnoxious tourists.  Most drinks are priced from $3 – $5 and are extremely affordable.  The menus contained a variety of imported beers, fruity cocktails, and other hard liquors.  Despite the dirt-cheap prices, I was pleasantly surprised to not run into any reckless drinkers–everyone that I met was just drinking to relax and enjoy the night.  And that’s how it should be.

After having my fill I wandered through the night markets (which are a lot similar to those found in Vietnam), walked by a few “Doc of Fish” massage places (I’ve already tried this in Tokyo and it’s quite a weird sensation), then I decided to go back to my hotel.  I stayed in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I highly recommend it because it is close to the center of the city and has a beautiful pool.  I was able to sleep peacefully and wake up in time for my tour the next day, as well as finish my morning workout.

I will be writing in detail about my trek through the famous Angkor Wat temples in my next blog entry this week.  Thank you to all of my readers!  I will try to be as open and honest about my experiences here as possible.

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