Welcome to Cambodia
As we made our way through no mans land after exiting Thailand, we were ready for the onslaught of scams… Prior to crossing the border, I did some research into what to expect when you enter Cambodia at the Poipet border. After saying no to the many people asking to take our luggage we slowly walked through the crowds to the visa office.
There is the option of applying for an E-Visa before entering Cambodia but you pay the extra $7 for the privilege of not dealing with the corrupt visa staff we decided not to pay extra and just do it at the border. After filling out your form, make sure you have a passport photo, I had one taken the day before in Pattaya. You hand your passport, visa form and the $30 fee to the guy behind the desk, to which another border guard points at a scribbled piece of paper that says 300Baht processing fee (which is a lie), looked like someone wrote it in the dark. All I had to do was point at the sign $30 fee only, and he paused for a while, grumbled a little bit and then accepted our documents. A few minutes later we had our visa, next step get our passport stamped.
More people claiming to be border staff here to help but we politely said no, and after a while of being hassled we simply just ignored them. Short queue ahead of us, as it was still the morning before the mad rush of tourists arriving from Bangkok which apparently happens around midday.
Once we left the border even more people try to get you to go with them in a taxi or bus, luckily we found the free shuttle bus to the main bus station and got on, although everyone inside the bus seemed to be one big group so it felt like we just joined their tour. Once we were at the bus station they told us that there would be no bus for a few hours… I found it hard to believe but we were planning on taking a taxi anyway and hopped in one for the set fee that seemed to be correct when we checked online.
After this we spent up to 3 hours in the back of the taxi until we reached Siem Reap and we were told we had to leave the taxi and go with a tuk tuk driver all included in the price, seemed pointless as the hotel was literally around the corner but seemed like they all work together and it is a way of getting us to sign up with the driver for a tour later on. We arrived at the hotel and could finally relax at the Visoth Angkor Residence, slightly outside the main tourist area, but that worked for us. They provided a free tuk tuk service into the main centre which was helpful.
What is there to do in Siem Reap?
Well most people come to this city for the Angkor temples, which is the major attraction and rightly so, it is pretty AWESOME.
We actually went to the temples towards the end of our trip in Siem Reap, we were in the area for 6 nights. We booked one of the tuk tuk drivers outside of our hotel and left early to make sure we go to the temples before the rest of the crowds flood in. It did not matter because once we arrived it was packed full of people and this was around 8am. Some people go earlier for the sunset but we decided to sleep more. Before entering the Angkor temples, you need a ticket which is purchased at the ticket office and this was very fast and efficient, the ticket includes a photo of your face to make sure you are using your own ticket (make sure you smile). The hefty fee of $37 for one day gets paid and off we go to explore the temples. The tour with the tuk tuk included 5 temples, which seemed to be the 3 main temples that everyone goes to and 2 smaller ones that aren’t very busy.
First stop of the day, well after the tuk tuk driver had some minor repairs to the motorbike. We arrived at the main temple which is still used today by Buddhist Monks. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century, the temple is still in good condition compared to the others around the park. The bridge to enter the temple was being repaired so there was a temporary floating bridge to get to the temple. From the outside the temple looked awesome, but the thing we weren’t ready for was the mass amount of tourists everywhere. It was packed with people, here was me thinking November would probably be a low season for tourists, but it was very busy. The temple was huge and meant a lot of walking and queuing up for stairs to climb up to the higher areas.
The next temple which was close by was very different as it has shown more signs of its age and had areas that have fallen apart. It was awesome to see, and again lots of tourist here which made the top area hard to walk around. The temple was smaller than Angkor Wat but seemed to have a lot of history to it which I liked. We spent less than an hour here.
This temple is also known as Tomb Raider temple as it was used as a film location, there was a long walk to get to the temple from the drop off point but once we arrived with the many other tourists, it was safe to say it was our favourite temple. This temple was partly ruined in areas and had amazing trees growing inside coming out the rocks which shows how nature takes back the land over the centuries. We really enjoyed exploring the temple the only downside was a storm was coming and it became very dark. We decided to leave and made our way back to the tuk tuk driver.
There were two other temples but one was under repairs so we did not spend very much time there, and the other was a very long walk which we didn’t feel like doing as it was about to rain. We decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.
The next day we took a trip to Chreav village, which is not a big tourist attraction it was just a village on the outskirts of the city. The tuk tuk driver took us to a lake where we could see how locals lived and spend their free time, it had little shack along the lake which were available for hire. Also the option to eat snakes, we decided to pass on this snack. The area was beautiful and only 20 minutes from the city centre, it was pure countryside, and very quiet with the occasional sightings of pelicans in the water. The driver told us he could take us to another nice area, so we left the lake, and headed across the countryside roads which included some dirt roads, and massive holes, wasn’t really built for tuk tuks mainly just motorbikes. Booking a tuktuk driver instead of booking tours seemed to be much cheaper and easier, this trip only cost us $8.
We stopped off at a temple which was very grand and large compared to the poor village it was situated in. Next stop a lotus flower farm, where there were wooden walkways across the farm, it was lovely to see real lotus flowers. The farm was huge and even had little shacks where you can order food and eat. The area is mostly flat except for one little hill in the distance which was what the driver wanted to show us.
After this we headed back to the city for lunch, we opted to try crocodile meat in the form of a carbonara pasta, it was actually nice, the meat was a little tougher than pork or beef but I liked it.
The city is very touristy, it seems to be built around the Angkor temples. Most tourists come just for the temples and leave, they have tours coming from Thailand that now include the temples, which is great in some ways as it brings more money to the locals and the economy but then usually they end up being Thai tours only focused on the temples and nothing else. Don’t get me wrong the temples are amazing but there is a lot else to do in Cambodia.
As for the city we stayed near the centre, only a short walk to the main areas. The core tourist area was Pub street, with all the western restaurants with slightly higher prices, although very cheap beer 50 cents for a half pint. Markets surround the area, so lots of choice when it comes to buying clothes, and souvenirs, which we opted for, with some added enjoyment of haggling. We explored a temple and saw the palace from afar along with the very murky looking river that ran through the city. Other than that there wasn’t much else to do, there were many places to drink and party, or go for a cooking class.
One night someone recommended that while we were in Siem Reap it would be a good idea to go see the traditional Apsara dance, which also includes a buffet meal. We signed up through the hotel and made our way to the show. Once we entered the building it was huge, with long dining tables filled into a hall like space, we were seated quite far away but on the plus side closer to the food although there was a long queue. The food was mainly a range of Cambodian and other Asian foods with a little pasta dotted around. The food was ok, we tried a variety of new things, some good and some not as good. The show started after most people had eaten, it was interesting, the female dancers really do show off their flexibility which was impressive.
What else can you do?
There were tours to other areas such as floating villages, and national parks but all came at a higher cost, there seemed to be entrance fees to everything and after spending a lot for the temples we were making sure we didn’t spend too much for the rest of our time there. We spent our free time trying to relax as we changed our route to allow for more time in one area as we were doing too much travelling, and needed time to slow down.
Overall the temples are amazing and they are must see, there are so many more temples than the main ones we saw, some going very far away, which become costly for tours, but if you have the time and money, then it is a great place to explore. Other than that there are lots of touristy things to do but everything has a cost, and surprisingly Cambodia seemed to be quite expensive when it came to food.