Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the capital city of the Siem Reap Province in Cambodia. Its name means ‘the defeat of Siam,’ commemorating the victory of the Khmer people over the invading Siam (Thai) people in the 1500s. Today the city is fast growing because of the booming tourism / hospitality business. The city is located very close to the site of the ancient city of Angkor, which was the seat of the Khmer Empire that ruled a large part of Southeast Asia more than 1,000 years ago. Today tourists come to Siem Reap and use it as the base to explore the area that is full of temple ruins, including the famous Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat, which is still in use for worship by the locals, is the world’s largest religious monument.

We came to Siem Reap after our visit to the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Our stay in Siem Reap was arranged through a local tour company called Derleng Tours. They suggested a typical itinerary for a three day, two night visit to Siem Reap, which we then customized to what we would like to see and do. During the duration of our stay, we had a private tour guide and driver with air-conditioned van that accompanied us to places around Siem Reap that we wanted to visit.

The photo below was taken in downtown Siem Reap on a street called the Pub Street. This place is a popular hangout place for foreign visitors. The particular place on the photo is a pub/restaurant called The Red Piano. It became famous because it was visited by Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie when she came to the area to film Tomb Raider.

Red Piano

Derleng Tours

Derleng Tours is a local tour company in Cambodia based out of Siem Reap. We found out about Derleng when we were about to book a room at the Kool Hotel for our stay in Siem Reap. They had an option for a three day, two nights package that included the lodging at the Kool Hotel and private tour guide and car touring the Siem Reap/Angkor area. I was very impressed and thankful for the excellent service they provided during our visit to Cambodia. Below is an excerpt of what I wrote about them in my review on TripAdvisor — the least I could do to thank them.

During the planning stage few months before the trip, I contacted Derleng Tours via email. They were very responsive and helpful in arranging our trip. When I also asked for information regarding transportation and tour guide for Phnom Penh, they responded with a customized package that included the transportation in Phnom Penh added. What I appreciate was that they gave us the option for a tour guide as we requested, but actually recommended that we wouldn’t take up that option. The reason was because their primary operation was in Siem Reap, and they didn’t have tour guide that they could recommend for in Phnom Penh. If we had insisted to get a tour guide, they could arrange one to come from Siem Reap to guide us in Phnom Penh, but the guide wouldn’t be as knowledgeable about Phnom Penh that they didn’t want to risk not meeting our expectations. I found this very customer focused, and gave the feeling that they’re looking out for our best interests and not trying to take advantage of the situation to up sell their service.

The drivers we had in Phnom Penh were very courteous and knew their way around. We had a little mishap during the start of our full day trip in Phnom Penh, but Derleng folks managed to resolve it when we called them very early in the morning. The day ended up to be memorable, and we had lunch with our driver that was a unique experience in itself.

Derleng also helped us arrange our transportation from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We had wanted to travel by bus and I also asked if they could arrange our transit from the hotel to the bus station in Phnom Penh and from the bus station to hotel in Siem Reap. They responded with an offer to arrange the whole travel (I think pretty much at cost). They also suggested that we would go by van rather than bus; pretty much same pricing, but typically faster because vans are more nimble than buses in navigating the highway traffic. Again, they gave us the suggestion without being pushy, and we took up their suggestion (this was the experience I wrote about in several posts last week about the trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap).

The Siem Reap part of the trip was organized and executed flawlessly. Our tour guide, Chea Vanna, was very friendly and knowledgeable about the places we visited during our three-day stay in Siem Reap. I particularly enjoyed having discussions with him learning about Cambodian culture and what life is like there, and sharing about American and Indonesia culture and life in comparison. By the end of the three day excursion, we pretty much considered him and our driver as our new friends, more than just our tour guide and driver.

In the end, we had a wonderful experience visiting Cambodia, and Derleng Tours had a big part in making our trip smooth and memorable. I definitely would recommend them to anyone planning on going to Cambodia.

The photo below was taken on New Year’s morning at Angkor Wat. It was me, Kristi, and our guide Vanna.

New Year's morning at Angkor Wat

The Kool Hotel

The Kool Hotel is a boutique hotel in Siem Reap, Cambodia, area located about 15-minute drive from downtown Siem Reap. We picked this hotel as our place to stay based on the reviews on TripAdvisor. We ended up booking our stay as part of a tour package arranged with Derleng Tours (which was located at The Kool Hotel itself).

The hotel is located on a quiet residential street off the main highway in Siem Reap. It’s far enough that you can enjoy quiet retreat if you need a break from the activities in and around the town, but close enough that you can get to the the market / Pub street area within minutes on the complimentary shuttle van or by tuk-tuk.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were welcomed by the front desk staff, and as our room was being prepared, we were served cool and refreshing pandan-infused ice tea, and warm towels to refresh ourselves after a long trip from Phnom Penh. We were escorted to our room not long after that. The room was nice and clean, though we found ours a bit small in size. But since we spent most of the time out and about, this wasn’t issue.

We also went to the on-site restaurant for lunch. It was pretty nice. They served both Khmer and western dishes. The food was quite tasty, and the staff was attentive. Near the restaurant area, there was a swimming pool. We didn’t use the facility, but during the day time we saw families with kids enjoying the pool.

The photo below was taken just outside or room. You can see the nice shade outside the rooms with trees and landscaping around. It provided nice oasis especially after you go out in the sun during the day.

The Kool Hotel

Arrival in Siem Reap

The second half of our van ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap seemed to go by quickly. I think by then we just wanted to get to the destination. Some passengers who were asleep during the first half of the trip were now awake after getting refreshed during our short break in Kampong Thom. The Cambodian businessman who was very busy on his cell phone during the first half of the trip was no longer taking or making calls — possibly his phone already ran out of charge.

We stopped a couple of times during this leg of the trip. At the first stop, there was a young lady in her motorcycle waiting at the side of the road. Apparently someone had a package for her from Phnom Penh that was delivered by the van’s driver. It looked like a wrapped gift. The driver and one of the guys in the van said something to the girl as she received the package that made her blush. She went on her way with her package, and we continued our trip. The second stop was about half an hour later — this time the friend of the driver who was sitting in the front row with the driver and the British gentleman got off — that seemed to be his destination.

As we got closer to Siem Reap, we started seeing road signs for Angkor Wat and downtown Siem Reap. It looked similar to the drive entering Phnom Penh — you could see quite a commercialized road with small stores lining the road. At one point, the driver smiled and pointed at a billboard and said to the British gentleman, “Wayne Rooney!” — it was a huge billboard with Wayne Rooney in his Manchester United’s uniform.

We finally reached our destination. I was expecting that we would go to a bus terminal of some sort. That wasn’t the case. The end point was just a small office / store front for the van company. Looked like there were many people there waiting for the passengers to arrive, including one gentleman with a sign that said Derleng Tours and my name on it. He introduced himself as Mr. Ko, saying that he would be our driver for the day. And not long after that, a young gentleman showed up in a motorcycle. Mr. Ko introduced us to the young man, his name is Vanna, and he would be our tour guide for the next couple of days as we tour Siem Reap. Vanna said he just wanted to meet and greet us there upon our arrival, but we would start our program later on after we got a chance to check in to our hotel, got some lunch, and relax a little bit. So we planned to meet him at the hotel lobby in a couple of hours, and we went with Mr. Ko in his van to the hotel where we would be staying in Siem Reap.

Our drive to the hotel took us through parts of downtown Siem Reap. We passed the Royal Palace in Siem Reap and the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, which was among the most luxurious places to stay in Siem Reap.

The photo below was taken during our ride to the hotel. As we got closer to downtown Siem Reap, we could tell that this was a city lived on tourism — we saw hotels and restaurants lining the road and foreigners everywhere, including these two on the back of hired motorbikes.

Hired motorbikes