Situated in northwestern Cambodia, Siem Reap is a popular resort town and a gateway to Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. Cambodia’s star tourist attraction is Angkor Wat, which is designated as a World Heritage site. I first learned about Angkor Wat in a history class during high school and I never would have thought I would see it with my own two eyes. I couldn’t have been happier to find that this would become the highlight of my Southeast Asian journey.
How to get there?
From Bangkok, I took a van to Siem Reap which cost me 650 Baht (don’t forget to haggle, I tried it and it worked!). I was planning to take a bus or train but there was a travel agency adjacent to my hostel and it offered private tours so I opted for that method. There’s a lot of travel tours around Bangkok and though a bit pricey, they are still convenient as they will pick you up from the hotel and carry your backpack/luggage to the van. The best part about it is that you’ll be hitting the road with a bunch of solo backpackers and will make friends. Normally it takes 6-7 hours to reach the city but took us 9 hours because some of us ran into troubles at the border and we took a lot of stops. Warning! Avoid all the scam at the border. They will offer you to get off to their office near the border to arrange your visa and they will charge you around 100 baht or more. As a Philippine Passport holder, I know for sure I can enter without a visa. When we arrived at their office, some took the offer hoping it would be the easiest and fastest way to issue the entry visa for them. We then reached the Thai immigration office to get an exit stamp. Within walking distance is the Cambodian immigration office where we had our passport stamped to enter the country. Unfortunately, the officers didn’t honor the pre-issued visa. Boom! Guys got into trouble and we waited for them to get it done.
Where to stay?
When in Siem Reap, I chose to stay in Velkommen Guesthouse located at Group 4 Mondul Village 3 | East of Angkor National Museum Traffic Light by 100meters, Siem Reap. Unexpectedly, three of us booked the same place and told the rest to join us there since they don’t have any reservation yet. It was a good bonding for us. The guesthouse was family-friendly, neat and clean, near downtown, had friendly staff and was cheap.
How did we roam around the town?
Rent a bike, hire a tuktuk, or drive a car? Well, we opted to rent a bike from the guesthouse for 1$/day. It’s the best way to sightsee. Many locals think that all foreigners have lots of money to travel and could afford a driver or a car perhaps. I hope they would understand why we chose a bicycle. Biking is just the most fun way to see the temples, discover villages and experience the country side. In my opinion, it is better not to take any tours because it is best visited with friends just as long as you make sure you are equip with a map and a tourist information guide. Important: wear sunblock or you’ll get burnt.
A Sunrise I never thought I’d See.
Sunrise in Angkor Wat should not be missed by tourists/travelers. The sun rises up to tell the whole world of the beautiful creation of God. At 5:00am, we geared up, inspected the lights and breaks of the bicycle and headed to the world’s wonder. Since it will still be dark, make sure you bring a torch with you. The crowd is heading towards the famous temple so there’s no way you’ll get lost if you follow them. Hundreds to thousands gather every day to witness the majestic sunrise. It’s always the best experience for the photo enthusiasts, solo travelers, soul searchers, lovers and tourists in all walks of life. Truly amazing!
Note: You must possess an admission pass (an ‘Angkor Pass’) to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes may be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days.www.tourismcambodia.com
Siem Reap at Night (Eat, Drink, Party, Repeat)
After a long day roaming around the ancient temples of Angkor, it was time to relax, eat, drink and party all in one place called Pub Street. This is a must visit area as it offers a huge variety of foods, shopping, drinking spots and relaxation. Challenge your palate and taste street foods such as tarantulas, cockroaches, snake on a stick, grasshoppers, bugs and many more. Pizza lover? Find the restaurant that serves “Happy Pizza,” a regular pizza topped with powdered marijuana (true but didn’t try). If you are a shopaholic, the night market there is alive, very cheap and you can haggle. Experience Khmer’s party, get drunk and wasted, take a plunge in a fish spa, or relax and try the Khmer’s massage. However, it is so sad that it is also a haven for beggars doing the baby milk scam.
So I got some friendly reminders based on my experience. As you know, a lot of tourists visit the World Heritage Site and so there are lots of scams and parasites. Understanding l the history and culture of the Khmers is a good advantage and I’m pretty sure you will have read a lot before coming to Siem Reap. So here’s some tips to ponder!
-The U.S dollar is widely used in Cambodia, and if you pay with the dollar, don’t expect that you’ll get the change in dollar. Any small change will be given in Cambodian Riel which is non-convertible and any riels you leave the country with will become souvenirs. Bring enough dollars for the trip before entering the border, you’ll lose if you exchange or withdraw in ATMs there. (There’s one ATM at the border near Thai Immigration, so it might be your last option to withdraw). Local vendors will rip you off if you pay in Cambodian Riel. Let’s say you want to buy bottled water which costs 1 USD (around 3,500 KHR), if you insist to pay in KHR then they will ask for 5,000 KHR. Use Riel to cover smaller amounts.
– You must bring the following: mosquito repellant, local map, guide books, flashlight (if you intended to witness sunrise in any temple), sunblock (scorching hot if you’re biking), and a bottled water (always).
-Earlier I mentioned about the baby milk scam, the most common scam, in a crowded place you’ll encounter a “mother” begging for the baby (not her real baby). I know it’s hard not to give but the formula that’s purchased is promptly returned or exchange and split with the group including the store owner. Come on! Please try to avoid them.
-Wear comfortable clothes but still be modest (you are visiting temples.)
-Khmer people are traditionally friendly always wear your best smile.
Experience of a Lifetime
There’s always an ending for every vacation and I had so much experience that I’d never thought it happened. Locals are so friendly and hospitable, cost of living is cheap and the place is very rich in culture and history. I learned that the most important thing for Khmers is relationship over money, even if it will take more time to achieve it. I would probably recommend this place especially for first time travelers. Sometimes we want to get out of the urban life and feel the fresh air.