Some people were skeptical when I told them that I was going to Cambodia. I think the news about the civil war 16 years back is still fresh from their minds.
2015 is my travel year and I was determined to check something off my list soon. The opportunity came when the government announced a 5 day holiday for the Pope Francis visit to the Philippines.
I quickly asked my husband to book us a flight and asked my friend if she would come along. The only direct flight we could find was a Cebu Pacific flight departing Jan 15 (the day the Pope arrived) 7:30pm .... (all air travel was cancelled from 2pm- 7pm).. dilemma....
Our flight was not cancelled but we were rescheduled for a 10:30 pm flight. We were so scared of the crowd and road closures that we were in Resorts World (the mall across the airport terminal) at 12nn!..
Personally, I hate flying budget airlines but we had no choice. Aside from which, the airfare costs $300+ (expensive for budget fare and no meals)
We arrived in Siem Rap at about 11:30pm. Siem Rap itself is similar to a provicial city in the Philippines (General Santos). I already prebooked my guide- Morin Ouch before we left the Philippines and I called him when I got to the hotel to arrange for our pick up schedule for the next day.
The guides and vans are not expensive at all. It costs : $30/day for the guide $40/day for the van.. regardless of how many you are. So we spent $220 for the 3 days we spent and we were 6 people in the group. The van has cold towels and cold water for you when you need it. (included with the price)
Angkor Wat archeological Park is about 500 square kilometers (huge) and consist of a lot of different temple complexes. Some of them are : Angkor Thom (hindu temple converted to buddhist), Angkor Wat was built around 1113 AD by the Cambodian King Jayavarman II and was dedicated to Hindu Gods like Vishnu and Shiva. Likewise, their language is also based on sanskrit. (Buddhism came later on..)
Entrance fee to the park is $40/person valid for 1 week and 3 entries to any of the temple complexes. Children 10 years below are free (you have to show a passport)
I am amazed how organized they are. The tickets issued even have a photo of you.
Angkor wat (highest temple).. on the bottom, there are girls in native costumes that will take a picture with you for $1.
Hindu carvings on the walls depicting various legends and tales
The only temple with purely buddhist roots was the Bayon Temple (the ones with the heads of buddha on top)
Banteay Srie (the temple of women) is few kilometers outside the city. its a smaller temple but beautiful as well. (we did this temple on the second day of our trip)... there are fewer crwods in this temple compared the the big angkor Wat ones. In some areas, we feel as if we are the only people around and can take as many photographs as we want
One thing about having your own guide is that your time and itinerary is flexible. On the first day, we wanted to experience the elephant ride and see the sunset on top of the mountain. We did just that (elephant ride $20/person one way... you can opt to walk down)
Here are some other activities we did that you might want to do:
1. Visit the war museum and firing range - we get a general idea on Cambodian history. The khmer rouge regime. Most of the old arms in the museum are Russian. It is surprising to know that Cambodia only became "free" in 1999 after Pol Pot died. You can even try to shoot a AK-47 ($90/round of ammo... 3 of us shared 1)
2. Do a helicopter ride. Well, this one was spur of the minute on our last day. Our flight was late in the evening (10:30pm) so we had enough time to do a lot of activities. We opted for the $90 for 8 mins. (other options are 150/15mins, $200/20mins, $300/30 mins and more). I got a bit dizzy even if it was only 8 mins. you get to see the whole angkor wat complex
3. Do a ATV sunset ride with Siem rap Quad bike adventure. It was very enjoyable and we drove around the farming villages around Siem Rap. The children all came out and greeted us and we even high 5-ed them.
4. Angkor Museum. It is located in the middle of the city. It is well thought out and the exhibits are at par with European ones. (its better than the Cairo one for sure!)
We also visited the Angkor Artisans shop. Where they show how artisan from Angkor make wood, stone and silver souvenirs. (the gift shop is over priced). We also did a cultural show with buffet (the food was not that great and we were nodding off at the show)... you can use your time to go shopping in PUB STREET of the OLD MARKET
SOME MORE TIPS
---- Best weather is Dec- Feb (cool enough and not blazing hot) The temperature when we went was about 18-27C. They say the temperatures during summer (April- June) reaches 40C! July-Nov is monsoon so rainy all the time and muddy!!
--- bring CLOSED shoes and lots of socks. The roads are rural so they are dusty. If you wear slippers, by noon, you feet would be covered with dust. My white socks were brown when i got back from the tours at night.
--- bring extra clothes and shorts that reach your knees. Being Buddhist, some temples do not allow entry if you wear short shorts.
--- bring a selfie stick
--- bring a lot of $1 bills. Most Cambodians use US $ to buy and sell. Do not be afraid to bargain. I discovered later on that my $5 genie pants was being offered somewhere else at 2 for $5. some pricing examples: pajama style pants (2 for $5), postcards (regular sized ones: 10 for $1... buy from the kids outside the temple),
---our favorite local restaurant was RED HOUSE RESTAURANT which served good local food at local prices (not tourist prices) and featured cabanas with hammocks
--- get a massage.. its really cheap! $1/10 mins, $5 for 1 hour. We did another one which was $4/30 mins in an aircon room. The masseuse was good.
--- one more thing.... there is a NORTHFACE outlet in pub street. I got a winter goose down jacket for $100
Siem Rap is really safe compared to Phnom Penh which is the capital and more busy city. The vibe is more of less provincial. Its is amazing how they have preserved the buildings (some even rebuilt using German technology) and how they have bounced back from war and built such a clean and orderly tourist industry. The guides have official badges and uniforms.
Better get a guide because some areas might rip you off if you go on your own. (like the floating market which we skipped)
Cambodians have learned to sell to all Asians and thus can speak Chinese/korean/ English. It was so funny to see these 4 year olds trying to sell me postcards speaking chinese.
I stayed at the ANGKOR RIVIERA HOTEL. It was a 10 min walk to the old market and pub street. It had wifi and included breakfast. Big nice and clean rooms. The pool was nice too. We really enjoyed our trip. Even my 10 year old daughter was thrilled at all the activities we did. I do hope more people get to go to Siem Rap.
My guide: Morin Ouch (email@example.com) email him if you want to book a tour.