Sunday 23 September 2012

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap and an amazing 40th birthday meal

23rd-30th August

We arrived in Siem Reap by VIP bus. From our experiences around Asia, VIP is the same as any normal bus, just more expensive for the tourists. This was the exception – the first bus I’ve ever been on with working Wi-Fi!

We had a few days before my parents arrived so, much to the consternation of our hotel and tuk tuk driver, Angkor Wat would have to wait. Instead, we busied ourselves the only way we know how: crazy golf!

Pick a hole, any hole
To be honest, there’s not much to do in Siem Reap apart from Angkor Wat, unless you’re into your clubbing in which case Pub Street will cater to all your needs. Luckily our hotel was nice, so we could just relax by the pool.

The pool (sometimes I think my captions need work)
Finally, the wrinklies Mum and Dad arrived and after an early night to allow them to recover from the jet lag, it was off to the temples.

Although everyone knows the site as Angkor Wat, it’s actually just one of dozens of sites in a temple complex spread over dozens of square miles. You could easily spend four or five days exploring them all but it’s quite possible to get a good look a the most important sites in a single day so that’s what we did.

Since there were four of us sharing, we managed to hire a private guide for the same price as we would have paid to be on one of the big tour buses. We were picked up nice and early – you can pay extra to be there for dawn but in the rainy season the sun is never guaranteed. Our tour was designed to visit all the main sites leaving Angkor Wat itself until the very end.

A large part of the temple complex is dominated by the site of the ancient city of Angkor Thom. Built in the 13th century, at it’s height it held around 1 million people back when London could only manage 50,000 or so. Our tour started at the main gate, it’s causeway flanked by 54 gods on the left and 54 demons on the right, took us to various smaller temples, the Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Temple of Ta Prohm – which was the location apparently for the Tomb Raider movie, a bit lost on me as I've not seen it – and finally to Angkor Wat itself.

Anyway, I’m not writing a tour guide here so if you want to know more then you can check the articles on Wikipedia.

Here’s some photos.

Angkor Thom main gate causeway - gods...
...and demons
Angkor Thom south gate
Us in front of the Bayon temple
One of 216 faces in Prasat Bayon (and Dad)
Steep stairs up the Baphuon
Some other temple - there's just so many...
View from the Baphuon
Statues around the Terrace of the Leper King
Ta Prohm temple being eaten by a tree
Looking up one of the towers in Ta Prohm
Location from Tomb Raider in Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm
Corridor in Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat tower
Thunder clouds looming looking south from Angkor Wat
Stairs up to Angkor Wat
Approach to Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat reflections
Our trip to the temples just happened to coincide with my 40th birthday which certainly made it a day to remember. We weren't done there though: before they arrived my Mum and Dad insisted that we book a meal to celebrate – money no object! Lucky for them, it’s hard to spend too much on food in Siem Reap. Lucky for all of us I managed to find the place I did.

The Cuisine Wat Damnak restaurant is just outside the main part of Siem Reap. Run by a French couple (he’s the chef, she’s the maĆ®tre d’), they specialise in French style cooking using the best of the local ingredients. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had, almost Michelin star standard and a about a quarter of the price. Go before it gets too famous!

We all started with a Holy Basil Martini which was as good as it sounds.

So good I drank half before I remembered to take a photo
They only serve two options, Tasting menu 1 or 2 which change weekly depending on what's in season. We went for number 2 and were not disappointed.

Tasting menu 2
Every dish was perfectly cooked and full of amazing flavours. The stand-out dish was probably the least impressive-sounding – the braised minced duck. So good I could have eaten it twice!

Braised minced duck with coconut and dry chilli, puffed rice and local crudites
A perfect end to the most memorable birthday.

Current location: Chiang Khong
Next stop: Laos


  1. All looks and sounds wonderful, I'm glad you had such a memorable birthday.
    It's nice to see you all looking so well

  2. I remember eating a lot of really wonderful food in Siem Reap, but we didn't go to that place. I may have to go back.

    1. Happy to give you the excuse you need!

      Don't think they've been open long. The food was an absolute delight.