Snacking by the airport for fun

Beautiful sunset drive to the airport from the centre of Siem Reap city.

People often ask me what my favorite country was to visit outside Canada and I am very biased because I’ve spent three years in Siem Reap and had the time to discover all the places tourists never have time to see, develop lifelong friendships with the wonderful people here and always discovering new hidden gems. I’m not sure what my answer would be if I had lived a few years in Bali, Laos or Chiang Mai.

Hanging right outside the airport gates with Konnitha and her daughter Hannah.

The benefit of living in a new place for a long time is there is always something new to discover, especially if you mainly have local friends and every day can be a surprise if you have an open mind and heart during your stay.

After I finished a 5-hour bike ride in the Angkor complex, which seems to have an endless number of routes, my best friend Konnitha asked me if I wanted to drive with her and her 2-year-old daughter Hannah around the Angkor area and hang out by the airport to watch the planes.

The people who have opened up food stalls right outside the airport gates as more people are spending time watching the planes land and fly.

“You can hang out by the airport?” I asked Konnitha.

“Yes, you can buy snacks to eat and watch the planes. More and more food sellers are setting up their business by the airport because people come to watch the planes every day,” Konnitha said.

Me being a touristy passenger.

So we went on a beautiful drive during sunset around the Angkor complex, bought some snacks to munch on and sat on a mat just outside the airport with Hannah. We saw two planes fly by and it was just a beautiful and unique way to pass the evening.

There is no way I would ever find out you can do this if I didn’t have local friends.

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Our 5-hour biking adventure in the Angkor jungles

2I’m incredibly lucky to not only be living in Siem Reap, just 8 km away from the Angkor Wat complex, but having amazing Khmer (Cambodian) friends who often lead us through beautiful bike rides in the jungle.

I haven’t paid the US $20 entry fee to get into the Angkor complex most of the times I’ve gone because most people can get in the area, not the temples, if you come in through the jungle, often by bike.

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We planned to meet at 7 a.m. at our friend Dara’s restaurant for breakfast and he got his staff to prepare rice soup for us. When I asked how much the bill was he said, “No problem, we just enjoy together.” Such typical Cambodian hospitality.

I recruited two Western people I met to join the ride. The day before I warned them, “I’ll be honest with you, for the ride tomorrow, I don’t know if we’ll ride 20 km or 60 km in the day. All I know is we’re meeting at 7 a.m. and I’m just going to follow them.”

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We were about 10 people in our group and no one really knew the way through the jungle routes, but Dara seemed to know where he was going. The weather was perfect and we went on beautiful routes around the complex and had a wonderful lunch at one of Dara’s friends’ restaurants. He was nice to give us 50% off of the menu items.

The Cambodian food was delicious and was well-deserved after riding for so long. All of our Cambodian friends have much more stamina than us and could keep riding for a long time. This kind of guided bike ride would cost someone at least US $60 a day to join a tour.

The whole day was beautiful, adventured and filled with fantastic company. One thing I noticed after spending 2.5 years in Cambodia is Khmer people are very patient and flexible when there is someone in the group who is a bit delayed or need to stop for something, many Western people, including myself, would get easily annoyed and impatient. But they are so even tempered and easygoing.

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My friends’ visit to Siem Reap

My friend Eunice (white shirt) came to visit with her husband Nate (red shirt). The newlyweds loved the food of my favourite street restaurant Phai San BBQ.

My great friend Eunice from Vancouver came with her husband Nate to Siem Reap in July to visit me.

I have been friends with Eunice for a few years now and I felt horrible for missing their wedding in May because I was leading a group trip that month. So I was very happy that they took the time during their holiday to come to Cambodia for the first time.

They joined me at my favourite weekly hangout watching the ladyboys at Station Wine Bar in Siem Reap.

To be honest, I didn’t know how our connection would be after I’ve been away from Vancouver for 2.5 years and I saw her just one time in September when I went back to visit friends and family.

Every traveler I’ve spoken with has had a hard time adjusting back to their home country and I felt the strong connection I once had with some friends was lost when I went back to visit.

We saw a traditional dance show on their first night in town.

I was a bit nervous because Eunice had never been to a developing country before and they had just spent time in Singapore with their family, a completely different environment and place from Cambodia. I thought they may be uncomfortable in Siem Reap and have to adjust to so many differences from Vancouver and Singapore.

But it ended up being an amazing time with them and I’m so happy they enjoyed it. They were extremely easygoing, very polite with my friends and just went with the flow. We went to see a traditional dance show, eat at my favourite street food restaurants, see a ladyboy show, and traveled to Phnom Penh together.

At my favourite pool in Siem Reap exclusively for hotel guests. They got full VIP treatment. Thanks to my wonderful Cambodian friend for giving us access.

The day before we went to Phnom Penh, my friend was so kind to let us use the four-star hotel pool that is normally reserved for their guests who pay US $85 to US $220 a night. But because it was about to rain, not many people were swimming and we enjoyed a poolside cocktail, tea and enjoyed swimming in the rain.

They met my friends in Phnom Penh at night and we ended our second night in Phnom Penh with a beautiful view of the river.

I’ve appreciated and loved everyone who has made time to visit me and experience my world in Siem Reap.

 

Taking full advantage of a drink at the poolside bar.

Feeling fresh after our US $2 Cambodian hair wash, head massage and straightening.

Eunice and Nate met my friend and number 1 tuk tuk driver Somroeun and his family the day they returned back in Singapore.

Nate and Eunice looking glamorous again at a post-wedding dinner celebration in Singapore with their family.

Back to Back Cambodian weddings

The happy newlyweds.

 

I know I should probably be writing about my New Year’s Even in Siem Reap but I have been and will continue to be very busy with my new job with a travel company for the next 10 weeks. I still have to upload pictures then I’ll do a late post.

The last two weeks have been filled with back to back dinners with friends, reunions and consecutive Cambodian wedding parties. I love the openness of Cambodian weddings. One of my friends asked her cousin to give me a formal invitation so that was very sweet. I’ve really enjoying spending time and getting to know their families.

My very sweet friend Mara who got her cousins to invite me.

I went to the smaller pre-wedding party at the house which was really fun. We ate Cambodian food, there is as usual an unlimited supply of beer and soft drinks, karaoke and dancing.

Every time I go over my friend’s place, they are extremely hospitable in typical Cambodian fashion and offer to share their food and ask if I’ve eaten. I was really impressed with my friend too, I know she was so busy helping them prepare for many things, but when she saw that my ice was low on my drink she refilled it for me. Wow, talk about being a great host.

Girls just wanna have fun. Cambodians love karaoke. 

Last year I went to three Cambodian wedding parties in total and three weeks ago I went to three in a weekend. Her cousin’s wedding had the best food of all the weddings I went to and was at a restaurant. It was a fantastic time and I got to meet more nice people.

Great way to spend a Monday night.

Mara’s fun, intelligent and adorable daughter.

This is not soda, it’s duck’s blood. The real Cambodian food.

Pictures from the wedding party

There were at least 700 people at the restaurant of the wedding dinner. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a big restaurant in Cambodia.

 

 

Getting ready to dance.

 

A mega Cambodian salad.

 

Happy happy

 

Beautifully cooked fish.

 

My first apartment guests in Siem Reap

Old friends and new friends eating omelet and baguette. 

I just moved to a simple apartment in Siem Reap and wanted at least a place that was big enough to host at least a few guests. I’m off Wat Bo, one of the major roads that runs parallel to the Siem Reap River.

I go out a lot of late nights either for dinners at people’s houses, dancing or at restaurants, so I needed to make sure I chose a place where I feel very safe coming home late night. The latest I’ve come back so far is 4:00 a.m. and I’ve had no problems and feel very comfortable cycling back each time.

I was very happy to cook dinner for my Khmer (Cambodian) friends who have come over so far. My friends have cooked for me at their places many times, even when I’ve come last-minute and it’s been great to be able to open up my space for other people to come.

I love my area because it’s mostly Cambodian families so I always see kids playing in the courtyard and my neighbours are very friendly and say hello. In the first week I moved in, my neighbour said I can use any of his kitchenware anytime if I’m short on something and has been very helpful. Him and his friend have invited me a few times to join them for meals.

This is my friend’s friend whom I just met the night she came over with her adorable little sister. I’m happy that she said her sister felt comfortable in my place, which she often isn’t in new spaces.

Ready for cake.

When strangers become instant friends

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Last night I was very happy to reunite with my Thai friend Sudjai Sudjai in Siem Reap. I first met Sudjai back in January this year when my friend and I took the wrong bus and went 8 hours in the wrong direction. We meant to go to Koh Surin island south of Thailand but who knew that there was also a Surin City going up north. Read that full story here.

We arrived at Surin at 5:00 a.m. and had to wait 14 hours for the next bus. Thankfully the was a coffee shop by the station with Wi-Fi so we hung out there for most of the day.

We started chatting with Sudjai, her husband and their friends and we found out she spoke fluent Khmer (Cambodian) and they were so kind to spend probably 8 hours with us at the coffee shop! They even drove us to the night market, gave us a tour and helped us order our dinner food. They kindly stayed with us right until we got on the night bus and said next time we come to Surin, we can stay with them.

Last night in Siem Reap, we went out for Khmer food, walked around the night market, saw a traditional dance show and got a massage while we watched the ladyboy show. As I walked Sudjai and her friend back to her guesthouse, she kindly said, “Next time you are in Surin you can stay with us. We have an extra room.”

Tonight is our last night together and we’re going to the weekly jazz show at Heritage Hotel.

 

 

Phai San BBQ: My favourite street restaurant in Siem Reap

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I first met my friends Phai and San, who are married, in 2013 when their restaurant was next to 9 other restaurants by Sivatha Road in SIem Reap. After ignoring all of the people who were hollaring for tourists to eat at their restaurants, my friend and I finally caved and decided to try Phai San. And we have been good friends ever since.

Not only is all of their food delicious at amazing prices (between $1.25 to $3.00 US), the couple is extremely generous and hospitable with their staff and guests. Phai San also happens to make my favourite stir-fried vegetable yellow noodle and I find it tastier than anywhere else I’ve been around Cambodia.

I was surprised when Phai told me that even when he is not making a profit, he pays his staff double the average Cambodian salary because he wants to give them a fair wage. He said, “One of my staff is having baby, so I want to pay her more.” When they invited me to their home town south of Cambodia, of course I didn’t expect them to pay any of my costs. But they offered to pay for my boat ride to San’s village, which I was very touched by. I spent three days with their family who hosted me so generously.

I’m always happy to support local Cambodian businesses that provide great service, delicious food and are run by very honourable people. If you’ve had a good experience at their restaurant, please write a review on Trip Advisor.