I have a confession. I'm a Grinch for birthdays. My own that is. For some silly reason, I feel less sunny rather than festive so it takes a little more effort to make this day count. I'm not huge on gifts either. I'm a sucker for quality time and conversations and experiences. So I've long abandoned throwing birthday parties and would rather spend my moolah on traveling. New places to see, experiences to remember, people to meet, lessons to learn. Sounds like a good way to celebrate another year of life and blessings.
Birthday travel tradition:
2011 - Hong Kong
2012 - Kota Kinabalu, Sabah
2013 - Boracay
2014 - Hong Kong & Macau
2015 - Break for my dear lola's passing. Traveled home to Philippines instead.
For 2016, I've set my eyes on one destination alone - CAMBODIA. And boy, it didn't disappoint. Aside from the unforgiving drought that turned the fields brown, Cambodia is everything I expected and more.
1. Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap is a great pre-temple destination to learn about Khmer history and the context behind the intricate art, monuments and carvings that you will see in the temples. It's a bit costly at USD12 (plus USD3 for audio device), but well worth the money. The artifacts are well-preserved and in good condition. There's also audio-visual presentations that you can play in several languages which is cool. The whole building is also air-conditioned and has a mini café. With Siem Reap's temperature reaching 40 degrees Celsius, a few hours in the museum is a welcome respite.
|Photography is not allowed inside the exhibit halls, hence.|
2. Angkor Wat Temple is as grand as I imagined it to be. In scale (the largest religious monument in the world), detail and history, it will leave anyone in awe. Aside from the famous Angkor Wat temple, the Angkor Complex also includes symbolic sites like the Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple and Ta Prohm which was made famous by Angelina Jolie's Tomb Raider movie. A sunrise tour which consists of sunrise watching (of course!), visit to five temples, English speaking guide and round van transfer is only USD13, which to me is a really good deal. You only need to pay additional USD20 for a day pass to the temples.
3. Khmer cuisine is much like a fusion of everything Asian. Mix of Thai, Malay and Indian dishes. Not the most distinct to be honest, but there's two Khmer dishes that you should try. The Beef Lok Lak which is the Cambodian version of beef stewed in tomatoes and onions, usually served with rice and egg, and the Khmer Amok which basically is meat (often fish or chicken) cooked in curry and rich coconut milk. Both are flavourful, though having been living in KL for quite some time, I'm lacking on the spiciness so, extra chili please!
4. If you're a history geek, you'll know that Cambodia has been through a horrific war in the recent times. In fact, the war only ended in 1999! Spare some time and read about the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and decide for yourself if you want to include the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields in the capital city of Phnom Penh. I was content to visit the War Museum in Siem Reap instead. Here we met Moun Sinath, a war veteran who now works as a guide in the museum. He's known to many as 'the cat', as he survived multiple shots and a landmine injury before finally retiring from the army. Visiting the war museum is a natural eye opener and made me realize how fortunate I am to be born in a time and place of peace. I'm sure the rest of the tour visitors felt the same.
|"The Cat" showing us shrapnels still inside his body|
5. The rural life in Siem Reap reminded me of my mom's province in the Philippines, Pampanga. Spent the afternoon riding water buffalo cart, biking around and waving to kids, bullying the baby cows to take photos with me and just watching the sunset, magnificent as always. It was also the perfect spot to say a prayer of thanks for another year of life and the freedom that I've been enjoying immensely.
|Channeling my inner yogi|
Other important stuff to remember:
- Beer is hellah cheap at USD0.35/mug. Cocktails are not bad either at USD1.50.
- Contrary to my expectation, Cambodia is not a cheap city. Aside from alcohol and accommodation, everything else is a little pricey. Each meal will cost around USD4-6.
- They accept USD everywhere, but conversion rate is up to the store. =P I came to a point when I already gave up computing my change.
- Tuk Tuk is expensive at USD 2-4 for walkable distance around Pub Street and Night Markets. So start walking. It's healthier too!
- It's hot. It's sticky. Be prepared with sunscreen, water, towel and hat if you may.
- Wear sleeved top and pants/skirt below the knee. Otherwise, you cannot go up the Angkor Wat temple. Scarves/sarong won't make the cut.
- Begging and garbage on the streets are quite common. Also, milk scam is still happening, unfortunately. Be aware and alert, especially if you're a solo female traveler.
And that folks, sums up my week in Cambodia. I'm one happy #BirthdayGirl indeed.
Love and light to every one,