Experiencing Both Sides of Siem Reap: History & Nightlife

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While in Siem Reap, I found out that twice a year, the sun rises directly behind the middle tower at Angkor Wat. This sunrise occurs in March and September, which corresponds with the Spring Equinox and Fall Equinox. I just happened to be exploring Angkor Wat around this time in March. Talk a truly special yet totally unexpected sunrise.

The rumor was that this event was going to occur Friday, March 22nd. A Hostel mate and I just happened to be planning our third and final day at Angkor Wat for this exact date. We weren’t necessarily planning a sunrise visit, but when we heard this “rumor,” we knew we had to go one last time. Plus, there were a few other temples on our list that we wanted to visit/re-visit too.

Tuk-Tuk Service in Siem Reap

I spoke with Morl the day before about another day with his services. We discussed the sunrise and tentative plan of temples we wanted to visit. He was aware of the significance of this sunrise and later explained that there is a hashtag for the Equinox’s sunrises.

One thing I never mentioned is that in addition to his tuk-tuk service, Morl offers photography services. I did opted for the photography service, even though I enjoy taking my photos. I decided to pay the extra because I do love having candid shots of myself. As a solo traveler, I normally don’t get candid shots.

Candid Photo at Angkor Wat
Candid Photo at Angkor Wat
Candid Photo at Angkor Wat
Candid Photo at Angkor Wat
Candid Photo at Angkor Wat
Candid Photo at Angkor Wat

Final Sunrise at Angkor Wat

At 4:45 am, we began making our way towards Angkor Wat. Having a local, like Morl, who has been to an equinox sunrise before, was highly beneficial. Not only did he have a plethora of knowledge about Angkor Wat, he knew the best location to watch the sun rise.

By the time we arrived, Angkor Wat was already getting widely busy. We weren’t the only ones hoping for that perfect sunrise. Morl suggested we hang back by the entrance to get the best shot, which was a great suggestion.

We were all saddened when the sun began to rise slightly, off-centered from the middle tower. It wasn’t the “perfectly centered” sunrise we hoped for, but it was close enough.

Plus, if we walked just left of the entrance, we were able to stage a perfectly centered sunrise. This was going to be my last Angkor Wat sunrise, so I didn’t mind a little staging. After all, it was close enough.

After sunrise, we began making our way back through the temples. If you read about my first experience at Angkor Wat, then you know about my experience at Ta Prohm. It was highly over populated and highly unenjoyable.

Return To Ta Prohm

Outside of the main temple, I was most excited about this temple, and my first visit was far from perfect. Thankfully, my hostel mate felt the same way and we had a plan to see it minus the crowd.

After a short time watching the sunrise, we went directly to Ta Prohm. Morl explained that if we went immediately after sunrise, it might not be super busy. He was right. We were able to experience the authenticness of Ta Prohm and the massive trees protruding from the ancient temple.

Morl, being the amazing photographer he is, knew the special tricks to be able to capture the perfect shots. It’s one of those phone tricks that I ALWAYS forget about- panorama mode. Let’s say, returning to Ta Prohm was 100% worth it.

Banteay Srei

Other than the sunrise, Laura and I wanted to visit Banteay Srei. This 10th-century temple is located roughly 25 km northeast of Angkor Wat and built primarily out of red sandstone. Banteay Srei temple’s history is unique, as it is the only significant temple not built by a king. The translation of Banteay Srei is “Citadel of the Women” and built in honor of the Hindu god, Śiva. It’s basically one badass women’s temple.

Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei
Banteay Srei

The drive out to Banteay Srei is very peaceful. You pass through several small villages, rice fields, and another major “thing to do” in Siem Reap, the Cambodian Landmine Museum.

Cambodian Landmine Museum

Did you know Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world? According to the Cambodia Landmine Museum website, this is because of a long line of major conflicts including the Khmer Rouge regime and American bombings. In fact, there are still Cambodians injured and killed each year from landmines.

Did you know Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined country in the world?

The website continues to explain the purpose of the museum which is to teach and educate people about the history and cleansing of the landmines. It does go into details about one particular man.

Unfortunately, I was unable to make it to this museum but spoke with several backpackers who spoke highly of the museum.

New Accommodation

Three days at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor seems like a lot, but there was still more to see. However, after touring Banteay Srei, we were “templed” out. They began to look and feel the same after a while. I think we visited upward towards 15 different temples over those three days.

We both decided to head back into Siem Reap and just chill at the hostel. I, however, planned to switch hostels to meet up with friends I had met previously in Pai.

Onederz Hostel is a great hostel for those early mornings at Angkor, due to the fact that it’s a quiet hostel. But, since I was no longer going to Angkor, I wanted a chance to see the other side of Siem Reap; the night life. Although I did meet several people at Onederz, I was ready for a change to a more social/party type hostel.

If you know me then you know that I am a very social human. I had heard from other travelers that Siem Reap has a very active nightlife. I was itching to go out and experience it.

Mad Monkey Siem Reap

There are several different options for Party Hostels in Siem Reap. My friends had already booked at one of the known party hostel called Mad Monkey. I wanted to be with them for the last few days in Siem Reap, so I changed to Mad Monkey. One of the many benefits of Mad Monkey is the social aspect and party atmosphere. It did not disappoint.

I immediately walked into several people hanging out in the pool, which escalated into mini pool party. Even though my friends and I headed to dinner, the party continued. The party had migrated to the rooftop bar, which was the pre-game spot for the PUB STREET CRAWL.

Pub Street Experience

Mad Monkey Siem Reap hosts many pub crawl throughout the week (as do other hostels). It is by far the best way to meet fellow travelers and experience the night life of the city. Obviously, my friends and I joined in on the pub crawl and hit up Pub Street for some nightlife entertainment.

Pub Street is the main street for restaurants, souvenirs, and bars. It’s a place where you can eat a scorpion and wash it down with a cheap beer. Literally, the beers can be as cheap as $0.50 during happy hour. I think the most expensive beer I bought ended up being like $2.50, but it was more “craft” style.

Pub Street is the place where you can enjoy a delicious meal while watching the street entertainment. It’s a place where you can go to listen to live music. And of course, it’s a place where you can go to party all night long. It’s the social central of Siem Reap and it’s worth the visit.

We ended up going to four different bars on the pub crawl staying out until easily 3:00-4:00 am before making our way back to the hostel. It was so much fun getting to experience both sides of Siem Reap; the historical aspect and the party aspect. Siem Reap has slowly become one of my favorite places in the world.

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