Cambodia days 1-5: beginnings in Siem Reap + magical Angkor Wat + motorbike through lotus farm & fishing village + my travel mantra

I made it to Cambodia!! My first few days have been so memorable and I am loving every minute in this beautiful country. I started off in Siem Reap, which is the key tourist site in Cambodia as it’s home to the famous Angkor Wat. I originally booked 3 days in Siem Reap, but I loved it so much I stayed for 5 days! I have a lot to recap so here we go:

Day 1: Settling in Siem Reap

The moment I got off the plane, I immediately loved the vibes in Siem Reap. The hot & steamy climate, palm trees, dirt roads, and overall laid-back Southeast Asian vibes that I so love.

Then I settled into my hostel, Siem Reap Pub Hostel. Boy it feels good to be back in hostels again. 🙂 This was definitely one of the best hostels I ever stayed at – I loved the peaceful but central location, fun atmosphere (all the backpackers flock to this hostel), and the fun & personable staff (they all nicknamed me “Cha”) – this hostel was a big reason why I stayed an extra few nights! All for $12 a night for a private room.

I spent the rest of the day shopping and walking around Siem Reap. I imagined Siem Reap to be a hectic city, but I was surprised how chill it was. I think it helps that Cambodia just opened to tourists so there weren’t many people…that will be a big theme of this post – appreciating the few tourists in Cambodia as it really made my experience more intimate.

Day 2: Angkor Wat day 1

After a good night’s rest, I was ready for my first day at Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a historic temple complex and a sacred pilgrimage site for Buddhists. It’s also HUGE – there are dozens of temples miles apart from each other, so I hired a private tuk tuk for $15 per day. My driver was fantastic and recommended a route over two days that started with the smaller temples and progressed to the larger/main ones, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. 🙂

The vibe entering Angkor Wat was majestic, with huge, epic structures surrounded by green forestry.

The first temples were SO big, and these were supposed to be the smaller ones! I could see why people spend multiple days here. I took my time walking around, admiring these sacred, historic structures. With tourism just starting up again, I loved having ample privacy to enjoy and reflect.

There were many intricate details inside the temples. I couldn’t help admire how much work it took to carve these each detail 1000+ years ago.

There were locals and Buddhists from all over the world who came here to worship.

Over the course of 1000 years, the temples were left to ruin by nature causes, but most of them were beautifully rebuilt like jigsaw puzzles. The efforts to restore Angkor Wat only happened in the last 100 years.

I loved Angkor Wat’s location in the middle of a forest. There were hiking trails around the temples, which created a serene, meditative vibe. There were even local musicians playing traditional Khmer music; I was so moved.

One temple was located across the river. It’s hard to tell from this picture but the path was SUPER long. In 90+ degree heat, it was quite a trek. 🙂

We saw a dozen temples the first day. Not gonna lie, I did get temple-fatigue part way (is that a thing?). It helped that there were plenty of little shacks that sold drinks/food to rest up, especially in the hottest part of the day.

One family even let me use their hammock in the back of their restaurant. #blessed

After my afternoon nap, we ended the day with the most epic temple yet. The Bayon temple was bigger than the others and so beautiful.

After a full day of temple hopping, I was pooped! I went to bed early because I had an early wake up call tomorrow…

Day 3: sunrise and second day at Angkor Wat

The next day was back to Angkor Wat at sunrise! We left at 5am and reached the main temple square that you see in all the pictures of Angkor Wat. I navigated the temple in darkness and found a good spot to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was so peaceful – I could hear the monks praying from afar and I meditated along.

I read online that in high-season, hundreds of people fight for a front row spot at sunrise, but I got lucky as there were only a handful of people and plenty of room for everyone.

After sunrise, I explored the main temple before the heat kicked in. This main Angkor Wat temple was beyond the others in every way. It was massive, well-preserved, and full of intricate details. It almost reminded me of the forbidden city in Beijing.

After the main temple, we visited a few more of the bigger ones in the morning. I was pretty temple-fatigued by then so we moved quickly.

So many trees grew above the temples. These trees were 300-400 years old and massive!

Angkor Wat was just magical – I didn’t expect to be so moved by the place. I’m glad I spread my visit over two days and had the time and space to appreciate everything.

Day 4: Relaxing day

After two full days in the sun, the next day looked like this. I relaxed at the pool, read my book, got a pedicure, and hung out with the other hostel-mates. I think the biggest blessing of my extended trip is time. In the past, I travelled fast and tried to fill every second with something exciting, but I’m trying to shift my mindset with a mantra for this trip: travel slow — aka spending a day doing “nothing” is 100% okay.

Day 5: Motorbiking through the countryside + fishing village

The next day, I was planning to chill again, but the hostel owner who I befriended, named Dy, offered to take me on a motorbike ride through the countryside…YES PLEASE! Did I mention how amazing the hostel staff was? 🙂

I hopped on her motorbike and we started driving out of Siem Reap – within 10 minutes the scenery thinned out to chill countryside vibes. It felt good to get out of the city.

We approached a lotus flower farm and stopped to check it out. Dy heard about this farm from a friend so it was fun to explore something new together, while also learning about the surrounding area from Dy.

I have so much gratitude and respect for Dy. She is a self-made woman – we’re the same age and she’s the owner of this amazingly successful hostel and has two kids…truly motivating.

The farmers sold the lotus flowers in markets. I tasted one and it was not bad!

Dy and I were having so much fun exploring, we decided to go a little further to one of the fishing villages nearby. These are entire villages that live on the water and make money off of fishing. It’s dry season so the water level was a little lower.

It was interesting to see how this unique community lives, but to be honest, it was pretty intense! It was very dirty and had a major plastic problem. The people also use the water for their sewage/waste and use the same water for everything else too. There are popular tours that take you to these floating fishing villages, but I was glad to have a more casual walk-through with Dy.

Bought some shrimp to bring back to the hostel.

In the evening, I ate with Dy’s family and we shared the shrimp we bought; I was so grateful for their hospitality and going so far to make me feel welcome here. These local experiences are what I live for, but they can be hard to find and so I’m extra grateful when they happen! It was such a memorable way to start my first leg in Cambodia, and I’m really excited for the month ahead. ❤

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