Siem Reap/Angkor Wat: This place is amazing! Words cannot fully describe and pictures (even mine, lol) cannot prepare you. This is one place where you will not be disappointed because it is so impressive and so vast – the entire complex is 400 square km! Coming to Angkor Wat was a dream come true – I’m not a history buff but I love the idea of ancient civilizations and witnessing the ruins and structures that have withstood the elements over time.
Here’s a summary of how I prepared for the trip and some lessons for others planning their own trip:
I was already flying into Hong Kong as part my dad’s dream to celebrate Chinese New Years together. From there, the Cambodia flight from HK was surprisingly high (but maybe that’s the case given the time of year) with prices from $700-$900! Typically there are fantastic deals from Dragonair that include hotels for less but we decided that we needed to use seize the opportunity that we were on that side of the continent!
We had a 1 hour lay-over in Bangkok each way with the first part of the flight operated by Cathay Pacific and the second portion operated by Bangkok Airways.
You can do this upon arrival at the airport with a passport photo and $20 USD. I also read that you can process an e-visa ahead of time online so we opted for that option. Make sure you double check the spelling (My name was spelled wrong) and that you have access to a printer beforehand!
I was scrambling at the Hong Kong airport this get this printed: for a small fee, you can print documents at Terminal 2, Aisle D. HOWEVER, you probably don’t want to be in a rush as I was. In the end, I didn’t actually get it printed because I was worried about missing my flight.
I REALLY lucked out and got a nice border guard who let me show him the picture of my visa I had on my phone. (I didn’t have my papers and even if I did print it out, my name was spelled wrong 🙁 ) He just stated I needed to have a printed copy on my way back. Hmm maybe the Chinese superstition was right! (See previous post, where a dog peed on my leg, and my dad told me it was sign of good luck!)
Once you get your e-visa emailed to you (about 4 days) you receive a PDF with the following instructions:
1. Please check all the information on your e-Visa certificate to make sure they are correct. Contact us at http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/enquiry.aspx if there is any error.
2. You will see the label of “Cambodia E-VISA” in your credit card statement for this transaction.
3. Your e-Visa is only valid for one(1) entry.
4. No sticker will be issued to you for e-Visa. Please print out 2 copies of this e-Visa certificate. Pass one(1) copy to immigration as your Travel Visa at entry and one(1) copy upon departure. For your convenience, you may cut your printed e-Visa and staple to your passport.
5. e-Visa printout in black and white is acceptable.
6. All your information will be checked on arrival at the Immigration Online System.7. At the checkpoint, please go directly to the e-Visa immigration counter for processing.
Look for e-Visa signboard. If you are not sure, please approach the officer for instructions to avoid unnecessary delay.
For Siem Reap Airport, please go to any counter from 02 – 08.
For Phnom Penh Airport, please go to any counter from 03 – 09.
8. You are required to fill out departure and arrival cards at the entry and exit point.
9. Entry to invalid e-Visa ports is prohibited.
10. e-Visa fee is non-refundable.
11. If you would like to change any travelling information (eg: entry date, entry port and etc), please visit the “Check and Change” at http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/evisa/CheckChange.aspx
*EDIT Oct 2014 – They e-visa office even sends you a birthday greeting on your birthday!
Cambodia to the world’s cheapest accommodations at $1 USD a night! “This is why you travel to South East Asia”, said Eric.
We found an amazing looking place advertised at $3 USD. Upon entering the booking site, it was actually $27 USD after taxes. Still, it was the cheapest place we have ever stayed!
In summary we stayed at the following 3 places (will do a more detailed write-up later):
Golden Temple Villa – High Quality Budget Accommodation – loved this place!! Amazing value! Would definitely stay here again.
Angkor Spirit Palace – Converted Apsara Dance hall – intricate building, also good value because it had a clean pool!
La Residence d’Angkor by Orient-Express – Total splurge – luxury accommodation with an amazing pool, ambience and food. After my incredible stay at the Orient Express at Iguazu Falls in Brazil, I really wanted to stay at another of their properties 🙂
Shots: Typhoid, Hepatitis A/B
If you’re staying in Cambodia for an extended period of time and visiting rural areas, you need to get a vaccine for Japanese Encephalitis. Thank goodness we were going during the “low season” for mosquitoes carrying this, as the shots are $400 a person!
We got antibiotics filled just in case of sickness. We did this as part of our trip planning for the Cook Islands and South America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil) and this was the first time that we needed it. Better safe than sorry!
Brought antibacterial hand sanitizer, polysporin, aspirin and mosquito repellent (spray and citronella patches)
(The South Gate entrance to the Bayon Temple, within the Angkor Thom Complex)
Usually I like to plan things out in advance. Especially during busy travel seasons where the excursion you might want (eg. Specific boat tour in the cook islands or horse back riding in Argentina) could easily fill up. The temple passes for the Angkor Wat complex needs to be purchased on-site since they take a photo of you so we couldn’t do that ahead of time. The cost for entry is $20 USD for 1 day, $40 USD for 3 days (what we did) and $60 USD for 7 days.
A tuk-tuk driver can easily be booked in town once you’ve checked into your hotel and if you plan to go to the temple multiple days, you can ask to book the same driver.
I’ll go into full summaries in separate posts later of how we spent our 4 days in Siem Reap: 3 full temple exploring days and one super relaxing day at our amazing splurge of a hotel 🙂
(Pre Rup Temple, view from a moving Tuk Tuk)
I will say this for planning: Do all the exhausting stuff up front (going around to the different temples) and save the last day to relax! For the temples, we didn’t plan out in too much depth where we wanted to go.. to be honest, all the names got confusing after awhile! (Looking back, they make sense since I can now put them into context.)
I understood there was a petit circuit and a grande circuit. Plus a few extended circuits that took you very far out.
Day 1: Petit Circuit
Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (including the Bayon temple, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, Thommanon, Chau Sey Tevoda,Ta Keo, Crazy Tree! and finally Ta Prohm)
Day 2: Grand Circuit
Sunrise at Angkor Wat, Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Banteay Kdei, East Mebon, Pre Rup, Ta Prohm, Phnom Bahkeng … Angkor Wat for sunset
(Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider Temple with some of the most famous tree in temple shots)
Day 3: Farther Temples
Srah Srang, Banteay Samre, Banteay Srei, Banteay Kdei and back to the Bayon temple
Day 4: Leisure Day
Day 4: Pool time leisure at La Residence 🙂 Went for a run, enjoyed the facilities, hung out at the pool, went around the markets.
Another Must-do activity:
Massages! We went for one every day. $2 foot massage for 30 minutes, $3 for neck/shoulder and foot massage for 30 minutes, complimentary full body massage for 60 minutes when staying at the Golden Temple Villa!
Caution in advance:
I read up on scams beforehand and it seems like the milk scam is the most common: a child/woman will come up to you saying she doesn’t want money, just some milk for her baby that she is carrying with her. You go to the market and upon paying, find out that milk is $10 – $25 USD. She then sells the milk back to the shop keeper and they split the money.
Knowing this ahead of time, once I was approached, I simply said no thank you and avoided eye contact to signal disinterest after she hung around.
Touts: You’ll find them all over the temples and a lot of kids will come up to you and try to sell you post cards and souvenirs. In retrospect, I wish I had bought them because I ended up getting souvenirs at the airport for 10x the price!!
They’re very cute and very tough sellers 😉 Always calling over to Eric and I: Hey Pretty Lady! Hey Lucky Man! Their common line is to as you where you’re from and then recite all kinds of facts about your country such as the language spoken and who your President is.
At one point, I honestly said I had no money (since Eric was carrying the cash) and the two clever responses I got in response were, “OK, give me your camera!” and “Borrow money from him!” while pointing at Eric 😉
Other things to bring:
November – February is the prime time to go for weather because it’s not insanely hot, and you’re out of the rainy season. It is however, crowded (but we managed ways to escape the crowds – see full temple summaries once I get around to posting them). Because of the sunny weather, bring a hat, sunscreen, lot’s of water, comfortable shoes and dress. Be aware that several temples have a strict a dress code that require your shoulders and knees to be covered and no skirts/dresses allowed . I noticed a few people had to turn around from the temples because they weren’t dressed appropriately. My tip is to wear loose flowy pants and a tank top to keep cool but cover your shoulders with a large scarf for temple entries!
Prices are all in USD, cash. You’ll get local currency for change, but most vendors quote in USD. I could order a curry for $2 USD from my hotel and $4 USD at the main restaurants. Water was $.50 – $.75 USD at most shops around town.
At the temple complexes there are many stands around the main sites with food, water and coconuts! The coconuts were well worth the $ 1USD.
Meals were about $3-5 USD at the temples for a curry or salad with meat. Even before bargaining they will tell you that they “have a good price for you!” and will knock off a dollar or 2 to get you to sit at their restaurant. We asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us to a place for locals and he drove off to the side to an area where many locals were having BBQ. I was skeptical of eating the meat (Taking a parasitology class in University ruined my appetite for so long!) but it looked really tasty so I had some in the end. We also continued going back the next 2 days in a row!
(Mango Salad with different choices of meat)
A tuk-tuk driver around town is $1-2$ USD. A full day to the temples is $12 + $3 extra for an early start (sunrise) and extra for the circuits that are further out.
(Mr. Pain – our great Tuk Tuk Driver for 3 days! Our first accommodation, The Golden Temple Villa booked his services for us and we stuck with him the rest of the way)
The People – overall impressions:
I found everyone to be very friendly! Once I was away from the temples where people wanted to sell me things and I was simply relaxing in a massage chair, or getting my nails done or eating, people were genuinely interested in where I was from, what I thought of my experience and just generally very welcoming. I was embarrassed at one point when a few ladies were being overly complimentary and asked me about my eating habits because they thought I looked very healthy. I wondered if I should disclose my diet of donuts but figured it probably wasn’t the answer 😉 (Note: another goal to add to the list is eating healthier! One thing at a time..)