Great to See You Again, Cambodia!

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Asia, Cambodia, Southeast

Apsaras at Angkor Wat

Eleven years ago, in my early years of blogging, I went on a whirlwind trip to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam in just one week. Back in those days, I was focused on seeing as many countries as possible despite the brief time off from work that I could afford. However, over time I kept stumbling upon posts after posts written by fellow bloggers who managed to see more of Cambodia and that was how I realized how much I missed out from that first visit in 2011.

In 2012, after meeting James in Hong Kong for the first time, we began traveling together, starting with Laos in May 2012. It was his idea to spend more time in the country as opposed to just three days as I had previously planned. And what an eye-opening trip it was! I learned the beauty of traveling at a slower pace, and the rest is history.

For a long time, I had always wanted to return to Cambodia to properly explore its historical sites dating back to a time when the Khmer people grew an empire that would become one of the most powerful Southeast Asia has ever seen. When Covid-related restrictions across the world began to ease, the idea of going to Cambodia was just too irresistible because of a few reasons: its relative proximity to Indonesia (so that if anything happened pandemic-wise, it should be fairly easy for me to return home), the allure of visiting the sites I didn’t get the chance to see on my first trip, the fact that James has never been to Cambodia, and also the appeal of seeing the country while its largest share of international visitors in the past (known for being extremely loud) from the giant in the north were still mostly unable to leave their country due to tough Covid restrictions.

Finally, a week ago we found ourselves flying to Siem Reap, Cambodia’s second biggest city which is also an ideal base to explore most of the country’s ancient temples. Last night, we just completed our week-long trip which was focused only on Siem Reap and its surrounding areas, and yet we still felt as if we’d barely scratched the surface. In hindsight, the underlying theme of this trip was really about change. The way I entered Cambodia this time was different from 2011 when I took a bus from Bangkok to the Thai-Cambodian border, then shared a car with other tourists to reach Siem Reap. This time we went around on a remork (the Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk) as opposed to cycling which I did eleven years ago (I still can’t believe how much I cycled around the city and Angkor Archaeological Park in the scorching heat back then). This time we had enough time to visit a lot more ancient sites compared to just three of the major temples as I did in the past. And equally important is that this time I managed to properly sample some Cambodian dishes (no more KFC like I did back in my backpacking days!). The city of Siem Reap itself has changed a lot since my first visit, largely in a positive way. It’s much more pedestrian friendly as a lot of the streets now have proper sidewalks, and the riverside promenade is more inviting with nice pathways that meander underneath big trees.

2023 is on the horizon, and what you can expect from this blog in the new year is stories from ancient places built by civilizations that once flourished in this part of the world. First, on the temples of the Angkorian period, then on some of their counterparts on the island of Java which I got the chance to visit back in June this year. The two regions actually have more connections than what most people might think. Until then, stay healthy and ‘see’ you next year!

Wat Preah Prom Rath, a Buddhist temple near where we stayed

A vegetable vendor at one of the traditional markets in Siem Reap

Bakong, a ninth-century Hindu shrine that is a part of the Roluos Group of Temples

Lolei, the northernmost temple of Roluos

Entering Angkor Thom, one of the ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire

Baphuon, an 11th-century Hindu temple which was converted into a Buddhist shrine in the 15th century

The photogenic eastern gate of Ta Som, a quiet temple along the so-called Grand Circuit of Angkor

Banteay Srei, the most ornately-decorated temple from the Angkorian period

Carvings of Hindu deities at Kbal Spean, a primary source of water for Angkor

Num bahn chok, a delicious Cambodian breakfast dish made from lightly-fermented rice noodles and smashed river fish, among other things

Battambang sausage served with chopped banana blossom and cilantro dressing

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

60 thoughts on “Great to See You Again, Cambodia!”

  1. Oh wow you have been! It looks like you had glorious weather and got to explore alot of temples! I look forward to your future posts!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, wow what a wonderful way to spend your previous week, Bama! I’m envious of how close you are to these countries, like Cambodia, that would talk so much flying and planning on our end.

    Cambodia is a beautiful country I’d like to do one day and I agree with your and James’ approach to savour a location more deeply instead of hopping from one location to another. The nice thing about getting older is you accumulate more vacation time too. 😆 We did this with a 3-week trip to Philippines a decade ago and it was so nice to just explore a place more in depth.

    The places you visited look wonderful and I love that you shared some of the local dishes you had (although I can never say no to KFC). Having smashed river fish for breakfast is an interesting way to start the day!

    Looking forward to more of your adventures in 2023!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cambodia to you is probably like Mexico to me — it’s a country I’ve always wanted to see, but its distance from where I live is the main reason why I haven’t gone. Although I know I probably should really plan to make it happen.

      Three weeks in the Philippines sounds so much fun! I’ve only been to Manila and I really want to go back to see more. Oh and of course I want to try the food too.

      I certainly wouldn’t say no if someone gives me fried chickens from KFC, but I can’t remember the last time I went to any KFC here in Indonesia on my own.

      Hope the rest of 2022 will be kind to you, Ab!

      Liked by 1 person

      • If you ever go back to Philippines, go anywhere but Manila. 😂 The islands are the best. And you’ll have to try the green mango shakes. I still dream of them.

        Speaking of Mexico, that’s our next family trip in 2023. It’s giving me the Will to get through these winter days.

        You have so much better food to eat than KFC!

        And wishing you a great rest of 2022 too. I have four more days of work to go then on staycaytion for the rest of the year. Hope it’ll be kind indeed! 🙏

        Liked by 1 person

      • Green mango shake sounds really interesting! Is it available throughout the country or only in specific regions?

        Ohh I’m so looking forward to your posts on Mexico!

        It’s great that you’re able to kick off the holiday seasons early. Have a great time, Ab!

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    • The trip went even better than what I’d anticipated as the weather was mostly nice and the local food was surprisingly good. I think I might publish a few posts from Java first before moving on to the ones on Cambodia. We’ll see.

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  3. Mas Bamaaaaaaaa…..
    Terima kasih banyak sudah kasih teasernya… tapi terus terang aku skip dulu bacanya dan langsung liat semua fotonya dan aku kenaaaallll semua lokasi batunya… ampuuun.. segitunya yaa aku kangen kembali ke Angkor hahaha…

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    • Saya gak heran kalau Mbak Riyanti kenal semua tempat di foto ini, hehe. Saya sih yakin Mbak Riyanti udah menjelajah sebagian besar candi-candi di Kamboja. Kalau Koh Ker sudah pernah belum mbak? Itu kayaknya menarik banget, cuma agak jauh dari Siem Reap.

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      • Hehehe… aku jadi maluuuu 😄

        Kalo Koh Ker udah juga… waktu itu aku jadiin satu trip Koh Ker, Beng Mealea dan Preah Vihear, khusus nyewa mobil siih utk rute itu berangkat subuh dr siemreap pulang around 10pm deh. Sunrise di beng mealea, dapat sunset di preah vihear.

        Mas Bama perlu banget kapan² ke Koh Ker, Mayan pyramid in Southeast Asia hehehe… di sekitarnya juga banyak candi2 lain, ada yg sudah dikerubutin pohon kayak Ta Som itu.

        Kemarin jadi ke Sambor Prei Kuk? Tapi liat foto2 itu malah ke Battambang ya… aku menanti tulisan tahun depan nih. Pasti seru.

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      • Wahh, luar biasa memang Mbak Riyanti soal urusan percandian di Kamboja! Waktu ke Koh Ker bisa naik sampai atas kah mbak? Soalnya saya baca dulu katanya bisa, tapi sejak tahun berapa gitu udah gak boleh naik ke atas lagi.

        Kemarin gak sempet ke Sambor Prei Kuk sama Battambang mbak, padahal pengen banget. Tapi kemarin 7 hari aja masih buanyak candi yang mesti di-skip karena gak cukup waktunya.

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  4. skaratjung says:

    Terima kasih sudah mengembalikan memori perjalanan saya ke Kamboja di tahun 2004. Saya jelajahi negara ini selama 12 hari, dari kuil ke kuil yang setiap detilnya begitu menakjubkan. Jika masih di sana, jangan lupa ke Tonlesap danau air tawar terbesar di Asia Tenggara. Bersampan di danau ini saat sunset adalah kenangan yang sangat berkesan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wah, Kamboja di tahun 2004 pasti sangat berbeda dibanding sekarang. Pas saya ke sana pertama kali tahun 2011 saja sudah cukup ramai, meski belum seramai tahun 2019 (kalau lihat di foto-foto di internet). Sayangnya saya sudah kembali ke Jakarta. Seminggu di Siem Reap kemarin memang lebih difokuskan untuk menjelajah candi-candinya sih, meskipun masih tetap menyempatkan ikut cooking class juga. Semoga ada kesempatan lagi untuk ke sana dan mengunjungi Tonle Sap. Terima kasih sudah membagikan pengalamannya.

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    • Both countries, especially Vietnam, can indeed be really hot. I remember when I went to the latter for the second time in April 2017 it was too hot even for someone like me who comes from another hot country. But the trip certainly was worth every drop of sweat!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad to see that you’ve started travelling again Bama. I visited Siem Reap quite many years ago (2009 actually) and I remember the dusty and sometimes unpaved roads in the city. Almost all the tourists would hang out at Pub Street in the evenings for food and drinks. The temples were amazing to see despite the hordes of tourists.

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    • In 2011 when I first went, the roads in Siem Reap were still mostly dusty with very few sidewalks. So it was really nice to see how the city has improved since then. Actually Pub Street is not that far from where we stayed, but we opted to explore more of the old market area as well as the Wat Bo neighborhood and some more parts of the city along the river.

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  6. I’m so happy to read that you got to spend a good chunk of time in Siem Reap, Bama. AND that you visited Kbal Spean – definitely one of my favourite memories from my trip there in Jan/Feb 2014. I spent 8 nights in Siem Reap, and managed to explore almost all the temples in a 40km radius of town. It was a dream come true, but interestingly enough it was the children, who were everywhere that left a lasting impression (and who I wrote about when it came to writing a blog post). Their plight and the poverty were very unsettling to me, and I wonder if it has improved since then.

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    • At first we were thinking of also going to Phnom Penh, but we decided it would be better to spend more time in Siem Reap because there are so many things to see and explore in and around the city. Even after staying for seven nights, there are still some temples we didn’t manage to see. While there are large ancient sites on Java, the ones near Siem Reap are really massive, and in general each temple there is much bigger than those in Indonesia apart from Borobudur and Prambanan. I did see children selling souvenirs to tourists, but they were mostly at the main sights. So yeah, I think poverty is still a big issue in this country, unfortunately.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s funny how our style of travelling has evolved over time or depending on the people we are with. Glad you had the opportunity to revisit Cambodia. Your pictures look amazing. Enjoy the rest of 2022. I’m looking forward to living vicariously through your adventures in 2023. Cheers. Linda

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    • It’s true that the person we travel with the most determines our way of traveling. Although I have always enjoyed eating since I was little, I wasn’t really adventurous back then before I met James and started traveling with him. This time in Siem Reap we managed to try a local dish made with red ants and another one made from beehive! Enjoy the upcoming holiday seasons, Linda!

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  8. How amazing! Cambodia has been on my bucket list for the longest time, and I can’t wait to read more about your trip there! I also wanted to visit as many countries as possible when I first started travelling, but now my focus is a bit more on taking the time to explore and experience every place at a time, though it is not always easy when you only have a limited amount of days off from work!

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    • I know, right? I have a long list of places around the world I want to see, but I often end up going to those that are still reasonable to visit in about one week. This means there are countries I know I have to go at least twice to cover at least the major sights. I hope you’ll get to visit Cambodia soon, Juliette!

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  9. How wonderful that you got to go back to savour the Cambodian temples at a slower pace Bama. I find myself increasingly drawn to the idea of returning to places I loved but didn’t have time to explore the way I do now. Egypt is high on that return list. But first, hoping to break my Indonesia and US jinx in 2022:)

    Looking forward to your perspective on the Khmer Temples and especially the food. Wishing you a fabulous, travel-filled year Bama.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What you said reminds me of your Jordan trips. I remember the last time you went it was more like a whirlwind tour with stops at places like Petra when the sun was at its harshest — not ideal for photography. But I hope you’ll go back to Egypt as well! I’ve always wanted to go but I know I have to allocate at least two weeks to see its most famous sites — more time will be even better.

      The thing about traveling to Indonesia right now is visitors are still not allowed to go to the upper levels of Borobudur. So, I think you should wait until the government allow people to go up this temple again — at the moment you can only walk around its base.

      I will probably start posting stories from Cambodia in February. In the meantime, I will look forward to reading more of your travel stories! (The one on the road trip was such a delightful read.)

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  10. Lucky you! I’m still not over our last-minute Covid-related cancellation to Southeast Asia back in 2020. I noticed a comment that our travel companions have a great effect on our travel styles, and I have to say that my husband is not a lingerer, so I would probably never get to spend a whole week just in Siem Reap even though I myself love to settle in somewhere and really dig deep. So, when you do get to your posts about all the temples and other places in Siem Reap, I will get to see some places that we are not likely to see if and when we do get our chance to go to Cambodia. Looking forward to your posts next year, and meanwhile, enjoy the end-of-year festivities!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You know, when I was in Siem Reap, I actually remembered your cancelled trip to Southeast Asia and thought how much you would enjoy the things I saw during this trip. Never give up the hope of going, Lex!

      I would be happy to help you with recommendations when you plan to visit Cambodia — I’ll keep in mind to also be mindful of what your husband may or may not like.

      On a side note, did you end up meeting Kelly in Malta?

      Have a great end of the year too, Lex! Wishing you a new year filled with more fulfilling travels and adventures.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Liz! The local dishes certainly were among the highlights of this trip. I can’t believe how much I missed out 11 years ago when I went for the first time!

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  11. So glad that you got to go back and see more of Siem Reap. I am looking forward to your posts about the temples, as I’ve spotted a couple in your photos that we didn’t’ visit. My first trip to SR entailed only the three ‘major’ temples that most travellers visit. I am quite fortunate that I had a chance to go back and explore in more depth. The dishes look delicious, especially the Battambang sausages.

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    • Before I start sharing the stories from Cambodia, I might publish a post or two on some more temples in Java. Please bear with me. 🙂 I, too, only visited the three temples on my first trip. But your recent posts are among the reasons why this time around I wanted to see more. So, thank you for that!

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  12. Bama, the evolution of your travel style goes hand in hand with your observations as a second-time visitor on how much Siem Reap has changed for the better – the immensely walkable streets put other popular Southeast Asian destinations like Bali to shame. I’m grateful we had the chance to stay longer and tour as many ancient Khmer temples as we did, including many that you didn’t get to see the first time around. Siem Reap and Cambodia in general has become a firm favorite in my books; I’m looking forward to a repeat visit sometime in the not-too-distant future!

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    • This time, Siem Reap was much more pleasant than how it was on my first visit. And of course, my traveling and writing styles have evolved too — I don’t think my photography style has changed too much, though. I’m very grateful that this recent trip to Cambodia turned out really well — apart from the flight booking fiasco!

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  13. This post is timely in both the beauty of your photography and your words. It makes me wonder how many travelers go through the same ‘evolution’ you have, where back in the early days, travelers generally focus on seeing as many places as possible. But at some point, the beauty of traveling at a slower pace is found, and as you say, “the rest is history.”

    The warmth of your photos takes me back to those carefree travel days when I learned the value of kicking back in one place and getting to know and enjoy the culture, people, and, as you once again demonstrate so well, its cuisine 🙂 I’d love to see Cambodia again, to see the positive changes and also be reintroduced to its culture and history again. Great post, Bama, and I wish you an excellent finish to the year. Take care.

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    • I really can’t imagine traveling at a much faster speed now. Yes, I have a list of things to see, but I also try to always be mentally prepared if I have to make adjustments. There are just things we can’t control.

      I hope you’ll come back to Cambodia sometime soon, Randall. I know some places in the country have undergone dramatic transformations — both for the better and the worse. But at least what I saw in Siem Reap was mostly encouraging. Happy New Year!

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  14. Then 4 years ago after your first 1-week trip in Thailand-Cambodia-Vietnam, I did the similar trip. Same period, same countries, same young spirit. I took an economic train from Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station to Aranyaprathet before continuing my journey with a cab to Siem Reap.

    I had always wanted to return to Cambodia to properly explore its cities, specifically Phnom Penh who I skipped in my 2015 trip. I also love Siem Reap. Not a big fan of archaeological or historical things, but Siem Reap is a great city for cycling around.

    Well, I think I want to re-do my ASEAN trip to properly explore every city and not being a city-hopper. So much new things in our region!

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    • I wonder if I should have taken the train to Aranyaprathet. On my first day in Siem Reap, I realized I got bed bug bites which I suspect were caused by my seat on the bus from Bangkok.

      I read Phnom Penh has developed rapidly in recent years. It now has skyscrapers and next year it will host the SEA Games for the very first time. It would be interesting to watch!

      Although sometimes I do wish places like Mexico, Peru, and Egypt were much closer to Indonesia, I am grateful that there are so many things to see in our own backyard. I hope soon you’ll get the chance to go on that trip across ASEAN countries again, Nug. Happy New Year!

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      • Well, the train journey was epic, passing through eastern Thai villages and wetlands. Ouch, does it hurt? The bed bug bites.

        Yes, I’ve been virtual traveling since ages and I saw Phnom Penh is growing rapidly. But, some parts still have that laid back vibes and I’m really interested in Sisowath Quay. Always love a clean riverside in a city!

        Thank you for your prayer, I hope that dream comes true soon. I’m welcoming a twins and supposed to be busy being a new father for a few years ahead, but who knows? God works in a mysterious way.

        Happy new year, mas Bama! Wishing you a year filled with prosperity and happiness.

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      • More annoying than painful actually. I remember buying some kind of ‘balsem’ in a small shop in Siem Reap. 😄

        Wow, twins! I wish your wife a safe and healthy delivery.

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  15. I too still felt the same way in Siem Reap. I could’ve lived at those ruins, exploring each one over and over again. What a wealth of architecture and art the artisans of the ancient empire left behind! And there’s something about nature taking them over that really romanticizes them. Looking forward to your exploration of society and politics under the dynasty of the Jayavarmans. Thanks for all the wonderful travel chats and for your kindness! Wishing you and your loved ones a marvelous new year!

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    • The part where nature is slowly taking over those ruins really renders these Angkorian temples very atmospheric. If only we could see how life was like for the Khmer people who lived during the height of their empire.

      The pleasure is mine, Atreyee. Have a great year ahead too!

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  16. James says:

    I didn’t know you finally travel abroad again. How long has it been?
    And this time you crossed the border by land. I’m always curious how they switch driving sides on the border

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi James. I went to Cambodia in the first week of December 2022. No, actually I did the overland trip in 2011. This time I flew from Jakarta to Siem Reap via Singapore.

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  17. hcyip says:

    That’s good you managed to go back to Cambodia and spend more than 3 days this time. I went there once 10 years ago myself, and I spent about a week, going to both Phnom Penh and Angkor. Angkor’s many temples and Angkor Wat are amazing and the city’s Hindu past, which it shares with Java, is fascinating. It is interesting how both Hindu and Buddhist elements feature in Angkor.

    It is also good that you went when there were less tourists, and I definitely get what you mean by the ones from the north whose tour groups can be a bit boisterous. Coincidentally, I met several good people from China who were traveling solo on that trip, where I also went to Vietnam and Thailand (we met in Vietnam and the discovered we had similar itineraries), and we became friends.

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    • Coming from Java, it’s hard not to draw a comparison between the temples of Angkor and the ones back home. Except for Borobudur and Prambanan, I find those around Siem Reap to be consistently larger in size than their Javanese counterparts.

      What you said reminds me of some independent travelers from China that I saw on my second trip to Sri Lanka. In general, they seemed to be a lot more considerate than those coming in tour groups.

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      • hcyip says:

        It is fascinating that these ancient Hindu empires in Java and Cambodia build all these stone temples with such intricate sculptures and decorations.

        Yeah, the independent Chinese travelers are generally considerate and decent folks.

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