It can take a while getting your bearings on in Siem Reap, I totally get it when people said they didn’t like their time there. It’s easy to fail to see the beauty outside of Angkor Wat if you wound up on dusty old Pub Street, amidst drunk tourists and pushy street vendors. But scratch the surface a bit and you’ll discover a town where social projects and vegan restaurants abound. A place I would 100% call home if I had the luxury to still be nomadic. Siem Reap is also emerging as one of the newest most affordable hotspots for digital nomads with great cafes and hostels, as well as very convenient visa options. Travel there with your Cambodia visa ready and keep reading to discover the best hostels in Siem Reap, ranked and researched. Whether you are a solo backpacker or five-suitcase family, Siem Reap has a home for you.
Siem Reap could rub you the wrong way if you tackle it from a certain angle. Much like Khao San Road in Bangkok, it’s easy to wound up exactly in the wrong place of the city (let’s hypothetically call this place Pub Street) and wonder what could have possibly gone wrong in such a quaint, culturally-rich, and spiritual part of the world. I did it, several people have done it, has Lonely Planet told us to do it? We’ve all got our reasons as to why we ended up in the most touristy and dare I say backpacker-damaged part of Cambodia whilst on the hunt for vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Siem Reap.
There is a lot I have missed about Southeast Asia since I was last here – sunshine, fruit that tastes like sunshine, a focus on space as opposed to time, tuk-tuks, negotiable prices, … There is less I currently miss about Berlin – except for one thing. My recycling bin. Traveling as a vegan is becoming a relatively straightforward thing to do, but integrating all my conscious habits from back home is a different story. Especially in Southeast Asia, where they really really REALLY love their plastic packaging, and recycling facilities are currently as mythical as unicorns… So when I rocked up at luxury boutique hotel and ethical resort Jaya House Siem Reap, I was excited not just at the anticipation of a comfy beds, access to the best temples in Siem Reap, and good coffee (fine, I miss these a little bit too), but to find out what a hotel with the ambition to be 100% plastic free is like.
One year ago today, on January 1st 2014 at 8am, we locked the door of our flat in Montreal for the last time, leaving behind an empty shell of what was our life of the previous seven years, and dropped the key through the mail slot. As it resonated loudly in the dark empty box, I felt an excitingly familiar feeling in my stomach: we were homeless, the unknown awaited us. It was amazing to ring in the New Year in such a drastic, life changing, exciting way, and the feeling hasn’t left me since.
Four hours east of Kampong Cham was the lovely town of Kratie, so lovely that it left me wondering if perhaps we should have broken down our time in Cambodia differently? Had we spent too much time in Otres Beach? I tentatively suggested that perhaps we should come back to explore more of the Cambodian countryside at a later time of our trip? Oh, the meagerness of the one-month tourist visa.
As the last few days of our Cambodian visa quickly trickled down, we sat through several bus journeys only to 1. Ride on a flimsy bamboo bridge before it collapses, 2. Take the chance to see some of the 80 or so critically endangered irrawady dolphins living in the Mekong in Kratie and 3. Backtrack past Kampong Cham and all the way to Phnom Penh. Whether that was going to be worth the 20 or so back breaking bus hours or not, we did not know.
The food in Cambodia was nowhere near as good as the food in Thailand, and the vegan options were also a lot more sparse. We had our fair share of rice and noodles with vegetables, and quite a few incidents of unsolicited eggs. One thing I realized early on in Cambodia is that, no matter how vegan something appears to be on the menu, always specify no egg or you might end up with a surprise. That being said, we did have some amazing food in Cambodia. From baguette, to durian, to tofu amok (a mildly spicy, coconut-heavy curry), to mango salad, we had some lovely exotic food – most of the time 😉
I had not heard all that much of Siem Reap, apart from the fact that it is the city that serves Angkor Wat. Yet I discovered a surprisingly charming riverfront town, full of markets, cafes and healthy restaurants, and we decided to linger around even after being done with our Angkor 3-day tickets. Yes, it is largely westernized and tourist oriented, but what are two frazzled, sleep-deprived, sunburnt people to do in such case? Go play mini putt, is what!