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.

Aesthetic Adventures in Cambodia

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Although I have just returned from Australia, I’ve already decided where I’m traveling to next in order to celebrate my birthday; the historic and tropical areas of Cambodia!  I chose Cambodia as my next destination because it has a similar climate and activities as Vietnam and Thailand, which were two of my favorite vacations because of their laidback beaches and inexpensive lodging.  I will be staying in Cambodia for a total of 10 days, though 2 of them will be travel-heavy due to layovers.  I will be bringing my Nintendo Switch and playing Fire Emblem to keep me occupied during these times.

I am most excited to try the local cuisine, explore the famous Angkor Wat temples, and even volunteer to be a bear keeper for a day!  I will also be flying to the tropical island known as Koh Rong to soak up some sun and party on the beach.  Then I will be flying to the capital to learn about the sad history of the killing fields and visiting the memorial.  I hope to keep a good balance of exploring and taking part in cultural events here to make the most of my experience.

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Siem Reap → Angkor Wat → Tonle Sap Village → Siranhoukville → Koh Rong → Koh Rong Samloem → Phnom Penh → Killing Fields → Siem Reap ↺ Tokyo

Oct 1st: Arriving to Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo, so I booked a $450 flight through Vietnam Airlines from Narita Airport.  This is a discounted flight that includes a 3 hour layover in Vietnam, but from my experience, this time usually goes by quickly (especially if you pregame in the airport).  Since it is my birth week, I will not be holding back on indulging.

Once arriving to Siem Reap, I plan on hitting Pub Street and trying the infamous happy pizza.  I will be posting my own review to let everyone know about my experience.  I have extremely high expectations for it, but even if it’s not “happy”, there are tons of other restaurants and bars around to explore.  I definitely want to try the bar Angkor What? not only because of its hilarious name, but also because I will be visiting the historic Angkor Wat (temple) the next day.  If there’s time, I plan on visiting the Old Market too.

I will be staying in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I chose this hotel because it is close to the center of the city and has a pool, so I am excited to go swimming here since it was too cold to during my Australia.  I already know this is going to be an awesome trip!

Oct 2nd: Exploring the Angkor Wat Temples

This will be a travel-heavy day as I explore the most famous temples on a sunset tour I booked from GetYourGuide.  This tour is highly rated and only costs $19 to go with a group of people, so that will give me a good opportunity to meet fellow backpackers.  We will be heading deep in the jungle to see the main Angkor Wat temple, and also trekking to the other aesthetic Buddhist temples around it.  The tour last for 10 hours, but I am more than ready to go hiking again!  I think it will feel like going through ruins in a videogame, which makes me feel a little like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.

Oct 3rd: Sailing through the Floating Tonle Sap Village

In the morning I plan on waking up early and jogging through the city to see the famous Preah Ang Chek & Preah Ang Chorm temples.  I also want to try some street food and familiarize myself with more of the local shops and parks.  Maybe even do a little souvenir hunting too.

In the afternoon, I booked another cheap tour from GetYourGuide to see the the floating village on the Tonle Sap lake.  This is a fishing village that is similar to Ine that I visited in Kyoto, and looks very relaxing and interesting to see.  I love being out on the water and feeling the wind in my hair!

Once the day comes to an end, I will be taking an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia for $25.  Though this is a 10 hour trip, it’s way more cheap than flying, and I really want to experience it at least once.  The reviews on the website are quite mixed, but I had a pleasant time riding buses in both Malaysia and Singapore so I think I will be okay on this trip.  It will be an adventure, at the very least!

Oct 4th – 7th: Partying at Koh Rong

From Siranhoukville, I will be taking the very first ferry to Koh Rong so I can begin relaxing and partying on the beach!  I booked a single room at Treehouse Bungalows right near Police Beach where all of the parties take place.  My room is less than $30 per night and is in a real treehouse!  I am so excited to take pictures and see the beautiful view of the oceanfront.  There are many bars and hostels around the area, so it’s extremely easy to make friends on this island.  I have been to the Fullmoon Party in Thailand before, so I already know what to expect here.

I also plan on sailing to Koh Rong Samloem, which is another beautiful and more private island that is easy to get to by longboat.  It has the gorgeous Saracen Bay to explore as well as a variety of other nightlife options.  I might also attempt a jungle trek to Long Beach on the main island if I have enough energy.  Basically I’m just going with the flow to see where life takes me!

October 8th: Visiting the Killing Fields

To reach the capitol city of Cambodia; Phnom Penh, I will be taking another inexpensive bus from Siranhoukville that I booked through 12goAsia.  This trip will only be 6.5 hours, and I’m sure I will be tired from my island adventure so I won’t mind the travel time.

Once I arrive, I will be going on the Killing Fields tour I booked through GetYourGuide.  I do not know much about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge Regime, but I do know it is a tragic part of the history of this country and I would like to learn more about it so I can write a proper article.

During my stay in Phnom Penh, I will be staying at a place with the hilarious name of Lovely Jubbly Villa.  Once again, this is a conveniently located accommodation with a beautiful pool, so I had to book it.  I expect to have a “lovely” time here!

October 9th: Freeing the Bears

As I have said before in my previous blog entries; whenever I travel to a new country I like to volunteer with animals.  I have been accepted to the Free the Bears Bear Keeper Program, and am excited to help rare species of bears in Cambodia!  This program also has other locations in Thailand and Vietnam.

While being a bear keeper, I will be preparing food for the bears, cleaning their habitat, and grooming the ones that are friendly.  I am always happy to contribute to the well-being of endangered animals, as I am lucky to have a lot of things in my life already.  I hope to look for more programs like this in the future if it goes well!

October 10th: Exploring the rest of Phnom Penh

Before taking my late night flight home, I plan on exploring the city of Phnom Penh and see all that it has to offer.  Some of the places I’m interested in seeing are: The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, National Museum of Cambodia, Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh Night Market, The Russian Market, and of course experiencing the night life.

At the end of the day, I will have to fly from here back to Siem Reap, where I will take my overnight flight to Tokyo.  I hope to sleep well after all of this travel!

October 11th: My Birthday

For the last few years of my life, I have always spent the day of my birthday on tropical islands, but this time I really want to spend it with my friends in Tokyo.  I am leaving this day open for spontaneous shenanigans to ensue, but I know for sure that on October 12th I will be going to a footwork party called Battle Train Tokyo CLIMAX in Ebisu!  My favorite underground DJ Carpainter is playing, and I know that it will be an awesome event.

I am extremely excited to turn 26 this year because each year that passes I am able to experience more of the world and learn more things about myself.  Overall I will always feel very young at heart and still plan on traveling as much as I can!

Getting my daily dose of durian at Double Durian Cafe

As a solid tradition, I like to try extremely foreign food whenever I’m in a new country for the experience of it.  When I landed in Singapore, the first cafe that caught my eye was the uncanny Double Durian Cafe.  Famous for its durian pizza and flavored pastries, this cafe has gained quite a reputation.  Situated close to the City Square Market and my Spacepod Hostel, I figured this would be the perfect place to stop for an unforgettable first meal and to see what the craze about durian is all about.

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Double Durian, home of the durians.

The durian, arguably the most smelly fruit in the world, is widely sold in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and other tropical Asian countries.  It is often used as an ingredient in cooking, featured in flavored desserts like durian ice cream, or sold as a whole at the market for those daring enough to eat it raw.  Due to its extremely potent smell, which some have described as smelling like gym socks or fruity onions, it is banned from certain hotels and airports.  Because of its infamous reputation, the fruit has become somewhat of a meme, and its spiky exterior made it an actual weapon in the Battle of Matchan.  Even upon thorough research, the fruit is quite the enigma to those of us who grew up in the west.

In Exploring the Nutritional Contents and Benefits of Durian, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia lists the following benefits from eating durian:

“Durian is widely celebrated for its long list of health benefits, which include the ability to boost immune system, prevent cancer and inhibit free radical activity, improve digestion, strengthen bones, improve signs of anaemia, prevent premature aging, lower blood pressure, and protect against cardiovascular diseases.”

As you can see, the durian is quite the versatile fruit which led me to trying this cafe.  I decided to order the famous durian pizza and cake to see what they were really like.  The cake wasn’t as sweet as I was used to, but it had an extremely unique texture and I really enjoyed the spiky green frosting!  The taste of durian was very subtle, so I would recommend trying a durian dessert before trying the extremely potent fruit itself.  One cake is the perfect size for one person.

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In addition to durian cake, there are cheese and fruity flavors available at Double Durian!

Though covered in cheese and prepared with a western style of cooking, the pizza was definitely overpowering to me.  The pieces of durian were quite large and visible, and the taste was extremely noticeable despite the other toppings since there was no sauce included in this recipe (it was basically cheesy durian bread).  If they minced up the durian and added sauce, I think it would taste a lot better to me.  I would only recommend trying this if you are extremely brave or interested in unique durian cuisine, because this is definitely a challenge.

Whether you use durian as a pizza topping or a weapon of self-defense, I would recommend trying it at least once if you are ever in an Asian country!