Exploring temples and discovering craft beer in Siem Reap

As we rush around the world, speeding through places in order to catch flights we booked months ago, we’re realising just how much we’re missing out on. Before we came to Cambodia we had very little knowledge on the country, but now we’re here we know we’ve definitely not given it enough time to appreciate the country properly.

The day before we reached Cambodia we landed in Bangkok, for an afternoon wandering around some temples, followed by an early morning coach ride straight out of the country. We then spent five hours melting in 30°C+ heat on a bus without air conditioning, and were transferred to a sleeper bus for the remainder of the journey once we were over the border. It was early in the evening when we arrived in confused state, having spent most of the day wishing for a cool breeze and watching season two of Stranger Things on my tablet. With no accommodation booked yet, we wandered to the first place on our ‘looks okay’ list to make an assessment of the place. As it turned out, this was going to be one of our favourite stays we’ve had so far, thanks to the guys at the little guesthouse and bar selling homemade craft beer.

When we stepped through the gates we were greeted by David, an American expat who gave us a warm welcome and showed us around his place. The room wasn’t fancy but David was nice enough that we knew we definitely wanted to stay.

Once our bags were off our backs and we’d had time to recover from the journey, we headed downstairs for a drink and some food. We spent the evening chatting to the barman (Eldon, I think) and it wasn’t long before we discovered how much we had in common. Anyone who is familiar with our hobbies and interests will know how geeky Mark and I can be, and when it comes to gaming the guys at The Local were on par. We connected over Fallout mostly as Eldon has a Nuka-cola branded motorbike and we showed him photos of us cosplaying as Fallout characters last year. There are fee things more fun than finding people who share your enthusiasm for a something really geeky, and nerding out over it for hours.

The following morning we set out to do what every tourist in Siem Reap visits for, which is exploring temples. David recommended a tuk tuk driver to us nearby who greeted us with a bright smile and agreed to show us around a portion of the temples for the day. It’d be a stretch to see them all in one day and even if you tried you wouldn’t really be able to take anything in properly, so three or four of the big ones would do. It was also hot that day which was a guarantee that we’d do even less than we planned while our energy was sapped away by the burning sun.
It was pretty exciting exploring Siem Reap, which Mark’s been looking forward to for a long time. There’s something fascinating about standing in an ancient place which has seen millions of people walk through it and trying to imagine monks living there. As we explored the temples I did everything I could to find some shade as we’d somehow forgotten to pack sun cream and it was starting to get hot. I even used my umbrella to shade myself from the sun, but it was still tough and a very tiring experience. The heat can quickly change you from someone excited to see ancient ruins to someone who just wants to disappear into an air conditioned building for the rest of time. Despite this we struggled on and it was wonderful seeing everything up close and in detail.

While the temples are amazing, one of the most disappointing things about popular tourist attractions is the sheer number of people who queue up for a selfie, without even paying attention to the thing they’re standing in front of. We saw hundreds of people throughout the day staring at their phones until they could turn their backs on the thing they came to see, take a photo of themselves and walk off without a second glance. Don’t get me wrong, I completely understand that people want a memento of their visit to share with family or keep for themselves, it’s just the people who seem to be there purely for the potential profile photo that I don’t understand. There’s a whole host of people living their lives to decorate their online highlight reel, seemingly visiting places just to tick it off their selfie bucket list. My dad gave me a piece of advice before we left, which was to make sure we took the time to look at our surroundings before we take a photo of them, or we’ll never remember them for ourselves. People who just take photos and don’t take the time to see things with their own eyes are very unlikely to have vivid memories of the event.

I feel sorry for the kids whose main goal is to capture a photo to show off to their friends or make their lives look really exciting. I feel even worse for the guy we saw whose girlfriend made him take at least 20 different photos from all sorts of angles and sitting positions near a lake we stopped by. Honestly the whole process looked exhausting. Hopefully these people are also taking moments for themselves and no one else, and not just capturing an image for a temporary profile picture or Instagram story. 

So after a long day of talking selfies in front of old stuff, we were exhausted. We waved to our super friendly driver and climbed into the tuk tuk one last time to be driven back in the light of a gorgeous sunset. Back at the guest house they were surprised we lasted so long there, but we were ready for a big meal and a long shower. 

For dinner we went slightly down the road to a restaurant which served a mix of Cambodian and Western foods. Mark got the usual—a burger for those who don’t know—and I had a tasty local style noodle dish. Afterwards we grabbed the a couple of drinks and got to work on some postcards to send home. It was nice to relax in the bar and listen to the different conversations going on as we drew our postcards. As the place was full of expats there were loads of people we’d have liked to listen to the stories of had we been given the chance. 

Our final day in Siem Reap began with the beautiful human being that is David buying me breakfast, and showing me the way to get rat soup with your rice and barbecued pork. David had recommended it to us the previous day and I was excited to try it. The whole meal was super tasty and I took pleasure in feeding pieces of it to Gary the dog, who then made cute faces at me until I was finished. 

After that we didn’t really have a plan yet so we just sat and distracted David from the admin he was trying to get through. It was a few hours before we actually made a move to go out and when we did it was slowly with no specific direction. We knew we head the circus booked for the evening and a night bus to get on at 10:30pm, but other than that we were free.

For the remainder of the morning we wandered around and went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch on David’s recommendation. The food was great but the building was even better as every wall was covered in murals and art made by the staff. We also found out that the owner does a lot to provide a platform for young Cambodians to express themselves through art, giving them a place to work on creative projects and promoting them wherever he can. I loved everything about the place and I’m eager to check up on them every so often to see how it’s developing. 

After lunch and a wander it was time for the circus which everyone at The Local had been raving about. We got a ride from the same driver who had taken us around the temples and arrived slightly late early to secure a good seat. The people we’d spoken to about the circus had kept the details secret so they didn’t spoil anything and we weren’t sure what to expect. The performance was brilliant though, with young Cambodian men and women performing excellently and telling a number of stories through their performances without the need for words. There was juggling, fire, flips, jumps and jokes, and we loved it. The best part of the experience was learning how the circus supports young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who had been performing on the streets for money, but were now able to travel the world to perform with the circus. It was the perfect end to our time in Siem Reap and we left feeling great.

When it came time to get our coach to Phnom Penh we were definitely sad to leave, having met so many interesting people and wanting to stick around and be geeky for a little while longer. David even gave us a big hug on our way out and told us the good ones always come back, which is precisely what we plan to do in a few years. 

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