Siem Reap & the Angkor Wat Historical Park.

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We previously wrote a piece on daily budgets for India, but didn’t write on for South East Asia – $25 (USD) per person per day, is a well reported figure online and we think is about right to cover backpacker style accommodation, basic food from cheap restaurants or street vendors and the odd beer. We thought it might be useful to note basic costs for visiting Angkor Wat on a backpacker budget.

 Visiting Siem Reap & the Angkor Historical Park will cost more than $25 dollars per day.

Park entry

There are three ticket options for visiting the Angkor Historical Park.

A one day ticket costs $20 (USD). A three day pass, valid to be used within a week is $40 and a seven day pass, which has to be used within one month is $60.

We used a three day pass for three consecutive days. We saw and did a lot we could easier have spent another day or two in the complex. A one day ticket would probably never be enough, you would briefly pass through all the popular/famous temples and not even see them properly, let alone visiting some of the quieter temples.

Transport

Angkor Wat is located 5-10Kms from Siem Reap, depending on where you’re staying. There are several transport options.

A car and driver are available for around $25 USD per day, often with air conditioning.

A tuk-tuk and driver are available for around $15 – 25 USD per day, depending on whether you’re staying in the main temple area, or planning to head out to places such as Banteay Shrei (32km from Siem Reap). Tuk-tuks are loads of fun and provide a nice breeze and respite from the heat and humidity. It’s your choice, don’t let a tuk-tuk driver choose you. There is a lot of competition in Siem Reap and people can be pretty in your face about offering you a ride… If you don’t feel comfortable with someone, you’re not obliged to use their services.

Moto Taxi’s are available for zipping around Angkor for around $10 a day, but are only suitable for one person. May cost more to travel further afield, and potentially more dangerous than a tuk tuk. May well invalidate your travel insurance also.

Bicycles are a great way to get around, but you need to be really fit, and able to cycle from the Siem Reap to the Historical park, as well as around it. You won’t get to go as far afield on a bike and you will have to put up with the heat and humidity, but I guess it depends on what you want to get out of the experience. The roads however are pretty good quality for cycling, and cheaper than a tuk tuk or private car.

Walking is another option, as with cycling you can’t go as far afield and will be in the sun all day.

With private cars, tuk-tuks and moto taxis make sure you are all clear on how long you are paying for, and how much – agree on a time period and a price before jumping in. It can save a lot of confusion and and potential confrontation at the end of the day. It would suck to have such a small thing ruin what should be an otherwise awesome experience.

Guides

Apparently an English language guide is available for around $25 USD per day, more for less common languages.

Personally, I’m not so keen on the idea of a guide, and many of the tuk-tuk drivers know a fair bit about the different temples anyway. The difference between a guide, and a tuk-tuk driver is the standard of English, but we found our tuk-tuk captain to be a informative, friendly guy. This is entirely down to luck though…

Money

Cambodia has a national currency, the Riel, however most places list prices in US Dollars and take dollars as their primary currency. To complicate matters further you may often receive small change in riels, not dollars.

It’s really useful to have an exchange app on your phone to work out costs. We use the XE app; it’s free and lets you store ten currencies and will exchange rates without an internet connection. Winner!

Make sure you have some small bills, a lot of businesses in Siem Reap wont be able accept or be able to give change for bigger notes. It’s not all about the benjamins.

Accommodation

Accomodation options in Siem Reap are endless, my guidebook suggests “There are now more guest houses and hotels around Siem Reap than there are temples around Angkor”, and a search on Hostelbookers showed more than 100 options. There is a lot of choice, and options to suit all budgets but the demand is there also, several hundred thousand (probably more…) people pass through Siem Reap to visit Angkor each year.

We stayed in a double with shower/en suite as we did in most places in South East Asia for around $20 per night. The standard was as good as anywhere else in Asia we have stayed, although maybe slightly more expensive. We specifically looked for a hotel with a pool. We thought it would be a nice way to end the days after tramping around temples soaked in sweat – it was one of the best choices we made on our South East Asia trip.

Food

At Angkor Historical Park there are a number of places you may be taken for lunch, the two we went to were overpriced and pretty bland. $6/7/8 for a pretty average stir fried meat, veg and rice. If you want to save your money, take your lunch with you, or arrange beforehand to go offsite for lunch.

 Weather

Cambodia is hot, and humid. Get out as early in the day as possible. Around nine or ten in the morning the humidity becomes pretty stifling when you’re trekking about and climbing up steep steps. We visited in early December, which was apparently the cooler season. November through to February is apparently the premium, cooler dry season but with that expect lots of tourists around this time and high levels of humidity.

Realistically, it’s mostly going to be pretty busy unless you’re prepared to visit in the wet season, or when the temperature rises to around 40ºc.

Practicalities

Wear decent shoes! The paths are uneven and stony, there is also plenty of gooey moss around. Girls, make sure you are well dressed. Long dresses and covered arms will ensure you won’t offend the many practising religious folks at Angkor. It also means you get to visit ALL the temples – Phimeanakas, for example had an enforced dress code when we visited and a sea of under-dressed girls were left at the entrance.

Plan ahead and try to visit the more popular temples when they are less likely to be busy – lunchtime for example,or dawn when almost everybody will be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat.

 Siem Reap town

As this is an incredibly tourist driven city there are A LOT of beggars, mostly children. It’s heart wrenching to ignore children telling you ‘I don’t want money, just buy me some food’ they could well be part of a scam where they sell the products back to the shop and split the money 50-50. Also these children are often being used and exploited by a gang running the scams. As harsh as sounds if you engage with them, and give them money, they will not break the cycle, they will continue to go without an education, and will spend their entire lives destitute and begging. If you want to help, there are many places in Siem Reap and surrounding areas where you can volunteer your time.

The same can be applied to children selling souvenirs in the Angkor Historical Park. They are going to work instead of school – it’s a moral judgement as to whether you buy something from them, We bought some postcards from a boy; he was probably around nine, but I am absolutely sure he went to school as well. I spoke with him about his life, and I negotiated that he had to teach me some Khmer if I bought his postcards. I have no doubt he will do well for himself, he was clever and his English was fantastic but there will be children in similar situations who will spend their whole life selling crap to tourists, never breaking the cycle, whose children won’t go to school either.

The town itself is an unusual place, it’s got such a high concentration of tourists it feels almost like a European holiday resort, there are bars and restaurants everywhere, and it’s not hard to find somewhere to eat. ‘Pub street’ in the heart of the backpacker area is full of restaurants, I imagine prices are slightly inflated with comparable restaurants in the rest of Cambodia, We unfortunately cannot compare as we didn’t have time to visit any other areas of Cambodia.

Bartering

Siem Reap is full of markets, if you want to buy some souvenirs, or some ‘replica’ items there are loads of choices, barter hard and walk away if you’re not happy, there are a hundred other people probably selling the same thing.

With regards to tuk-tuks or drivers, and guides we’ve read online you can barter them down a little bit, but why would you? $15 to employ a driver all day, and for him to wait around for you whilst you’re busy pretending to be Indiana Jones (was it just me?) is a really cheap price for a westerner to pay. What difference is a couple of dollars going to make to you? What you pay them is probably their daily wage, and they all have families to feed just like anyone else – Don’t be a dick.

We didn’t attempted to barter with our tuk-tuk captain and he made every effort to help us, he told us what types of food we should try, and offered to buy our water for us at locals prices rather than tourist prices, he also told us everything he knew about each temple. He was awesome, we were really lucky and I would have felt a dick if I had tried to shave a few dollars off.

All prices are in US Dollars,and based on our visit in December 2012.

**Check out our other posts on Angkor, including temples here & here.**

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Chiang Mai : Muay Thai experience.

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I had been to Thailand before, but never gotten around to seeing any Muay Thai. It’s a particularly touristy thing to do, especially in the bigger cities but nonetheless I wanted to experience a Thai boxing event.

As expected it was a tourist heavy crowd, the air thick with cigarette smoke and humidity. Promotions girls teetered around selling beer, and Thai men stood ringside in the betting area.

The fighters enter the ring, and begin their pre-fight rituals involving Wai Khru Ram Muay and this fantastically hypnotic music. The fighters will bow and pray in respect to their teachers and Buddha.

It’s quite an experience to see the Wai Khru Ram Muay, when you think how many centuries it’s been performed and is still being performed in modern times. To the untrained eye it looks a bit like showboating and flexing, but after a quick read up it’s an entirely respectful traditional dance.

Muay Thai is brutal, it’s not like boxing where big guys can just smash down their opponents, it’s incredibly technical, involving a range of techniques. Fighters use, elbows, knees, kicks, punches and grapples to land hits on their opponents and they all seem to be incredibly lean, muscular men.

It’s a really enjoyable, if slightly violent spectator sport. It doesn’t have the gaudy fanfare of boxing, The fighters seem very respectful of each other and their sport.

One small, but quite essentially Thai thing to point out is to be aware of ‘toilet massages’. A quick Google search has informed me it’s fairly commonplace in Thai nightclubs and sporting events, but as a westerner it’s a bit strange that one, possibly even two or three teenage Thai boys will start massaging your legs, back and neck whilst you’re relieving yourself. Most peculiar.

Please feel free to share your ‘toilet massage’ based anecdotes!

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Adelaide : Central Markets

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Adelaide has got a great feel to it, we should like to go back one day.

 

Check out my other Adelaide photo’s here!

 

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Kuang Si Waterfalls : Luang Prabang

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We had such a great time in Laos, it surprised us in every way.

We expected it to be a lesser event surrounded by Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia but we were so happy to discover Laos, and especially Luang Prabang.  The food was delicious and apart from getting REALLY bored with people relentlessly trying to sell me drugs in Luang Prabang, Laos people were friendly.

We spent four days in Luang Prabang, and could easily have spent ten more. I loved the pace of life, the fact there is little to do and mostly that you don’t have to worry about being run over by a moped every five seconds like the rest of South East Asia. The population is only 50’000 and they’re all too busy running guest houses and awesome restaurants to be playing Carmageddon (I really hope someone else played this game!) on the streets.

One of the highlights of our trip to Luang Prabang was an afternoon at Kuang Si waterfalls. 

Firstly, it’s beautiful and its relaxing and superfun, but if anyone thinks you’re headed off to your own private little hideaway you’re going to quite disappointed, It’s pretty busy!

The water is so clean, so blue and also so cold! It’s also full of little bitey fish  which took great interest in my scabby knees from when I fell down off the kerb outside Chiang Mai train station the week before.

It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and there’s even a rope swing  which always makes for a great spectator sport.

** Top Tips : Watch out for the moss around the busy pool with the rope swing, it is so slippery and don’t put your towel down, or sit on anything or you’ll end up with slimey mess all over your lovely stuff. We learn’t the hard way, twice.

We arranged for a shared minibus, it worked out pretty cheap, only downside was prearranged arrival and leaving times. we found two hours at the waterfalls to be plenty. You can also get there by tuk-tuk, hiring a moped or cycling. It’s a fairly long way, and anybody who cycles is pretty much crazy in my opinion.

You can also see my Luang Prabang gallery here.

Sydney : Dusk, the perfect excuse not to get up for sunrise.

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Sydney : The Queen Victoria Building.

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The QVB is probably one of my most favourite places in Sydney. Not because it’s full of expensive shops, and not because it links directly into yet more shops via the basement.

I love it because it’s an beautifully restored old building. Not old on an English scale, obviously…  It’s classy and blends the old with the new seamlessly. Plus, it has some really posh public toilets.

It was originally completed in 1898, and performed many functions. Standing on the site of the original market, it was built to house a concert hall. It became the city library, offices, and other tenants including piano tuners.

I’m pretty much in awe of any beautiful architecture, I can quite happily spend time sitting and staring at all the intricacies and detailing. Stay classy QVB…

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South Adelaide : Snorkelling, kayaking, and the Nude Olympics.

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We headed down to Adelaide for ten days to meet some of Jess’s rellies. They live in one of them most picturesque areas of southern Adelaide, in Maslin Beach.

Maslin beach, is most famous for being the first nudey beach in all of Australia, and still hosts the annual Maslin Beach Nude Olympicswhich happened to be scheduled during our visit. Great success!

Adelaide seems to get a pretty bad rep in the Australian media and whilst it’s a small city, the surrounding areas are beautiful.

During our stay we made the most of being two minutes walk from a beautiful beach (not the nudey end…) We also Snorkelled at Port Noarlunga, Kayaked on the Onkaparinga river, got up close with kangaroos at Deep Creek conservation park. we also saw wild koalas. Maslin Beach is also our unofficial home of sunsets. In ten days, we probably saw five or six spectacular skies of fire which we took great enthusiasm oversharing with our Facebook friends. Every day.

Beautiful beaches, wineries, the Adelaide hills, and National parks all readily accessible and ‘Mad March’ when festival season kicks in. We’re looking forward to coming back!

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How much does it cost to travel in India? Budgeting Delhi, Rajasthan & Agra.

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We spent three weeks travelling around Rajasthan, Delhi and Agra, an extension of the golden triangle. We flew into Delhi, travelled by train to Jaisalmer, and Jodhpur and then flew to Udaipur as there is no direct train link. We continued our journey onto Ranthambore national park, Jaipur and got a bus to Agra, as all trains were fully booked for our dates of travel. Lastly, we took the train back to Delhi.

Travel

Most people travel one of two ways, by bus or by train. We had quite a long wish list for India, and essentially a short period of time, so we booked (almost) all of our travel from the UK via Cleartrip, an English language version of the IRCTC for a small booking fee. Generally, I prefer not to book everything in advance, but being our first time in India, and after reading all about trying to book at the stations we decided it was the best way. It worked out perfectly for us, even after doing our best to miss our first train by going to the wrong station.

Generally, we looked to book trains in the ‘AC’ classes.  AC2 & AC3 offer good value for money.  AC2 specifies Air conditioned, two tiers and AC3 specifies, unsurprisingly, Air conditioned with three tiers. There is also the cheaper ‘sleeper’ class for the more adventurous. For all things train related check the train god Mark Smith’s website seat61.com.

Delhi to Jaisalmer was our longest journey, seventeen hours; and around 480 miles. We travelled in AC2. The tickets cost 1’384 rupees (£15/$25) per person. By comparison, one of our cheapest journeys from Sawai Madhopur (Ranthambore National park station) to Jaipur, was little over two hours, around one hundred miles and 300 Rupees (£3.50/$5.50) per person. Basically, the trains are very good value for money.

Travelling by train is a cheap, comfortable and enjoyable experience, as you get to meet Indian families also travelling the railways. The trains we took all left on time, and only one arrived late They are also clean and well organised. My tip would be if you’re travelling as a pair, book AC2 side upper and side lower. You get a window seat, usually with a power point and can be a little bit removed for the main area of the berth if you don’t feel like being sociable, or just want to sleep.

I wrote about our one bus journey from Jaipur to Agra in this post.

Our flight was the only transport we took that left late, and cost 3000Rupees (£35/$55) for the hour journey, which is still cheap for a flight.

Accommodation

Generally, we stayed in double rooms with en-suite. The standard of cleanliness in India, can quite often be a long way from European expectations, but It’s one of those things with India, you accept it and get on with it or you hate it. Kind of like the country I suppose.  We booked everything online the day or so before we arrived in a new city with Hostelbookers. Personally, I prefer to just book something and turn up, I don’t want to waste my time wandering around for deals. It might work out more expensive some times, but what price to you put on your leisure time in a location? Especially when we’re trying to cram as much in as we did.

With the exception of Ranthambore National Park, we found accommodation to be affordable, and fairly abundant. We generally paid around 500-700Rupees (£6-8/$9-13) per night for a double, with fan and an en-suite.

Food and drink

Food in India, is incredibly good value. I’m still wondering to myself how they make the bread, so light, crispy and not oily!?

Street food stalls, will sell tasty snacks, although almost always fried for between 10-50Rupees, (£0.10-0.60/$0.20-0.90) depending on how substantial it is. A simple sit down meal for two with a couple of vegetable mains, and some bread would cost between 100- 300Rupees (£1.20-£3.40/$1.70-5.50) A thali, for example would cost, on average around 200Rupees (£2.20/$3.60)

We ate out for ‘Fancy dinner’ three times in India, in Delhi we wanted to go to a restaurant we had seen on TV, famous for its chicken dishes. In Udaipur we wanted to spoil ourselves in the surroundings and in Agra, we were just quite weary and needed the peace and quiet. In all three we took advantage of the professional kitchens and refrigeration to indulge in meat! They were all around 1500-2000Rupees (£17-22/$27-36) for an amazing meal, and especially in Udaipur, a dinner experience unlikely to be matched any time soon.

Drinks in India are generally quite cheap, although alcoholic drinks in restaurants can be relatively expensive, especially spirits or cocktails. A large bottle of water usually cost around 15Rupees(£0.20/$0.30), a can of Coke, around 20Rupees (£0.25/0.40), and a large bottle of Kingfisher beer was around 150Rupees (£1.70/$2.75).

Experiences

India ticket prices can vary for historic attractions. They have a system whereby they have tourist prices, and local prices. The archaeological survey of India sites, including The Red Fort and Humayuns tomb in Delhi, and Fatehpur Sikri near Agra are all 250Rupees (£2.80/$4.50) entry for  a tourist. The Taj Mahal, is however 750Rupees. (£8.50/$13.50) Other historic sites such as Mehrangarth Fort in Jodhpur, or Jag Mandir in Udaipur are around the 300Rupee mark.

Other experiences included going on the tiger safari in Ranthambore national park, desert safari in Jaisalmer and visiting the famous Raj Mandir cinema in Jaipur.

Ranthambore, does not work out to be cheap, especially not compared with the rest of Rajasthan. Currently, (and I think the rules and prices in Ranthambore change regularly) a safari lasts around three hours and costs  555-600Rupees depending on whether you’re in a gypsy (15 seats)  or canter (4 seats) . For accommodation we paid around 1300rupees (£14.80/$24), for nothing extraordinary. It’s a small town next to Ranthambore national park and as such prices are inflated for food as well as accommodation. We spent in the region of 10’000Rupees, (£115/$185) for two safaris each, three nights accommodation and all meals and drinks. We did see tigers, so it was totally worth it.

The town of Jaisalmer was averagely priced for Rajasthan, and we wanted to take an excursion to the Thar Desert to see the sand dunes and generally adventure. It was great, we went with a small company, ate good food and didn’t see another safari group, litter or the other things we had read bad reviews of. The rate for our tour was 1300Rupees (£14.80/$24) per person, but we paid extra to go out on our own.

Numbers.                                                                                                                                                       

We travelled for twenty one days, visiting three states.

Our transport, from city to city amounted to 6’800Rupees (£78/$125) per person, for three weeks and around 1500 miles total. we travelled in the region of 1’150 miles, spending approximately thirty five hours on the train tracks. We also spent around three hundred miles travelling via bus or train. Travel in India is exceptionally good value.

Aside from the above mentioned excursions, we reckon we travelled around India, eating well (although cheaply), but drinking sparingly; sleeping in private double rooms, travelling in AC2 or AC3 carriages and doing activities, or sightseeing most days for around about 1200Rupees (£13.70/$22) per person, per day.

All prices listed are in rupees, pound sterling and US dollars. I have not included our flights in, and out of the country as they are part of a multi-flight ticket. We travelled between October and November 2012.

Since leaving India, I have written this summarising post, which also may be of interest. Any views, or opinions welcomed.

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Sydney : Ballast Point Park, Balmain.

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Three of my favourite interests, from a purely aesthetic point of view are architecture, design and photography.

Ballast Point Park in the Sydney suburb of Balmain, manages to straddle all three. Over the last 150 years, the site has been used for many things, including a private estate, a fuel depot, a grease plant and finally returned to the public to be used as a park.

It’s industrial history has not been forgotten and many elements have been retained and recycled as part of the artistic site, such as ‘Tank 101’,  much of the metal was salvaged to create the installations. The dotted typeface used on  the site reflected the thousands of rivets used in it’s industrial period. The  passages of poetry on the installation read ‘Stone statues of ancient waves’ &  ‘Tongue like dingoes on shore’ are from ‘The Death Of Isaac Nathan’ by Australian poet Les Murray.

The clean, cold lines of poured concrete reinforce its industrial past.

The park is an award winning space, and has great views of the CBD and the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge, it is strangely calm and serene for somewhere so close to the city centre.

Curiously, there is also a Michael Jackson shrine. similar in theme to the love locks made famous by the Pont de l’Archeveche in Paris; but seemingly now popping up everywhere including the Harbour Bridge (although a security guy told us they just cut them off once a month!) Paris, and romance are like mac and cheese, or Kylie and Jason.  MJ & Balmain are, well not the same.

You can reach Ballast Point Park on the Cockatoo Island ferry from Circular Quay.