I’ve been telling friends since 2011 that I would soon be visiting Cambodia. It took 4 years (and a couple of job changes) before it finally happened but it was well worth the wait!
After hearing that 2 of my new officemates had just visited Siem Reap, I immediately booked a trip to Siem Reap the week after without any kind of plan in mind. Of course, it is still better to do some planning ahead but for this trip I just plunged on with just a freewheeling sense of adventure.
Because I only booked a 3D/2N stay I knew did not have time to visit all the sights that Siem Reap has to offer. On the recommendation of my office colleague, I booked the Cafe Lodge Boutique Hotel and the hotel folks helped me plan my tour upon learning I had no specific itinerary.
The morning after I arrived, I went on the tours with a hired tuk-tuk (c/o the hotel) for USD15 for a whole day (you really won’t need to hire a car at all!).
The first stop was to buy a 1-day pass to visit Angkor Wat (USD20) at some kind of ticketing office (with droves of tourists in line) before proceeding to the site. Angkor Wat itself was amazing to behold (I unfortunately do not have good photos).
After Angkor Wat, we proceeded to the Bayon temple. Not as large as Angkor Wat but the temple was also interesting because of the faces carved into walls of the temple.
After Bayon temple, we went to the massive Elephant terrace. I’m told this one isn’t a temple at all but a watching area of the former king who would climb there to watch a parade of elephants walk by or perform for his pleasure.
After the Elephant terrace, I had a pleasant lunch at the Ta Prohm Khmer restaurant where a good meal cost me less than USD10.
After lunch, we proceeded to Ta Prohm temple which has probably the most famous trees in Asia due to the Tomb Raider movie that was filmed there.
Tired from all the walking, I returned to the hotel after the Ta Prohm temple to rest and just went to the night market afterwards since the hotel is a short walk away from bars/ pubs and shopping areas. There is even a Hard Rock Cafe nearby.
On the morning of Day 3, I chose to go to Tonle Sap Lake which cost me USD30 for a ticket (but which I think people can skip altogether). I would caution people to be careful about boat people who approach you and try to lure you away from your group and into their own boat where they end up trying to ask you for donations. As for Tonle Sap Lake itself, it was ok… nothing out of the ordinary if you come from a country that is accustomed to floods. At Tonle Sap Lake there was a floating school, a floating market, a floating church (and I could see school kids in uniform playing inside).
One of the stops included a crocodile farm where unfortunately 1 of 3 crocodiles was floating dead. And seeing crocodile skulls in the farm shop and also drying in the sun on the roof of a nearby floating house, I thought of how man is really the more dangerous species compared to these reptiles.
I rested at the hotel afterwards to wait for my late night flight since I liked the hotel a lot. It’s small but charming, has good food and despite some inconveniences (staff had a hard time with English, aircon problems, etc.) I enjoyed the ambiance and it didn’t cost much (just about P2,000++ a night on Agoda.com). At the time I was there the road right in front was being excavated but I’m sure it will be fantastic by the time it finished. I wouldn’t mind staying there again.
To summarize, this was my impromptu Cambodian trip:
Day 1 – arrival in Siem Reap via Cebu Pacific (evening), transfer to hotel (Cafe Lodge Boutique Hotel)
Day 2 – Angkor Wat temple, Elephant Terrace, Bayon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple, plus night market
Day 3 – Tonle Sap Lake, transfer to airport, departure (late evening, next day arrival in Manila)
I’d say Siem Reap isn’t a place for young kids who aren’t into culture or temple ruins. It’s really better for older kids and adults. I actually met a group of senior citizens there (Filipinos now residing in the US) who congratulated me on doing this visit while I am young since they themselves no longer had the strength to climb the temple steps (even though they now had the time and money for these trips/ tours). Life is quiet in Siem Reap (if you compare to Bangkok), no fast driving on the highways. I’d suggest doing tours by tuk tuk rather than expensive car rentals.
For other travelers, I’d suggest you wear sandals (not slippers) to help in clambering up the temple and be prepared for the sun and heat! Get ready for a T-shirt tan (or better yet, wear a hat and/or pants if you don’t want uneven skin color). I’d also suggest bringing about USD200 per person for this kind of trip.
US dollars are accepted everywhere so I didn’t bother changing money to Cambodian Riel. I was advised by a friend who already lives in Phnom Penh to have very small dollar bills and it was sage advise (Coke and bottled water are sold at USD1 apiece and meals would cost between USD3 to less than USD10. Locals will give change in combination dollars and local currency).
Til the next adventure!