The term “business class backpacking” rolled right off the tongue, into a #hashtag as I posted a pic of E & I sippin’ bubbly in the Thai Silk Lounge in Brisbane awaiting our flight to Bangkok. We may be spoiling ourselves flying business class, but I’m wearing the same outfit I’ve worn on every plane ride for the last 8 months – my only pair of jeans, my well worn Patagonia Better Sweater and my New Balance kicks, too heavy to pack.
We are backpackers who’ve grown up, saved some money, can no longer stomach bed bugs and PB&J for weeks, but love the people, food and adventure of budget travel that you can’t get at a five star resort.
Our Siem Reap experience captures this niche like no other.
By day we’re dirty, sweaty, English teachers volunteering at a small village school, a 15 minute bike ride from city center. We ride our single speed bikes via a hilarious commute each morning, teach 3 classes a day, play countless games of Uno, give piggy back rides, play soccer, jump rope, and give and receive dozens of hugs. Very few experience thus far have been so rewarding. More on that in my post Volunteering: Teaching English in Siem Reap.
Our lunch breaks are spent at the River Garden pool. Free use of this gorgeous sanctuary if you enjoy their food and drink. I recommend their mango cashew nut chicken and gyoza dumplings for $3 per dish. This pool is a life saver in the sweltering 100 degree heat.
By night we are residents of Landing Point Villa Hotel. It’s not a hotel room, it’s a spacious master suite. A/C, balcony, pool, delicious free breakfast, unlimited use of bikes (we may abuse this one…) and amazing staff (the waitress and chef told Eric he had “Hollywood style”, and looked like a movie star) – all for $45/night, and the 3rd nights free. There’s a reason we’ve stayed here for THREE WEEKS!
We tried the volunteer accommodation. A mattress (no sheets), a single pillow to share, a floor fan in 100 heat and the lingering smell of vomit for $3/day. I lasted three days. I felt like a real wuss when the 20-something fellow volunteers asked why we were moving. But ya know what? “Roughing it” is not a badge of honor anymore. I did that, I know I CAN do that, but I choose not to. I earned my stripes thank you very much. Ummmm, waiter? Gin n Tonic to the pool please? Aw koon!
Here’s the secret sauce to the perfect “business class backpacker” experience in Siem Reap:
No question the highlight of our trip has been the time we’ve spent volunteering with the kids of Angkors Tree School. We found this opportunity through WorkAway and you can also find them on HelpX. We also met several volunteers with New Hope Cambodia. I feel strongly that it’s important to pay it forward and we were long overdue. Teaching English is a great way to plug into a community while traveling. With little experience you can make a huge difference in the lives of many, forge beautiful friendships and learn a surprising amount about yourself.
Stay in an awesome hotel
There are so many, but we highly recommend Landing Point Hotel. We stayed in room #106, a downstairs room, and an upstairs pool view room #201 and I recommend downstairs. Cooler, and a bit more spacious, but both are lovely. The staff is friendly and helpful. One of my favorite hotels from the trip, and definitely the best value for the money!
This doesn’t mean the top restaurants on Trip Advisor. One of our favorite meals was the soup and noodle dishes at the Local’s Market, grasshoppers anyone?! Food stalls are a plenty in Siem Reap and any grilled chicken or pork on a stick, basted with the sweet chili sauce is a winner- DELISH! Our favorite restaurants were:
- Khmer Kitchen Restaurant (off Pub Street) – sit close the street for great people watching, order something off the grill and the baked pumpkin or sweet potato.
- Rohatt Restaurant (Kings Road) – cashew chicken, fried spring rolls and mixed fruit smoothie are favs.
- Brown Rice (Wat Bo neighborhood) – Saturday’s $1 menu can’t be beat. A/C and free wifi too!
- River Garden Hotel – Best Chicken Amok we’ve had and the mango chicken cashew (tell them no sugar) is to die for.
- I hear Haven and Genevieve are great (ok, I “heard” that on TripAdvisor) but they were both closed while we were here.
- And for those of age and of interest, a “happy” pizza at Ecstatic Pizza followed by a night at the Cambodian Circus is a must.
- Favorite spots to get a drink:
- Asana – hanging beds, hammocks and a treehouse-esque upstairs. Order the passionfruit shake. Amazing!
- Yellow Submarine – rooftop
- X Bar – skate ramp on the rooftop.
Indulge in daily massages
$2 for a 30 minute foot and leg massage with 5 min free neck & shoulder. Yes, please! It’s almost criminal how great these are for the money. Wander into the night market from Pub Street and take your pick. If you’re into having fish eat dead skin off your feet, the fish pedicure is all the rage. Quite frankly it freaks me out. I prefer the place with the fully reclined wooden chairs showing the video on building Angkor Wat on the big screen. I may have just described 20 places…you really can’t go wrong.
Get music, Give blood
The founder of the Kantha Bopha children’s hospital, gives a free cello performance at the arts center adjacent to the hospital every Saturday night at 7:15pm, and there’s A/C! He has provided FREE healthcare to the children of Cambodia for decades, saving millions of lives. Enjoy the music, learn about his amazing accomplishment and support the cause with a donation of money or blood.
Make friend with the locals
This is easy if you’re volunteering, you are immediately immersed in a the social ecosystem of a school. We also managed to befriend restaurant owners, the hotel staff and tuk-tuk drivers who made us “regulars”. Mr. Bean is our fav! I continue to be blown away by the warmth and JOYfulness of a people who are so recently “post-war” from one of the most atrocious acts of genocide in human history. The Cambodians are easily the happiest people on a whole we have encountered in our travels.
Our daily life here is a mix the perfect mix grit and bling, soul food and guilty pleasures. We may have spent our entire three weeks in Cambodia in one place, but it doesn’t get much better than Siem Reap.