As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals. Besides the infamous Happy Pizza this country is famous for, here are some of the best foods that I tried in Cambodia:
Though Siem Reap is mostly famous for Angkor Wat and its other historical monuments, there are actually a surprisingly decent amount of delicious and healthy restaurants around. My personal favorite was Artillery that had falafel waffles and vegan dragon fruit cake. They were both amazingly satisfying after a long day of exploring ancient temples and working up an appetite.
I also recommend heading to the Fresh Fruit Factory which is nearby. They have amazing fruit parfaits and shaved ice you can try with a friendly and welcoming atmosphere:
My favorite street food that I tried near the night market here was hands down the Strawerry Hokkaido Cheese Toast. Since I’ve been to Hokkaido twice this year, I felt obligated to try it. Say cheese~ Surprisingly, I liked the flavor and texture of it. They also have green tea and other unique flavors here, along with bubble tea.
Koh Rong Island is a lot more rural than other areas in Cambodia, but I still managed to find some great food in the small village of Koh Touch! I tried a falafel wrap from Sky Bar which was extremely fulfilling, and also ate a lot of my meals at the Treehouse Restaurant where I was staying. I had some delicious seafood noodle soup, muesli with yogurt and fresh fruit, and also some chocolate pancakes with banana. I was impressed with how fresh the food was and fortunately was able to eat healthy every day while I was here. They are a number of western-style restaurants that serve pizza and burgers here as well.
The capital of Cambodia has no shortage of food options. My favorite restaurant was a cozy cafe near the imperial palace called VIBE. Here I had some delicious avocado flatbread and a delicious chocolate smoothie bowl served out of a coconut. This gave me a lot of energy for the day so I was very happy to have stumbled upon it.
As far as fast food goes, I found a wonderful cafe called J’ADORE where I had a huge avocado shake and mini prawn burgers. They were easy to eat and were surprisingly packed with flavor:
Though Cambodia is less-developed than other Asian countries, you can definitely find a restaurant or cafe here that suits your taste, and most food is very affordable.
During my 2nd day in Siem Reap, I decided to go on an adventure to a floating village way out in the countryside of Cambodia called Kampong Pluk (which means “Harbor of the Tusks”). Earlier this year I visited a fishing village in northern Kyoto called Ine, and this village actually had some interesting similarities to it. Like Ine, Kampong Pluk primarily relies on fishing as its main source of income and is quite remote from the main part of the city. Though it’s a popular tourist destination, it has an extremely rural feel to it and a lot of ground to explore.
I booked an extremely cheap group tour from GetYourGuide and it was actually a very pleasant journey. I was transported to Tonle Sap Lake by an air-conditioned bus where I later boarded a longboat to explore the stilted village. It was really amazing to see all of the different buildings there! I saw a floating church, hospital, and several temples in addition to many brightly painted houses. You can even opt to stay at a floating guesthouse if you feel adventurous enough to do it.
The longboat will eventually pull up to a plot of land that you can walk around. Here you can learn more about the culture of the village and see how exactly how people live here. It was interesting acquainting myself with the way people live in the countryside of Cambodia, but it was also disheartening to learn that a lot of people live in poverty here and depend on fishing as their sole source of income without higher education or many other options.
I was also informed by my guide (who used to live here) that some families live off rice and develop alcohol and smoking issues, so while the trip was fun, I couldn’t help but feel a bit melancholy… Another sad thing is not much of the money you pay for the tour goes to the village. I think they should offer more volunteer programs for tourists here so the villagers can benefit in some way. I donated a bit, and I’m not sure how much it will help, but all we can really do is continue to be grateful for the things we have in life. The trip to this village really taught me to be thankful for my ability to travel, and also everything I have.
The tour ended on a very enjoyable note as we watched the sunset on Tonle Sap Lake. There is literally nothing obstructing your view so you can see it perfectly. You can also go swimming in the lake if you want to cool down because the boat stops here for quite some time.
Cambodia is a great country to explore just because it has a lot of untouched nature and is safe for young backpackers. Most of the people on this tour were in their 20s (around my age) and were all interested in learning more about this country’s culture, so it was easy to converse and make friends. I listened to music a lot and reflected on life. It was hard to believe that this was only my second day, because a lot more adventures were about to come!
After having my first successful night out in Siem Reap, I decided to go to temple hopping during my 2nd day in Cambodia and learn about the history of the Khmer Empire. I booked a very affordable tour through Get Your Guide that took me from my hotel to the three most famous temples in the area: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, and the Bayon Temple with the smiling Buddha faces. To enter these places you must pay a fee of $37 for a joint ticket at the gate, but the amount of nature and exploring you are able to do for the day makes the price worth it. Expect this tour to last 6-10 hours depending if you want to stick around for the sunset or not. You can also opt for a sunrise tour as well.
Angkor Wat was originally founded as a Hindu temple but later became a Buddhist temple by the end of the 12th century. Though today it serves mostly as a tourist attraction and the largest religious monument in the world, it also represents the harsh reign of the Khmer Rouge that all of Cambodia will forever remember. I enjoyed the aesthetic hike through the historic former capitals of the Khmer Rouge because learning about Cambodian culture was very eye-opening for me. I will write in detail about the horrors of the Killing Fields in a future update, because I think it is a very important part of history that should be further brought to light.
What I loved about Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples is there was a lot of room to freely explore the area, and it didn’t feel like a tourist attraction–it actually felt like a genuine adventure. Compared to temples in Thailand and Japan that I have visited, these temples were a lot less crowded and I didn’t feel rushed during my time here at all. People from all around the world gather to marvel at these temples, and although they are somewhat remote they are worth the journey if you’re up for the challenge!
Ta Prohm was the location where the original Tomb Raider movie was filmed, and I definitely felt like Lara Croft as I climbed several flights of stairs and over rocks to get the best views possible here. Historically this area was the last capital of the Khmer Rouge, and is now abandoned and left to nature. That is why this temple is extremely beautiful in both design and architecture due to the moss covering the temple walls and the tree growing from within it. Ta Prohm shows what nature can do to a place if it is left alone:
The last temple that I visited was the Bayon Temple, which was a lot of fun to explore due to all of the Buddha faces hidden in the intricate architecture. Everywhere you look there are heads to be found, but ironically a lot of Buddha statues within the walls of the temple are missing their heads! I was told by my tour guide that they were stolen by thieves for money and destroyed during the Khmer empire, but there is also the possibility they may have been stolen by foreign tourists and now be on display in international art galleries. Little is known about their whereabouts, which gives Bayon an air or mystery and sadness masked behind carvings of happy smiles.
Explored the Bayon Temple today! I loved finding all of the “hidden” Buddha faces in the architecture~ 😎 pic.twitter.com/NIlXwvVqMI
What amazes me about the temples of Angkor Wat is that many of them were abandoned due to superstition (such as when lightning struck or a natural disaster occurred), but are still standing today. I think it would take nearly three full days to explore all of them, but I felt extremely satisfied with what I was able to see within a day because I learned a lot about the culture. My recommendation is that everyone that has interest in exploring temples comes here. You never know what you may discover!
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
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?
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:
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:
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.