It took nine trips to Asia for me to finally find my way to Cambodia. I’d experienced Tomb Raider-esque ruins in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia over the years, but glorious Angkor has somehow always eluded me.
Maybe the exploitation of the historic wonder had numbed my desire to visit. In recent years, I’d been overwhelmed with photos of the UNESCO World Heritage Site appearing in magazines, travel books, and on social media feeds. It was starting to feel like everyone had experienced the place (except me), so I decided this year, it was now or never.
Angkor was epic. It’s a tourist magnet for good reason. The place oozed with mystique, secrets and adventure, especially in the early hours before the crowds arrived.
Several historic sites made up the region, and the ruins were surprisingly spread out, making it pretty much impossible to walk from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat to Ta Prohm to Preah Khan, etc. Most tourists hired a tuk tuk or taxi for the day, and moved from one set of ruins to the next.
I opted for a little more thrill and rented a bicycle in town. What an adventure bicycling to ruins, monkeys and jungle on my own, and at my own speed. Yes, it was exhausting to ride 30 km a day in Cambodia’s stifling heat, but I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
A few days in Siem Reap was enough time to explore Angkor at a semi-leisurely pace. I found that the 7 AM to 9 AM window was the best time to visit with minimal crowds. My favorite spots were a better experience without other people around – the 200 sandstone faces of Bayon; the grandeur of Angkor Wat; the crumbling galleries of Preah Khanh; the soaring gates of Angkor Thom; and the rooted wonders of Ta Prohm.
Adventures through Angkor each day were amazing, but exhausting. Thankfully, I had plush digs to retire to every afternoon at Shinta Mani Club where I could unwind in a poolside oasis with drink in hand before heading into town at night.
My stay at Shinta Mani Club was lovely, a must for anyone looking for a luxury retreat post Angkor. The boutique property designed by architect Bill Bensley, home to just 39 rooms, was intimate, elegant and completely tranquil.
For anyone visiting the tourist hub, it’s the perfect escape from the chaotic craziness of Pub Street (I say that with complete affection). And in a city where everyone was trying to sell us tuk tuk rides, tours and trinkets, it was so nice to return each evening to warm greetings and kind smiles. From the hotel, it was a short stroll to the heart of town where I spent evenings soaking in the energy of Pub Street and its surroundings.
Nights were a blur of outdoor markets and street food (usually passion fruit shakes & Nutella crepes) with gelato stops, bargain shopping and tuk tuk rides in between.
Thanks for the love Cambodia!
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