After the five strenuous but magnificent days hiking and camping on Mount Rinjani (read about the Rinjani experience here), it was time for us to get some well deserved R&R. Gleefully we went to the islands of Gili for some sun and sand!
The Gili islands are actually made up of 3 small islands off the north-west coast of Lombok, Indonesia; Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. Of the three, Gili Trawangan is the biggest and most ‘happenings’ among the three islands.
‘Gili’ in local Sasak language means small while There is an age old cave tunnel (‘terowongan’ in local language) that was built during World War 2, and that is why this Gili island is called Gili Trawangan.
There’s plenty of things to see and do on Gili Trawangan. My best advice if you’re planning to go there for the first time; plan a longer stay there. We stayed for only 3 days and I can definitely say it was not enough! I am very sure I will definitely be going back there for a second visit and this time I will make sure I stay for a least 5 days on Gili Trawangan. There’s just so much that you can do there.
HOW TO GET TO GILI TRAWANGAN
The first thing you will notice arriving on the island is; WHY SO MANY PEOPLE? The crowds are many, there are traffic jams even by walking! The island is a MOTOR-LESS island; there are no vehicles allowed on the island. Therefore, the 3 forms of transportation on the island are; WALK (keep fit!), bicycle (best way in my opinion) and Cidomo (horse-pulled carriages).
The first thing you should do when you get to the island is RENT A BICYCLE. It is 50,000rph (USD3/SGD/5MYR15) for 24 hours! The island is small, but walking from the east side to the west side via the southern perimeter of the island will take you a good 30 minutes walk.
With a bicycle, that would be a no effort 10 minutes. That is why you will see plenty of people on bicycles on the island. Even if you are walking, always look to your back before overtaking others because there is a big chance there’s an incoming bicycle!
TIP: When going to Gili Trawangan, don’t bring those trolley bags. Instead, choose to use backpacks because the roads on the island are rough and dirty, there are even some stretch that is just dirt road. So pulling a trolley bag is a no-no. With a backpack, once you get on the island, quickly rent a bicycle and cycle to your accommodation (if its not walking distance from the jetty).
TIP: When choosing a bicycle, get those that has a bell or horn. These bells/horns are extremely useful to signal the pedestrians to take notice of you behind them and most will give way. Trust me, you really need to do this on Gili, otherwise you will be going at the same pace as everyone walking! Always make sure that the bicycle’s tires have enough pressure in them (not too flat). If it is, you can request to the owner to inflate it.
THINGS TO DO
When it comes to things to do on Gili Trawangan, the list is long. You won’t even be able to do everything even by staying a week there. Needless to say, our stay on the island for 3 days was definitely not enough, we had under estimated Gili Trawangan.
Once you have had your breakfast, start your engines and go shopping on the main streets. There are many international brands and local brands around. Short on rupiah? Don’t worry, there are a few money changers around as well as a few bank ATMs.
Have lunch at Le Petit (its located right in front of the jetty, where the town square is), a French operated burger stall known for their delicious burgers. Good luck getting a seat during peak hours!
Rent a bicycle and start cycling around the whole island. The island is a bit too big to walk the whole way, but with a bicycle, it is easy to go around the whole perimeter of the island or simply cut thru the middle of the island.
We tried the food at Thank You Restaurant. Food was very cheap here and its not too bad.
We also had the chance to try the food at Wilson’s Retreat, a fine-dining restaurant located at the western side of the island. The food was superbly presented and more importantly, was quite delicious.
Other things to do on Gili Trawangan which we did not have change to try at all includes:
Island hopping to Gili Meno and Gili Air
Swimming with the turtles; this was in our original plan but we decided against it when we found out the schedule for this is from 10 am to 3 pm and this would have taken up almost our whole day on Gili if we went for it.
Hike up the hill in the middle of the island for a good view of the whole island
Experience the famous Indonesia massages!
There are plenty of places to stay on Gili Trawangan, ranging from the cheap good-for-just-a-nights-sleep type of room till the expensive villas with its own private beaches. When I mean plenty, I literally mean it; there’s basically more accommodation available than the number of shops and eateries!
We stayed in different places on Gili because it was the eve of Hari Raya when we arrived on the island and naturally they are also many locals who are in Gili with the families for a quick getaway. Also, it being the first time on the island, we wanted to see and experience what the different accommodations had to offer.
Here’s 3 of the accommodations which we stayed in:
1. NATYA HOTEL (http://www.natyahotels.com/)
This hotel’s location is strategically located at the end of the main stretch of street, which in turn provides great convenience in coming in and out of the hotel whenever you feel like it. Once you get too tired from walking around the main street, just pop back into the hotel to rest.
The hotel has its own pool, a luxury to have when on Gili for a relief from the hot temperature.
The hotel’s staff are also extremely friendly, and you will feel this right from the very moment you step into the lobby. They are extremely attentive of your needs and will provide you assistance in anyway they can.
Natya’s rooms are quite small, just large enough to fit a queen size bed/twin bed with just enough space to walk. Fitting in an extra bed would prove quite difficult. Apologies, I don’t have a picture of the room.
SUMMARY OF NATYA HOTEL
PROS: Very good location, Extremely friendly staff, Nice ocean view room, Has a pool.
CONS: A bit on the pricey range
2. MAMA J’S COTTAGE (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/4894233)
Mama J’s cottage was my favourite accommodation among those that we had the chance to stay in. Just like it’s name, it has a very homey feel as soon we entered the grounds. Mama J is located on the east side of Gili very near to the beach where most of the snorkeling activities are carried out.
Mama J offers two cottages that are identical (except for the bedroom window view), both of which are two-storeys. The design of the cottages are inspired by the storage barns in villages (called ‘Lumbung’) of Bali and Lombok, built with bamboo and coconut wood. The ground floor of the cottage is the living room which also opens up to a semi-outdoor bathroom.
The ground floor is also generously spacious which is equipped with table and chairs, refrigerator, towels, insecticide, torchlight and a complimentary gallon of water!
This is the view of the garden that the living room opens up to in the morning. I got up just in time to see our host, Tamara (sounds Japanese right? But she’s Scandinavian) setting up the table in the garden for breakfast.
While waiting for breakfast to be served, I went around taking more photos of the place. I must stress again that Tamara is extremely meticulous and her attention to details is impeccable (although she claims that it is rather a curse). This can be seen from the facilities that the cottage provides which includes insecticide spray, torchlight and even an umbrella. The wash basin and bathroom is decorated with pink flowers that will brighten up anyone’s day. The towels that they provide are placed together with floral scented bag which gives out a burst of lovely fragrance each time I use the towel! The hand wash and body wash that was provided also smelled very lovely. Even the breakfast table was decorated with plucks of bouganvillea flowers from the garden.
Breakfast was also delightful, much effort was putting into making the breakfast very presentable and of course, delicious!
SUMMARY OF MAMA J’S COTTAGES
PROS: Situated away from the noisy streets yet not too far away, peace and quiet, extremely friendly host who can provide a lot of information and answer any questions that you might have, delicious breakfast, comfortable sleep, extremely affordable.
CONS: I can’t think of any, absolutely loved it here!
3. VILLA JULIUS (http://www.villajulius.com/)
Villa Julius was the most expensive accommodation that we stayed in among all the others and of course that also means that it was the most luxurious place that we stayed in as well.
The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to. We booked the room on the first floor which has its own balcony with a perfect undisrupted view of the ocean. The room itself was extremely spacious, we could have at fitted at least three or four more extra beds in there if we wanted to.
This is our room’s private balcony which has the best seat in the house to the ocean view. The balcony also overlooks the pool of the villa.
The bathroom was as large as the bedroom and also a joy to use, with a bigger-than-usual king-sized bathtub, I spent a lot of time simmering myself and dozing off in aroma-therapeutic soaked waters.
The pictures above shows some of the very nice features of the room; novels, umbrellas, fancy bath gel bottles, decorative ornaments and flowers around the room.
SUMMARY OF VILLA JULIUS
PROS: A great place to pamper yourself with luxury even if it is expensive as it is still cheaper than the expensive hotels out there, great pool, great bathtub, private balcony, fantastic ocean view, best place you can get a sunset from the comfort of your room.
CONS: Far away from the main streets of Gili Trawangan (at least 15 minutes bicycle ride / 30 minutes walk) where all the activities are.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
I hope this article gives you a brief idea of what Gili Trawangan has to offer and the kind of accommodations that would suit you or your group. For my friends and I, we really miss Gili Trawangan. For me personally, I would like to come back here again to try the other activities which I never had the chance to try, or even if it was to repeat the same activities I would still love it.
There’s something about Gili Trawangan that will grow in you. I know it did on us all. So many weeks has passed since my visit to Gili and I am having post-Gili deprivation.
I wish I could just turn back the clock and get back on that swing and swing to that beautiful sunset that is Gili Trawangan, the unspoiled Bali!
Mount Rinjani has been on my bucket list of mountains for a few years and finally I am able to cross it out in my bucket list. The irony of it all is that, I really want to do Rinjani again! What I have learnt from this experience is that the really remarkable thing about Mount Rinjani is not just about the mountain nor its summit, it is the whole experience from the start till the end of the journey.
This is my first time to Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok is an island of almost the same size as Bali and located directly to the east of Bali. We took a 5 days 4 nights package for the Rinjani hike and stayed another 2 nights on Gili Trawangan, one of the 3 satellite islands of Lombok.
Although the package was for 5 days 4 nights, the actual hike itself was only 3 days. The start and end point of the hike is quite far from the airport (around 4 hours, that’s nearly half a day gone), that is why the first and last day of the package is basically the pick-up and send-off from the airport. The price of the package conveniently includes everything, and I literally mean everything including the park fees, guide fees, accommodation in the start and end point, tents, sleeping bags, meals and porters that will carry all those things … everything! The only additional fees that you would need to consider and is option, is for a personal porter, that is if you wanted someone to carry your own personal belongings for you.
DAY 1: Lombok International Airport to Sembalun
What was the first thing that we did upon arrival in Lombok airport? Get an Indonesia data card of course! The mobile operators are conveniently located just outside of the arrival hall at the airport, all the different providers there for your choosing. Our poor guide was anxiously waiting for us outside the airport, wondering if we bailed on him.
We chose the package from XL Axiata as they are known to have the widest coverage and fastest speed in Indonesia, especially in Lombok. We went for the 100,000rph (USD8/SGD10/MYR30) package because the all the other cheaper packages were out of stock. Oh, did I mention that this package is for 12GB and last for 30 days! So it’s basically enough to be shared among the whole group using hotspot or a data sharing device.
After meeting our guide and shoving all our luggage into the cars, we headed for Senggigi, the main tourist strip of Lombok that stretches several kilometers which was around a 1.5 hours from the airport.
Picture (clockwise from top-left): Nasi Campur, Nasi Ayam Bakar, Mee Goreng, Bakso
TIP: If you have no reason to go Senggigi, I suggest you skip going there. This is because Senggigi is north-west of the airport, while at the end of the day, you are suppose to head far east towards the village of Sembalun or Senaru, depending on which village you are starting from. Either way, going out of the way just to go Senggigi will add around 3 hours of travelling time, going in the opposite direction of where you have to go. I suggest that you request your guide to bring you to a genuine Indonesian local coffee shop along the way for your lunch (if you need any).
From Senggigi, it took approximately 5 hours of driving on small narrow roads and eventually very long and winding hilly roads with a lot of twist and turns dotted with many hairpin turns. We were swinging from left to right being thrown around in the car as though we were sitting in a roller coaster. Two of my friends did could not handle ride and was immediately car sick. Please make sure you sit in front or ensure you have a plastic bag ready in case you get nauseous.
DAY 2: Start of Hike (Sembalun to Plawangan Sembalu)
We woke up to a very fine morning, fresh from the very good sleep that we had. The rooms are not equipped with air-conditioning but believe me, it is not hot during the day and quite chilly during the night.
Our Fried Rice breakfast was provided by the villa which was more than enough to keep us from going hungry until lunch. Instead of roosters awaking the villagers up with their crows, this place had … a goose with its gobbles.
Planted around the whole compound of the villa were flowers from every different colour spectrum.
For the next 2 hours, the trek was basically farms and greens all around with fairly easy gradual ascend. As we progressed, I could feel my excitement slowly building up momentum as Mount Rinjani slowly gets nearer.
While we rested under the canopy, Stuk’s mobile kitchen team went to work. Some of them started cutting the vegetables while others were busy preparing the fruits. It was amazing seeing the team in action, all working together like one big happy family, prepping and cooking while entertaining themselves with their jokes and laughter.
If that wasn’t enough, they even offered three sauces (sambal traditional, sweet sauce and ketchup). For dessert (yes, they even served desserts!) we had watermelon, pineapple and apple! Spoiled for choice, really.
We must have spent at least 1.5 hours just resting and enjoying our lunch. We started off again at around 12.30 pm. Stuk had already briefed us earlier that the trek after lunch would get harder and steep as we approach the Mountain’s crater rim.
I was impressed by the tents as each one of them had our guide’s name “Stuk Rinjani” printed on them. Even the sleeping bags had his customized name on them!
While the sun was still up, we took the opportunity to take many pictures of our surrouding including our selfies with the summit. Even Choco (Mandy’s ‘companion’ wanted to be in the selfie!)
This green curry tasted fantastic with our rice in this very cold evening. The red apples was really contrasting being served with the green curry.
DAY 3: Up to the Summit and then down to the Lake
Summit climbs always involves getting up in the middle of the night and making it to the summit in time for the sunrise. The Rinjani summit climb is no different.
By the way, Stuk asked for our permission to have one of the team to sleep in each one of our tents so that our tents were not left unguarded during this time that we are making our way to the summit. Safety and security is always a priority in Stuk’s team.
After that section of the climb, which I am guessing lasted around an hour, came the easier part, which was just a gradual ascend which was a relieve. However, it was cold because of the strong wind and I could many people hiding behind large boulders which provided shelter from the strong cold winds.
Another hour has passed and I was proven wrong. The hard part came and without realizing it, I was cursing and swearing at myself, literally. Indeed this part of the climb was the hardest. In fact, I would testify that this was the hardest summit climb I have ever done throughout my whole life of mountain climbing on the mountains of South East Asia!
The best way for me to describe the conditions there is: it is like you’re on the moon with gravity, trying to get up a very dry hill that when you take 2 steps up, you automatically slip 1 step down because of the loose volcanic soil and rocks. The experience is very frustrating and will put your patience to the maximum test. No matter what, I just kept crawling my way up (at the same time still cursing and swearing just to let it all out!). I used the word ‘crawl’ because I was literally on my 4 limbs, using my two legs and two hands to crawl that very steep section. It must have been at least 60 degrees steep at some points!
TIP: I’m not a person who uses walking sticks for any hikes (only because I carry a DLSR all the time and using walking sticks will mean I don’t have free hands to handle my camera in case of anything), but walking sticks WILL DEFINITELY HELP a whole lot for the summit climb. With walking sticks, it would be easier to maintain your overall grip on the surface and will surely have less time sliding back down!
Picture: (Left) Our guide Stuk actually brought his traditional Malay costume and changed on the summit. using a sarong to change in. He wanted to take this pre Hari Raya Aidil Fitri shot to dedicate to his family and friends as it was just two days before Hari Raya at that time. (Right) Another climber poses against the blue yonder.
What is the first thing we did when we arrived back to our campsite? Clear our shoes of all the volcanic pebbles and sand! One thing I can guarantee you when doing the summit climb, it would be impossible to keep your shoes and even your clothes clean. By the end of the summit climb, all will surely be black! The volcanic sand is so dry and light that it gets into our ears and even nose!
We took our time at the campsite, enjoying whatever time we have left on this beautiful part of the journey, knowing that there was not going to be another repeat of this remarkable memory. I took every sip of my coffee really slowly, just enjoying the view and sharing the laughter with all my friends and our team members!
Our next destination and campsite would inside the crater of the volcano itself, at the shores of Lake Segara Anak. This would involve a 4 hours hike going down into the caldera of Mount Rinjani.
As usual, I always take the chance to photograph anything whenever I have the chance. These are just the different little flowers that can be seen around the valley.
I came to the conclusion that the lake has bountiful fishes because those that are fishing there seemed to be able to get a catch almost every few minutes without any effort!
I couldn’t believe so much has been done in just one day; seen the milky way, reaching the summit for the sunrise, breakfast above the clouds, a walk in this magical land to arrive at this mystical lake, bath in a natural hot spring … all in one day! After the very filling dinner at the end of the day, we went to bed and immediately started snoring! *snore snore snore*
DAY 4: What? Up again? #$@&%*! Up to Senaru Crater Rim and down to Senaru Village
After all the effort in climbing down from Sembalun crater rim into the lake, the only way to get out of the crater is to climb back up to the crater rim. However, we will use the path up to Senaru crater rim instead.
Stuk had already advised us that we should leave our campsite early and aim to make it to the crater rim of Senaru by around 10 am so that we could have a clear view of the valley without the presence of clouds blocking the view. From his observations, the clouds will be blown into the valley in the later part of the morning usually after 10 am.
My friend and I could not finish the breakfast! I am not used to having such a filling breakfast so the rest of the team helped us to finish it all up. But it was definitely a very delicious breakfast. The banana fritters were fried to just the perfect crispiness while maintaining its very juicy insides. The cheese and honey that accompanied it made it taste like heaven!
This is how steep it gets from the climb up to Senaru crater rim. There are sections where we have to cling to the rocks and pull ourselves up.
Gigantic trees that towers the canopy of the jungle are plentiful around here. You will notice that a lot of the trees have labels on them indicating the family and genus of the trees.
The Senaru Gate (Pintu Senaru) gave a very authentic Jurassic Park feel with its gigantic rusty arch and the overgrown crawlers. The feeling of relieve filled all of us as we reached this finishing line of our long long long journey at 4.25 pm. Wendy & Jess were so happy they did jump shots at the entrance!
While we waited for our transport to fetch us, I went around the area looking at the activities that was happening around the village. The area was still bustling with activities of the villagers going about their daily lives.
We spent a long time at the cafeteria’s cottage just chatting the night away, sharing our experiences and what we noticed along the way. At that time, we were free of any agendas, having completed our Rinjani trail and we didn’t have a worry in the world. Stuk was also there to tell us a lot of story, some his own personal experiences on Rinjani, others about stories of some of his team members.
DAY 5: The Waterfalls! (Sendang Gile & Tiu Kelep)
I purposely woke up earlier than the rest because I wanted to walk around the cottage to take pictures. The cottage is actually located on the edge of the hill providing one of the best views of the valleys and the mountain.
This is the cottage we stayed in. It overlooks the valley below as well as Mount Rinjani in the distance.
Wendy’s enjoying the delicious hot Soup Noodle while Stuk sits near us enjoying his morning smoke.
Today was our last day of the package which includes the two waterfalls located in Senaru, Sendang Gile which is around 5 minutes leisure walk down some stairs and Tiu Kelep which is a further 45 minutes from Sendang Gile. Conveniently, the entrance to the waterfalls is located just next to (literally side-by-side) our accommodation so we only needed to walk over. The walk to the first waterfall was very brief, just around 5 minutes walk down a hill with steps. Even if your legs are aching from the Rinjani climb, this path is not a problem.
TIP: Wear slippers / sandals for the trip to the waterfall as you will be some stream crossing to get to Tiu Kelep.
Stuk took us through a ‘short-cut’ which was using the ‘tunnel’ of the drainage. This part was optional, don’t worry you won’t be missing much, it’s just a fun and crazy way to go. Ha ha! In the ‘tunnel’ there were some natural openings on the ceiling creating a ‘window’ to the jungle outside.
Happy kids in the pool!
So that was the end of our really remarkable Rinjani adventure. 5 days and 4 nights, each day worth it, each day offering different sights and experience from the previous days. We actually spent another 2 nights on the island of Gili Trawangan (a satellite island of Lombok island located North). Read about it here!
If you were to ask me which was the most memorable time throughout the whole journey, I would say it would be this; the campsite above Sembalun Crater Rim; 2639 meters above sea level. It was not the summit, nor was it the lake that enticed me. The feeling of camping in the clouds, with the lake below on one side and the valley of Sembalun on the other side, it find it hard not to miss this beautiful moment. Even the campers in this picture found it too amazing and spent quite a bit of time just standing there by the ledge enjoying the beautiful moment that God has bestowed upon each one of us up there on that day. Even the dog knows how to appreciate an amazing view. Give me a time machine and I would teleport to this particular moment in time first!
When it comes to western food, Modesto Bistro & Grill has certainly made a name for themselves for their delicious food over the years. This Ramadhan, they are offering all their best and crowd-favourite dishes in their Sungkai Buffet, and that is not all! They are also partnering with their sister restaurants to provide you with as much variety of food, more than enough for your picking.
Lof Bakery for their tasty cakes and pastries, TwinklePan for their delicious pretzels, Dapur Penyet for their Indonesian recipes and Hippo & Bees for their famous Korean ice-cream, all available in Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet this year.
Situated at Batu Bersurat, same block as Shabulicious and a few rows behind Happy Star, Modesto Bistro & Grill is equipped with modern & colourful luxury seats and tables that are arranged with generous spacing and plenty of room to ensure their patrons has a comfortable time during their dine-in.
Click on the map to enlarge.
Modesto’s Sungkai spread is very well organized. There’s a section for the appetizers and main courses, another section for the bread and buns together with the fruits, another ‘hot’ section that serves the carvings such as the roasted chicken and lamb as well as the pasta and another section for all the different types of desserts you could ever want.
I took many pictures during the buffet, too many that I cannot include them all in this post. To view all the pictures, have a look at my FB’s album here:
Here are the appetizers that were available that day. My favourite is the Mini Pizza Cowboy and the Baked Mussels. The Salsa and Chips were also a nice addition to the appetizers.
The Appetizers selections which includes the tasty Chicken Velveteen Soup
Various buns and pastries for your choosing
THE MAIN COURSE
I found myself ‘attacking’ the main course most of the time compared to the other sections. I suppose I’m a meat eater hence this was my favourite section of all, and my favourite dish here was the Grilled Lamb Chops! I have always been a lover of lamb chops, so naturally this is my favourite. Baked Salmon is also my favourite here!
Picture: (Left) Grilled Sirloin Steak in Mushroom Sauce. (Right) Prawn Skewers.
Picture: (Left) Mixed Vegetables. (Right) Pan Roasted Chicken Breast.
Picture: (Left) Creamy Mashed Potato. (Right) Fried Rice.
THE CARVING & PASTA SECTION
The carving section offered their Roasted Lamb Leg and Roasted Chicken, both of which is undeniably delicious. I noticed that pasta section was also ‘hot’ among the crowd. The chef was preparing making the dishes ‘made-to-order’ to ensure the pasta dish is served to you while its fresh and hot!
Picture: (Left) Roasted Lamb Leg. (Right) Roasted Chicken.
Most buffets that I have been to usually offers plenty of main course dishes, but does not provide a similar abundance in choices for their desserts. At Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet, you will be spoilt for choice even at their desserts section; from old fashioned traditional cakes all the way to the modern cakes. Modesto is also reviving the old-school cakes which was the favourites during the yesteryears.
Picture: (Left) Various cupcakes and puddings. (Right) Teh Tarik Cendol.
TIME TO DIG IN!
All that delicious looking food, I could not wait to be able to have a go at it myself.. but sabar.. sabar. As much as I would have loved to dig in together with the rest, being able to capture all these smiling faces enjoying their Sungkai was the most rewarding!
Picture: (Left) The No.1 Brunei Foodie trying his hand at preparing his famous Thanis’ Pasta. (Right) The proud chef presenting his Spicy Cheesy Lamb Pasta. Delicious!
To keep the menu interesting, Modesto has a different menu for each day of the week. Please refer to the menu below to check the dishes being served on the respective days.
Click to enlarge!
Picture: (Left) Menu for Monday – Wednesday. (Right) Menu for Thursday – Sunday.
You might also be interested to read Brunei’s No.1 Food Blogger’s take on Modesto’s buffet here:
I took many pictures during the buffet, too many that I cannot include them all in this post. To view all the pictures, have a look at my FB’s album here:
Be sure not to miss out Modesto’s Sungkai Buffet this year! For any enquiries or reservation, please call (+673) 233 2000 or (+673) 720 9777.
Honestly speaking, I am not a food expert but I hope to share with you the places that I dined, the food that I tried in Cambodia, specifically in Siem Reap. One thing to note is that Siem Reap’s attraction is not only the temples of Angkor, but also its food choices which seems to be aplenty.
This is the last out of my 3-part article which will be all about the food! If you missed my other two parts of the article, they can be found here:
Scenes of Siem Reap; which shows the different ambience and scenery of Siem Reap, both day and night, in the city and out of the city.
The Temples of Angkor; which tells the exciting story of our visit to the famous temples of Angkor such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom and many more!
Before I proceed, let me introduce to you two very common dishes that is Cambodian that you must try; Fish Amok which is a curry dish which is prepared by steaming it in a banana leaf, and the Beef Lok Lak which is a stir-fried marinated beef usually accompanied by lettuce, cucumber and tomato with some house sauce. Basically, the easiest way for me to describe Cambodian cuisine would be; a merge of Thai and Vietnamese cuisines.
You might be interested to read the views of my food blogger friend Thanis’ here.
I have divided this article into two logical sections: RESTAURANTS and CAFES. ‘Restaurants’ in the context of this article refers to places where it would be suitable to have lunch or dinner whereas ‘cafes’ refers to places that are good for having a short rest from the heat of the day.
Please refer to these two maps for the locality of each place being mentioned:
Map: (Left) Detailed view of Siem Riep city’s main town proper. (Right) Location of places further from town. Orange Circles represents restaurants while Green Squares represents cafes.
In the maps above, the restaurants that we dined at are represented by the orange circles. Some of the restaurants are located just within the city limits, so they are just very short tuk-tuk rides which shouldn’t cost you more than USD 1.
1. Little Kroma (84 Wat Dam Nak Street)
Little Kroma is a very humble local coffee shop located at Wat Dam Nak Street, just behind the Wat Dam Nak Primary School.
Picture: (Left) A typical Coffee with Milk, quite thick and sweet compared to our normal Malaysian flavours. Nevertheless, it’s a nice change from the usual. (Right) Nom Pao (steamed pork buns) are also slightly different from the Chinese ‘Pao’ such that the bun’s texture is thicker and dense (personally I prefer our lighter chinese buns) but the fillings were generous with the pork meat, which had a little hint of black pepper. The generous fillings really won it for me.
2. Genevieve’s Restaurant (Sok San Street)
Genevieve’s Restaurant is located in town on Sok San Street which is not too far from the main Pub Street.
3. Mamma Shop (636 Hadgang Street)
Mamma Shop is an Italian restaurant located at Hadgang Street, just opposite of where my favourite café The Little Red Fox Espresso is also located. Mamma Shop is opened by an Italian who has settled down in Siem Reap with the aim of keeping the Italian food and culture alive and at the same time, giving back to the community by contributing to the lives of the less fortunate children.
4. The Square 24 (Street 24, Wat Bo Area)
The Square 24 is a fine dining restaurant that serves Khmer cuisine. They say first impressions always count, which is probably what the owners of this establishment was aiming for. The attention to details put into the whole setup and interior deco is just amazing. Vegetarians will be delighted to see that they have a special section in the menu just for them.
From the moment you walk in, the place gives out an ambience of class and style. The first word that came out of our mouths were ‘Wow’.
Picture: (left) Life-sized statues stands in the middle of the square litted by ever-changing neon coloured lights. (right) My Lime Breeze (Lime, Banana and Pineapple with grenadine syrup) nicely decorated with a purple bougainvillea flower.
Free appetizers before our main meal, elegantly presented.
5. Happy Special Pizza (2 Thnou Street)
Do a google on ‘the best pizza in Cambodia’ and you will be flooded with search results of ‘happy pizza’. Happy Pizza is what Cambodia is famous for. I know, I know, eating pizza is always a happy affair. However, the ‘happy pizza’ in Cambodia doesn’t refer to that kind of happy, but a ‘happy’ of another kind. These ‘happy pizzas’ are topped with ‘extra special seasoning leaves’ which can make you ‘high’, therefore happy! By law, these ‘leaves’ are of course illegal, therefore the menu in Happy Special Pizza are all for the normal pizzas. Just choose the pizza of your choice, and specifically tell them that you want the pizza to be a ‘happy’ one! Oh, and please make sure don’t have anything important planned for the rest of the day in case you get too ‘happy’.
(For obvious reasons, I’m not attaching a picture of the restaurant).
6. The Sugar Palm (Taphul Road)
The Sugar Palm Restaurant is another Khmer cuisine restaurant which serves their dishes with a modern twist. They actually have two branches in Cambodia; one in Phnom Penh which was their first branch since the 1970s and another in Siem Reap which was only opened in 2010 which features a very stylish and wooden themed dining area.
The exterior and interior of the restaurant are all wooden themed, including the tables and chairs and even the bar!
Picture: (left) Sombai, an infused local Cambodian liqour is displayed on a shelf available for purchase. (right) The trademark of Siem Reap and the restaurant is named after it; the Sugar Palm.
7. Kroya @ Shinta Mani (Oum Khun Street)
Shinta Mani is a prestigious upscale boutique hotel located in the heart of Siem Reap. Their fine-dining restaurant was given the name according to the meaning of food in the Khmer Royal language, which is a highly suitable reflection on the setup and ambience of the establishment.
8. Mie Café (Phum Treng Khum Street)
Mie Café is a fine dining gourmet cuisine restaurant which makes me wonder why they label themselves as a ‘café’ in the first place. It is located a bit out of the main town area, which is why we planned our dinner there to coincide with our attending of the play “The Smile of Angkor” (read more about this show in my previous article ‘The Scenes of Siem Reap’ here) which is located not far from there.
Mie Café is nested in a very traditional Khmer house with an outdoor patio and garden, which offers a refreshing place to enjoy our meal.
9. Cuisine Wat Damnak (Wat Damnak Market Street)
Cuisine Wat Damnak is located in an area called Wat Damnak, just a little further from the main town. This is a highly popular restaurant and we made our reservations a few weeks in advanced, even at that time, our initial preferred date was already unavailable and we had to select another date for our dining there. When making a reservation in a restaurant that is in the Asia Top 50 list, it’s not surprising to find an available date!
Apart from the many lovely restaurants in Siem Reap, there are also many very hipster cafes in town which has its own style and theme. However, you will notice one thing in common that most of these places offer; giving back to the community through donation and working closely with the non-profit organizations for the welfare of the local community. Many posters and pamphlets are available in their premises to raise awareness of the visitors.
A. The Little Red Fox (Hap Guan Street)
This is my favourite café among all the others in Siem Reap due to its variety of coffee drinks available which I really love. They serve the best latte in my opinion, and if you feel the need to excite your latte flavours, there’s also the Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha which I love really much! If that is still not exciting enough, they have the Espresso Martini which will blow your mind! It does not end here, other than the casual espresso brewed coffees, they do offer cold pressed coffees as well! Oh by the way, there is a popular hair salon located above the café which is run by the same owners.
B. Common Grounds Coffee (#719-721 Street 14)
Common Grounds Coffee is an American style café located at the end of the street from The Little Red Fox. The café is big enough to cater for plenty of people, and features a Internet Café on its upper level. This café also believes in giving back to the community by giving the locals a working chance and to create an income that helps to sustain the Children’s Home in Siem Reap. More impressively, Common Grounds serves as a vocational training center, teaching English and computer skills!
C. The Hive (#631 Psar Kandal Street)
This is another café located near to The Little Red Fox and Common Grounds Coffee. Using black steel, shiny floor tiles, modern art graffiti on the walls and yellow hanging lights, the place gives out a feel of modern and artistic ambience.
D. Sister Srey (Pokambor Avenue)
Sister Srey is located literally in the heart of the city (right next to the old market) where you would be able to watch people going about their everyday lives by just to sitting there, watching them go by. This café was opened by two sisters to not only to serve coffee, but also to support Khmer students by training them in hospitality, English language skills and personal development. They also have various incentives in place, to name a few, working alongside the Hearts to Harmony Foundation which supports the rural families.
E. Gelato Co (2 Thnou Street / Old Market Street)
Gelato Co is the best place to stop by to get a cone of ice cream while you continue your walk around pub street and market street. The summer heat in Siem Reap will definitely make this an irresistible place even if you accidentally walk by.
F. Blue Pumpkin (2 Thnou Street / Old Market Street)
Blue pumpkin is a french bakery which also serves Ice Cream. They a lot of branches in Cambodia and plenty of branches within Siem Reap itself. The best feature of this place is the very relaxing atmosphere at the first floor of the café. A long row of mattress with big cushions is there for anyone to just lounge on. I could literally fall asleep there after a long and tiring day at the temples.
As far as really local Cambodian, coffee shop style food, the only dish that I’ve managed to try is the Cambodian Noodle. I had the chance to taste this at the village near to Bantaey Srei.
Please take my article here as it is; it is not meant to be a full review on the food places. My friends and I were in Cambodia to see Angkor Wat and the other Angkor temples with our own eyes. Food was only a side pleasure while we were there. Please note also that we did not dine in the local coffee shops (except for one) mostly those proper classy restaurants, therefore I don’t have much to show in terms of the genuine cheap and simple local food around. Also, since I am a Malaysian (another food haven), most of my comments would be based on and comparative to our Malaysian flavours.
But don’t worry, if you get yourself a reliable tuk-tuk driver, they are always more than capable of recommending a local place for you. Please consider Shafie our tuk-tuk driver for the whole duration of our visit. He has proven to be very steadfast and his knowledge of Siem Reap, even the temples of Angkor is comparable to that of a tour guide.
I hope this guide is of help to you! Needless to say, although the variety of food in Cambodia cannot match those in Malaysia, I do find myself missing some of the dishes; namely the Fish Amok from The Sugar Palm, The Fried Rice from Little Kroma and the Coconut & Cinnamon Mocha from The Little Red Fox.
Above all else, I miss the feeling of wondering in the mystical temples of Angkor and discovering something new at every corner!
The Angkor Archaeological Park is a 400 square kilometers area in Siem Reap, Cambodia, which holds many of the majestic temples (many of which functioned as capital cities at that time) during the era of the powerful Khmer Empire. Angkor means ‘capital’ in Khmer. A common misconception among people who has never been to Angkor would think that Angkor Wat is the name used to refer to the whole area, which is far from the truth. Many other temples, each with its own uniqueness in terms of architecture and beauty.
Don’t miss the last section of this post as I will share about our strategies for temple visits in order to avoid the menacing tourist crowd and the hot sun! Please remember that this article only mentions the temples that my friends and I visited. Don’t forget there are actually many many many many many more temples there, which might or might not appeal to you. The temples that we visited was chosen based on prior researching which we felt we would like to see. It is quite impossible to cover so many temples in a day, unless you’re just walking into one then walking straight back out. It’s quite pointless to do so, there’s so many things you might miss!
Also, if you missed my first part of this 3-part article which tells covers The Scenes of Siem Reap, you can read it here.
Or if you prefer to read about the Food of Siem Reap, the restaurants and cafes, you can read it here.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
First things first, in order to be able to visit the temples, you will need to get an ‘Angkor Pass’. This pass can be purchased from the Ticketing Office which is located along the main road to Angkor Wat, you will not miss it. This pass is available in several durations: 1 day (USD20), 3 days (USD40) and 7 days (USD60). TIP: If you purchase this ticket after 5pm, you are allowed to enter the temples for free (without taking a day away from your pass)!
A TASTE OF WHAT IS TO COME: PRE RUP
Right after getting our Angkor Pass, we asked Shafie our ever-so-enthusiastic tuk-tuk driver (his website here) to recommend to us the best spot for a nice sunset. He said he knew just the place and into the Angkor Archaeological Park we went. After riding the straight road, we turned right riding east along a long river (unbeknown by us at that time, that was the moat of Angkor Wat stretching more than 5 km!).
Picture: (left) The figures carved on the walls of the west towers are feminine like, it’s not really clear anymore due to the wear but I suspect it might be the Apsara, the female spirit of cloud and water in the Hindu Buddhist mythology. (right) The doors on the upper most level are made of sandstone and has plant motifs inscribed on it.
DAY 1 : ANGKOR WAT
The most famous temple among them is none other than Angkor Wat, which is unofficially the 8th Wonder of the World and is the largest religious monument in the world. Wat means ‘temple’ in Khmer.
The normal practice to visit Angkor Wat would be to arrive there in time for the sunrise. Angkor Wat is the only temple in Angkor that is built oriented to the west. That is why the sunrise of Angkor Wat appears behind the complex hence the many postcards of Angkor Wat’s silhouette against the sunrise.
Shafie suggested to us that we should leave our hotel by 5.30 am in the morning which we did. It takes around 30 minutes tuk-tuk drive from the town center to Angkor Wat. Driving through the Angkor Archeological grounds that early in the morning was really freezing. I was glad that I brought my arm sleeves which I originally meant to use against the sun.
Meanwhile, many other activities are on-going around the basin. From people just sitting down on the grass just indulging in the moment, to people just walking along the causeway, to people taking out their brushes to sketch the view into their canvas.
Children from the nearby stalls would sell their souvenirs to the tourist, all of which are very soft spoken and polite unlike child touts of other countries who can get quite persistent. They are such good charmers that most tourist would not mind to get something from them.
NOTE: A few things advice from me after having been in Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat can be walked through within an hour if you are one to just walk from one end to the other end. However, if you want to appreciate the beauty, charm and complexity of Angkor Wat, I suggest you bring along a guidebook on Angkor Wat which details out all the galleries of bas-relied, carvings, architecture and layout of the whole place. It would be IMPOSSIBLE to read up on all these details before hand and expect to remember them by-heart, there are just too many! And if you should decide to do this, allocate yourself at least one whole day in Angkor Wat to be able to trace and find all the details mentioned in the guidebook. However, if you are just like us who just wants to go in there and see Angkor Wat with our own eyes and capture its splendor with our cameras, then more or less 4 hours should be more than enough to complete this.
DAY 2 : ANGKOR THOM & TA PHROM
On our second day, we got up at 6 am, again because we wanted to be there before all the tourist arrive. Our steadfast tuk-tuk driver Shafie, as usual, was at our hotel to pick us even before we were ready. Every single day!
We chose to do Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom together since Ta Phrom is very close to where Angkor Thom is. One thing to note is that Angkor Thom is not just a temple, but a collection of many other temple and buildings within one boundary, the most well-known being Bayon, the temple of many faces. Angkor Thom is the last capital of the Khmer Empire, holding the residences of priest, the palace , the military and various structures for the kingdom’s officials. Oh by the way, Thom means ‘large’ in Khmer, so its no surprise that Angkor Thom is also know as ‘The Great City’’.
Along the causeway of South Gate is the 54 stone figures depicting the story of ‘The Churning of the Ocean of Milk’. On the left side are the devas (guardian gods) and the right side the asuras (demon gods), all pulling the naga’s tail (serpent with 7 heads) telling of the eternal flight between good and evil.
Bayon temple is situated in the middle of the Angkor Thom intersected by the roads leading to all four gates. Like a lot of the other mountain temples, it is considered to represent Mount Meru, the cosmic mountain in the mythology of Buddhism.
Picture: (Left) An Apsara themed carving on one of the pillars of the temple. (Right) Another Apsara themed carving, this time with a group of three apsaras dancing on a bed of lotuses.
Picture: (Left) Althought I have no idea what this is, I suspect that once upon a time, a statue of Buddha was placed on this ‘throne’, probably representing the lotus flower where he sat once sat on. (Right) A statue of Buddha clothed in gold sits in the middle of the walkway towards the center tower.
Picture: (left) The narrow passageway makes it seem as if you’re in a labyrinth. (right) A cat came out of nowhere and rested on the window craving for our attention. How in the world did a cat get all the way into the temple and then up here to the upper most level? God-sent maybe?
NOTE: It was in Bayon that we encountered a tout. We were the first to arrive at Bayon, and there was already a person in plain clothes waiting at the entrance. While we passed the entrance, he followed us and started talking to us and explaining and showing to us some of the interesting things to see in Bayon. Don’t get me wrong, I use the word ‘tout’ but he was extremely friendly and polite. Since he was not dressed in the usual peach-coloured uniform that the official guides usually wear, I knew this was just a guide-wannabe trying to earn a quick buck. If you ever encounter this yourself, just thank him politely and explain to him you would prefer to explore the temple alone.
Not far from Bayon, just a few steps to the north is Baphuon temple. Prior to reaching Baphuon, don’t miss the statue of Buddha located between Bayon and Baphuon. I didn’t capture a picture of it as the statue had scaffoldings around it at that time. I assume they were preparing the statue for the coming Khmer New Year.
PHIMEANAKAS (THE ROYAL PALACE)
Phimeanakas is located inside the compound of what used to be the Royal Palace during those times. The word Phimeanakas comes from a combination of the Sanskrit word ‘vimana’ and ‘akasha’ which means ‘celestial palace of the gods’. However, even with such a grand name, the temple itself is quite modest; not really big and not really high.
TERRACE OF THE ELEPHANTS
The Terrace of the Elephants I s part of the walls of the Royal Palace. It is a 360-meter long sandstone wall and runs from north to south.
TERRACE OF THE LEPER KING
The Terrace of the Leper King is located just north at the end of the Terrace of the Elephants. This terrace is named after a statue of the Leper King that originally stood at the center, which is no more there as the statue has been moved to the National Museum of Phnom Penh.
Ta Phrom is located just a short distance on the east of Angkor Thom. It is known as the ‘jungle temple’ and was made famous by the movie ‘The Tomb Raider’. The banyan and kapok trees has spread their gigantic roots over the temples, sliding and pushing the walls apart establishing a firm hold on the roof. One has to appreciate its natural beauty as it is a temple which has been left in the same condition in which it was found!
Carvings of dancers that is still well preserved which can be found at the Hall of the Dancers.
NOTE: If you are a keen photographer, Ta Phrom is best visited during midday (or close to midday) when the sun is higher allowing it to shine it rains into the canopy of leaves and branches provided by the banyan and kapok trees which engulfs the temple. Do remember that this is one of the most visited temples so if you want to get a clean shot of the money shots, you need to be very patient! One technique that worked for me; everyone will automatically queue, waiting for their turn to have their pictures taken at the picturesque spot by their companions, so when it comes to your group’s turn, get your friend to pose for you while you take the shot, and then right after, just kindly request the next person in line to give you a few seconds to take the shot without anyone in it! And bingo, you get the clean shot that you want. Do also take note that you need wide angled lens to be able to capture most of the dramatic spots in the temple as it is quite narrow!
DAY 3: BANTEAY SREI, EAST MEBON & TA SOM
The third and final day of our ‘temple run’. The first two day has been very rewarding and eye-opening for me. I couldn’t wait to see more! For this last day, we planned for three other temples that are unique to the others, Banteay Srei, East Mebon and Ta Som. Banteay Srei is one of the furthest temple, needing to travel an extra 23 km from the where the main temples are. That translates to around a 1-hour tuk-tuk drive from Siem Reap town. Please do not confuse this temple with another temple that is named Banteay Samre. Banteay Samre and Banteay Srei are two different temples.
Banteay means ‘citadel’ and Srei means ‘Woman’ that is why it is also known as ‘The Citadel of Women’. This temple is known for the temple with the finest and most beautiful wall carvings carvings that many believed could only be the mastery of a women. Another very unique identity to this temple is the red sandstone is it built from.
The towers within the central sanctuary are all of the same delicate and beautiful designs.
Kneeling statues of yaksha (male guardian spirits of natural treasures) and devatas (female deities) are placed in front of each of the tower in pairs.
Other carvings of Durga and Naga that can be found on the walls of the central sanctuary.
NOTE: The Banteay Srei compound is very different from all the other temples. It is quite well organized with many tourist stalls and eating stalls located at the parking area. We tried our first local Cambodian noodles at this eating stall for only USD 1! Other than that, there is also a baray (river) filled with lotus plant and flower where visitors can opt to have a short boat trip.
We headed back to the main Angkor Archaeological site headed to East Mebon temple which is located just north of Pre Rup. East Mebon’s uniqueness is with the statues of elephants which stands guard at the four corners of the temple. It is interesting to note that East Mebon used to be an island around a large body of water (East Baray) which has dried up for centuries.
Ta som is located close to East Mebon, towards the north. The easiest way to describe Ta Som is that it is like a mini Ta Phrom (the jungle temple with the banyan and kapok trees growing on them).
Picture: (left) A restored carving depicting Lokeshvara. (right) More devata carvings seen on the walls of the gopura (entrances).
Phew! That must have been a lot of Khmer names and terms to take in! Don’t worry too much about memorizing the all the terms and the mythologies. Just remember to enjoy yourself and stand in awe when in the presence of the mystical Angkor temples.
Let me try to summarize our whole trip so that it may be of help to you:
We did all our temple runs in the morning. We used the afternoon for food hunt and café hopping. The normal tourist will usually start their temple visits after breakfast, so expect bus loads of them to come in around 8 am or so. So if you want to get clean photographs without them, you have to arrive early. There is also of course the lack of sunlight if you shoot that early.
If you get your Angkor Pass after 5 pm on that day, you get a free visit into the temples that evening. They will only start to ‘deduct’ your pass days the next day (by punching a hole on the dates printed on the pass).
We arranged our temple runs in the order that was mentioned mainly because of the location convenience (less travelling time). The exception being Banteay Srei.
If you are the person who would want to know about the stories behind each of the galleries of carvings and reliefs, the design, the architecture and the layout at each temple, bring along a Angkor Temple guidebook which explains all that which should also include on directional tips. And if you are going to do this, you should expect to spend hours in just one temple itself. For example, if you were to follow every single one, then expect to spend a whole day in just Angkor Wat itself.
You can also choose to hire an official temple guide, which you can easily hire at the entrance of Angkor Wat. They are identifiable by their cream-coloured uniforms with the Angkor emblem on their sleeves. The guides are extremely good and can speak chinese, french and malay. I know this for sure because while we were going around the temples, we would meet many of them bringing their group of visitors and admittedly, there were a few occasions I just stood near them to ‘listen in’ on the guide’s explanations.
Ladies, please remember to wear decent clothings. All the temples do not allow entry if you are not ‘covered up’. By covered up, I mean that your knees should not be visible and no sleeveless. Using a shawl, scarf, towel to cover it up does not work. The guards will insist on proper dress code.
Always, always, always remember to bring along your Angkor Pass. No pass, no entry! Shafie our tuk-tuk driver ALWAYS checks to make sure we brought our passes prior to leaving our hotel for the day.
- Don’t miss also, Thanis’ account on our travel. You can read his take of the story here.
However, you do need to remember the temple names! Here are the uniqueness of each temple and why we chose to do these temples within our 3-days pass:
Angkor Wat; the largest single temple compared to all the others and obviously the most famous among all others.
Angkor Thom; it has the most collection of temples within one area. e.g. Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King.
Ta Phrom; the jungle temple overgrown with banyan and kapot trees, also known as the famous Tomb Raider temple.
Banteay Srei; the Citadel of Women with its very intricate and delicate carvings and use of red sandstone.
East Mebon; the temple that has elephant statues!
Ta Som; a mini Ta Phrom with less tourist!
Pre Rup; a small but high temple which is nice to enjoy the sunset
And if you asked me, will I ever go back to Cambodia again. Well a big YES to that! Our 4 days in Siem Reap whooshed by us like a breeze. There are still so many temples left for me to discovered, and when I have the chance, I would like to visit these temples:
Beng Mealea; a real jungle temple that is isolated deep faraway and deep in the jungle. The timetravelturtle has more information together with some very nice pictures here. By the way, it is around 75 km from the city!
Phnom Kulen; it is by itself a National Park which is located near to the mountain range. The attractions in here includes a river which has sandstone carvings by the riverbed, a colossal reclining Buddha statue and a waterfall! More about Phnom Kulen here.
There’s just so much that Angkor has to offer. I’m already missing the mystical atmosphere in the temples and the friendliness atmosphere of the people. Siem Reap has really touched deep into my heart and I can’t wait for my next chance to visit there again. The people that I met, the faces that I saw… I miss them all. Godspeed and take care my friends, until we can meet each other again.
This is the end of the 2nd part of my 3-part article on my visit to Siem Reap. Coming up next is my 3rd and last part which is about The Best Restaurants and Cafes of Siem Reap. Also, if you missed my first part of this 3-part article which tells covers The Scenes of Siem Reap, you can read it here.
Everyone knows that at the mention of Cambodia or Siem Reap, automatically the thought of Angkor Wat comes into mind. For a very long time this unofficial 8th wonder of the world has been in my bucket list and finally, I’ve managed to see it with my own two eyes and step my own two feet upon the ancient stones of Angkor!
What I’ve discovered is that Siem Reap is not all about the magnificence of Angkor but also the beauty of the people and their culture. If you don’t know already, Cambodia recently won “The Nicest People in the World” for 2016 by the World Countries Award. Mind you, this was not the first time Cambodians has received this award. It came as no surprise having spend my days interacting with the people there to see how genuinely friendly and helpful they are, even to an outsider like me! Needless to say, I am missing their hospitality now that I am back home.
I’ve divided my articles on Siem Reap into 3 main categories according to topics:
Scenes of Siem Reap, which is this article which mainly focuses on the sights that you will see and experience in the city and nearby villages.
The Temples of Angkor, which describes about the different temples that I visited.
Best Restaurant & Cafes of Siem Reap, which is a food adventure in Siem Reap.
(Don’t miss the last section of this article which contains some useful information on the currency and mobile data usage in Siem Reap!)
Do also have a look also at Thanis’ (we went there together) all-in-one article (link here) about our experience when visiting Siem Reap!
Like most other cities, the scene can be very different from day and night. Come night time, the city transforms into a very different image. For our whole stay in Siem Reap, we chose Central Indochine Hotel (website here) which offered a very affordable price of USD27 per night and its location which was in the city yet away from the noise of party goers. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by the warm and friendly greetings of the hotel staff. This was our first-hand experience of Cambodian friendliness.
This was our hotel room; extremely comfortable and clean. I immediately love the very bright and modern colours of the room. The bed was as comfortable as it was spotless. The toilet is big and spacey, supplied with all toiletries as well. For the price that we pay, we felt that this was extremely value for money, to the point that it is almost unbelievable.
Picture: (Left) I found this very photogenic hole on the roof of the hotel which overlooks part of Siem Reap. Being on the 4th floor, we were higher than most of the other buildings and structures there. (Right) The hotel’s restaurant has a nice ambience to it, all natural wooden chairs with an abundant of plants and trees all around.
UP AND ABOUT DURING THE DAY
The old market of Siem Reap is a bit more special that other markets I’ve visited before; it seems to be a one-stop place to get anything. By ‘anything,’ I really mean anything! From souvenirs of all kinds, dried food of many varieties, both traditional and modern Cambodian all the way to fresh fruits, fresh meat which includes exotic body parts of animals which I can’t even recognize, hardware shop, goldsmith shop and even hair salons (look at the picture on the bottom right, that’s proof I kid you not)!
Walking around the city, flowers are all around. From the simple lotus flowers placed on water-filled pots (pictured right) to pain-stackingly stacked flowers from smaller petal of flowers (pictured left). The significance of the Lotus and its flower can be seen all around the city from
WHEN NIGHT FALLS
HEADING OUT OF TOWN
The tuk-tuk ride along brings us through many villages, each offering and selling many different types of arts and handicrafts. I was impressed by the number of artist in Siem Reap, there seems to be a lot of them just sitting around the temple grounds and just drawing and painting with their freehand. Other delicate handicraft made by craving and weaving can also be seen.
To avoid throngs of tourist that comes in the bus loads and to also the intense heat, we made all our temple visits early in the morning and left before the sun gets high above our heads. This also gave us the opportunity to see the villagers go about their daily morning life preparing their stalls or mending to their cows…
… or transporting the products of their labor to be sold somewhere; potteries, charcoals, coconut and even cows …
As promised, here are some pointers when visiting Siem Reap:
All transactions are in USD. Even products in the local supermarket are price tagged in USD. The Cambodian Riel are used like coins when getting change. For example, if you pay for a USD 1.50 item but give USD 2, the change of USD 0.50 will be given in the Riel equivalent which is around 2000 Riel.
Visit the temples early in the morning. We started our visits around 6 am everyday. Most tourist that comes in the bus loads will come after breakfast, around 8.30 am onwards. So if you aim to photograph the temple without tourist in your frame, make sure you are there before that time.
We use our afternoons to try out different eateries and cafes in Siem Reap, and also visits to the market as well as other places of interest.
- Hiring the right tuk-tuk is extremely essential to ensure your holidays in Siem Reap is enjoyable and stress free. If you ever need a Tuk-Tuk driver in Siem Reap, Shafii Angkor Tuktuk is the best! Many many many (excuse my grammar) times has he gone ‘above & beyond’ to ensure that our plans and wants are met and gives due recommendation and advice whenever possible! Check out his website here and contact him via WhatsApp. He replies very fast (unless when he’s driving of course).
- Do also have a look also at Thanis’ (we went there together) all-in-one article (link here) about our experience when visiting Siem Reap!
- I will be writing about the temples and the food of Siem Reap after this, so please stay tuned!
These were the first and last faces of my memorable visit to Cambodia. A big THANK YOU to all the staff of Central Indocine for making sure we had the most comfortable place to retire and rest each day and then going the extra mile thatto make sure we have everything we need for the entire duration. A huge THANK YOU also to our dedicated yet humble and extremely patient tuk-tuk driver Shafii for being so patient with us and our very random request to go everywhere. You guys are the real faces of Cambodia and definitely you are the ones that gives meaning to the name ‘Smiles of Angkor’! I miss all of you tremendously!
There’s a new place in town where you can relax by bonding with dogs of different breeds and sizes, while having a nice meal to catch up with your friends. It’s called Furry Fiesta. Come and say hi to the doggies around, have a picture or two taken with them, pat them or even give them a cuddle, share the love!
p.s. please read until the end of this post for some special offers that Furry Fiesta has for you.
The idea of dog cafes is not new in this world, however, most dog cafes are focused on serving good lattes and finger-food, whereas Furry Fiesta offers the full-range of meals for both people and even dishes for their four-legged friends.
The place has a beautiful corner for a photobooth complete with a trishaw with floral backdrop for anyone who would like to take a picture with their furkids, or other furkids that are around. Your furkids can also relax and fall asleep with the air-conditioned surrounding while getting their furs gently caressed by the breeze from the fans. The warm lighting and various cute posters provides a warm and cosy atmosphere for the dog lovers alike.
Sit your furkid on your lap and enjoy the candle light dinner together.
Furry Fiesta’s range of dishes are quite a lot, ranging from asian-styled dishes to the western-styled and even dishes for your fur kids. More importantly, they are all delicious.
Celebrities which I met that day! Romeo (the white pomeranian in red gray stripes) wins my heart.
When it is time to go home, you would probably need to carry your furkid away as they take one last glance of their other friends one last time to say goodbye.
Furry Fiesta strongly encourages you to bring your furkids! Bring your furkids and get a 10% discount on all the Asian & Western food that you order!
Other than that, Furry Fiesta can also organize a special birthday party for your furkid with a free special birthday gift!
Furry Fiesta is located in Miri’s new Marina Bay Commercial area: Lot 2028, Ground Floor Marina Square, Phase 1, Miri. Their opening hours are 10.30 am – 12.00 midnight daily. Please contact Connie should you have any enquiries or bookings at +60 12 7273272.
Let’s face it. Most of us (including myself) hates drinking fruit juices. The more someone tells you “no sugar added… no artificial flavouring added”, the more turned off we are. Sure, it’s healthy. Sure, it’s good for us. But it could take us forever to finish a glass, if we even manage to finish it. Hands up if you’re one of us!
Rejoice! For now comes a fruit juice method guaranteed that anyone will love it… even the little ones who dreads the idea of being given any fruit juice. Trust me, after the first sip, your child will drag you to order again the next time!
Introducing beesket, a very different approach to fruit juices: the latest juice franchise that comes all the way from Korea! More importantly, the juices are all 100% natural ingredients that are prepared fresh and does not add any artificial additives or sugar! Beesket Brunei has recently opened its first outlet in KB Sentral Mall.
Beesket introduces a very different approach to fruit juices.
SO WHAT? WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT IT?
The first thing to do is to determine what fruit juice you would like to have.
Surely you will find your favourite fruits among the abundant choices available. Choose 3 of your favourite fruits. The choices are available in the different coloured capsules placed in the hive-like shelves (hence the word ‘bees’). Located above the capsules is a guide of common combinations that people normally choose.
These above combination guides were taken from Beesket’s website. I’m so gonna try the combination for ‘bling-bling my skin’ and ‘immunity shield’ the next time I am there!
The capsules that you have chosen will then be placed into the holder (hence the word ‘ket’ which would be short for basket).
Once you are satisfied with your choices, place the beesket (the holder containing the capsules) on the cashier counter.
Just like magic, the system will automatically recognize your fruit choices and display the list of fruits that you have selected on the screen. For those who are concern with the calories intake, the screen conveniently includes the calories(Kcal) associated with your selection!
All fruits are FRESH and you can clearly see this standing anywhere around the counter.
Fresh fruits of your selection are taken and weighted before being placed into the blender.
Watch and drool while your delicious drink is being prepared in front of you.
Taadaa!… and your drink is ready in no time. Together with your drink, there is included a Beesket Score Card. On the card are details of your fruit selections, together with the calories associated as well as the detailed breakdown of each nutrient contained in your drink, such as how much Fiber, Calcium, Vitamin K, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin C and Vitamin E. In addition to that, you can also leave your feedback on the card.
By the way, did I mention that Beesket juices are 100% fresh natural ingredient without any artificial additives or sugar? Beesket’s ingenious system makes it possible for you to know your calories and nutritional informations at a glance, even before you confirm your order!
Beesket Brunei is located in KB Sentral Mall, 1st Floor. You will be able to spot it as soon as you step off the escalator from the ground floor to the 1st floor. Personally, I have never been a fan of fruit juices. I don’t remember having any cravings for any fruit juice until I had beesket’s. Now I find myself craving for beesket every so often. Trust me, you will love it too!
Mount Fansipan (Vietnamese: Phan Xi Păng) is located at the north-west most region of Vietnam. Towering at 3,143 metres high, it is known as the roof of Indo-China and is bordering to the province of Yunnan (China) to the north and Laos to the west.
There are also other alternative transportation from Hanoi to Sa Pa, however each with its pros and cons. For example, one can also get from Hanoi to Lao Cai via overnight sleeper bus, but safety is always the concern since the road is long and dark. Another option would be to hire a car (which can take you directly to Sa Pa), however as the journey is long, most ‘normal’ people would think twice.
I slept through the whole 8 hours journey, only waking up an hour before reaching our destination. I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, and immediately pulled out my long zoom lens to capture some of the serene views of the daybreak.
Alas, we arrived at Lao Cai at the crack of dawn. Upon arrival, we were unsure as to whether or not this was our stop since all the train’s announcement was in Vietnamese and none of the signage on the platform was in English. Most of the cabin crew and officers on the platform did not understand English either. In the end, it was just down to asking two words… “Lao Cai?”. With the nod of the head from one of the guards, we took a deep breath, packed our belongings and got off the train.
The journey to Sa Pa would take us through long and winding uphill roads, with very scenic views of rolling hills and terrace fields in the valley. Our driver was careful and drove at an average speed, relying the most trusted safety device of the vehicle: the horn.
Honking our way the whole way through, we arrived in Sa Pa in within an hour. From the small and humble villages and fields that we passed along the way, making our way deeper and deeper into the region, we started imagining Sa Pa to be another small sleepy village with villagers going about their everyday routine. We were dead wrong. Every corner of Sa Pa’s street seems to be crowded with throngs and throngs of tourists. Some sipping coffee in the coffee shops, warming themselves in the chilly mountain air, some walking about for souvenir hunting. Some of the local ethnic tribe ladies dressed in their cultural wear can be seen approaching tourist trying to sell their handicrafts.
After a much needed breakfast, our guide for the climb came to meet us. We were then quickly whisked away in yet another mini bus, driving through yet more long and winding road. This time, the sides of the road were filled with houses and mini marts. We reached the starting point in under an hour.
Our guide ushered us into the National Park office, which was manned by officers wearing their usual green military officer attire. It was strange that we did not need to register ourselves into the park, neither did I see any formal procedure in placed for that. Every single signage and information in the office was in Vietnamese as though it was only meant to be read by the locals. The only words that I could recognize was ‘WC’!
Our guide introduced himself as Su and we were extremely pleased that he was able to speak good English than most of the locals. It was here too that Su briefed us on our hike and what we should expect.
There was a miscommunication with our agent regarding porters. We did enquire about porters in our initial communication and our agent assured us that the porters will carry all our equipment, but this only meant our tents and food. This was a problem for me as my own camera backpack already weighted at least 7 kg with all the camera lens and accessories. Su was kind enough to offer to carry my other backpack that had my clothing and other necessity for the hike.
Surprisingly, the first section of the trek leads us to a few descents. I never liked descents this early in a trek, because it only means that we need to do an ascent on the last part of the trek back!
It was here that the trek started to introduce hard ascents, which found us clawing for more breath at end of each ascent section. The randomness of the rock formation makes it harder to ascent each step must be properly footed, otherwise it will cause unnecessary use of our energy.
Picture: (Left) I wonder if the hole in this tree is made by a bird, or was it formed from natural causes? (Right) The upward ascents can get really long and tiring, sometimes impossible to complete in one run.
Picture: (Top) Watch out for these nasty ‘landmines’. Don’t worry, you will know when a mine is near from the odour that is emitting from it. (Center-left) Oops, too late, looks like someone has stepped into one of the ‘landmine’. One thing is for sure, it wasn’t one of us! (Center-right) Looks like this buffalo was having a bad day, wonder what it ate for breakfast. (Bottom) The mother load of it all! Just look at the size of that thing, from one end to the other. Needless to say, the ‘aroma’ being emitted from this gargantuan pile of crap may be enough to power a village!
Many of the plants, flowers and fruits found along the trail.
Picture: (Left) The courageous chicken with its chicks roaming freely around the campsite foraging for anything to eat. (Right) The extremely friendly man’s best friend forming part of the welcoming committee to the campsite.
The two dogs at the campsite gave us a very warm welcome, planting their kisses all over our friend Weena (left) and Anna (right). We foreigners must taste different compared to the locals.
Some of the ridges ascents are so steep that we would use the man-made cement handles at the side to pull ourselves up.
The largest shelter (shown in the picture below) was to be our accommodation for the night. It has 6 large rooms and each room is able to accommodate 5 persons comfortably. That calculates to a total of 30 climbers at most at its full capacity.
Each room has a wooden raised platform (to keep it further from the cold of the ground) on which we would place a layer of insulation followed by our sleeping bags. There are 6 toilets located at the end of the shelter, with proper flushing and wash basins. Strangely, none of the toilets had any water supply! Luckily, we were already mentally and physically prepared to be without any water source (other than our precious drinking water) for the whole journey. There is also no electricity supply, so come night time, we would be relying on our torchlight.
Mobile reception at the basecamp is weak, often non-existent when there is a breeze. The reception and any internet data comes in short bust every few minutes, so you have to be really patient to wait for your messages to get through.
Whenever I go for any camping trip, or any trip that sees me far away from civilization, I would set my alarm to wake up in the middle of the night to witness the marvels of the universe; the milky way and the infinite stars in the celestial sky. Before retreated for the night, I set my trusted watch alarm to 10.00 pm and made a little appeal to the Almighty so that there would have a clear sky and good weather at that time.
My alarm rang on the dot, and as I slowly attempted to get out of my sleeping bag, I realized it was freezing cold! Every inch of my body was telling me to just stay in bed and stay in the warmness of the sleeping bag! After what must have been few minutes of battling with my own self, I was finally outside… alone… in the dark. The feeling of emptiness and void was only for a brief moment and then I experienced the most incomprehensible feeling of astonishingly breathtaking canvas the cosmos has ever revealed to me!
Each of our individual shots on the peak of Mount Fansipan; (Clockwise from top-left) Xiao Yan, Anna, Weena and John.
Special thanks to Su our guide who was there to assist us all the way from start to end. He really went out of his way to make sure we were comfortable and safe. Special thanks also to Daisy of Rising Dragon Legend Hotel in Hanoi who has is the representation of genuine Vietnamese hospitality and her everlasting smile which has been embedded deep into our cherished memories of Vietnam. Not for forget, special ‘Hi’ to our friend Anna, who must still be on her 3 months backpacking. Lastly, thank you to my dear friends; John, Weena and Xiao Yan for the wonderful journey together. I hope that with God’s grace that we would have the chance to cross path again one day in this lifetime.
Introducing the newest food offering in Brunei: Food Arena’s Jumbo Sungkai Buffet. Food Arena is the consortium of restaurants and bakeries which makes up the whole row of Seri Q-Lap Mall’s ground floor. Rows after rows of big eatery names in Brunei.
This year, these big names are bringing to you one of the biggest buffet offering for Sungkai Buffet in Brunei. Western cuisine, Indonesian cuisine, Arabian cuisine, cakes, pastries, and a whole lot of desserts, all under one roof!
Upon arriving at the Food Arena, my first impression was “So pretty!”. This was my first time to the Food Arena since they took ownership from previous Giant Supermarket and gave the place a whole new makeover.
Chocolate Butter Cake
Pandan Butter Cake
Red Velvet Butter Cake
Marble Butter Cake
Batik Horlick Cake
Premium Prune Lapis Cake
Chocolate Chips Kek Lapis Cake
Red Velvet Lapis Cake
Oreo Roll Cake
Oreo Cheese Cake
Blueberry Cheese Cake
What do you think? See anything you like? For me, they already had me at ‘Hello’. First impressions count, and they have shown that when it comes to the presentation and layout of the whole place, they mean business. Every single dish is decorated with contrasting colours and every corner is well litted with modern LED lights.
After seeing all those delicious food and sweet desserts, I can’t wait to dive in to eat!
My usual routine in a buffet this huge would be to taste each of the dishes on the first round, just one bite of each item and then decide on which dishes will make it to my ROUND TWO. Round two would see more of those dishes until I’m fully satisfied! Yummy in my tummy! Maybe these dishes would be your favourites as well?
Shredded ice is available at the ABC corner together with the varieties of toppings to choose from. Or would you prefer delicately carved fruits such as the watermelon rose, the apple flowers and the pineapple swan? Beautiful.
All in all, the Food Arena’s Jumbo Buffet is definitely a buffet worth going for. At only $29.90 for adult and $15.90 for child, this buffet is priced competitively with other buffets available out there. The choices of the main dishes available from the western, arabian and indonesia are those that are usually popular among the people. One of the biggest strength that this Jumbo Buffet has over others are the overwhelming number of desserts that you are spoilt for choice!
The Jumbo Buffet will only be available until the end of Ramadhan, so do hurry. Food Arena is located at Seri Q-Lap Mall’s ground floor. Park your car behind the mall as that would be the closest to Food Arena’s entrance. You will not miss the Jumbo Buffet’s banner there. Please call +673 7151177 or +673 720 9777 for place your bookings! Don’t just take my word for it, go and see and try for yourself!