To Do and Not To Do in Siem Reap

Fruit stall in Siem Reap

When I first visited this boho-chic Cambodian city in 2009, I was immediately besotted by its artistic vibe, ambling Parisian-inspired avenues and subtle energy. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I was finally able to return to this little enclave that I had fallen in love with four years ago, and I had to wonder…during the time passed, had I idealized Siem Reap’s charms? The resounding answer is a big fat no. In fact, the past few years have only added to its surprising allure, delighting with a plethora of new galleries, restaurants and hotels to occupy those non Angkor peeping days.

To Do: 

The 1961

For the artistically inclined, a visit to The 1961 is in the cards. This imaginative art space owned by friendly Filipino artist Loven Ramos is decked out in whimsical sculptures created from repurposed items, vibrant paintings, handmade jewelry, striking photography, vintage inspired posters–you name it art-wise and it’s probably there.

Art at The 1961

During my visit, the gallery featured an exhibit called Seedlings: Young Cambodian Voices. This multimedia exhibit tastefully showcased the photography, words and films of local Cambodian students. From photos of a mother and baby to a film about the day-to-day playing out in a Cambodian village, I felt that the exhibit was a keen snapshot that captured the nuances of life for modern young Cambodians.

Seedlings: Young Cambodian Voices

In addition to the gallery and cafe, The 1961 acts as an artist’s retreat and hotel, where “artists, art enthusiasts and travelers seeking creative nourishment” are encouraged to add personal flourishes to the space during their stay. Next time I’m in Siem Reap, I’d love to stay and let the creative energy imbue my writing with newfound vibrancy.

Cafe at The 1961

Be sure to say hi to Vuitton the poodle, The 1961’s cute little mascot.

VuittonWhen stomachs start to rumble in Siem Reap, there is no shortage of places that will take care of said problem, pronto. As I mentioned in a previous postSteve and I simply couldn’t get enough of Viva, the city’s resident Mexican restaurant, where the food was as close as I expect Mexican can be to authentic when served over 8,000 miles away from Mexico.

Though I love Mexican food, Italian also holds a special place in my palate, and thus I was thrilled to discover Il Forno Restaurant & Winery tucked away down a quiet alleyway off busy Pub Street.

Prosecco at Il Forno A quick glance at the specials scrawled across the chalkboard, and I knew what I would order already. A frigid glass of prosecco (I love bubbles!), bruschetta and a plate of decadent homemade tagliatelle al pesto. Yum! The owners of Il Forno also own the indulgent Navutu Dreams Resort just outside of Siem Reap, which was so fantastic it deserves its very own post, coming later this week.

Pesto! YumDue to unfortunate circumstances renewing our Thai visas, we were forced to stay in Siem Reap for nearly a week. Luckily, we stayed at the Golden Banana Bed & Breakfast Superior Hotel which made our time in Siem Reap feel more like a luxury vacation than a forced exile.

Golden Banana

The $25 per night price tag seemed astonishingly low when compared to the boutique hotel ambiance of the place. Fountains adorned swimming pools, red lanterns cast a festive glow above tranquil gardens, and the rooms, though simple were more than adequately adorned with Cambodian art and textiles. Did I mention there was air con? That alone was cause for celebration to which I certainly raised my glass!

G&T

What Not To Do: 

The most expensive day on our entire two week trip was an illl-advised visit to Chong Kneas Floating Village. Now, I am all for tourist attractions–my family alone probably supported Disneyland through the 70s and 80s–however this floating village falls under the “trap” category, and not “attraction” by any means. After arranging with our tuk-tuk driver to transport us the supposed 20 kilometers (which was really only about 10) for $15, we arrived at the dock where we were promised a two hour boat ride at a shocking $25 per person–daylight robbery in a place like Cambodia. We forked over the money though–we were already there after all.

Chong Kneas Floating Village

The ride through the floating village consisted of 30 minutes past some houseboats lining the river, a 20 minute stop at a “farm” where we saw sad looking crocodiles lounging lazily in a pit, and a few small children (some clad in pythons…eek!) in plastic tubs charging $1 to tourists who wanted to take a photo. I snapped away as it was infinitely more interesting than the “farm.” Next was the uneventful 30 minute ride back through the floating village.

Maybe I am just spoiled having traveled so much and seen so many things, but the floating village of Chong Kneas was a tad disappointing. Consider yourself warned.

Bucket Boy

Perhaps inevitably, there still remain the countless land mine victims wandering amidst the raucous tourists on Pub Street, and the bands of small children asking for milk or small change to feed the grubby babies clinging to their hips. These sights are hard to see, and the temptation to hand over a few dollars is strong, though not encouraged. Much better to donate to the Cambodians through reputable charitable organizations such as CamKids or the Landmine Relief Fund.

Photos courtesy of Steven Moore

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3 responses to “To Do and Not To Do in Siem Reap

  1. Hi Leslie
    I recently came across your very stylish blog. I fear my travel wardrobe will not land me on a glamorous traveler site but I may give it my best shot when we get to warmer weather! My boyfriend and I are in the middle of a 9 month trip. He is in the middle of writing his dissertation so I quit my job and we decided to take the time to travel. We are currently in Morocco but we are heading to SE Asia on February 1st. We will definitely check out the Mexican food in Siem Reap! We are both Californians so beer and Mexican food are extremely important to us.
    I am new to blogging but I am enjoying it. If you have any recommendations about blogging (I did read your freelance post) or have any food / drink suggestions for SE Asia let me know!
    Also, I think you may be heading to Paris…I just did a beer post and I was very impressed with the Parisian beer spots.
    –Diana

    • Hi Diana,
      Thanks so much for the follow and the lovely comments! How exciting that you and your boyfriend have jumped into a nomadic lifestyle! I can’t deny there are some times when I miss having a home base, but overall, it’s so exciting to be constantly on the move Yes, what I miss the most from home is Mexican food! (I’m from Santa Cruz and I literally grew up on it!) Absolutely go to Viva in Siem Reap, and there are also great Mexican restaurants in Phuket, Thailand, and Ubud, Bali. I’ll be updating my best Mexican food in Asia post, so watch for that soon! Meanwhile, I’d love to chat more about blogging! My email is leslieannepatrick@gmail.com, and if you’d like to write me there, we can go into more details. And I will absolutely check out your Paris post…we leave for Paris in 9 days! Yay! Anyway, great “meeting” you, and talk to you soon!
      Best,
      Leslie

  2. Pingback: I Have Lived Today: A Poem, a Mantra and now, a Novel | The Chic Adventurer·

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