I finally arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is famous for the ancient Angor Wat Temple built by the Khmer Empire. I was so surprised with my first glimpses of Siem Reap! it looked so different compared to the images of Cambodia I had in mind. The roads were excellent, so many large hotels and a lot of foreigners filling up artsy restaurants and bars. I was expecting more of a small farming community village than a bustling tourist city. What I loved about Siem Reap was its unique charming character, it wasn’t hard to fall in love with the place and be inspired with the brimming dose of culture.

Our taxi dropped us off in the small terminal where several tuk-tuks” were available for hire. A tuk-tuk is a form of transport similar to a “tricycle” but looked more like a modern version of a calesa with the carriage attached to the motorcycle’s back. The tuk-tuk charged us $12 for a ride to the city center, which was expensive. We were informed later that a tuk-tuk ride within town should only cost $2 – $4. We could have saved a lot if we walked to the main road and took a tuk-tuk from there. An even cheaper alternative should have been to take a motodop (single motorcycle) for $1-2 fare within the town. We headed to Hotel de la Paix where we waited for our hosts, Loven, and Don, to pick us up.

I just loved the minimalist appeal of Hotel de la Paix and tasteful fusion of Cambodian cultural elements (not like the overbearingly tacky architectures of some of the hotels in Siem Reap). Their gallery bar, zen-inspired inner courtyard, and suspended lounge booths impressed me the most … very subtle elegance. I been to more opulent places but Hotel de la Paix is probably the most stylish place I’ve been to.

After our first greetings, Don and Loven took us around the city. The Old Market area is the lifeblood and soul of Siem Reap. It’s where you can get a good feel of the everyday life in Cambodia. There was a surprising number of well maintained French colonial building in this area. It seemed like the Cambodian counterpart of Spanish-colonial Crisologo St. in Vigan, Philippines.

Also located in Siem Reap’s old market area is Pub Street, named because of the number of restaurants and bars lining the whole stretch. Pub Street is usually where tourists go to chill after a day of touring the temples.

There are several cobblestone laden alleys and narrow pathways connected to Pub Street. These parts are also filled with even more shops. A lot of interesting lounge bars, restaurants, galleries, clothing stores can be found here and getting lost was an attraction in itself. It was an absolute treasure trove of discoveries!  I was instantly drawn to the character of Siem Reap, it was like a melting pot of cultures in a laid back artsy atmosphere. No wonder so many people have fallen in love with Siem Reap and have decided to settle here. I could imagine living there myself … soaking up all the inspiring energy day in and day out.

Both Don and Loven (and his family) live in Siem Reap. Like me, they are also Filipinos from Iloilo City but they decided to call Siem Reap their new home. They own “Poetry” (a clothing store) and “Art Deli” (a gallery bar) in Alley West, located just behind Pub Street. Poetry and Art Deli is an explosion of Don and Loven’s creative craziness. If you’re the artsy type, you totally shouldn’t miss dropping a visit.

Don treated us in Aha, a classy restaurant along Pub Street. Aha means “food” in Khmer. I was seriously intimidated seeing US$ price quotes on their menu. It’s not actually the actual price that disturbs me. It’s just that, living in the Philippines, it is ingrained with us (Filipinos) that dollars entail something expensive. It took me a while to get used to seeing and paying in $$$ everywhere in Cambodia … from higher-end places like Aha to cheap sub-dollar street food stalls.

Aha’s contemporary meal, $6

Aha had a nice view of Siem Reap Old Market. At the time, there were a lot of vendors selling colorful flowers sold in interesting exotic arrangements. It was the Khmer New Year, my trip had such great timing! It was also Songkran (Thai New Year) when I arrived in Bangkok. Unlike in Thailand where locals throw buckets of water to passing pedestrians and motorists, Khmers use white powder.

Me and The Pinay Solo Backpacker were actually in Cambodia at the same time but we didn’t get to meet each other in Siem Reap … too bad :( but it was nice, exchanging different experiences of Thailand and Cambodia a few days after getting back to the Philippines when we met for a trip to Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces.