Siem Reap by Night, Angkor Wat by Sunrise

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From Phnom Penh, we traveled further into Cambodia and took a propeller plane a half an hour to Siem Reap, home to the temples of Angkor. We arrived amid a typical Southeast Asia afternoon shower and went straight to our hotel, the Allson Angkor Paradise (Semester at Sea does not skimp on hotels, y’all), where we checked in and freshened up for a night on the town.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatThen it was off to a traditional Cambodian buffet and dance show. I don’t think I had ever had Cambodian food in my life before our trip, so I didn’t know what to expect, but everything was delicious. One of the country’s signature dishes, the fish amok, wound up being my favorite, and I had it at every single meal. (If anyone knows where I can get good Cambodian food in Nashville—or heck, anywhere on the Eastern seaboard or in the South—please chime in, as I’m pretty sure I don’t have the financial means to fly to Siem Reap every time the craving hits.)

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatYou could revisit the buffet as many times as you pleased, but I think my eyes were bigger than my stomach as I couldn’t even manage to finish off a full plate (oh but I tried!).

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatWhen everyone at the restaurant was wrapping up dinner, the dance festivities began. I think Cambodians are some of the most beautiful people on the planet—both in spirit and outward appearance—and the elaborate costumes only enhanced this ethereal aura.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatFollowing the dancing, many of the audience members (including our students) rushed the stage to get their pictures taken with the dancers.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatAfter the performance was over, we talked our tour guide into dropping us all off at the Angkor Night Market. I had heard before going to Cambodia that Siem Reap’s night market is one of the best in all of Asia, and it did not disappoint. While many of the stalls carried the same goods, we found some cool trinkets and linens, from pillow covers to comforters. SVV and I were on a buying spree—when stuff is so cheap and pretty, how can you not?—but we happened upon four of our students who were taking a more leisurely approach to the evening: foot rubs.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatCambodia is also a popular place for fish massages—there were large tanks everywhere advertising “feed our hungry fish your dead skin cells!”—but call me crazy because that didn’t appeal to me in the slightest. Instead, I worked on expanding my wardrobe. Meet my new $6 dress:

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatAnd my 15 woven bangles I scored for $1. Later, I learned that supporting the local economy by purchasing from the local children (as we did the bracelets) is not something you should do as it encourages the parents to keep their children out of school, but I felt just as bad deflecting their sales pitches as going home to Mom and Dad with empty pockets might have equally negative consequences on the kids. (For more on this ongoing debate, check out Alex in Wanderland’s recent post on how to handle this issue.)

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatThe next morning, we had to get up at stupid o’clock—4am, I believe, in this case…painfully early—once more so we could be at Angkor Wat in time to see the sun rise over the temple.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatI am so not a morning person, as I’m pretty sure I’ve noted at least 10,431 times before, but I suppose seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise is one of those things every traveler must do in her young life.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatThe students definitely seemed to enjoy it even though we all stayed at the market until midnight the previous evening.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor WatThen, it was back to the Angkor Paradise for breakfast as the rest of the world was just starting to stir.

Semester at Sea, Siem Reap, Cambodia, Angkor Wat


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  • November 22, 2011

    I loved Cambodia! Seeing your photos just makes me want to go back, asap.

  • November 22, 2011

    Color me jealous–your new dress is gorgeous!!

  • November 22, 2011

    Love the new dress. Hope you bought more than one, plus another suitcase to haul all your travel treasures.

    So just why does sunrise have to be so early? 😉

    • November 22, 2011

      I think I’ve probably bought about 20 dresses this voyage, which tacked on to the 500 I already own is probably more than enough…at least for a year or so =)

      And I am with you on sunrise!

  • November 22, 2011

    love the dress. the pıcs and A.W. are beautıful!!!!! and ıts good you dıdnt do the fısh dead skın cells thıng- ıts actually not that hygenıc ın asia compared to the Mediterranean

    • November 23, 2011

      I had heard you could actually get AIDS through the fish massages, though I’m sure that’s just an urban legend =) Though one girl in our group was bleeding from the fish nibbling way too much skin off her feet. Ew! Not my idea of pampering.

      • November 24, 2011

        who needs that when SVV is already pampering you? haha ,-)

        i actually just looked into this topic and found multiple sources w contrasting info about the fishes / HIV transmission. i think overall it’s best to avoid unless if you are doing it at a high end spa in Turkey or Greece for example…i personally did it in Turkey at a decent okay looking place. I would never do it in Asia—-hygiene +safety is a diff. story there. but yeah, sorry about your friend who was bleeding. thats horrible!!!

  • November 22, 2011

    One of my favorite places on earth! I’m so glad to read your posts about it. The dancer pictures you took are beautiful. I left Cambodia with terrible pictures because i was so in awe I forgot to use my camera half the time!

    • November 22, 2011

      Yes, we took far less photos than normal, and I couldn’t figure out why…it was probably too much visual stimuli =)

  • November 22, 2011

    Love Angkor Wat! And I love your stories about Cambodia. One of my cousins lived in Cambodia for a few years and he is always telling me I must go there and visit. Goodness, it’s such an amazing place!


    • November 22, 2011

      As much as you love architecture and design, I’d definitely say it’s a place for you! Plus, in the next couple years, they’re going to offer a lot more direct flights from US to Siem Reap.

  • November 22, 2011

    A beautiful place w/ beautiful people… happy travels 🙂

  • November 22, 2011

    LOVE your dress and bracelets!!! The last picture is beautiful of you 2!

  • November 23, 2011

    First of all: LOVE the dress in the final photos. Second: I totally agree that the women in Cambodia are stunning. The most beautiful I’ve seen in Asia. Third: Can’t agree on the food. Our group of 5 was constantly disappointed in our food, though we ate in mostly budget places so things like ingredient quality came into play. Fourth: Thanks so much for the shout out! I can see the side of your reasoning.

  • November 23, 2011

    So jealous that you can buy super-cute, cheap clothing where you are traveling!

  • November 26, 2011

    naw love that last pic of u 2!! sooo cute!!
    ps also love that you are a dress girl and always wear them!! u have inspired me for this summer!!

  • November 27, 2011

    Cute dress!

  • November 29, 2011

    Aww, looks like the students are having a blast! I’d say the 4am wake up call was definitely worth it!

  • December 4, 2011

    I went to the same buffet! I recognize the pretty dancers 😉
    I loved the food there. It was a great experience getting to be in Siem Reap and touring the temples of Angkor.

    • March 29, 2012

      Hey lucky people!Great to hear from you, ealpcisley to know that you are back on the road! I hope you planned enough time to visit Angkor. Even with a bike, I had found four days barely enough to get around .It’s a short one for this time. Enjoy Cambodia for me ;-)I’ll be reading you. Cheers!Ste9phane, Antoinette & Malick

  • April 5, 2014

    Just got back from Angkor Watt. Definitely worth getting up early for,, and the place is a photographers dream. Unfortunately I skipped the dancers..Will Check them out next time..

  • December 15, 2014

    Reading this post suddenly made me miss this place. A lot. 🙂

  • April 6, 2015

    Hi Kristen,

    My name is Sharon and I am the outreach intern for Pink Pangea. I enjoyed reading your blog, especially the intersection between narrative and visuals, and would love to publish more of your adventures on our women’s travel site, Pink Pangea. If you’re interested please email me at

    Thanks! Sharon

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