From Hanoi, Vietnam we fly south, to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Our flight from Hanoi touched down in Siem Reap at 8pm, and we were greeted by a decadent tiny airport that might well have been an extension of a five star hotel; evoking luxury and historical significance. With our freshly stamped visas we entered Cambodia.
A man from our hotel met us, but we wasn’t holding our names. Confusion ensued, there were a couple of phone calls, a bit of waiting, a mild panic that we’d booked the wrong dates, and then we were on our way. Our driver was very kind, and en-route he talked about Cambodia’s culture and history. Many of the older generations here speak French, he explained. He pointed out the sights in the dark; lavish new hotels that have popped up everywhere, new apartments, the oldest hotel in town. Siem Reap at night felt wealthy and new, the darkness smoothing over the rough edges. It’s a town very much built on tourism, and mostly within the last decade.
Choosing our Siem Reap hotel was painless. One hotel stood out from the rest, the number one trip advisor recommendation where every review was glowingly positive, Pavillon D’Orient. It’s a little out of town, but that is by no means a bad thing.
Cheerful staff were waiting our arrival, they helped us out of the car and emphatically greeted us. Welcome, welcome, sit down, have a cool lemongrass and jasmine tea. The staff were beaming, excitable even, eager to tell us all about breakfast, the restaurant, our complimentary tuk tuk and the temple tours. There was a lot to tell! A free spa treatment, all day breakfast, a temple guide book, a tuk-tuk for the duration of the stay; all included in our modest room rate.
We were shown to our room, through the small tropical garden and past the Indochine Angkor posters, old suitcases and Buddha statues, up the stairs. Along the corridor’s ceiling the uncontrollable ants were chasing something sweet, avoiding the geckos that liked to snack on them.
The room was large, light brown and beige with a wooden floor. It got the, “Oh, wow” response from both of us. Even the mosquito nets were somehow romantic. A balcony with seats looked out towards the pool, and a writing desk had fresh fruit, complimentary red wine and an intriguing paper maché sculpture.
Not yet 10pm, we were starving; the hotel restaurant was a delight and a lifesaver. Over scrumptious beef and shrimp salads, with the watchful attention of our waitresses, we planned tomorrow’s itinerary. We had four full days, three full days of temple trekking and a day off to recover, somewhere in-between. But which were the best temples? What does the guide book say for a three-day trip? Which order should we see them in? What do all these names mean!?
At 10:20 there was a power cut. Under the torch light of my phone we continued planning. The smells of the mosquito repellant wafted upwards, as the bugs were drawn to our bright light. Soon the generator kicked in and we were back to normal. Turns out this is a nightly affair.
Despite all these questions, and the barrage of information that faces any visitor to the region, we made a decent plan. Tomorrow we’ll visit Bayon, Angkor Thom and the surrounding regions. And we’ll book a guide, if we can, to explain everything.
Right, we’re done, we’ve eaten, we have our plans and now we must sleep and, once more this holiday, prepare for an early morning.