Time is ticking and you cannot make a choice… how much time should you allocate to Angkor and where to get affordable yet delicious Khmer food? If you are a time-constrained traveller who found yourself stranded in Siem Reap, here’s a list of 5 things you must do:
Angkor 1-day Tour
This may sound like a no-brainer, considering the fact that millions flock to Siem Reap, mainly for the architectural and world wonder, Angkor Wat. Nevertheless, few would be prepared for the grandeur and scale of the site. Angkor Wat is just one of the ancient temples in the Angkor region.
If you have limited time / are not a history buff, a 1-day pass should suffice. To make your visit more interesting and meaningful, you are highly recommended to hire a guide. He/she will be able to share interesting stories of the temples. Alternatively, you may get one of the guidebooks from the child vendors but be sure to check that all pages are printed properly.
I was almost tempted to say that if you can only make it to one attraction in Siem Reap, make this your choice. Established in 2013, Phare presents a Cambodian circus that miraculously managed to provide fun entertainment while capturing the sensitivities of issues inherent in Cambodia – both in the past and present. Performances are available nightly in Siem Reap (on selected days at Battambang where the training school is) and what one can expect is a captivating show of wits, acrobatic moves and beautiful art. For those who are familiar with Cambodia’s history, this performance will hit close to heart.
There are different shows depending on schedule and the one that I watched, Sokha, was awesome. Each performance takes about 1 hour but try to allocate at least 1.5 hour, as you would need to arrive earlier for a good seat if you purchased tickets for open seating. The in-house café and boutique are worth exploring too.
Being an advocate for sustainable tourism, I was most impressed by Phare Performing Social Enterprise that helps Cambodian youth from difficult and social economic backgrounds to gain employment. This also helps to bring about the rebirth of Cambodia modern art. Therefore, don’t miss a performance by Phare Circus if you are in town!
Enjoy an Affordable yet Delicious Khmer Meal
Khmer cuisine, similar to many of its counterparts in Southeast Asia, makes good use of spices and coconut. Nevertheless, the distinction of Khmer cuisine lies in their preference for sweetness in all dishes. Even a plate of savoury morning glory or spice-infused curry will have a tinge of sweet. I was reminded of Thai and Vietnamese dishes when having a Khmer meal. For an affordable yet delicious Khmer Meal, head for the easily accessible Golden Coconut at Pub Street. Some local must-try includes chicken/fish amok (meat cooked in coconut milk and other spices), lok lak meat (stir-fried meat, usually beef, pork or chicken with black pepper sauce) and (grilled/steamed) fish dishes.
Another restaurant for good Khmer cuisine: Genevieve’s (arrive early / make reservations to avoid disappointment)
Sombai Infused Rice Wine Tasting
Rice is the main staple food of Cambodia, hence it makes full sense to fully utilise the main resource. Sombai (which means “rice, please”) is the local wine that follows the tradition whereby the Khmers extract benefits of fruits, spices and roots in medicinal use.
Available in 8 flavours, each presented in a combination of 2 (local fruit and spices) with a unique taste of its own. Although Sombai is available at some of the supermarkets, the best way to get Sombai would be to visit the official establishment (5-minute drive from Old Market) for a complimentary wine-tasting workshop. We were told that the Banana-Cinnamon flavour is well-suited for mothers after delivery. Personally, I think the Coconut-Pineapple tastes better.
At the end of the session, you can purchase the flavours that you enjoy most and the wine would be filled in hand-painted bottles by young Cambodian artists. This makes for a meaningful souvenir.
Spend your night at Pub Street
Hailed as the most happening place in town, Pub Street – as its name suggests – is a place for you to get your fix of live music, drinking and other late-night activities. But, wait! That’s not all. Nestled amidst the pubs are restaurants, street bazzar, shops, super marts and art galleries. The atmosphere is lively and it is for good reasons that countless flock here to people-watch after a day of tour. If you need anything, just head to Pub Street.
The above information has been compiled based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. For more information on the destination, do check out: http://www.tourismcambodia.org