Honeymoon Inspiration: Cambodia Part 1
From the moment we landed in Bangkok, I’ve been itching to write about our honeymoon. Two months later, I’m finally getting round to it! There’s something about landing back on British soil that immediately turns off the wanderlust-inspired travel writer that I’m always convinced I’ll become after every trip! But I had to write about our honeymoon adventure to Cambodia. Never before have I felt like the word ‘adventure’ was so fitting, from hidden city gems to floating river lodges, as newlyweds, the hubby and I, had the time of lives!
We had Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos on our ‘places we’d love to visit’ list since we met though with only two weeks to play with for our honeymoon we decided to focus on the one destination in order to really see it. Plus the fact that we were traveling in December limited our options a little, Borneo was also very high on our list however, it’s not recommended at that time of year due to adverse weather and the typical honeymoon spots such as Mauritius or the Maldives are peak season at that time of the year and would have cost more than our life savings!! So we found some bargain Christmas Day flights in and out of Bangkok and started planning our trip to cross the border to explore Cambodia and boy are we glad we did.
I had actually been to Bangkok a few years ago when my close friend Kat got married on the beautiful Thai island of Koh Samet. As such I had suggested we get a luxury hotel in Bangkok where we can camp out and recharge following our wedding, and prepare for our flashpacking trip across Cambodia. There are so many fabulous hotels to choose from in Bangkok and you can experience a luxury hotel where you are treated like royalty for a fraction of the price of a London Premier Inn!
We opted for boutique hotel, Hotel Muse, art deco inspired with an infinity pool and rooftop speakeasy, I was sold! And it didn’t take much to persuade Steve either, who I think actually enjoyed planning the honeymoon even less than planning the wedding and that’s saying something! My lovely sister, also my Matron of Honour, had called the hotel ahead of our stay to let them know it was our honeymoon. As such, when we arrived we were told I had been selected as ‘Muse of the Day’ and we were being upgraded to a suite with complimentary afternoon tea and cocktails in the rooftop speakeasy - lush!
We only had just over 48 hours in Bangkok, arriving late on Boxing Day, we were just in time to make last orders at the hotel Italian restaurant Medici Kitchen & Bar, and yes I know, why eat at an Italian restaurant when in Bangkok but we were both shattered and couldn’t wait to get back to our plush suite! As it happens we were both blown away by both the food and the wine and we’re really glad we were so British and opted to eat in!! The following day Steve was totally wiped out, a combination of jet lag and wedding festivities, so I left him sleeping and headed to the pool - ahh bliss!
I also booked our transfer to the Poi Pet Thailand/Cambodia border with the hotel concierge (talk about flashpacking!!), which cost 3,000 Thai Baht for a private taxi and arranged collection from the Cambodian side with our Airbnb host in Siem Reap. That night we headed to Chinatown, for ‘the best Pad Thai in Bangkok’ washed down with giant bottles of beer.
Our transfer to the Poi Pet border was arranged for midday the following day, having been advised by the hotel to arrive at the border before dark and we were quite glad we followed their advice! In fact I think they thought we were mad for crossing the border on foot at all, I would imagine most of the clientele at Hotel Muse would opt to fly but we really wanted to experience as much as we could. With our journey in our luxury private transfer, chilled water, our wedding playlist synced to the car bluetooth, we were smug we had made the right decision and most importantly saved more money for food and cocktails later!! However, 4 hours later and we were dropped at the border, we both came crashing back to reality.
Cars can only drop so close to the border and then you’re on your own, on foot. The border was absolutely heaving with market stalls, ticket touts, beggars (some so young it broke your heart), I don’t think I’ve clung to Steve so tightly ever! Once inside the official building, the process is a fairly mundane passport control operation and in actuality we were perfectly safe - just keep your wits about you and keep heading straight on, fast.
Once across the border we headed to find our pre-booked transfer, ignoring the hundreds asking us if we wanted a taxi. No thanks we thought smugly, we’ve pre-booked (insert smug face here). But then one of the drivers said our name, “Mr Step-hen”, hmm surely not for us though we thought, but oh no it just so happened it was our driver and something that barely resembled a car…Welcome to Cambodia!
At the time, I thought our first experience of Cambodia was pretty awful, I genuinely thought we were going to die, on a road, in the middle of nowhere or get eaten alive by the praying mantis and God knows what else that joined me in the ‘toilet’ we stopped at en route. I look back now however, and smile. After two weeks, we were quite accustomed to the Cambodian way of driving and soon realised that a fully-functioning, indoor toilet is not only rare but something most will never have. Plus I also learned that on such journeys, it’s rather useful to have a husband who packs a head torch “just in case”.
It might have felt like forever but when we finally arrived at the Rose Apple Boutique in Siem Reap, it really did feel like we had stumbled across an oasis; tucked away down what can barely be described as a street, strewn with rubbish, cows and chickens (all a regular feature on the streets in Cambodia), it really was beautiful and we received a heart-warming welcome.
Greeted by Dara and B&B owner, Tim, we were welcomed with warm smiles and homemade Cambodian iced tea, a bouquet of lotus flowers for me as the bride, and a traditional Cambodian scarf each. I think an audible sigh of relief came out of us both! We were shown to our room, which had the most intricate honeymoon petal display you could imagine and were told to head back to the lounge for dinner at our own leisure. Dara and her colleagues cooked every meal fresh right in front of us throughout our stay and every meal was as delicious as the first, our favourite was local specialty Beef Lok Lak. Dara also arranged all our sightseeing for us, providing our own tuk tuk and driver for the duration of our stay.
First on our Siem Reap to do list was Angkor Wat. We opted for the sunrise trip, getting picked up by our tuk tuk driver at 4:30am with packed breakfasts courtesy of Dara, heading off to the temples to join the hundreds of other explorers. The sunrise was unfortunately a bit something and nothing that morning but as you’d imagine, Angkor Wat is simply spectacular with or without. There really is something magical about Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. I spent a lot of the time imagining what it would’ve been like before tourism descended upon Angkor Wat but then again, I wouldn’t have seen it were that the case and I really, really would recommend it. Go early to avoid the coach loads of tourists and wear loose long sleeves and full length trousers. We were actually a bit chilly first thing but it soon became incredibly warm. Our trip concluded with a traditional Khmer lunch, and because we stopped early, 11:30am feeling like mid afternoon after our early start, we had the whole restaurant to ourselves. It really was an amazing day. A one day pass to explore the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park costs $37 per person.
The next day we headed slightly further afield to the floating river villages. The tuk tuk ride there was an adventure in itself, heading out to the Cambodian countryside, quite a stark contrast to Siem Reap centre. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off in what felt like the middle of nowhere and introduced us to our boat driver and despite feeling a little clueless as to what we were doing, we followed and climbed across several other boats to reach ours! If you haven’t already gathered, there is no such thing as health and safety in Cambodia, none whatsoever!
And then we were off - down the river to what we could only assume would be the floating river village we had just paid $30 each to see…and that’s exactly what it was! One colourful house after the other, on wooden stilts standing proud up out of the river, with farm animals on floating platforms, and children somersaulting off the wooden steps to their front door, like something out of a crazy dream! Then upon reaching a floating cafe (of sorts) we were transferred onto a traditional wooden canoe with one of the women from the village to paddle us through the mangroves.
Once again Cambodia surprised us and we had another adventure together, however during the trip around the river village we both couldn’t decide who was exploiting whom. Was it wrong that we were floating around their village like it was some kind of tourist attraction, or was it wrong that we were rinsed of money at every turn having already paid for the trip as we started out, right down to having the little children from the village selling cans of pop for added charm offensive. We’re still not sure but again we would recommend the trip, and whilst we happened to be too tired and therefore headed back to our base, lots of people add on an afternoon at the rice fields whilst out in the Cambodian countryside.
Our next stop in Cambodia was Phnom Penh, we had planned our itinerary so that we could experience New Year's Eve in Cambodia’s capital city. Once again, the lovely Dara arranged our private taxi for $60 for the 4.5-hour trip and we bid farewell to the Rose Apple Boutique.
From News Years Eve madness in Phnom Penh, luxury floating lodges on the Tatai river to Sihanoukville sunsets, our Cambodia adventure continues - tune in for Part 2 soon!