Seeing Cambodia was amazing…but also creepy.
I’ve been absolutely obsessed with the Ultimate Travel List by Lonely Planet, in which the Temples of Angkor is number one. Located in Siem Reap Cambodia, Angkor Wat crowns over 1000 temples, shrines and tombs located in the Cambodian jungle. IT. WAS. MAGNIFICENT.
It’s this total other world. And so so vast. My fave temple was Ta Phrom, which was used in the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie. It was great as it was overgrown – the other temples are restored (and magnificent), but Ta Phrom has all the greenery taking over. It was just ace. The photos for this blog are courtesy of the fabulous Shayla, who I met at my backpacker and we did the temples together with a couple of other amazing humans, Ben and Sneha. She is just an ace photographer, and my iPod simply didn’t do the temples justice. Here are some of her amazing pics:
The Good: It’s Easy!
I flew into Siem Reap, which is what I can ‘Asia Lite’. All the staff speak English, you don’t need to prep beforehand for a visa, you can just buy it when you land, and there is an ATM on arrival so you can immediately pay your visa fee in US dollars. My recent trip to Bali, Cambodia and Vietnam was not prepped at all, and apart from paying a bit more, you definitely don’t need to be planning too far in advance (except for Vietnam, you need a day to do an express visa application). Basically I just rocked up and worked it out from there, which is getting easier and easier to do in Asia.
You can get a Tuk Tuk or other transport from the airport when you land without booking – Siem Reap is a big country town, and was a super easy place to get around in. There is also free Wifi at the airport, so you can quickly google the cost of what a Tuk Tuk should be. I had pre-booked my accomodation, and it had free airport pick up.
Once you get to your accom, you can easily walk around town, and also lots of hotels and hostels loan free bikes to get around town in. You need to head out to the ticket office which is a Tuk Tuk ride away – and stump up the cash for the temples. There is a 1-day pass – US$ 37, a 3-day pass for US$ 62, or the 7-day pass for US$ 72.
The ticket office opens at 5am to 5:30pm so people can make the sunrise. You can also be cheeky like me and go and get the ticket after 5pm – your ticket isnt stamped that day which makes that evening free. I got the 3 day pass to do both the inner and outer circuit, which you can use over 7 days. I’m really glad I did as one day simply isn’t sufficient. There are over 1000 ruins you can find, so you can easily immerse yourself in the old Angkor city.
TOP TIP: Go to the Angkor National Museum before visiting the temples. The museum is great – the audio tour is recommended too. It caters for multiple languages and does a really great job of explaining the vast history of the Khmer people and the history of the capital city which is now the ruins of Angkor. Cost: $12 USD, plus $7 for the audio tour. The museum also has leaflets on how to avoid scams at Angkor and also explained child exploitation and why donating money to street kids is a really bad idea.
TOP TIP 2: You can take a bike as well to ride around town, which I did and had a great time. It’s easy for people with mobility issues too – you just catch a Tuk Tuk for $20USD per day, and walk around the temples.
TOP TIP 3: Do the circuits in the reverse order. The tuk tuks follow inner and outer circuits, or Small and Grand circuits. We did the generic grand tour starting at Angkor Wat for sunrise, then the next day with a new tribe we did the reverse order, which meant we ended up being some of the only people at the temples early in the morning.
Cambodia had a weird vibe overall. I just couldn’t shake it. I’ve never felt as watched as I have there. Cambodia was decimated by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, and hasn’t recovered.
You do feel like every piece of money that can be wrung out of you is – a feeling I didn’t really get in other Asian countries. Cambodia really doesn’t have much industry or hope, and the feeling is palpable.
A number of scams run in Cambodia, particulalry at the temples of Angkor. As the main tourist area, there are scams aplenty (as it should be stated, happens in other countries). And frankly, for the millions of aid the country receives it sure doesn’t look like the money is making it to its people, hence the scams.
Here are the ones we experienced:
- Asking for money for schools. While foraying out of the main temples on the grand circuit, I was approached by a Cambodian man who was dressed well and spoke great English. We chatted for a bit, he then directed me back to the main temple. Then asked for money. He showed me a list of people who had already donated (and it was around $1000 USD). I asked if I could visit the school instead, then donate there. He refused to give me the address, and I went on my way.
- Ticket Inspectors asking for money for (supposedly) fake ticket: An American travel buddy was stopped on the way into the last temple for the day, and reappeared about 10 minutes later. Turns out the park police/ticket inspectors (there are ones at every site), had told him his ticket was fake (your face is also on the photos, so not true), and had asked for money to get in. Ben asked for their hat instead haha as he is a very strong individual, but for other tourists I could imagine that would be very challenging.
- Children begging on the street/around the temples: Simple – if you give to kids begging, you keep them out of school. And education is one of the greatest equalizers there is, and was already taken away by the Khmer Rouge, who targeted and murdered people who had formal education. Keeping kids in the poverty cycle by giving money isn’t helpful anywhere in the world.
The lowdown on Cambodia:
Money: Cambodia uses US dollar (look out for inflation, particularly if you are from Australia or a less favoured dollar). Change is given out in US for high notes, and Riel. Riel is almost worthless, and you can’t exchange it on return, so use as much of it as you can before leaving.
Safety: Cambodia has a strong safety rating for travellers. Smarttraveller.gov.au has it listed as green, and to excise normal safety precautions. Siem Reap felt safer than Phnom Penh – more on that in the next blog.
Where I stayed: The Siem Reap Hostel. It is the number 1 hostel on Hostelworld, and I certainly met some life long friends there. However, I would stay in the shopping area, as it is so hot in Cambodia that while you can walk in, it is very muggy.
Best bit: The PHARE CIRCUS The circus performers were world class, the ticket was much cheaper than other human circuses I’ve been to, and it is a not for profit organisation that empowers the young people with education and jobs. I took a look at the financial report from 2016 by auditors before writing that – the money raised does seem to go back into the circus and looks like a reasonable amount according to what is publishes.
And Food: Lots of American Style fare, but the best was Pou restaurant, this gorgeous Cambodia street style food with a twist. Cheap too – only $4-7 USD per dish, which you would easily pay $20 USD for in a restaurant in Western Countries.
RECOMMENDED. And could bema great place to travel with family of all ages as the temples are visited by Tuk Tuk – so even if you can’t get around easily, you can still see them from the Tuk Tuk. Don’t be put off by scams etc – it is really easy to get around, and Angkor Wat is well worth the effort.