It had been just over a year since we had been living in Siem Reap. This meant that returning was both exciting and daunting for me.
The flight from Sydney to Siem Reap via Kuala Lumpur was uneventful. I didn’t buy food on the budget flight but ordered Malaysian laksa in the foodcourt during our stop-over. The time to immerse myself in Asian culture had began! Yet, by the time we landed in the hot and humid Kingdom of Cambodia, I was ready to digest more Asian cuisine. Little did I know that we would be eating for the rest of the day.
At Siem Reap Angkor International Airport, we were greeted by our friend, Sokna, who happens to also be a local tuk-tuk driver. His big smile and warm embrace immediately made us feel at home (well, our home away from home at least). He had cleared his schedule to be with us and was ready to take us wherever we needed to go.
We squeezed into his tuk-tuk and let the wind blow over us. The familiar smell of red dirt mixed with raw food caressed our faces as we drove across town. More and more structures had sprung up in our absence, yet the roads still had the same grooves worn into them by the heavy seasonal rains. We bypassed the centre of town and its flocking tourists, and went straight to Garden of Universe
Our friends, Apple and Pêe-Terb, run a Thai restaurant called Garden of Universe and also have a spare room, where we were to spend the next two nights. They welcomed us with gifts and a delicious, freshly cooked breakfast of rice and cabbage with crispy tofu on the side. Afterwards, Apple and I gossiped under the tree canopy of her garden.
After a quick nap, we went with Sokna to collect his six-year-old daughter from school and then to his little, white, concrete house, located roughly 6kms from town and along some pretty bumpy dirt roads (I’m not sure how his tuk-tuk doesn’t tip over from all the movement!).
His wife and two sons were waiting for us – fish caught the day before from Tonlé Sap Lake already steaming over the charcoal-filled clay pot in their small front garden. Sokna showed us around his property and plucked green mango and papaya from his rear garden for us to try. Then we sat at a makeshift table under the carport (aka tuk-tuk port) and enjoyed a feast of fish and chilli, peanut and lemongrass sauce and spicy homegrown mushrooms with rice.
Sokna’s daughter changed out of her morning attire into her bright afternoon uniform. She divides her days between Khmer school in the morning and English school in the afternoons. We waved goodbye as her brothers drove off on Sokna’s old motorcycle – the younger brother sitting behind the older. The four dogs barked and followed them as far as they could.
Sokna’s wife snuck in a few gifts before we set off back to town.
Transport: Sydney to Siem Reap (via Kuala Lumpur KLIA2)
Travel time: 13 hours and 25 minutes (including 2 hours and 50 minutes stop over).
Travel advice: AirAsia flies to Kuala Lumpur International Airport Terminal 2 (KLIA2). Be careful if you purchase water at the airport as you’ll go through security just before the flight gates and they won’t let you take in liquids over 100ml.
Visa: we purchased our Cambodian visas upon arrival at Siem Reap Angkor International Airport. A single entry (one-month) visa cost USD30. We needed to bring a passport photo (or you pay USD5 extra if you don’t have one). I recommend having cash with you to pay for the visa. Check your local Cambodia Embassy website to see if this is still the case.
Accommodation: we stayed at our friend’s house (owners of Garden of Universe restaurant, where you’ll find the best Thai food in town).
Tuk-tuk driver: Sokna
Photo: Our friend and tuk-tuk driver, Sokna at Siem Reap Angkor International Airport.