January 26, 2012

AW KOON CAMBODIA: Siem Reap Overview

 Writing a bunch of articles on Siem Reap can be a little overwhelming, not because of the many stories that surrounds the walls of Angkor and its temples, or because of the city’s sad and turbulent past, but because it has surpassed every expectation I’ve had and I find it rather difficult to put into words.

Siem Reap is a destination I thought I knew very well even before I reached it. How can you not think so when a lot has already been written about the place, from its reputation, culture, food, transportation, currency and down to the do’s and don’ts. But like I said, it still managed to surpass my expectations.

So here’s a list of the top 20 things you might need to know when traveling for the first time to Siem Reap (as gleaned from our own personal experience, from other travelers and from locals we've met):
  • First and foremost, Siem Reap is a relatively small town in the Kingdom of Cambodia. It is the home of the Angkor Archaeological Park (remember Lara Croft?), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • The Kingdom of Cambodia is an hour delayed on Philippine time, (no I don't mean Filipino time) so the days and nights seems longer there which is great when on a holiday.
  • Cebu Pacific just announced that they will soon be flying directly to Siem Reap starting April of this year.  Of course you also have an option of flying in  from Kuala Lumpur via air Asia.  Siem Reap is bordered by Thailand while Phnom Phen is bordered by Vietnam which also means you can get there by traveling on land.
  • If you are a Philippine passport holder then you don’t need a visa to enter the Kingdom of Cambodia. If you are of another nationality however, you might want to check out this site for information on visas upon arrival: http://www.cambodia-travel.com/information/cambodia-visa.htm
  • You have 3 transport options in Siem Reap: taxis, tuktuks and bicycles. From the airport, taxis usually have a standard rate of 7USD while tuktuks are 2USD per person, not sure though if there are bikes for rent at the airport. But if there are, it doesn’t seem practical to be cycling your way in to town with your luggage in tow, note that it is also quite a distance.
 bikes for rent are all over the town
  • For accommodations, there’s a variety to choose from.  Most mid-range are located in the middle of the town and at the Old Market area where all the tourist activities are. Rates start at 25USD-50USD with a/c, cable tv, hot and cold shower and sometimes a fridge for 2 person. Budget guesthouses starts at about 3USD-20USD while boutique and upscale hotels run on the hundreds above.
    • Prices are in US Dollars - from transportation, restaurants, cafes and bars to souvenirs and 30 minute massages. Best to bring small dollar bills. Most establishments, even tuktuks will change you with US Dollars as well. Ask first as Cambodian Riels are deemed worthless outside of the Kingdom.
      • Before visiting the Angkor Temples be sure to acquire admission passes that can be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. There are 3 passes you can choose from: 1 day (20USD), 2 days (40USD) and 7days (60USD). Tuktuks can take you there and back for 5USD.
      • If you purchase tickets after 430pm for your visit the next day, you can proceed to Phnom Bakheng that afternoon of purchase to catch the sunset while your tuktuk waits at the foot of the hill. Be sure to be at Phnom Bakheng before 530 as admission closes on the dot. Prepare to hike the hill and climb on the steep uneven steps of the temple.
        • Do not lose, crumple and tear, fold your admission pass, it will be checked every time you enter a temple.
        • The temples are too far from each other, it’s just not possible to make it on foot. Hire a tuktuk to drive you around, it usually costs 15USD a day, 18 if you go before sunrise. You can also take the cab but it’s going to cost you a little more. Although the roads are paved, I’d go against taking the bike and paddling yourself to the temples, it’s strenuous and time consuming. Read: very far. Our tuktuk driver pampered us really well, proffering wet wipes and cold bottled water at every point!
        • A guide is not required but is highly recommended, otherwise a visit to Angkor becomes just an exercise in climbing and the temples become just an impressive pile of rock. They also know the best spots for photographs and can also be your impromptu photographer for those must have touristy souvenir shots.
        • Wear really comfortable footwear. There’s going to be a lot of climbing and walking on uneven, sometimes steep and narrow surfaces so avoid wearing heels and wedges, there’s a more appropriate venue for those at a later time of the day.
         ditch the denim jeans and heeled footwear
        • It tends to get really humid and sunny so wear light clothing and have a bottle of water with you all the time. Snacks and other beverages and refreshments are available throughout the temple complex but not inside the temple premise itself. 
        • Refrain from buying souvenirs from little children, government and tour guides advise against it, as if these kids start making their own money they would rather sell than go to school.
          • Siem Reap offers a wide range of cuisines and dining options, from Chinese, Korean, Thai, Italian and French to authentic Khmer food. Most of the restaurants are in Pub Street near the Old Market area. If you’re adventurous enough, a sampling of their famous delicacy – grilled sexy frogs should be in order.
          traditional Khmer dish AMOK, fish covered in coconut milk 
          steamed and wrapped in banana leaves

          2USD for grilled frogs, you can have it deep fried too
          • Do not judge a pizza by its name. I’m quite sure you’ve heard of the happy pizza, contrary to its name, it doesn't actually make you happy. According to locals, some tourons (tourist morons) even spent a night on a hospital bed with IV fluids dripping down with a thousand dollars’ worth of medical bills after having consumed this “herby” piece of the pie. Pizza is safe just don’t ask for the extra happy I guess.
          • Watch the traditional Apsara Dance while enjoying your authentic Khmer food at the Temple Balcony, Apsara Theatre, Smile of Angkor or at the King Pub Street.
            • For shopping head on to the Old Market, here you’ll find all sorts of souvenirs: silks, silverworks and jewellery and carvings and handicrafts. Also visit Pub Street and its alleys for lots of interesting finds, night markets are also around the Old Market area.
            • Lastly, remember that most of Siem Reap rely on tourism so try not to bargain so much, and while bargaining, do so with a smile.
             here's where MJ went shopping for her silver jewellery

            traditional Khmer scarf called Krama,makes for great pasalubong

            If you've got more time in Cambodia, there are a lot of other things to see and do in Siem Reap and spread those travel dollars of yours more widely:
            • Visit one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, the Boeung Tonle Sap Lake
            • Go bird watching at Sarus Crane Reserve, the Prek Toal bird sanctuary on Tonle Sap Lake or go northeast Siem Reap to Trapeng Thmor reservoir
            • Visit the Angkor Butterfly Center
            • Enroll in a Khmer cooking class or learn how to create your own Khmer Ceramic Art by just enrolling in a 2 hour ceramic making class
            • For history buffs, there are also a number of museums you can visit: Angkor National Museum, Cambodia Land Mine Museum & Relief Facility, Cambodian Cultural Village and Siem Reap War Museum


            1. It's finally up! Yehey!!! =) Saang market pala yang jewelry shop na yan? Im guessing dyan galing yung magandang elephant necklace? ahihihihi

            2. Haha, onga, thanks for being patient with our sporadic posting!:-p

              The jewelry shop is at the Old Market, fronting the river. Exact store on the 2nd picture from the bottom. Tawad with a smile!:-D

            3. I am so looking forward to visit Cambodia and experience all the thrill and excitement you both experienced here. :) AWESOME photos, as usual Kimtot and MJ. :) Miss you both. :)

              1. Olanology! Cambodia is so YOU haha! I'm sure you will have a blast in the kingdom:-) We miss you too, I know, di na tayo nagpapang abot, how sad:-( Kisskiss!


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