Siem Reap, Cambodia: Welcoming 2015 in the Kingdom of Wonder

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Three weeks before the end of 2014, I found myself struggling looking for the cheapest flight possible to Bangkok. Unfortunately, airfare proved to be too expensive, which convinced me to look for an alternate destination instead. I checked other possible options and I ended up booking for a flight to Siem Reap.

Cambodia, specifically Siem Reap, does not excite me prior to this trip. The idea of visiting the temples, although cultural, is not my cup of tea. I had friends, however, who recently went to Siem Reap for a holiday and told me how nice the place is, which is the only thing that convinced me to give it a shot. I was actually stoked with the idea of visiting a country for the first time to welcome a new year on my own even if I have a vague idea on what to expect during the entire trip. While there are hesitations at first, I ended up loving Siem Reap, wishing I could stay longer and making me eager to return.

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Welcome to Siem Reap, Cambodia!

Mad Monkey Hostel

Traveling on a budget and on my own, I have to ditch the idea of staying in a fancy hotel. Instead, a more practical choice is to stay in a hostel since it is way cheaper and it presents an excellent opportunity to meet other people. After a thorough online research and being confronted with heaps of alternatives, I ended up choosing Mad Monkey. I booked for one bed in a 6-bed dorm from December 30 to January 5 for only $8 per night. Such a steal! I have stayed in several hostels in the past and Mad Monkey easily made it on the top of my list.

Six-Bed Mixed Dorm and Art-Filled Walls at Mad Monkey

One of the many things I liked about Mad Monkey is their pool at the ground level. While I did not swim in the pool during my entire stay, most of the time, I was lounging on one of their blue bean bags while talking to other guests. Everyone was friendly and it was never hard to strike a good conversation. As soon as I wake up each morning, I grab a beer from the bar and stay on the poolside. What a good way to start your day!

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Mad Monkey Pool. Perfect place to chill and have a beer.

If the pool gets too crowded, you can head to the second floor where they have the sundeck lounge. Here, they have three massive sunbeds and a good view of the pool.

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Mad Monkey Sundeck

The Top Banana Beach Bar is another highlight of the hostel. This is where I often kick start the night. Beer for a dollar? Yes, they have it here! You have to take off your shoes as you enter since the floor is made of real sand to complete the beach vibe. They have different activities every night, such as beer pong tournament, sunset barbecue party, and keg party. At some nights, they also have free shots every hour!

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Day or night, chilling at Top Banana is one thing I look forward to.

One thing you should not miss is the grenade challenge. Once you have completed the grenade ($4), you get the put the name of the country on the board by the bar. Of course, I did it for the Philippines before I left! The bar closes strictly at 12mn. When the bell starts ringing, the shouts “Everyone head to Pub Street!”. This is where we all make our way to Pub Street, Siem Reap’s main party hub, like a marching band.

Mad Monkey is not only a party hostel, but also a socially responsible one. And no, it is not the kind of responsible that they will take care of you when you are drunk after a night of partying (though I think they will do that as they care for their guests). The hostel supports the building of water wells in rural Cambodia. Aside from that, they also have various efforts to support education of children, such as building libraries. Upon making a reservation form the hostel’s booking site, you can make donations to their different projects for as little as a dollar.

Cultural Booze Cruise

Mad Monkey offers tons of activities for you to try during your stay. Whether you want to go solo or as a group, be off-the-beaten pth or do what all the touristy stuff, be laid-back or be adventurous, they have something for everyone. One that I tried is the Cultural Booze Cruise. The cruise is cultural basically because you get to meet other people from different cultures, which is a perfect way of turning strangers into friends. Even if you are not staying at Mad Monkey, you can be part of the tour. This is a top rated activity to try in Siem Reap and one that should not be missed. For only $25, you get to have unlimited beer and shots from 2pm to 7pm, which is the entire duration of the tour.

The crazy bunch from the booze cruise

The crazy bunch from the booze cruise

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Before 2pm, the group assembled at the poolside bar of Mad Monkey and rode a tuktuk. There were four of us in one tuktuk. We started heading to the boat station, which is about 10 kilometers. Never mind the dust, we are all enjoying a good beer anyway! We boarded our boat, start cruising through the lake, which happens to be the largest freshwater lake in South Asia, and dropped by a crocodile farm.

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After feeding the crocodiles, we boarded the boat again and stopped in one area where you can go swim. This is where more fun starts to happen. We began formally introducing ourselves and played a game called My Pussy. They learned I was Filipino and asked me to sing as they believe Filipinos are good singers. Guess what, I did not sing!  When the booze cruise ended, we all headed to Top Banana to continue drinking and waited until 12mn to welcome the new year! Happy 2015!!!

Angkor Archaeological Park

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If you read travel guides to Siem Reap, The Angkor Archaeological Park, specifically the Angkor Wat, is going to be the most suggested part of your itinerary. In fact, it would be a crime not to visit the park during your holiday! It is going to be the most touristy stuff you can do in Siem Reap, but it is all worth it. During this trip, even Beyonce and Jay-Z visited the temples during my trip!

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Scenic road to the temples

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Angkor Wat – The most touristy place in Siem Reap

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Ta Prohm – Recognized by many as the movie set of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider

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Angkor Thom – The temple of smiling faces

One thing that I loved about Angkor is how scenic the drive is going to the temples. The trees lined up and the roadside will surely give you a treat, even if the trip is going to be dusty. I bought a one-day pass for $20 and did a small tour of the three temples. From the hostel, I rented a tuktuk to take me around the temples for $15. You will have complete control of how you manage your time. In my case, I just snapped a couple of shots and headed to the next one.

Eating and Drinking at Pub Street

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Visiting Siem Reap will not be complete without checking out Pub Street, which, as the name implies, is a stretch of pubs. There are small alleyways as well leading to quieter but equally good places to eat and drink. This is where I was during the New Year countdown after pre-gaming at Top Banana. There are no grandiose fireworks here nor headliner DJs. Still, the street is packed with a joyful crowd to welcome 2015.

Siem Reap is famous for their Happy Pizza. I had one almost everyday.

Siem Reap is famous for their Happy Pizza. I had one almost everyday.

Most of the nights, during this trip, I was hanging out at Temple and Angkor Wat?, which are just fronting each other. Both have loud party music drawing a mixed crowd of tourists and locals. I also checked out Miss Wong, an intimate bar with vintage Shanghai interiors. I was eating mostly happy pizzas from different places. If you are looking for fancier dining options, do not forget to try Little Italy and Molly Malones. Pub Street is teeming with restaurants and bars. It is hard to run out of options, regardless of your budget.

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After my six-day solo trip to Cambodia, I was eager for one thing – to be back. As soon as I left, I was already thinking of my return. For sure, I will be staying at Mad Monkey again. I have nothing but good memories, especially of the nice people I met. Siem Reap is so intimate because it is small, which makes you see the same people every day. Siem Reap is also very cheap. In fact, I only spent $320 for 6 days, including room, food, tours, and countless beers, but excluding airfare. It could still be cheaper if you opt to party less, but that is going to kill the fun! Unlike other common holiday destinations, Siem Reap, for me, is unpretentious. Looking forward to having such an awesome experience again!

 

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