Today was our last full day in Kuala Lumpur and we had nothing planned. We flipped through guide books and looked online at KL’s attractions and we basically saw everything we wanted to see yesterday. Most people take a few hours to see Batu Caves but after seeing more than 2 limestone caves on this trip we decided to pass. Also, since it’s a holiday in Malaysia, we expected the caves to be more of a gong show than they probably are.
We went down to the main breakfast hall for breakfast to compare the two different areas. The restaurant was packed and looked very chaotic. Little did we know this would only be the first time we’d be surrounded by swarms of people. The main breakfast restaurant had a lot larger selection of food than the lounge floor. They had Western, Malaysian, and Indian options for breakfast. They even had a fresh roti station, egg station, and a noodle station. The big downside to eating here was that there were so many people and staff couldn’t keep up – they ran out of plates, cups, juice, and food trays were empty.
After breakfast we stayed in and caught up on some errands we had to do. We decided that we’d go out for lunch and then save the majority of our activities for the evening. Tim wasn’t feeling that great so it was good we had more of a chill afternoon.
We decided to go to the Suria KLCC for lunch and check out their food court. We took the LRT to KLCC stop, which goes straight into the Avenue K Mall. Avenue K is located directly across the street from Suria, and it was the calm before the storm. As soon as we crossed the street towards the Petronas Towers and Suria Mall, we saw hoards of people. Today is another holiday in Malaysia so everyone is at the mall apparently. We went inside the mall and it was super packed. I don’t think I’ve seen that many people in one place in a long while. People didn’t really seem to be shopping, they were just loitering and walking around. We went up to the food court and it was way too busy to find anywhere to sit and eat. They looked like they had some good Malaysian food choices but it was unfortunate that even at 3pm, we couldn’t find somewhere to sit. We walked around to all the restaurant/cafe options at the mall and they all had line ups, so we left Suria and went back to Avenue K.
Avenue K was so dead compared to Suria. I guess everyone wants to be at the fancier mall. After looking through all the food options, they didn’t look that great so I went to Nando’s at Avenue K – there was no long line up at that location. Tim wasn’t feeling well so I ordered something for myself. It was almost 3pm and I was really hungry. After almost an hour of waiting, I saw food come out and go to all the tables around us that came after. I was pretty annoyed and frustrated (probably because I was so hungry) so I went to ask them what happened and if they even put in my order. No one apologized or really addressed what happened, which made me even more upset. Our waiter miraculously disappeared during the whole ordeal and we never saw him again. I told Tim this was probably the most annoyed I’ve been the entire trip. I know it sounds ridiculous after I recall what happened and how I was so upset, but after wandering around Suria and other places to find something to eat and having to shuffle through hoards of people, my fuse was pretty short (I was so annoyed that I didn’t even take pictures of my food!) (Tim: plus it was Nando’s so no one really needs to see a photo of it).
Any way, after that ordeal, we made our way back to our hotel for the rest of the afternoon. As we experienced how crazy Kuala Lumpur gets during a holiday we didn’t have the urge to go out any more. Right at 5:30pm we went upstairs to the lounge for free drinks and appies. We went right at the time it starts to get a table after seeing how busy it was the day before.
When we got upstairs we were shocked to see the whole place packed with Malaysians and there was only one table left! I went to browse at the food they had for the day and everything was gone. The lounge was so loud and crowded, it was like a repeat of being inside Suria Mall. There were kids running around like it was a day care and you could tell people were getting upset with the state of the “executive lounge”. I overheard an Aussie complaining to management about how he’s never been in such a horrible executive lounge. Since there weren’t enough seats, people were standing all over and the food supply was being turned over constantly. Today the two regular waiters had help, which was good!
We headed out to the Petronas Towers after sunset to see the towers at night. As we got off the train at the KLCC stop, crowds of people piled on to the train before we could even get out (had to point out the elbows for this one). We went through the mall again to get to the other side of the building to see clear views of the towers. They looked much nicer at night than during the day. We took a few photos and walked through the crowds and headed back to our hotel.
I’m looking forward to getting out of Kuala Lumpur and going to Penang. Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have the same charm or warmth (from people) as other large SE Asian cities that we’ve been to. There aren’t many notable sights in the city and you could probably spend a day and a half here if you really want to see everything on the Trip Advisor attractions list. The most interesting part about Kuala Lumpur for me was the fact that Malaysia is a Muslim country so it was cool to be here during the end of Ramadan and see how the city celebrates (may not be the best time to be a tourist here though). Penang is the food capital of Malaysia so I’m looking forward to going there to check it out.
Our first full day in Kuala Lumpur and we were ready to explore and eat! Before going for breakfast at the hotel, we booked our flights to and from Phu Quoc, which will be our last hurrah before coming home!
The hotel breakfast was nice and pretty normal. They had all the components for a full English breakfast, fruits, yogurt parfaits, croissants, and Malaysian noodles. We ate on the executive lounge floor but will go to the regular breakfast floor (bigger restaurant) tomorrow to compare the two.
We planned on using the hotel’s free shuttle to take us to an area called Bukit Bintang. It’s supposedly another shopping area and close to Jalan Alor, a famous food street. The hotel shuttle dropped us off at the Pavilion mall in the Bukit Bintang area. We walked through the Pavilion and it was another nice mega mall. Can’t get over how many large malls there are (so close together) in Kuala Lumpur. As we made our way towards Jalan Alor, we walked past a handful of other smaller (compared to the mega mall) malls.
When we arrived at Jalan Alor, more than half of the vendors were closed. At first we thought it was because it’s a holiday here “Hari Raya AidiFitri”, which is the end of Ramadan and also a National holiday in Malaysia. But after doing some reading, we realize that Jalan Alor comes alive at night and is pretty dead during the day. We’ll try going for dinner tomorrow night.
Since there wasn’t much to see, we continued our walk towards a restaurant called Wong Kee which specializes in roasted and BBQ pork. It took about 20 minutes to walk there for Jalan Alor and when we got there, it was closed! Looking around at the stores around town, it was pretty clear that more than half of the businesses were closed for AidiFitri (which makes sense as ~60% of the country is Muslim). This was a disappointment as there wasn’t much around where Wong Kee was located. We walked around a bit more and saw some stalls set up surrounding open air seating. We browsed a bit and decided to eat there for lunch.
All the stalls served Chinese Malaysian food in all its various forms. I saw Chinese BBQed meats (which I have been craving for a while) and I got a plate of roasted duck and pork. My meal came with chicken rice and soup. Tim was more adventurous and tried Malaysian dry noodles with ground pork, BBQed pork with fried garlic. After ordering from the stalls, you find a table in the seating area and pay after the vendor finds and serves the food to you. Food in Kuala Lumpur is very cheap. Tim’s noodles were 6 MYR = $2 CAD and my lunch was 8 MYR = $2.65 CAD. While seated, a man from the beverage station went around asking if you wanted to order any drinks. Tim asked for a coke but I don’t think he understood and brought some iced lemon drink. We were confused and the table next door ended up wanting the drink any how. Lunch was tasty and satisfying. It wasn’t Wong Kee roasted pork but it was still very delicious!
After lunch we walked towards one of the Monorail Stations to take a train to Chinatown. The walk to Chinatown would’ve been about 30 minutes so we decided to take the train and to get metro cards (Tim likes to collect them) and see how their trains operated. We both bought MyRapid cards for 5 MYR = $1.60 (non-refundable deposit) and 15 MYR = $4.80 CAD mandatory credit. By using a MyRapid card you get a slight discount for each ride. Kuala Lumpur’s transit system has different lines – Monorail, Light Rail Transit (LRT), Commuter Rail, and Airport Express.
The Monorail trains only had two cars, which were surprisingly short. We stayed on the train for a couple of stopped and got off close to Chinatown. The Monorail stations are quite old and look like they need some attention. We walked towards Chinatown’s Petaling Street, which is full of vendors selling counterfeit accessories, souvenirs, and typical SE Asian tank tops. Petaling Street was super crowded. It was probably the most people we’ve encountered while in Kuala Lumpur so far.
There were some food vendors that looked interesting and had long lines ups, including a tofu fa vendor. He worked alone (and quite efficiently) and served hot tofu fa and cold soya bean milk. He was really busy as his line was consistently long. I ordered a tofu fa with brown sugar and ginger syrup (160 MYR = $0.52 CAD). It would’ve been nice if the tofu was cold because it was so hot out already and having steaming tofu didn’t really help. Tim doesn’t like it so I basically ate the whole bowl myself. It was really good, I can see why he had a long line up. We walked around a bit more and didn’t see anything worth buying. Tim got a soursop fruit smoothie (tasted a bit like guava) from one of the vendors (4.80 MYR = $1.55 CAD).
After Petaling Street, we walked to see a Hindu Temple close by. There was a wedding going on outside the temple so we just observed from across the street. Hindu Temples are often colourfully vibrant which I find really cool. On our way towards the National Monument we passed by another shopping area called Katsuri Walk, which is right beside the Central Market. The Central Market was full of more unique/hand crafty type of shops compared to Petaling and Katsuri streets. The market was also air conditioned which was a nice break from being outside.
We continued on our tour of the city by walking towards the National Mosque. It was closed to tourists for today so we just walked around the front of the building. We stayed around the Mosque and rested for a bit. Kuala Lumpur is really humid and we had finished all our water so we were feeling a bit drained.
Our next stop for the day was walk to the National Monument. On the way towards the National Monument we passed by the Butterfly Park, Bird Walk, the Islamic Art Museum (closed today), and the Botanic Gardens (closed today). On our walk it started to rain and then quickly became a torrential downpour. We took refuge in an undercover seating area and stayed there for about 20 minutes before the rain stopped. As soon as it stopped raining, the sun came out and it felt even more hot and humid than earlier. Areas that had puddles of rain water were now steaming.
We eventually made our way to the National Monument and were there with bus loads of Chinese tourists. The National Monument is set on a hill and has pretty good view of some parts of Kuala Lumpur. The monument is dedicated to all the Malaysians who lost their lives in war.
We continued to walk along the back side of the monument area towards Dataran Merdeka, which is a square close to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the high Malaysian flag pole (where they raised the Malaysian flag for the first time). The Sultan building and the Textiles Museum buildings were really neat. I really like the Islamic Architecture as it’s so different from other places in SE Asia. We hung around the area and took a bunch of pictures before finding a LRT Station to take us back to the hotel.
It was a pretty long afternoon of sightseeing. We were both wearing cotton today, which was a horrible idea when you’re out all day walking around. The LRT Station was really busy, as it was right beside another Mosque. We took the LRT to Ampang Station and the ride was a very smelly one. Everyone was sweaty and smelly. Thank goodness there was strong air conditioning and ventilation on the trains. As our stop, Ampang Park, is one stop after the Petronas Towers (KLCC), the train pretty much emptied when we got to the KLCC stop.
We passed by Ampang Centre and it was all closed except for a few exterior Chinese businesses and McDonald’s. We washed up and headed upstairs for cocktails and appies. The lounge was so much busier today than yesterday. The place was a bit of a gong show and at some point, it felt like more of a day care than a lounge. There were a lot more Asian families with young kids. The kitchen couldn’t keep up with food, so it wasn’t as relaxing as yesterday. For hot food today, they had beef rendang, sticky rice, and spring rolls. We both preferred the satay skewers from yesterday. We stayed for about an hour or so and then went back downstairs. I felt bad for the two regular staff working. They were so overwhelmed and they even brought servers from other restaurants up to help out.
One of our favourite Malaysian food that we usually order in Vancouver is roti canai. I googled where to find the best roti in Kuala Lumpur and a place called Valentine Roti came up. Valentine Roti is a 15 minute walk away from our hotel so we decided to try to see if they were open today. We walked along a fairly large road (with sidewalks) and when we turned the corner to where Valentine Roti was we saw a restaurant that looked closed. Again we were disappointed until we walked a bit closer and read the restaurant was called “Roti John”. We walked a bit further down the road and saw a restaurant lit up and it was Valentine Roti! They were open and it was filled with locals. Turns out that the owners of Valentine Roti are Christian Indians, so they were open.
We ordered a regular roti, garlic roti, Valentine roti, a teh tarik, and a milo tarik. The roti all come with 3 types of curry for dipping, and they were all delicious. The garlic one had way to much garlic in it for me though (Tim liked it). The Valentine roti had meat, onions, and vegetables in it – it was super filling and tasty. There are so many different types of roti to order but the one we both liked the best was the regular roti, sometimes simple is the best. The restaurant clientele was mainly made up of large Indian families and a few tables of Chinese Malaysians. Happy we got to try authentic Malaysian roti at a place that is off the beaten track.
We walked back towards our hotel and planned to go see the Petronas Towers lit up at night but when we went to the overpass at our hotel, the doors were closed. We didn’t realize it was already past 10pm, so we decided to just see it close up tomorrow on our last day in Kuala Lumpur.
Our alarm went off at 5:30am this morning. We got ready, ate a quick breakfast, and took a tuk tuk to the airport (free airport transfers from the hotel). The tuk tuk ride from our hotel to the airport took around 20 minutes. There’s a lot of people on the roads at 6:30am in the morning – including kids going to the school. They start early!
Our flight on Air Asia to Kuala Lumpur was at 8:35am and it seemed like a popular flight. There were a lot of western tourists on our flight and it was almost full. After security, we had to go through customs to get our exit stamp. The customs officers at Siem Reap all seemed very very grumpy and rude compared to the ones in Phnom Penh. I’ve read that they are more corrupt than in Phnom Penh – I believe it!
Siem Reap’s departure terminal had a food court, coffee shops, a few shops, and had free WiFi. Of course everything at the stores were more than double the price than they would be outside of the airport. We boarded our flight, and I was happy to see a larger plane (Airbus A320). Tim and I didn’t check in online and didn’t preselect our seats (we didn’t want to pay extra) so we were seated behind each other. It ended up not being a big deal because the couple beside me moved to an empty row in the back and then Tim moved back to sit with me.
Air Asia is a discount carrier so it’s basically a no frills airlines. You can pay for food and drinks but we didn’t. Their Air Asia magazine had an extensive article about food in Kuala Lumpur and while taking notes on restaurants, I was getting really hungry. I really like Malaysian food!
The flight was around 2 hours and was a quiet and smooth flight – thank goodness. Right before we landed, the flight attendant went through the cabin and sprayed (we think) a type of insecticide – everyone covered their nose and mouths. We landed in Kuala Lumpur 20 minutes ahead of schedule. KL is 1 hour ahead of Siem Reap. We haven’t had to adjust our clocks for a while. The KL airport was really big and all the Air Asia flights land in the same terminal. We had to walk quite a ways to get to customs and to our bags.
When we approached the customs area, it was a gong show. A bunch of other Air Asia flights just landed so the area was chaotic and pretty disorganized. There weren’t any airport workers directing people on where to go or how to line up, so it was a big mess of people. It was nice not having to get a visa to enter a country for the first time in a month (and not worry about corrupt officers) (Tim: and not even having to fill out an arrivals form).
Our bags were already out when we got to baggage claim. Our next errand was to get Malaysian Ringgit (MYR). We didn’t plan on coming to Malaysia on this trip so we didn’t really prepare any cash in advance. We found a Maybank ATM before exiting and took out some money there. They had a Kuwait Bank but I remember seeing a lot of Maybanks while we were in Singapore and figured it was a good bank to withdrawal money from.
Before exiting arrivals, we had to put our luggage through security. Malaysia seems very strict on what you can and cannot bring into the country. Once we got through, we went to the taxi counter in the airport and bought a ticket for cab fare to our hotel. The ticket was 85.10 MYR = $27 CAD. We thought it would be a bit cheaper (around 78 MYR) but when the lady typed in our hotel it came out to be more. It’s an automated system so can’t really argue about the price. The other option to get into town is to take a train to KL Sentral Station (yes, sentral, not central) and then transfer to connect to another train to our hotel. Since there’s two of us, it was cheaper to take a taxi (express train is 100 MYR round trip or 55 MYR one way per person).
We went down to the taxi area, which was a bit of a trek in itself. You go through a mall to get there. After being in developing countries for a month, it’s quite a change to see a mall with western stores and brands again (that are real). The cab ride to our hotel took about an hour. The city centre is pretty far away (around 60km). Tim had our hotel starred on Google Maps and we could see how sprawling Kuala Lumpur is.
We’re staying at the Double Tree Hilton which is attached to the Intermark Mall. Tim used his Hilton Honors points for our three nights at 10,000 HH points/night, making the redemption value really good (room per night here is around $150 CAD/night). We haven’t stayed at a western branded hotel in Asia since Osaka (Sheraton). It’ll be nice to have some western luxuries for a couple of days. When checking in, they upgraded us to an executive level floor (33rd floor out of 34), which is nice. The redemption room was supposed to be two twin beds but the upgraded room had a king size bed. We also get free breakfast and free drinks and snacks every day from 5:30-7:30pm. Yay for all of Tim’s work travel benefits. We better take advantage of his Hilton status while he still has it. There’s basically no chance he’ll be able to maintain his status for next year.
Our room is quite nice and has a city view. We were hoping we would be able to see the Petronas Towers but we couldn’t (Tim: just barely couldn’t). We settled in and went out to find something to eat for lunch. The Intermark Mall (also an office tower for JP Morgan and other businesses) is connected to another mall and the metro station via a covered overpass. We walked to the Ampang Centre in search of food. We walked through and saw the majority of the clothing stores were for Muslim women (~62% of Malaysians are Muslim). Today is the last day of Ramadan so there are a lot of decorations all around the city celebrating. There was a Malaysian cafe that looked decent but Tim wasn’t feeling it. I think it’s because he saw the “golden arches” close by and wanted McDonald’s. He said we could have McDonald’s for lunch and find something Malaysian for dinner. So off to McDonald’s we went. (Tim: we also went to the food court in search of food, but being Ramadan, literally everything was closed except for one Vietnamese stall).
On the McDonald’s door they had a notice saying that it is against the law for any Muslim person to eat at McDonald’s during Ramadan. McDonald’s also had decorations all around for the end of Ramadan. Prices were half the price of Australia and a bit cheaper than Singapore’s McDonald’s prices. We ordered a McChicken and a Big Mac meal. Malaysian McDonald’s has some pretty interesting looking desserts (longan ice cream sundae, white taro pie) that I wouldn’t mind trying while we’re here. Lunch was pretty satisfying, although the McChicken didn’t taste the same as home. We’ve noticed during our 4 months that Big Macs are very consistent across all the countries we’ve been to but McChickens can vary – and not in a good way.
After lunch we walked towards the Petronas Towers. It’s about a 10 minute walk from our hotel, and about a 5 minute walk from Ampang Park Mall. We went to the park behind the towers that had a good view of the towers to take some photos (along with a lot of other people). We walked around the water fountain area and went into Suria Mall, which is located at the base of the Petronas Towers. The mall is huge and was really crowded. They too had festivities for the end of Ramadan, with displays and performances in the centre of the mall. We walked around the mall for a while, only going through a few stores.
We made our way back to our hotel just before 6pm and went upstairs to the lounge for free drinks and food. We weren’t sure if it was just going to be free drinks but we were happily surprised to see a nice spread of satays, samosas, chicken wings, sandwiches, fruits, and desserts. That was our dinner for the night. So basically we could eat breakfast and dinners here for free and then have nice lunches out if we wanted.
We spent the rest of the night booking the remaining parts of our trip (we’ll be back in less than 2 weeks!) and going for a pretty quick swim at the pool. There’s an outdoor pool that has partial views of the Petronas Towers, which looks pretty cool at night. We’ll probably come back to the pool during the day when it’s warmer. I’ve acclimatized and it felt cold when I came out of the pool, and it was 28 degrees.
Looking forward to exploring more of Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. Not sure what else there is to do here besides eating since we’ve seen the Petronas Towers (quite a bit) today. We have to do a bit more research tonight. There’s fireworks going off right now from people celebrating on the streets with the end of Ramadan.
This morning was the only day we got to sleep in past 7am while in Siem Reap. We tried to take full advantage of the day of rest but still woke up around 7:30am. We had a more relaxed breakfast downstairs and planned out what we were going to do for the rest of the day. We had our temple pass for another day but I think we were templed out and just wanted to take it easy in town.
We took a tuk tuk to the centre of town to the Old Market. Like most markets in SE Asia, they had an assortment of souvenirs, local clothing options, and a wet and dry market – which is basically where all the action happens. As we walked down the rows of vendors, we continuously heard, “lady, want a scarf?” “buy something?”. I think having started out in Vietnam, these fairly mild calls were not distracting or uncomfortable.
After walking around for a bit, we walked towards a massage shop that we looked up online before heading out. As I mentioned before, there are so many cheap massage shops littered around the Old Town, but a lot of them didn’t seem too comfortable/relaxing (probably just good for a foot massage). Our massage shop was called, Lemongrass Garden, and it’s located across the street from the Park Hyatt Hotel (looks like a really nice hotel in a very central location) on Siem Reap’s “main street”. For a khmer massage, it was $12 USD for 60 minutes. This was about $4-5 USD more than other roadside salons that didn’t look very nice. It is also half the price of a more luxurious places, so basically it’s more middle of the road.
They gave us tea and a cold towel as we were deciding which massage to have. A Khmer massage is similar to a Thai massage – some stretching. Since it wasn’t described as being as painful as a Lao massage, I decided to do a Khmer one as well. We were lead into a room where the masseuses rubbed and cleaned our feet. Tim’s lady did his feet first, rubbing them with bath salts and spent probably about 8 minutes on him. My lady came after he was done and cleaned my feet but only took like 3 minutes. This was a very telling indication about whose massage would be better.
We were lead up two sets of steep stairs (I think all stairs in Cambodia are super steep) to our massage room. We got changed into the wide pants and shirt they provided. They had lockers right by our beds for our clothes and backpack. Overall my massage was relaxing but pretty weak (pressure wise). I enjoyed the massage in Luang Prabang more. I also felt very sticky from the mixture of sunscreen, mosquito repellant, and sweat on my body, so also felt bad for her touching me. As expected, Tim enjoyed his massage a lot more than I did. I have no major complaints though. It was relaxing and that was the point. After we were done our massage, we went back to the reception and they had another tea for us to drink before we paid. I would recommend Lemongrass if you get Tim’s masseuse (Tim: Khouch was her name), she seems more detailed oriented.
It was time for lunch and we had a pizza place in mind. The original pizza place we wanted to go to yesterday but was closed on Sunday. It’s called Belmiro’s and it’s owned by an American ex-pat from Boston. Yesterday we had Italian pizza, today we’re having American pizza. The pizza prices were more expensive than Il Forno’s but I suppose that’s because their portions are a lot larger (American style). They have medium and large pizzas, so we ordered a medium with half pepperoni and half sausage and spinach. The pizza came and it was huge. Their medium was bigger than Il Forno’s large. It was a thin crust New York style pizza. It was very tasty but we both thought Il Forno’s had better crust. Since it was the Fourth of July, many Americans came into the restaurant and were wishing each other a “Happy Fourth”. The restaurant even had a special menu for this week to celebrate. They were featuring Chili Cheese Dogs and Chicago style hot dogs.
After lunch we went to get fruit shakes from a place we saw that sold them for only $0.75 USD. We got a mango and pineapple shake and caught a tuk tuk back to our hotel. It was hotter today than the other days we’ve been here, so walking around wasn’t very appealing. Siem Reap is definitely quite dead in the afternoons as most people are either temple hopping or probably indoors.
When we got back to our hotel, I was contemplating going for a swim but my decision was made for me when it began to rain quite heavily again. I guess this is rainy season for a reason! We stayed inside, booked our hotel for Kuala Lumpur, caught up on some blog posts, and made room for my photos on my laptop (I’ve taken over 20,000 pictures so far!). It rained for the rest of the afternoon so we were glad we were inside.
For our last dinner in Siem Reap (and Cambodia) we decided to go to Sinn Sisa Mouth Café again. The owners are so sweet and we both really enjoyed the food there. We guiltily had pizza two days in a row for lunch so we should have Cambodian food for our last meal. We took a tuk tuk to the restaurant and when we pulled up, the wife saw us, smiled, and waved at us like she’d seen a friend. I smiled and waved back in the same way as we went into the restaurant. Today was a lot busier than our first visit. There were about 5 other tables eating or waiting for their food. The table beside us was an Asian American couple and it seemed like they came there for dinner everyday that they were in Siem Reap. As they were leaving they commented on how great the food was and that they would see them again tomorrow. Good food at good prices along with Khmer hospitality goes a long way (and Trip Advisor reviews help too).
We ordered Amok fish (one of the most popular Cambodian dishes) and Tim got drawn in by another garlic dish – this time pork and garlic. The picture was a bit deceiving because it looked like the garlic was fried but it came out more of a stir fry, similar to his chicken from the other night. I really liked the Amok fish, very subtle coconut and lemongrass flavor and the curry had collared green type vegetables in it. The amount of curry they gave could’ve easily fed both Tim and I. The husband gave us a plate of bananas and dragon fruit this time for dessert. We paid and thanked them for a wonderful meal. If you’re ever in Siem Reap and want Cambodian food, I would highly recommend it (I also wrote them a Trip Advisor review).
We walked to the night market after dinner because I wanted to check out the tank tops. I had a bought a few in Phnom Penh and sort of regret not buying more. The tank I got from Thailand 3 years ago is still in pretty good shape and the ones here are very similar. We didn’t see many of the same type in Vietnam so I figure this would be my last chance to buy them before going home. We walked past many stores and then one man said, “all tanks and t-shirts $1!” (was pretty impressed with him, we heard him speak Korean, Chinese, and Japanese). On one hand, I was really happy that they were only $1 USD, but on the other hand, I realized my bargaining in Phnom Penh wasn’t that great if he was already offering them for $1! It’s okay. I was already really happy with my 3 tanks for $5 USD, so this is even better. We spent about 30 minutes in the store looking through each rack. Their organization system is not very good, but I don’t know why that would surprise us. The women’s t-shirts and tanks were a lot nicer than the men’s. All the men’s t-shirts were a cut out v-neck, which I can’t picture many people I know wearing. Too bad they didn’t just have normal crew necks like in Thailand.
We were followed around by a Cambodian teenager who was more interested in staring at himself in the mirror, doing his hair, and posing in front of the mirror than really helping us. But I guess his job was to just follow us around and collect money while the boss man drew customers in. Since things were so disorganized, we spent a long time going through the racks. We ended up buying 5 more tanks but as we paid the boy said to Tim, “you guys took a long time to look “(in an annoyed tone). At this point we were a bit annoyed with him too because he kept asking us how many we would buy and so we said probably 5, will you give us a deal? He said no abruptly and we asked why did it matter how many we would buy then. As he handed his boss the money, Tim asked him if there was a problem that we took so long to look? He scurried away and the boss man out front apologized on his behalf. He kept saying “sorry my friend” to Tim.
We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel and called it a night. Another early morning for us as we’re flying to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. We’re both really excited to go to Malaysia for the first time. We didn’t expect to go to Malaysia during our time in SE Asia, but this is a welcome addition to our itinerary.
Our alarms went off at the ungodly hour of 4am. It was good that Dara was going to be waiting for us at 4:40am or else I would very very tempted to snooze. We came to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat and it would be a shame to not see it during its famed sunrise.
We headed down to the lobby, picked up our breakfasts to go, and saw Dara waiting outside for us. When we were about to leave, the EuroCup quarter-finals game between Germany and Italy was on. The game was in the middle of the deciding penalty kicks. Dara and Tim were intrigued so we watched the outcome of the game before heading out. Judging by Dara and the hotel staff’s reactions to the goals, they were cheering for Germany.
We eventually made our way to the car 20 minutes later and drove to Angkor Wat. Considering it was 5am, the streets were fairly lively. When we got to the parking lot, it was pitch black and Dara held a flashlight out for us to see where we were walking. Of the people who were up for the sunrise, they all walked down the middle path but Dara took us to the side and we ended up beating everyone to the view points. We camped out right in front of one of the ponds, where you can see Angkor Wat’s reflection. Dara told us that within 15 minutes this area will be packed, and he was right. Since it’s rainy season, we didn’t really see a typical sunrise, since there wasn’t much sun. It was cool to see the different coloured sky with Angkor Wat coming into focus. We stood there for about 45 minutes until about 6am. The grass was too muddy to sit down on so most people were standing – which is why our patch of grass was prime real estate.
After taking hundreds of pictures of Angkor Wat, we found Dara and he said we should eat our breakfast before heading into the temple. We camped out on the steps of the temple’s “library” and ate the breakfast the hotel packed for us. There were a million flies around, so it made eating difficult. The breakfast wasn’t that appetizing. I just ended up eating the bananas (Tim: I ate their omelette and sausage and it was good).
Even to this day, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. It’s incredible that in the 12th century, they built the entire complex which stretches 162 hectares in just an estimated 35 years. We climbed to the top of Angkor Wat, which allows up to 100 people there at a time. There were some great views of the surroundings from the top, including watching mischievous monkeys go through the trash bins and then running away from the security guards. We saw a bunch of monkeys around the temple on our way out – a family of them and another monkey who attacked a young boy after the boy ran up to it suddenly.
Our next stop on our tour for the day was Ta Prhomn, the temple where some scenes in Tomb Raider was filmed. Angelina Jolie starred in it and subsequently adopted her first son, Maddox, from Cambodia. I just learned that she has honourary Cambodian citizenship because of all the humanitarian work she does for the country. She’s also currently producing a Netflix movie called, “First They Killed My Father” about the Khmer Rouge genocide that’s being filmed now. We thought Ta Prhomn was very cool, they had so many old trees that have grown over the temple walls. It’s interesting to see that all the temples are sponsored by different countries. If there is no country to sponsor the temple’s conservation, there is no work done to restore the temples. I didn’t see any temples sponsored by Canada (Angkor Wat is sponsored by Germany and Italy).
We saw a few other temples and palaces within the Angkor Thom gates. I was getting really tired at this point in the morning. It was warm and I just had a couple of mini bananas so I was starting to fade.
Our last temple for the day and tour was Bayon. Every time I heard the name Bayon, it reminded me of the show Survivor. They filmed the last 2 seasons in Cambodia so their tribe names were Bayon and Angkor. All the temples we went to today were all very different which was good. Bayon was very neat. It was built with hundreds of faces of the king all around. Most of the gates around Angkor had faces of the king around but Bayon was overkill. It was great for picture taking!
After a pretty jam packed two days our tour of the temples was over. We have the pass for another day but I think we are “templed out” and will just take it easy in town for our last day in Siem Reap. Dara and Mr. Hua dropped us off in the Old Town, where we’d have lunch. We said our goodbyes and thanked him. Dara is a very kind hearted and patient guide, and he is very proud of his heritage. When talking about Cambodia, he always refers to it as “my country”. I don’t remember the last time I heard anyone describing their home country in that sentiment.
I know you could probably do Angkor Wat and all the temples on your own for much cheaper, but it was nice to be accompanied by a local guide and get to know how life is here. He’s around our age and has two boys (6 and 8 years old) and parents to support. Being in SE Asia and seeing how hard everyone works and hustles to even survive makes me feel like an extremely spoiled brat. I don’t take for granted how lucky Tim and I are for all that we were blessed with. But sometimes you can’t help but feel guilty for our blessings when there are many others who are not as fortunate as us. It’s not to say they aren’t happy, because all the Cambodian people we have met and interacted with seemed to be very happy and so kind despite being very poor by western standards (Tim: And if they’re happier than you, then what does it say about money and happiness?). I can see why Angelina Jolie fell in love with Cambodia while filming here. Any way, that’s something I originally wanted to reflect on coming on this trip. What makes people happy? I know it’s not material things, that’s for sure.
Back to today. We were craving pizza and found a few highly rated places to try in Siem Reap. After going to two of them and finding out they weren’t opened for lunch, we went to our third choice. The restaurant is called Il Forno and is just off Siem Reap’s Pub Street. The prices were cheap for western standards but expensive for Cambodian standards. We shared a large salami pizza ($9.50 USD) and ordered a couple of soft drinks ($1.25 USD each). The pizza was Neapolitan style and was surprisingly very delicious. The crust was perfectly chewy and it tasted just as good as the Italian pizzas we had in Melbourne. It definitely hit the spot and satisfied our pizza craving. There’s a huge ex-pat community in Siem Reap, so that’s why there are so many western restaurants in the Old Town.
After lunch we took a tuk tuk back to our hotel, washed up, and rested for the rest of the afternoon. I took a nap for a couple of hours. We got ready and went back into town to the Night Market to find something for dinner.
We walked around the Angkor Night Market and it was basically all the same souvenir trinkets and clothing we’ve seen at most other markets in Cambodia. For dinner we found some street vendors across the street and ordered noodles, skewers, and a mango smoothie from different vendors (they were all in a row, how convenient!). Our street side dinner cost us $4 USD.
After dinner we walked around the streets and found dessert at a pancake truck, which was more like a crispy crepe. The banana chocolate pancake was $1 USD, but we later found some other stands just off the main roads for $0.75 USD. There are so many massage shops around the night market, all trying to get you to go inside. The massages are extremely cheap – $3 USD for an hour foot massage. In addition to massages, they have a lot of fish spas, which I’m too scared to try (because it’s dirty). The fish spas were also a lot cheaper than Thailand since $2 USD could buy you unlimited time. The fish were also a lot bigger than the ones I remembered seeing in Thailand. Maybe these fish get fed more?
We grabbed a tuk tuk back to the hotel and called it a night. It was a pretty long day.
This morning we were getting picked up by our guide, Dara, at 8:30am in our lobby. We went for a pretty quick breakfast downstairs since we kept snoozing our alarms. We got to the lobby just in time and Dara was already sitting there waiting for us. My parents and family friends used Dara when they were in Siem Reap 4 years ago, so I felt a bit connected to him already.
We introduced ourselves to Dara and our driver, Mr. Hua, and hopped into his Toyota Highlander. They were both very nice and were your typical friendly Cambodians. Dara was wearing a tour guide uniform which we saw around the temples. He’s a certified Siem Reap tour guide for Angkor Temples, which takes 3 years to complete and another couple of years to select a language to specialize in. We booked a two day tour to visit the temples with him for $150 USD. Since we wanted to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat, Dara suggested we do that on our second day together and start at the temples further away. He didn’t charge us extra for the sunrise tour.
The first stop we took was to get our Angkor passes. Tours here don’t include the prices of your tickets so we bought our own. There’s a day pass for $20, 3 day pass for $40, and a 7 day pass for $60 (we bought the 3 day pass). When we got to the counter they asked where we were from and then asked if we were Cambodian. Cambodians get to visit the temples for free. They also take your photo and print it on the pass to avoid people from sharing or selling unused tickets.
Our first stop was to Banteay Srie, a pink colour sandstone temple that is known for its intricate carvings. When we arrived, there were a lot of tour busses. We hadn’t seen so many tourists since we were in Japan, or maybe not at all. It’s crazy because this is their down season and it’s still pretty busy. Dara told us that during down/rainy season, the tourists are mostly Asian – Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese. And during high season (October – December) it’s more North Americans and Europeans. This temple was nice. The detail of the carvings is pretty amazing considering this was built over 1000 years ago!
On the way to the temples, we drove through the Cambodian country side, which according to Dara, has no electricity or running water. It’s only about 15 minutes outside Siem Reap and life is totally different. There were a bunch of street vendors on the side of the road selling palm sugar and palm products.
Next on our agenda was the “grand tour”, which is made up of Prerup, East Mebon, Tasom, and Preah Khan. It was hard remembering which temple was what. My first impression of the temples was that they were all quite grand for their time. The other temples did not have as many tourists which was nice. It’s quite tiring going from one temple to the next and climbing up the steep steps to the top of the temples (so glad I didn’t wear flip flops), especially in the heat! It wasn’t even that hot out (28 degrees), relatively speaking, and was a bit overcast and it was still draining. It’s really nice being able to get into the car after each temple and have air conditioning blasting. Mr. Hua would also give us ice cold water when we came back into the car. I could only imagine how uncomfortable it would be to be temple hopping during their “hotter season”. Cambodia has 3 seasons which the locals call “Cool Season” (too hot), “Warm Season” (way too hot), and “Rainy Season” (way too hot and humid).
For lunch, we stopped by a local restaurant in the countryside which was obviously for tourists only. Tour guides and tuk tuks all dropped of tourists here for lunch. There aren’t any other options around so this was pretty much it. The restaurant had hammocks off to the side for drivers and guides to hang out in while tourists ate. The restaurant was a Cambodian restaurant whose prices were about double the price of restaurants in the city. This was still cheap and it was a bit understandable since getting electricity and running water in the countryside is very expensive. Tim ordered a pork noodle soup and I had grilled pork with rice, both dishes were $6.50 USD each.
After we were done lunch, we continued on to two more temples. It was only our first day, but a lot of temples already looked quite similar to me. I think it’s really cool how huge trees grow around and almost take over some of the temples. I think it’s good that we started off at the smaller temples before going to the main event tomorrow – Angkor Wat and Ta Phrom (Tomb Raider temple).
We finished our day close to 3pm. Dara dropped us off at our hotel and said he would be at our hotel tomorrow morning at 4:40am for the sunrise (so early!). As soon as we got into the hotel it began to pour. Such good timing!
We rested the rest of the afternoon. Since it was pouring for most of the afternoon we just stayed inside and watched the storm. At around dinner time, it dried up and we headed out into town. We took a tuk tuk ($2 USD) to a Khmer restaurant called, Sinn Sinsa Mouth Cafe. I read about it on Trip Advisor and it was one of the few restaurants that were highly ranked that weren’t western/non-Khmer food.
When we got to Sinn Sinsa, we were warmly greeted by the owners – which seemed like a husband and wife team. Their kids were hanging out and it was like we were eating in their home. There weren’t any other tourists while we were there (guessing because it is down season), just other locals hanging out. The husband took our orders while the wife did all the cooking. We ordered a luc lac beef, garlic chicken rice, and morning glory. They gave us mini bananas for dessert, which was nice of them. So far this is my favourite Khmer restaurant. The food was really good and price reasonably, very generous portions, and the owners were so nice.
We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, washed up, and went to sleep early. We had to be out and ready to go by 4:40am!
It’s our last morning in Phnom Penh and our last breakfast at TEAV Hotel. I changed it up today and ordered a western breakfast and Tim ordered fried rice again. We booked a car to take us to the airport at 10:30am so we didn’t have much time in the morning to do much besides pack and have breakfast.
Our flight to Siem Reap wasn’t until 12:55pm, but with Phnom Penh’s crazy traffic, it took around an hour to get to the airport. The airport is only 11km away! At one point we were stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes because there was construction on the road. We were flying on Cambodia’s national airline, Cambodia Angkor Air to Siem Reap. Out of the domestic terminal, the 4 flights that were leaving around the same time were all going to Siem Reap. The only other city that flights fly to domestically is Sihanoukville (the south coastal city).
The domestic terminal was surprisingly nice and modern – very new compared to Laos and even Vietnam. There was free WiFi in the terminal and a good cafe called Blue Pumpkin, which apparently has the best ice cream in Cambodia. We saw a Blue Pumpkin store along the river yesterday but didn’t try it so I’m glad they had it at the airport so we could try. Tim and I shared a coconut ice cream in a cone for $1.75 USD. The cone was really good. It wasn’t a normal waffle cone, it was like an egg roll cookie cone.
When it was time to board, the skies opened up and it was like the same downpour as we had yesterday. Since the plane wasn’t right at the gate and we had to take a shuttle bus to take us right to the plane, a lot of people got wet until airport staff brought out large umbrellas. We also realized that departure times in SE Asia are more of an estimate of departure time and generally it’s actually the time you board.
The plane was another smaller place – similar to what we took from Hanoi to Luang Prabang (Tim: ATR 72). The flight time was only about 45 minutes, but it felt like the longest flight ever because of the bad turbulence. There were a couple of times where the plane just dropped a bit and everyone (or a lot of people) on the plane yelped. I was one of them. I grabbed Tim’s hand and held it pretty tight, said a prayer, and hoped we would land in Siem Reap safely. Tim said he wasn’t scared. I hate small planes!
Obviously we landed safely, but seriously that was the worst flight I’ve ever been on. I haven’t been that scared for a while. Tim said he was more scared on our honeymoon when our plane was trying to land in the Maldives. I don’t remember that at all, but the way he describes it I suppose it was probably more of a true concern than bad turbulence. Basically right as we were about to land, the plane went full thrust and pulled up again because (as we were told later) there was a plane that didn’t clear the runway. (Tim: So as Kait mentioned, it was significantly scarier for me because in my mind, being so close to touching down and then having the engines go full thrust and the plane pulling up made me think there was imminent danger. It was an abnormal occurrence and it was probably the only time I’ve been truly scared on a flight. Planes don’t crash from turbulence, so it’s not a concern to me, other than spilling a drink. It’s also good to remind myself that the tuk tuk rides we take are probably significantly more dangerous than any plane ride we’ll ever take).
We collected our bags and someone from our hotel was waiting for us at arrivals. The hotel we booked includes free airport transfers which is nice. We were picked up in a tuk tuk and made our way to the hotel.
We’re staying at Silk D’Angkor Boutique Hotel. It was really difficult to pick a hotel in Siem Reap because there are so many of them. The fact that there are so many hotels in Siem Reap was evident on our tuk tuk ride. All we saw were large hotels and resorts on the main road into the city. We got a pretty good deal on this hotel because it’s rainy season. If we stayed 4 nights, we only had to pay for 3 and there was a 15% promo code I found online so it was $100 USD for 4 nights. The hotel is older and not as modern as TEAV but we have no complaints. At least we have a large window, which we haven’t had in a while. We even have a view of the pool which is nice.
For the rest of the afternoon we decided to just relax and hang out at the hotel until dinner. I wasn’t feeling 100% and Tim wanted to catch up on our personal finances so we did just that. We knew the next couple of days would be longer and more draining. We got changed and went down to the pool and hung out there for an hour or so. It was nice. Seems like the hotel clientele are all Caucasian. I haven’t seen any Asians yet.
After we washed up, I looked up some restaurants for dinner and we took a tuk tuk to a restaurant called Lilypop ($2 USD ride). Lilypop served a mixture of Thai and Cambodian food and is actually run by a Belgian guy (with Cambodian cooks). The restaurant was already busy for 5:30pm so we grabbed a table outside. Tim ordered luc lac beef again and I tried amok chicken, which is like a Cambodian coconut curry. We also ordered green beans with pork to share. The best dish was my amok chicken. The beans were mediocre and Tim’s luc lac was probably my least favourite of the ones he’s had so far. The biggest kicker for us is that the rice they serve is brown! Maybe we aren’t the restaurant’s target market. They had mango sticky rice on the dessert menu and we got it to share. If there’s mango sticky rice on the menu, I’ll usually order it for dessert. This was probably the most disappointing dish for me. The sticky rice was way too mushy and had no particular taste. I have yet to have a really good mango sticky rice on this trip so far. I’ll keep looking!
We didn’t want to pay another $2 USD to go back to our hotel. Since the sidewalks here look pretty walkable, we just walked back. We’ll explore more of the town another night, but I just felt like going to sleep early. Our hotel is close to a huge Duty Free store (DFS Galleria) with all the luxury brands. It’s a bit weird to see such a high end complex in the middle of Siem Reap when everything else is very old.
We’re looking forward to seeing some of the temples tomorrow! We hired a local tour guide for the next two days to take us around. My parents used him when they were here 4 years ago and had great things to say about him.
I think the fact that there isn’t much natural light in our room makes us sleep in. It seems like we’re the last people in the hotel to have breakfast. Today we both ordered Cambodian breakfast – fried rice and fried noodles. I think this hotel has the best breakfast we’ve had so far.
We’re both really happy with the service at this hotel. Everyone is super friendly and accommodating. For example, Tim collects banknotes and coins and wanted all the Cambodian Riel denominations. But this is actually harder than it seems because all the ATMs give out USD and the only change you get when paying are small denominations. Tim asked the guy at reception if the hotel had riel that he could exchange for (they convert 1 USD = 4,000 riel in Cambodia). The hotel didn’t have all the bills so the guy at reception got a tuk tuk driver to go to the bank and take out one of each Cambodian banknote for Tim. That was really nice and definitely something they didn’t have to do for us but they did. It made Tim’s search for all the bills really easy.
The same tuk tuk driver who went to the bank for Tim drove us to the Russian Market for $3 USD. The Russian Market has nothing Russian in it. There’s the Russian Market and also a Russian Boulevard because the Russians funded the construction of the road in Phnom Penh after the Vietnam liberated Cambodia from the Khmer Rouge.
The market was filled with everything from souvenirs to home tools to raw meat. We walked through the rows of vendors and were pleasantly surprised that we weren’t harassed to buy things even if we touched a t-shirt. It was definitely more relaxing than shopping at Ben Thanh in Saigon. I bought some tank tops similar to the neon pink owl top I bought in Thailand 3 years ago. I wear it a lot more than I thought I would so these are to replace it. I bargained on my own and was really proud of myself for getting 3 of them for $5 USD!
We were pretty full from our heavy breakfast and didn’t end up eating at the market. There seemed to be a lot of good food options in the market though. Around the outside of the market there were pineapple vendors who cut and sold mini pineapples that you could hold by the stem and munch on as you walked around the market. We shared one and it was tender and very sweet! We saw these small pineapples while in Vietnam and Laos, but didn’t try them there. The ones we saw in Laos were being cut while the pineapple was being swarmed by flies. These ones were fly free (from what we saw) so I felt better about eating it.
While walking around the outer part of the market, we saw a street vendor that sold sugar cane juice and smoothies. She had some seats under a tree so we decided to get some drinks here before heading to the Royal Palace. We ordered one sugar cane juice ($0.60 USD) and a mango smoothie ($1 USD). Across the street we saw a fried chicken stall that I noticed while on the tuk tuk yesterday. Tim is a fried chicken fiend and went across the street to get some chicken for us to eat. He’s the one who said he wasn’t hungry in the slightest (10 minutes before he saw fried chicken). He brought back 4 pieces for us to share. They looked good and were only $0.60 USD each! It tasted like KFC but with sweet chilli sauce. As we were finishing up our lunch it started getting really windy. Being in SE Asia for 3 weeks, I knew what that meant. As soon as I felt that gust of wind I told Tim that it was going to start pouring soon. Sure enough, I was right!
We took a tuk tuk to the Royal Palace ($2.50 USD) and as soon as we got there it started to pour. Like torrential downpour. We both took out our rain jackets and umbrellas. Wearing rain jackets with a t-shirt underneath in humid weather was not pleasant. I was also wearing Toms (canvas shoes) which was probably the worst shoes I could’ve worn today. My feet were soaked and I knew they would be that way for the remainder of the day.
The Royal Palace admission cost $6.50 USD each. The palace grounds are all very nicely groomed and it would’ve been a nice area to just walk around if it hadn’t been pouring. I guess the bright side is that it wasn’t scorching hot! We walked through the palace grounds and went into the “silver pagoda” where the floor is made out of sterling silver. We actually missed this at first because on the map it doesn’t say silver pagoda, it just says “emerald Buddha”. Yes, there’s an emerald Buddha in the silver pagoda, so we totally missed the silver floor when we walked in (Tim: It didn’t help that 90% of the floor was covered in rugs, so you had to look at the edges to notice the silver). You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the palace buildings so I can’t show you what it looked like. Let’s just say the fact that we missed it the first time and had to go back is all you need to know. The palace is a nice place to visit but it was a bit underwhelming for the admission price.
We found a tuk tuk outside the palace that agreed (after bargaining of course) to take us to the Central Market, Riverside, and then back to our hotel later in the night for $9 USD. Central Market is a nicer looking market than the Russian Market but it felt like more of a maze since it’s more of a circular configuration. Again, the market had everything. They even had a whole row of tailors and nail stalls (lots of people were getting pedicures). I just bought a bulk bag (probably 30+) of hair ties for $1 USD. I didn’t bother bargaining because I was surprised at how cheap it was already.
We stayed at the Central Market for an hour wandering around each row of vendors. I liked the Russian Market better. There were more vendors at the Russian Market whose products looked more appealing to me. We went back to the front of the market where our driver was supposed to meet us at 5pm. He wasn’t there and we waited for another 10 minutes for him before we decided to just find another tuk tuk driver. We were surprised that he wasn’t there since we didn’t even pay him or give him a “deposit”.
The next tuk tuk driver took us to the Riverside Night Market for $3 USD. Today was the first day we took tuk tuks between all our sights and it was awesome! Usually we walk everywhere but Phnom Penh isn’t a very walker friendly city. Basically everyone takes tuk tuks and I can see why. When we got to the night market it was still fairly early and vendors were still setting up. We went across the street and walked along the riverside. We read that Japan had donated money in developing Phnom Penh’s riverside walk way by helping the city deal with their sewage system, building a dyke to prevent flooding, and making it more aesthetically pleasing by lining it with palm trees.
While we were walking along the river Tim saw a noodle stand that he wanted to try. We went up to the stand and ordered noodles to share. A local came to help and translated for us since the vendor didn’t speak any English. We’ve been in Cambodia for 3 days now and we’ve noticed that people here are very nice and helpful. So far Cambodia and Laos has the nicest people during our SE Asia portion of our trip.
(Tim: The main reason this stall got my attention was because it looked like the lady was wearing pajamas). The noodles were really good ($1.50 USD). They were basically instant noodles stir fried with beef and vegetables and a sweet and spicy sauce. Beside the noodle stand was a grilled corn stand that seemed very popular amongst the locals. We tried one corn on the cob and agreed that it was pretty darn good. The corn was grilled and then dipped in a sweet onion sauce. The corn was only $0.50 USD. The little girl helping her Dad spoke English and helped me out. There were two different kinds of corn – yellow and white corn. She asked which one I wanted and I asked her which one she liked. She picked yellow so I went with that.
We walked back to the night market and as we were walking the tuk tuk driver who ditched us at the Central Market saw us! He told us that there was so much traffic on the way back so he got there 10-15 minutes after 5pm. He said he would drive us back to our hotel, less the amount we paid the other tuk tuk driver. We agreed to meet him after we were done at the market.
There wasn’t too much going on at the night market. There were some clothing stalls but nothing caught our eye. Maybe we were marketed out at this point in the day. At the back of the market there are a few food stalls. We shared some fried noodles with chicken ($1.50 USD, seems to be the standard price) which were good but I think I liked the instant noodle ones better. I was more excited for dessert since we saw a coconut ice cream stall that looked delicious.
We shared a fresh coconut ice cream for dessert. They cut a fresh coconut in half and they scraped the flesh off the shell and then piled 3 scoops of coconut ice cream, peanuts, and pieces of palm flesh. It was delicious and only $1.25 USD!
After dessert we went back to the tuk tuk and went back to the hotel. I couldn’t wait to take off my wet TOMS – so gross. When we got back to our room, our bed was decorated and there were rose petals with a bath drawn in the washroom. The manager at the hotel thinks this is our honeymoon so that’s why they decorated our room.
We’re leaving for Siem Reap tomorrow and will be there for 4 days. Looking forward to seeing the famous Angkor Wat! I enjoyed our time in Phnom Penh. It took a little to warm up to the city but I actually really enjoyed it. Phnom Penh isn’t the prettiest city and is a little rough around the edges but the country and city have been through hell and back so it’s understandable. As mentioned earlier, we both think that Cambodian people are some of the friendliest people we have met so far on this trip. As a whole, considering all that they have been through, there doesn’t seem to be a chip on anyone’s shoulder in the same way that we felt in Vietnam. We also learned that it’s not pronounced “Nom-Pen” like how we thought it was, but it is pronounced “Pah-Nom-Pen”. Now we know better!
Today was a very emotionally draining day, which is why I’m struggling to write today’s post. We visited the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (aka “killing fields”) and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – which made for a very somber Phnom Penh day.
Our morning started quite late. We had a really good breakfast at the hotel and then got ready to head out. We found a tuk tuk outside the hotel and negotiated a fare to take us to the killing fields and then to the museum afterwards. Our tuk tuk driver was an older man who agreed to take us around for $15 USD. It started to lightly rain as we made our way to the killing fields, which seemed appropriate for what we were about to see.
Choeung Ek is located about 45 minutes outside of Phnom Penh. The tuk tuk ride there was an adventure in itself and I quite enjoyed riding in one through the crazy Cambodian streets.
Once we arrived at Choeung Ek, we agreed to meet our driver in 2 hours. Admission to the grounds, which includes a really good audio guide, was $6 USD each. The audio guide leads you around the killing fields and then to the memorial stupa at the end. As this is now a memorial sight, it was peaceful and quiet while everyone walked around and listened to their headsets and reflected on what we just heard. It’s hard to imagine that 35 years ago, the very area we were walking on was the site of mass graves and horrific atrocities.
While walking through the grounds, you couldn’t help but get emotional hearing what happened during Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Tim will be better at explaining what we saw.
(Tim: Taking over for the rest of this post)
The killing fields were previously a Chinese Cemetery before the Khmer Rouge began using it as a execution site. Prisoners from Security Prison 21 (S-21) were brought to the killing fields for execution after signing confessions that were tortured out of them. S-21 would be our next stop after the killing fields, as the former prison was now the Genocide Museum.
The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, tried to create a closed off, agrarian socialist society. Pol Pot glorified the farmer, and soon after the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh and began their regime, they evacuated cities and made everyone move into the rural areas to work on farms (as slave labour basically). Anyone that posed a potential threat to the regime was imprisoned and executed… Anyone educated, anyone in a profession, religious leaders, anyone with glasses even (meant you were educated?), were subject to imprisonment and execution.
(Kait: The following pictures may be disturbing but I also think it’s important to see them.)
After spending a somber couple hours at the killing fields, we found our tuk tuk driver and were on our way back into town to the Genocide Museum.
Before going in, we took a short break to go find something for lunch. We started making our way down the street adjacent to the museum and saw a street food spot with an awning that had a picture of Luc lac beef. That was easy. Kait and I shared a Luc lac beef and a noodle soup. We also got a fruit smoothie (can’t go wrong). After lunch, we made our way to the museum.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, S-21 during the Khmer Rouge regime, and a high school before that, was converted into a museum and memorial after the Khmer Rouge regime fell to the Vietnamese. Of the 20,000 or so prisoners that entered the prison, only 7 survived. (Tim: Apparently 7 is the most often quoted number but more recent studies show the number was probably closer to 20-30).
Walking around the museum, I was disturbed by the many similarities I noticed between what they did here, and what I saw at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Different countries, different ideologies, different contexts, but similar tragedies. Both took photos and extensive documentation of the prisoners. Both have stories of orders being given to destroy all the photos and documentation when liberators neared the sites, only to have the soldiers their evacuate before they had time to destroy all the evidence. Both had policies of transferring prisoners to the execution sites under false pretenses. Both were disturbingly efficient about killing people. Both started at a certain pace of execution, which dramatically (and tragically) increased near the fall of their regimes. Both had soldiers who said they were only following orders…
I find the extensive documentation particularly disturbing and odd, but a clip from the Audio Tour gave an explanation that I found somewhat plausible. By requiring and strictly adhering to rules that required detailed documentation, they took the act of genocide and mass murder, and made it procedural. It became something easier for a soldier to follow through on. They’re just following detailed instructions…
Both Auschwitz and S-21 had rooms filled with portrait photos of hundreds of prisoners. I found the portraits particularly moving. It’s haunting to see so many beautiful faces, young and old, male and female, knowing they were all imprisoned here, tortured, then executed. But I find it important to pay my respects and give them my attention.
While there isn’t conclusive evidence on the total number of people who died, estimates put it at 1.5-3 million people, with the best estimates putting it around 2 million people, or 1/4 of the entire Cambodian population at that time. It’s fascinating to me to see how countries come out of tragedies like this… Even as an outside observer (i.e. tourist), knowing the history is so recent, it’s almost too much for me to process. And yet, the people in Cambodia seem very forward looking and optimistic. I imagine the country has changed a lot in the last 20 years, and will continue to change. It makes me interested in revisiting the country in the future.
(Kait: Putting the pictures into this post and recounting what we saw yesterday still brings up a lot of emotions. Throughout the museum there were testimonials from many women who were forced to marry men under the Khmer Rouge regime. If they didn’t comply and reproduce they were both killed. Their stories were all very similar – they were all forced into loveless and abusive marriages. Looking at the ages of the women, they were all our parent’s age. It made me really sad and also very appreciative of our lives. All the victims who died under Khmer Rouge were extremely unlucky to be born during a horrific time and place. They suffered under no fault of their own and that’s what is really upsetting.)
After our somber afternoon, we made our way to Mok Mony, a restaurant recommended to us by Kait’s cousin, Chloe. Looking over the menu, we went with another Luc Lac beef and a marinated beef dish. For dessert, we got Mango Sticky Rice which was one of our favourite dishes in Thailand.
It was a long day, but I’m really glad we had a chance to visit the killing fields and the genocide museum. We learned a lot of about the recent history of Cambodia, and I think it helps to put a lot of things in context for us about the country. I’m looking forward to seeing more of Cambodia.
Today we flew to Phnom Penh! A new country for the next week. Our flight was at 11:50am, so we didn’t have much time to do much other than have breakfast and pack up. Tim went out to the main street to find a tuk tuk that would take us to the airport. We paid 50,000 LAK = $7.95 CAD to get to the airport.
The Vientiane international terminal is pretty small and old. There wasn’t much there in terms of restaurants or stores. The best food option was probably the Dairy Queen at the departure check in, but once you got past customs, there was not much available and everything was 4 x the price as it would be on the street. We spent some of our last kip at the departure gates on some ice cream bars.
Our flight to Phnom Penh was a code shared flight and operated by Vietnam Airlines. The final destination for the flight was Ho Chi Minh City. It seemed like the majority of passengers were going back to Vietnam. They served a small lunch and gave us drinks. The meal was a salad, Vietnamese deli (mystery) meat, and a piece of cake. The flight to Phnom Penh was an hour and 10 minutes, which went by pretty quickly.
We arrived at Phnom Penh’s airport and it was quite modern. Once we got down to the arrivals area, customs officers directed passengers who required visas to fill out visa application forms. We lined up and got our visas and paid $30 USD each (same rate for all countries if you’re entering on a tourist visa). Tim paid for both our visas and gave the custom’s officer $100 USD. The custom’s officer only gave him back $30 USD and Tim firmly asked for the other $10. You could tell from the officer’s expression that he didn’t accidentally forget the extra $10. Welcome to Cambodia! We purposely flew into Phnom Penh over Siem Reap because we read that the customs officers aren’t as corrupt as the ones in Siem Reap. For the most part we didn’t have any trouble and weren’t asked for bribes of any sort while getting our visa.
Once we got our bags we walked outside to where all the drivers with signs were waiting. We saw Tim’s name and went with the driver from the hotel. The hotel offered the same rate as what we read a taxi would cost from the airport so it was a no brainer to just be safe and book the car. Our hotel driver came and picked us up in a Lexus RX 300 (SUV) and we realized that particular Lexus is very common in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh streets are very congested with scooters and a lot of SUVs! It was more reminiscent of Vietnam traffic and we knew while walking around we had to be on high alert again. Tim said we shouldn’t have gone to Laos until the end because it made us “soft”.
After about a 30 minute car ride through lots of traffic, we arrived at our hotel. We’re staying TEAV Boutique Hotel, which is a fairly modern boutique hotel in the middle of the city. We’re paying $45 USD/night, which is a bit discounted for the slow season. The staff came out and greeted us, checked us in while giving us cold cranberry juice and ice cold towels.
We were shown to our room and it was indeed very modern inside. Concrete floors, high ceilings and it smelled like lemongrass oils (the kind you smell when you got to a spa in SE Asia or a Thai spa in Vancouver..so good!). We settled in and planned to just walk around our surrounding area called the “BKK” district of Phnom Penh. BKK is where the majority of hotels are located as well as many restaurants.
We walked to the Independence Monument to take some pictures then made our way into the BKK. We were surprised to see so many foreign based restaurants and coffee shops. There are a lot of Korean and Japanese chains that we recognize. We have also noticed that in Laos and now in Cambodia, there are a lot of signs and plaques with Japanese flags on them thanking them for their contribution. Apparently Japan has invested a lot in Laos and Cambodia’s development (even buses in Vientiane say they were all donated by Japan).
While walking around BKK, we decided to go to Bon Chon for our very late lunch. Bon Chon is a Korean fried chicken restaurant that has locations all around the world. The first time I ever had Korean fried chicken was in New York, probably 10 years ago, and it was from Bon Chon. It was the only restaurant back then to serve it and I was hooked. It was the best fried chicken I’ve ever had and every time I went to visit my sister we always got it delivered. So it definitely bring back a lot of good memories. I wished Vancouver had a Bon Chon. There’s some places downtown that serve Korean fried chicken but it’s not the same.
We ordered garlic fries and a medium combo to share. Prices in Phnom Penh are all in USD. If change is under $1 USD, they give Cambodian Riel back. It’s a bit confusing and I’m not sure why they have to use both. Seeing as prices are quoted in USD, food in Cambodia is probably going to be more expensive compared to Laos and Vietnam. But I suppose going to Bon Chon for our first meal wasn’t exactly a good representation of what prices are like in Phnom Penh.
I haven’t had Bon Chon for a while and it was pretty darn good. It was very juicy and the skin was so crunchy. Being a nicer restaurant in Phnom Penh, the service was really good. It was definitely not a cheap meal by Cambodian standards and since we’ve been in SE Asia for a few week, I felt a bit guilty for having such an expensive meal. Our lunch was $15 USD (how things quickly change from being in Australia).
After Bon Chon, we walked towards a large mall called Aeon Mall (which is a Japanese branded mall). We walked for about 20 minutes and finally got there. It doesn’t seem like many people walk in Phnom Penh. There weren’t many tourists or locals walking. I guess everyone is in a tuk tuk.
Aeon Mall Phnom Penh is huge and it’s really nice. The mall is celebrating its 2 year anniversary so it explains why it looks so new and pristine. There’s a large department store with a supermarket on the bottom level (Japanese style), a movie theatre, a great selection of restaurants, and a bunch of pretty good clothing stores (like Mango from Spain).
We walked around the mall to see what options we had for a light dinner and ended up eating at Pepper Lunch. It’s a casual Japanese restaurant that has locations all around Asia and North America (including Vancouver). Pepper Lunch seemed like a very popular place amongst locals. We shared a beef and egg on rice combo. It was pretty good. The Pepper Lunch in Richmond has been opened for a couple of years now and I haven’t even been to that one yet!
After Pepper Lunch, we went downstairs to the supermarket to browse around. Tim bought a few Cambodian beers and I got a bag of green basil Lays chips. Prices are still fairly cheap, just not as cheap as Vietnam. We walked back to the hotel to plan out our day tomorrow, catch up on blogging, and watch TV shows (Tim couldn’t wait to watch Game of Thrones).
We’re in for an emotionally heavy day tomorrow as we plan on visiting the killing fields and learning more about Khmer Rouge.