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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Border jumping, Cambodia to Thailand: Siem Reap to Bangkok/ Aranyapathet to Poipet

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We arranged via our hotel to travel back to Bangkok on the bus, we didn’t really ask too many questions so it came to no surprise to us that we had absolutely no idea what was going to happen. Will it be one bus? Will we drive straight through?

The bus cost $16 US dollars through our hotel, it may have been a little cheaper if we had booked direct, but we didn’t know where we needed to go, and our hotel had been excellent so we were happy to pay them a commission.

We were offered three different times, six or eight in the morning and midday. We took the eight o’ clock bus as we thought it would be the most convenient time to leave, and also arrive.

The bus left sort of on time, and we drove towards the border. We stopped an hour into the journey for provisions and a toilet break, as is customary at these places everything is massively overpriced. There is a mini-mart opposite where the bus left from in Siem Reap which would has more choices and probably cheaper too.

We ended up stopping again in Poi Pet for some still unknown reason; we sat in a car park for about half an hour. After that the bus took us about a kilometre down the road to the border. It was very much a waste of time. The total journey from Siem Reap to Poi Pet took around three hours.

We were then taken off the bus, took back our luggage and given a red sticker! Hardly a ticket, and didn’t fill me with confidence if I’m honest.

So now were walking across to get stamped out of Cambodia. It’s getting on for midday and theres a lot of people around and plenty trying to get across the border. After you’re stamped out you have to walk across to the Thai side around two hundred metres and join the immigration queue here.

Again, the queue was long, and it did not move very fast at all. Literally hundreds of people walked straight past, out of the midday sun and into the air conditioned building. According to an employee we talked to you could go straight through if you got a visa on arrival! It’s a pretty great system that I pay for a multiple entry visa and have to stand in the midday sun for two hours whilst probably five hundred people  queue jump for a free visa on arrival. We spent over two hours waiting to get stamped out.

When we FINALLY get through, a man is waiting on the other side picking up lost looking people with red stickers. You now get assigned a number, and told to wait around.

A short while later a succession of vans turn up to ferry people to a restaurant around a kilometre up the road, where you’re invited to eat. It’s shit and it’s overpriced, but by this point I, and many others are pretty hungry. Sneaky.

You’re then ferried in mini vans to Bangkok, according to your red badge number (I guess to avoid queue jumping and suchlike) They jam you in and stuff all the luggage around you, it’s hot and stuffy and if you try to open the window the guy stops the car and gets out to tell you off. It takes about four hours and they drop you near Khao San Road.

Perhaps on other days the queue is shorter, or they are better organised. Maybe we went on a good day! If I did it again, I would get the six ‘o’clock bus to try to arrive at the border when the sun isn’t so strong.

The bus arrived into Bangkok around seven in the evening, taking eleven hours total.  I’ve read online about scams involving bus companies at Khao San Road, but nobody seemed to be missing anything in the buses we travelled in. Perhaps the night bus would be a more likely place to lose things.

cambodian street food : Amok (fish curry)

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Amok is one of the most well-known dishes of Cambodia. It’s tradionally made using fish steamed in a coconut leaf, although it is available in meaty forms too. We tried amok with pork, as we had been spoilt with fish all up the Vietnamese coast. It’s a Khmer curry, made with coconut, ginger, lemongrass and garlic.

It could be comparable to a Green Thai Curry, although it’s quite a different dish, it doesn’t have the aggressively spicy chilli flavours or the fish sauce punch;  but it can be similar in texture and appearance.

On another note, Cambodia’s national beer ‘Angkor’ with the excellent strapline “My country, my beer” is, like most South East Asian beers, quite light and enjoyable. A beer always tastes better when it’s sunny though, right?

We didn’t really get the chance to try too much Cambodian food. We spent three nights in Siem Reap on the way to Bangkok to catch our onward flight, we ate a lot of barbecue after long days at Angkor. Next time, I’ll be coming back.

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Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex : Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som

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Angkor Wat is a massive site, and the town of Siem Reap is almost entirely supported by the tourism generated from the Angkor complex. Tourism supports the hoteliers, bars, restaurants, guides, drivers; and those employed directly by the park as security, sweepers and ticket inspectors. It’s great for the local economy; and the economy of Cambodia as a whole.

In order to see the site properly you have several choices, drivers, tuk-tuks, moto taxis, and bicycles. Some people even attempt to hike around, but seeing as the site is three kilometres from Siem Reap, covering an area of over four hundred square kilometres and some sites are over twenty five kilometres from town, it makes it a hard slog, especially in thirty degree heat.

We hired a Tuk-tuk driver for our time in the city and he was great, he knew about the sites, spoke good English and recommended us things

I’ve already posted about Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom which you can see here. This post focuses more on the temples further away, and generally not as popular, except Ta Prohm, which is incredibly popular.

Ta Prohm, is with the exception of Angkor Wat itself possibly the most recognisable site due to the Tomb Raider film series. It was left to ruin and the trees took over and turned it into the most enchanting, fantasy spectacle. This was the sort of place you wished you could play in as a kid. Unfortunately, due to the years of trees taking over and roots winning battles against buildings, it’s looking a bit unstable. Lots of support pillars and tension wires are holding very old bits of stone together.

Banteay Shrei and Banteay Sambre are both located further afield in the complex several kilometres from the main attractions. As such they are a bit smaller, but with the added bonus of being quieter and less tour groups.

Ta Som, like Ta Prohm and to an extent Preah khan, was left untouched. It features a beautifully overgrown doorway where a tree has snaked all around, giving it a fantastical atmosphere; another of the many highlights of nature overtaking the man-made structures.

Preah Khan, is without a doubt my absolute favourite place in the Angkor complex. Its vast, and has great big open spaces where you can imagine everyday life going on, but it also has little hidden away corners, where you can pretend you’ve stumble upon as yet undiscovered ruins.  It’s also pretty quiet compared with Bayon, Ta Prohm and Angkor wat. There’s a whole new level of amazingness at Preah Khan when all you can hear is the birds.

Siem Reap and the Angkor temple complex: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom.

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We flew from Ho Chi Minh City to Siem Reap, as we had ended up spending too much time in Vietnam enjoying the middle areas of the country and its relaxed beach culture. It was a quick flight, and it ended up buying us an extra day in the Angkor temple complex; pretty much the only thing we felt we absolutely couldn’t miss out on in Cambodia. We’ve already decided we’re going to plan another trip to Vietnam as we decided to leave Ha Long Bay for another time (the weather was so grey, and I would have been so disappointed had it been overcast and not the beautiful blue images we’ve seen in magazines and photographs) so perhaps we can revisit Cambodia too.

Firstly, a little historical context. The Angkor temple complex dates from around about the ninth century, when the king of the time declared independence and created what was to become the Khmer empire. Over the passing of time, war, rebellion, and such like happened and inevitably there were conflicts, death and overthrowing of monarchies – standard historical stuff.

The changing of rulers meant new structures within the Angkor complex, and embellishments on existing ones. Jayavarman VII, is worth a mention. In his thirty odd year rule (from 1181) he was a hero prince who drove away the Cham forces (modern day southern Vietnam) from Angkor. He was also Buddhist, not Hindu like his predecessors and built much of the modern day Angkor site, including a lot of the well-known sites of Angkor such as Bayon, Ta Phrohm & Preah Khan.

In more recent history, the French colonised modern day Vietnam & Cambodia as French Indochina and spent many decades developing and clearing the Angkor sites until political instability and rise of the Khmer Rouge forced a stop. Since the 1990’s the popularity of the site as a tourist attraction has increased and as such, renovations and investments have increased.

That was brief and not very historical but you get the point, lots of groups had a part to play in creating what is the largest historical site in the world. Although it can never be verified some historians argue that up to one million people may have lived in the Angkor region during its peak.

The extended site is absolutely massive, the superlatives are endless and you can easily spend a week here just exploring.  We spent three days here, and I’ve broken the temples down into two posts. This post covers Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom area. The other post is viewable here, and covers Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Shrei, Banteay Samre & Ta Som.  There are literally hundreds of other sites with the complex.

Angkor Wat, is the generalised name quite often used to refer to the entire site, but is in fact the centre piece of the Angkor temple complex and the largest religious monument in the world.

Angkor Thom, is the collected area including Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, and the terraces of the Elephant King, and Lepers respectively.