Flying away to adventures in other Asian cities is always a great pleasure, but I find it even more enjoyable when it’s an easy direct flight from Busan. Cambodia had been on our to-do-list for a while and when I discovered that Air Busan flies to Siem Reap four times weekly, it seemed ideal.
The city itself, is absolutely amazing and transports you to another time allowing you to experience a completely different pace of life – I can’t recommend it highly enough. There are hotels, villas and guesthouses with price tags to suit every budget. A holiday in Siem Reap will undoubtedly be more geared to going around ancient sites than basking in the sun, but there are resorts that welcome families, and have all the amenities to go with it, including spas, swimming pools and great food.
Before we flew out to Cambodia we toyed with the idea of booking some tours with a travel company but thought we’d wait to see just how things were once we arrived – and I have to say it worked out perfectly!
Every hotel has ‘tuk-tuks’ affiliated with their property so you know who you are dealing with and the receptionists are always happy to sort out a ride for you. Not only was it convenient, it was an amazingly cost-effective way to get around the city. Considering we were a family of four, an entire day of having the tuk-tuk and driver for ourselves (who would take us where we wanted, suggest lunch spots or just wait for us to finish at one temple before heading on to the next site) only cost $20! Add on a sunrise or a sunset and it would have been $25…. Now you can’t beat that! We had our freedom to stop and start when we wanted, we admired the streets and the views from our quaint little mode of transport and the whole experience only added to our Cambodian holiday.
When it comes to sight-seeing, needless to say you have your choice of temples to see. In order to visit these historical sights, you need to be in possession of an ‘Angkor Pass’. This is something very easy to obtain, so once you head out on your first day of adventure, just ask your driver to drop by the park entrance. Passes are available for either 1-day, 3-days or 7 days, so you can see what works best for the length of your stay – for us a 3 day pass was perfect and gave us a free day to wander, check out the markets and handicraft workshops, and relax at the pool. Children under the age of 12 are free and do not require their own Angkor Pass. Charges for the pass for anyone over 12 years old. are $37, $62 and $72 respectively.
Needless to say, the most obvious stop you will make will be the infamous Angkor Wat, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the largest religious monument in the world, set in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Exploring this grand site properly deserves at least a few hours of your time, or even as much as a half-day in your schedule. Guided tours are available, but if not, just wander and be amazed. By day it gets fairly busy but there are so many different areas to discover, that you can still find your calm and take photos without the crowds. There are special sunrise tours that offer something extremely special to the avid photographer so even with a 4.30am start, it really is quite spectacular and very worth doing. Not surprisingly, it is a popular moment of the day and, in season, you’ll be fighting with other tourists to get the best spot by the water, but the majestic offering of the outline of Angkor Wat as the sun brings the day to life, is one moment you will never forget.
Other spots that we knew we also had to include were the many faces of ‘Bayon Temple’, and ‘Ta Prohm’, the site best known for it’s scenes in Tomb Raider, where temples and trees entwine making it my favourite of all the temples we visited. Both of these temples are on the city circuits that I mentioned before and will naturally be a couple of highlights during your visit. If you’re travelling with children, they will be equally thrilled with these sites; with narrow little passageways, hiding places galore, and trees that tower above you and make the most interesting of structures. It has a lot of charming characteristics and makes for quite the outdoors adventure for them!
A visit to Cambodia will inevitably include a lot of temples but another great experience was the evening that we went to the ‘Phare Cambodian Circus’, an acrobatic performance with music, comedy and theatre, given by young Cambodians. The circus is set in grounds about 10 minutes outside the main town centre and came about when a school was opened a few years ago to help children express themselves through art and story-telling as a way to empower them and recover from traumatic childhood experiences. The Circus today now helps many youngsters earn a living through their nightly performances and th whole experience is really quite spectacular.
This ‘show’ has become very popular so if you’d like to help support this fabulous cause of taking underprivileged youngsters and training them in arts/dance/acrobatics, buy your tickets online before travelling in order to avoid disappointment. You can make a whole evening of it and arrive an hour before the show in order to enjoy a meal in the grounds. While it’s not a huge menu, the food was authentic, tasty and very inexpensive. They also have a lovely selection of handmade items; from jewellery and purses, to children’s toys and home furnishings, and again, all the profits go back to the charity.
For me, the highlight of our holiday was a half day trip to Lake Tonlé Sap. This again was something we booked once in Siem Reap, although this time, we reserved a hotel car and driver. It worked out at a great rate of only $35 for what would have been a 4/5 hour trip and we were extremely happy with the service. I should say here that this boat trip is only seasonal and depends entirely on the height of the water so always check weather conditions before making the trip out.
Only an hour’s drive from Siem Reap, once we arrived we then had a private boat for the four us (which we paid for separately – children were free, and we paid $20 at the time per adult) which took us up the river through the floating village.
This itself was amazing; to see the colours and structures, and the way of life on the banks of the river, but then we stopped and went ashore to walk through the village and had the opportunity to visit a local school and donate some art supplies. Absolutely magical.
I’m not sure whether it was by chance, but we arrived at the local school during their outdoor play time; these children who have so little gave us so much in their smiles, laughter and endless questions – it was truly beautiful. They were fascinated by us, our children, and had so much fun with us. There’s a lady who sells packets of crayons and notebooks that you can purchase and then give directly to the children but if you wanted to bring something of your own, then this would also be a great way to contribute to the school.
Other attractions on a trip to Siem Reap would have to be the night markets and the ‘infamous’ Pub Street where you’ll find an array of bars and restaurants, clubs and pubs as well as street sellers and shops. You’ll literally find a little bit of everything so if you’re craving a German beer or some flavours from Mexico, you’ll find it all here. Eating out in Cambodia is extremely cheap, as is the beer, and almost everything else, so enjoy it while you’re there!
Cambodia and its people left an ever-lasting mark on us. It really was such a fabulous trip and showed us the true beauty of a country that I had never thought I would get the opportunity to visit. At just over 5 hours flight time from Busan, it makes it a great option for a 4 or 5 day break and offers an amazing change of scenery at a very affordable price – without a doubt, a destination to be added to your list of places to visit while you’re in the area.