Angkor Archaeological Park

Yesterday, I got to check off an item from my bucket list.

✓ visit Angkor Wat!

Angkor Wat is actually one of many structures in Angkor Archaeological Park, which involves many other magnificent remains. The park is in north Cambodia, about 6.5 hours from Phnom Penh, the capital. Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple are also famous. While Angkor Wat is the grandest temple of the Angkor Archaeological Park, Angkor Thom is the ancient capital.

We woke up at 4:00 AM, hopped on a tuktuk at 4:30 AM, bought tickets, and arrived at the park by 5:30 AM for the sunrise. There was a massive rainfall, and all of us got soaked before finding cover in the blackness, but even our wet clothes and shoes didn’t distract from the overwhelming historic beauty of Angkor Wat.

Angkor Archaeological Park is over 400 square kilometres of subtropical forest, featuring the stunning remnants of the capital of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to 15th centuries. It is the largest pre-industrial city in world history. Around 25 years ago, Angkor Archaeological Park became a UNESCO World Heritage site. I felt so honoured and amazed to get a glimpse into these legendary temples.

The Angkor Archaeological Park itself has no accommodation and very few facilities (no bathrooms near the temples), so tourists stay in a nearby town called Siem Reap, which is 6 km to the south. I was surprised to find that Angkor Archaeological Park is truly located within a jungle, with monkeys, hogs, wild dogs, and centipedes (?) swarming the area.

Interesting note that I discovered with some reading: the word ‘wat’ means temple in Khmer (Cambodian language). The structure, however, doesn’t quite look like a temple. Researchers believe that it is a temple where Lord Vishnu was worshipped, and later became a tomb for the Khmer (Cambodian) king.

The remains of the Bayon Temple were my favourite. It was richly decorated, and most likely built during the 12th or 13th century for a Buddhist king.

Another structure, Ta Prohm, is famous because trees have interlaced themselves with the stonework, resulting in strange, but marvellous, beauty. One website describes Ta Prohm as “a stunning display of the embrace between nature and the human handiwork”, and I couldn’t say it better myself.

Ta Prohm is world-renowned, and immensely popular, because of the wood-stone combination, and because of various scenes in Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider. I found the sides of the Ta Prohm complex quiet and magnificent, with unstable bits of rubble and stone debris. Many sections have been blocked off, since they are at risk of collapsing.

For lunch, we dined at Sister Srey Café, which I adored.

  • Grandpa had the creamy pumpkin soup with bread to start, and then grilled mackerel with steamed jasmine rice and sauteed spinach
  • Dad enjoyed savoury stuffed French toast with cream cheese, bacon, and tomato chutney. To drink, he had two caramel milkshakes
  • I loved my corn fritters (surprisingly, both vegan and gluten-free!), topped generously with feta cheese and served with a poached egg, smoked salmon, and tomato chutney

For dessert, Grandpa had some chocolate ice cream while I enjoyed an amazing carrot cake with cream cheese icing and plenty of walnuts. This was tender, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, and had great texture and crumb. I do wish, however, that there was more cream cheese icing.

Then, it was back to our hotel for a much-needed break from all the walking!

Tapas, Buffet, and a Seven-Course Meal

Good evening from Siem Reap on this warm Tuesday, January 9.

Recently:

  • Seline often sends me screenshots of conversations that she has with Mom. I thought this one was particularly sweet, and it made me reminisce the wonderful time we spent at Sunshine Coast during both 2015 and 2016
  • Spiders at ROMDENG, a restaurant in Phnom Penh – I chickened out 😥
  • Dad and Grandpa on a tuktuk this morning; it was in the high 30s temperature-wise

The Wat Langka temple was timelessly beautiful and impactful. We also had the opportunity to see the Independence Monument (second photo), and buy new sneakers for Grandpa from the local Adidas store, since his old ones broke on the train ride from Taipei to Taoyuan (the city in Taiwan where the airport is located).

For brunch after the temple exploration, we enjoyed another meal at Daughters of Cambodia. They are truly so lovely for their great cause (everything goes towards helping girls forced into the sex trafficking trade in Cambodia, to learn skills like cooking, massage, sewing, and more).

  • Dad had the baguette BLT, which had bacon, cucumber, spinach, and tomato with an onion chutney
  • Grandpa enjoyed corn chowder and a fish burger with fries
  • I loved my creamy parsley pumpkin soup and cheesy garlic baguette

We purchased a few things from Daughters of Cambodia; namely, some little coloured pouches with powerful words in the Khmer language such as ‘dream’, ‘pray’, and ‘believe’. Grandpa will give these to his family doctor, teacher, and dentist.

We spent the afternoon lounging around the hotel pool. Grandpa was happy with his fresh coconut water. It’s astonishing how much larger these coconuts are, compared to the ones he’s enjoyed in Macau, and even back home in Vancouver.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Friends, which is part of a greater company called TREE. TREE is a series of training restaurants that invest profits in students who train there. Money goes towards social programs that help them become skilled, productive, healthy and happy young workers with secure future careers. They not only provide high-quality service and food, but also help young people in developing countries (most are orphans, former street children, or other marginalized, at-risk groups) develop skills that they need to be employable in the hospitality industry. The training that runs here helps build confidence and skills, so students graduate with better futures. 10/10 for sustainability and impact, in my book.

For the tapas, Friends recommends ordering one or two per person. Since the three of us went, we decided to order five. These were some of my favourites (okay, I ended up listing them all):

  • Crispy zucchini and cheddar fritters with Thai Sriracha mayonnaise
  • Fish cakes with garlic, leeks, roasted red pepper puree (these were unbelievably good)
  • Burmese chicken curry with crispy noodles, smoked chili, pickled mustard greens (super spicy, but incredible flavour)

  • Crusty bread with EVOO and dukkah spice

  • Ricotta gnocchi with spinach and corn (I truly loved these, and my dad, who typically doesn’t like gnocchi, enjoyed them!)

For dessert:

  • white chocolate ice cream for Dad and Grandpa (I had a taste, and it had a superb white chocolate aftertaste, unlike some white chocolate ice creams which are simply excessively sweet)
  • black sticky rice pudding with coconut ice cream, caramelized pineapple, and roasted peanuts

The next day – this morning – was a little hectic because we had to clean out the hotel room and check out before a long bus ride to Siem Reap. I was a little sad to say goodbye to our lovely hotel room.

Breakfast buffet in our hotel.

I enjoyed:

  • a cheese omelet
  • two Cambodian sandwiches with ham, cucumber, and spicy mayo (I didn’t think I would like this, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed it. The bold flavours stood up to the fresh baguette, and everything seemed to work well)
  • baked beans
  • chive potatoes
  • fresh passionfruit and dragonfruit
  • banana bread
  • blueberry muffin (crumbled over the plain yogurt)
  • dragonfruit custard danish (surprisingly delicious for a not-crispy Viennoiserie! I wanted another.)
  • plain yogurt
  • mango yogurt with vanilla cream swirl
  • toasted wholemeal bread with butter and pineapple-papaya marmalade (it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed toast, plain and simple, with butter and jam – this was absolutely delightful)
  • raisin custard danish
  • apple cinnamon muffin (crumbled over the mango yogurt)

Both my stomach and my heart were incredibly full as we boarded the Giant Ibis bus at around 9:45 AM for our 6.5 hour trip to Siem Reap.

The views were unlike anything I’d seen before. One thing that stood out to me was the houses that were built on stilts. Most houses between Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) and Siem Reap (North Cambodia) were on stilts, with hammocks and shelves and tables underneath for shade.

The bus stopped three times, with two of the three stops being rest stops for bathroom breaks, and one for a 30-minute lunch break.

Lunch at the Banyan Tree restaurant had a number of options, which was a pleasant surprise since I’d assumed very few options for a food place in the middle of sand and palm trees.

When we arrived at around 3:30, we boarded a tuktuk with all three of our suitcases and two backpacks to go to our hotel, the Riversoul Residence. Riversoul is about fifteen minutes from Angkor Wat, which is why we chose it. It is modern and beautiful in a unique, complementary-colours kind of way, but I do miss the traditional nature and French influence of our first hotel, Raffles in Phnom Penh.

I was amazed by the lack of people in the hotel; it was very empty when we checked in, and my dad attributed this to the fact that the Riversoul Residence is fairly new.

Check out that swimming pool and those lawn chairs which are styled to look like boats!

We took a 10-minute walk to the old market of Siem Reap, which was close to our dinner restaurant, EMBASSY.

EMBASSY has a set menu for each month of the year. They serve French food with a Cambodian twist, using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients from Siem Reap and the surrounding area. All of the stems, leaves, flowers, and garnishes were completely edible. We really did devour every drop.

The three of us ate this seven-course meal:

  1. AMUSE BOUCHE – steamed Chreau village tomato with minced shrimp stuffing
  2. APPETIZER – Kampot scallop with ground toasted rice, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, lemongrass, passionfruit sauce
  3. SOUP – traditional Kdat Soup with turmeric paste, green bass leaf, black chicken (by far my favourite dish of the day, since it was rich, hearty, with a beautiful blend of textures and unique, yet familiarly comforting ingredients)
  4. SORBET – soursop fruit sorbet with fermented black sticky rice and alcohol drizzle
  5. MAIN COURSE 1 – grilled Tonle Sap fish with soybean pickle, ginger, green onion
  6. MAIN COURSE 2 – pork shank from Takeo province, slow-cooked in sugar palm caramel, mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes with coconut milk (also delicious – the meat was very tender and mildly sweet, with great unami flavour from the mushroom gravy)
  7. DESSERT – cashew mousse with red dragonfruit ice cream (the cashew mousse part was spectacular. You can truly taste the cashew, and I appreciated the crispy, chewy, and sweet brown sugar crumble that complemented the nutty mousse)

It was delicious, and now I am dead from deliciousness and excitement for tomorrow, because we’re going to see Angkor Archeological Park!

I Thought I Saw a Spider, But…

This afternoon, we visited Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple. It was built in 1372, and stands nearly 30m tall. It is the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. In fact, Wat Phnom is the central point of Phnom Penh. We are lucky that Wat Phnom was so close to our hotel; it was a roughly 10-minute walk in.

I learned that the sanctuary itself was rebuilt several times in the 19th century and again in 1926. The interior has an altar complex with a large bronze seated Buddha surrounded by other statues, flowers, candles and items of devotion and worship.

There were plenty of great photo opportunities.

We didn’t walk into the temple since no photos were allowed, and it was very busy/crowded and smoky with the burning of incense.

I don’t typically wear sunglasses, but the sun is ridiculously bright here and I’d hate to have squinty eyes in all my photos. Dad’s becoming a really good photographer and I really appreciate having him here for all these candid shots. 😎

Grandpa and I lounged around the pool again in the afternoon. When we come back tomorrow, he would like to drink fresh coconut water from a coconut, which we can order from the bar.

In the evening, we took a tuktuk to Khmer Surin, an authentic Cambodian restaurant.

Here, we enjoyed:

  • fish amok (Goby fish in banana leaf)
  • pineapple fried rice in a pineapple – this was my favourite part
  • deep-fried seafood and vegetables with sweet chili sauce
  • spicy chicken green curry
  • sour lime coconut soup with mushrooms and shrimp
  • chewy tapioca balls in coconut cream
  • mango ice cream
  • coconut ice cream in hot chocolate sauce

When we got home, I washed my hands in the bathroom and noticed something on the ground that, upon first glance, I’d assumed was a spider. It wasn’t – it was actually a teeny, tiny baby gecko!

What a peculiar and cute way to end the day. I really think those little geckos are too cute.

Plans for Tomorrow

  • Russian Market
  • Wat Langka
  • Independence Monument
  • Statue of King Father Norodum Sihanouk
  • Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument
  • Wat Ounalom
  • Poolside Grandpa gets coconut drink

Lunch and Dinner Restaurants for Tomorrow

  • Romdeng
  • Friends

Have a beautiful, lovely afternoon, everyone 🙂