The backstory: I really wanted to see Angkor Wat, wake up with the sun, roam where Angelina Jolie roamed while filming Tomb Raider and experience the largest religious monument in the world. That’s basically it. So, off I went with my fearless travel buddy.
We landed to a hazy Siem Reap at around 5pm from Vietnam. Customs and Immigrations were zero hassle since we received our e-visa from a simple application online, so we grabbed our bags from the conveyor belt and found our two tuk-tuks awaiting our arrival – one for us and one for our bags (*cringes with embarrassment*).
Now that our luggage had garnered attention from all kinds of on-lookers, we began the bumpy 20 minute drive ahead of us. We passed everything from mobile businesses on tuk-tuks to naked babies in the streets to moped drivers carrying guns I couldn’t even name. It was an authentic clip out of a cultural foreign film, and I can’t say that I ever felt on edge while exposed to the Siem Reap evening scene. It was, in a way, refreshing.
Park Hyatt Siem Reap is located in the heart of the city, showcasing 104 elegant and contemporary guest rooms boasting vibrant pops of summery colors. Rising high above the Siem Reap skyline, our arrival at sunset made for a dramatic photo shoot session to say the very least.
To describe the Rooftop Garden Suite as spacious is an understatement. Coming in at 1,636 sq. ft., the suite provided us with our very own kitchen, living area, rooftop garden and separate bedroom with marble bath and outdoor shower – for all of those precious 1,680 minutes.
As if the interiors weren’t enough, who doesn’t love dining with a 100-year-old Banyan tree? Set in the courtyard of the hotel, The Dining Room can’t be missed when searching for authentic Cambodian cuisine, the most famous dish being the Fish Amok with coconut curry, herbs, flowers, spices, and white fish.
Do – Angkor Archaeological Park
What did we do during our one and only morning in Siem Reap? In a destination made famous by the decaying temples of Angkor, we woke up before the sun to catch the world’s largest religious complex in its best lighting.
My iPhone alarm sounded at 4:20am. We were meeting our guide, Paige, downstairs at 4:45. Woof. Forgoing breakfast for temples meant something huge: That I’d rather attempt to explore 402 acres of Hindu turned Buddhist temples than eat my complimentary pancakes. Ha! There was going to need to be a blueberry muffin in there somewhere along the way or else I was going to faceplant in front of a few brightly-cloaked monks.
Paige was incredibly cheery for 4:45 in the morning, like there was a skip in her step, and I mean that in the most literal sense. I looked down at my phone once we arrived at the ticket office. It read 5:07. I looked up just in time to see Paige literally skipping across the street. This was going to be one hell of a morning!
Angkor Wat sunrise sessions see around 500 people, which then accumulates to around 3,000 in one day during low season, or 6,000 per day in high season. After sunrise, we started out at Angkor Thom, built in 1181, and then made our way to Ta Prohm. Meaning “the great city” in Khmer, the 12th-century royal Buddhist city of Angkor Thom is especially famed for its Bayon Temple.
I especially loved Ta Prohm and it’s iconic tree roots and maze-like corridors. Having been swallowed by the jungle, Ta Prohm looks very much the way most of the monuments of Angkor appeared when European explorers first stumbled upon them. One of the most famous spots in Ta Prohm is the so-called ‘Tomb Raider tree’, where Angelina Jolie’s Lara Croft roamed.
- Clothing: It’s hot, and while there are tourists who wear shorts and sleeveless shirts, be respectful and bring along a scarf and wear clothing past the knee.
- Best time of day: Sunrise. Tickets are available starting at 5am. Tip: Get there before 5am. There are loads of tourists!
- Passes: $20/day; $40 for a 3-day pass; $60 for weekly pass
- Tour guide: Ask for Paige, associated with Park Hyatt Siem Reap. She helped up bypass the tourist lines at the ticket counters before sunrise, expediting the process immensely. She was also one of the best guides I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with – extremely fun and knowledgeable.
These young monks were so nice to have their photo made with me when asked by our tour guide, Paige. I don’t think I could be any more awkward here…
Later that afternoon, we visited Artisans Angkor, an establishment for young rural people who are able to find work here for 6 months to a year while training in the development of local arts & crafts. The hope is that after training is completed, they can go back to their homeland and provide for their families by opening a shop to sell their handicraft, whether that be stone or wood carvings, silver plating, or the production of silk fabrics. I couldn’t leave without buying a scarf and a stone-carved pig for my father (go hogs!).
The last stop of the day included a blessing by two monks. This was especially unique because after visiting various monasteries, sanctuaries & abbies all over the world, I’ve never been in such close contact with a monk. It should be noted here that when I say close contact, I mean we were separated by at least 2-3 feet during the blessing. Many guidelines are instated for the lifestyles of monks, who would also refrain from carrying on correspondence with women, other than for matters pertaining to the monastery. Lucky for me, he was gracing us with his blessing inside those walls. I was able to ask him questions about his life, and the last thing he said to me was, “Please smile. It will make you happy all the time.” Thank you for the reminder, Brother Nen.
After the blessing, we raced back to the hotel with just enough time to shower, pack and scarf down a very quick dinner before heading to the airport. We had an all-nighter in front of us to Japan!
My favorite aspect of Park Hyatt Siem Reap wasn’t the plush pink living room sofas or the sprawling pool to bask in after a long day of exploration. Giving back to the local community is as much a part of the fabric as the plush beds and luxurious sheets. From partnering with Angkor Hospital for Children for blood-donation day to raising funds to support the children and families of various communes, their purpose defines their practice: they work to create an environment for people to thrive by building strong communities. The Park Hyatt Sewing School NGO in partnership with Life and Hope Association pulled at my heart strings and made me sad that I only had an allotted 28 hours in Siem Reap. Upon my next visit, I promised the property I’d lend my hands to helping their causes and can’t wait for round two in Cambodia to do just that.
See more images from my time with Park Hyatt Siem Reap below!