From Cambodia

12 Asian Destinations for First-time Solo Backpackers

In 2012, I traveled solo for the first time in my life.

I still remember how scared I was before the trip. With only a small backpack, a Neil Gaiman book, a thousand dollars, and a will to get out of my comfort zone, I boarded the plane to Bangkok. As I was checking in, there were no butterflies in my belly, only a great fear that I might find myself unfit for the travel lifestyle and come running back home earlier than planned.

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SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA: Budget Travel Guide (Updated: 2015)

Siem Reap was out of the way. Cambodia was actually not part of my original backpacking route. I would be flying in through Bangkok, and from there I aimed to head northwest to Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, crossing over to Laos and then turning east to Vietnam. But the call of Angkor was so loud and powerful, I just had to mess up my plan and take the bus for eight hours to the opposite direction.

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Angkor, Cambodia: 10 Tips for an Enjoyable Tour

It is not a walk in the park. While for some people, setting foot on the grounds of Angkor Wat is scratching off the top items on my bucket list, exploring the site is anything but dreamy. Angkor Wat can be overwhelming. It is huge, even bigger than you probably imagine. And it is JUST ONE of the many structures at the Angkor Archaeological Park. There are several other temples peppering the jungles of this part of Cambodia, and — trust me — you will want to visit most of them.

If anything, it can suck out all the energy in you and make the experience less enjoyable if you come unprepared. Thus, here are some tips to help you make your trip hassle-free.

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Mandalay Inn: Where to Stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia

After numerous wrong turns, I finally reached the street that harbors the hotel I was staying in. It was past midnight in Siem Reap, and I was trying my hardest not to look crazy drunk as I walked back to the hotel after a night of partying in Pub Street. When I finally made it to the reception, a helpful staff member smiled at me, took the key to my room from the pigeonhole, and handed it to me. Great service — it was that one asset of Mandalay Inn that I saw radiate through even when I was severely intoxicated.

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Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda: The Twin Temples of Angkor, Cambodia

A 12-year old boy was the first to greet me upon stepping on the temple grounds. He introduced himself to be a tour guide. Although I politely declined, he insisted on accompanying me as I walked around the ancient structures. I thought he would let me be, but the little boy followed me around. Having been warned by other backpackers about many scams involving children, I explained to the kid that (1) this temple was not part of my itinerary, and I was just taking quick photos of the place; (2) I was in a hurry because it was late, and I was still halfway my tour; and (3) I wouldn’t have the money to pay him. All of my reasons were true, for what it’s worth. Still, he continued trailing me and narrated the history of the place.

To be quite honest, I struggled understanding what he was saying. But that’s not why I did not like this stop very much.

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A Taste of Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is not exactly a food destination. While neighbors Thailand and Vietnam have already gained worldwide popularity for their delectable cuisines, Cambodia is not as well-known for its food as it is for its temples and historical sites. Well, at least here in the Philippines. Thus, I did not have much expectations of my tastebuds bathing in utmost delight during my stay in Siem Reap. Still, this Cambodian city did not disappoint. Many dishes that I tried were cooked simply, prepared fast, and cost cheap! For  someone who isn’t really an adventurous eater anyway and whose budget is very limited, sometimes they are enough.

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Preah Prom Rath Pagoda: The Gracious Souls of Siem Reap, Cambodia

The sun was scorching the pavements of Siem Reap, but I was more than ready to flaunt my newly acquired biking skills. After spending the entire morning learning how to bike for the first time (since I was a kid), I roamed around the city in two wheels, looking for anything of interest. And Wat Preah Prom Rath was certainly interesting. I breezed through the gate straight to the bike parking area, where a group of young locals were quietly having a conversation. After a quick smile and a nod at them, I walked around the site.

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Ta Prohm Temple: The Crushing Embrace in Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia

I feared that when I walked through the doorway, I would be taken into another world. To my astonishment, that’s exactly what happened.

I had been to many temples before, but this was something else. Prasat Ta Prohm (Ta Prohm Temple) is one of the dozens of ancient structures scattered throughout Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap Province, Cambodia. While the temple itself is truly stellar, what sets it apart is its losing battle with the surrounding jungle. Trees have started to take over the site again, their monstrous roots creeping around the walls like mutant tentacles giving a deadly embrace.

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Bayon Temple and the Many Faces of Angkor Thom, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Making my way in between the walls of the stone labyrinth, I could not shake off the feeling that someone was watching me. Who would not feel that? The Bayon Temple is dominated by towers with faces on every side. And they’re not just faces. They’re giant, smiling faces. You know, the same kind of smile that Mona Lisa has — enigmatic, magnetic, bordering on creepy. They make Bayon Temple one-of-a-kind. Its many faces watch over the temple that was at the dead center of the once thriving Angkor Thom.

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Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia: Amidst the Greatness

No other man-made structure has made me feel so small.

As soon as I stepped on the temple grounds, I felt weirdly belittled but not in a bad way. Angkor Wat is immense, and I’m not talking about just its size. From the intricacy of the bas reliefs in its galleries to its role in the history and culture of Cambodia, everything about this colossal structure must have required tremendous amount of time, resources, effort, and patience. And standing in the middle of the site, I could not help feeling insignificant compared to the surrounding grandeur made of sandstone.

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