TRAVEL: How to Plan a Culture Trip Like a Boss: Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Completely alien to the art of itinerary making, last week’s trip to Cambodia was a real wake up call to the world of potential that awaits the patient travel planner. Getting whisked off on all expense paid surprise birthday trips is not commonplace in my world, and while the gesture itself was immensely appreciated, it was ultimately the care that was put into maximizing our Siem Reap visit that really toppled me over, jelly-kneed, blushing, and emoji heart-eyed. Crafting an itinerary requires research. Gifting someone an itinerary exercises a skill set on top of that, one that includes perception, experience, or a whole lot of intuition. We’re talking about understanding an individual’s likes and dislikes, their energy levels, things they’ve already done, and things that they’ve been longing to do. In the hopes that Jon’s well-rounded and lovingly compiled line up of experiences can be a guide to how to execute this effectively, I’m sharing our travels through that very lens. So whether or not Cambodia is on your agenda, here’s how to plot a cultural immersion for the knowledge and spirit-seeker in you and/or your  loved ones.

Set the tone by determining headquarters for your stay, which in our case was a romantic one-bedroom boutique hotel in the heart of Pub Street (the busy hub of restaurants, shops, and bars), called The One Angkor. You get the attention of the entire hotel staff, who really did do a great job doubling as tour guides for the areas immediately surrounding the hotel, making solid recommendations and swiftly handling logistics when asked. Breakfasts served on our private rooftop (that had a Jacuzzi and shower we never got to use) were enjoyable, and many an afternoon nap in waffle robes and billowing feather comforters took place.

one-hotel-galleryThe one room hotel also doubles as an art gallery.

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one-hotel-itinerary-breakfast-roofBreakfast on our private rooftop.

one-angkor-pub-streetLocated on the main alley off of centralized Pub Street.

Mobility and convenience are key. Jon also had the foresight to pre-hire a tuk-tuk driver for the duration of our stay, utilizing the local mode of transportation (a hybrid of the Philippine tricycle and a rickshaw) to traverse the city. He found our driver, Savuth, online—and the correspondence with Leonard (a European fellow that offered to help Savuth and his family by facilitating tourist inquiries for him) was nothing short of effortless.

tuktuk-driver-savuthThere’s Savuth! Having a go-to tuktuk driver isn’t absolutely necessary, but gave us one less thing to worry about.

Zone your activities, as we did on Day One—bundling a visit to the Landmine Museum with gun shooting at the 4th Troop Training Camp, as they were located about 40 minutes outside of the city. While both were rather brief experiences on their own, making a morning out of the drive was a beautiful way to ease into taking in the natural goings-on of rural Cambodia.

siem-reap-landmine-museumA diorama at the Landmine Museum gives perspective to what the climate was like during the blanket bombings and ground attacks.

landmine-prosthetics Cambodia has the most number of amputees in the world.

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landmine-camoflagueAn example of what a mine scattered field might look like. Can you spot them?

Temper your tolerance for temples… or whatever other sights it is you’re setting out to see. Our second day started off at 4:50 a.m. with a trek to watch the sun rise over Angkor Wat, but by 9 a.m., we had both had our fill, and with much relief in being on the same page, asked Savuth to take us back to HQ for a much needed shower and outfit change.

siem-reap-itineraryTemper your tolerance for Temple Runs.

angkor-wat-sunriseAngkor Wat at sunrise

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Know what you’re going for. Because while we did some pretty extensive shopping damage in the local markets, the overarching purpose of the Cambodia trip was actually spirituality. Aside from the temple visits, our itinerary included an incredible Introduction to Meditation session with Tom at the Peace Café (this absolutely changed my life), and Khmer massage lessons at Body and Soul. Anchoring our trip around this purpose brought an incredible amount of perspective to the rest of the activities, and lent a level of satisfaction that far exceeded the primary joy of having 15 new pairs of drop crotch Cambodian native pants.

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Attention to detail. As a music-loving couple, the perfect soundtrack was imperative to tying in the whole experience. Jon’s iPod and portable Bose speakers provided a beautiful and incredibly appropriate playlist that he compiled, an ode to the French undertones of Cambodia’s culture, and instrumentals that succinctly captured the spiritual trek we were on.

I guess you could say that in the world of travel personalities, I’ve discovered that Eat, Pray, Love is a good itinerary structure for us to follow (the “Eat” portion will be divulged in a separate article entry). But if we follow the vein of movie/TV/book titles as a theme, perhaps you’re looking for more of a Hangover 2, a Naked and Afraid, or an Old Man and the Sea experience. In any case, there is an art to plotting the unfolding of your perfect vacation and, if you haven’t already, I urge you to get good at it. Really, really good. It remains one of the best gifts I’ve ever received, and chances are, there’s someone in your life that will feel the same way, too.

This piece was originally written for, and published by the Manila Bulletin and WeCreativeNatives

 

 

Sarah Meier is a former MTV VJ, model, television and radio host. Currently the Creative Director at Pormada.com, she is also a writer, public speaker, and co-author of the book Unscripted. Shuttling between her homes in Brooklyn and Manila, this Swiss-Croatian-Filipina-Chinese chica hopes to find enough stability in the near future to be able to adopt a dog and not have to depend on FaceTime to nurture her most important relationships.