Cambodia

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is synonymous to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, but this little town in Cambodia has its own personality of its own. Granted, some roads are not developed, and you could see a great cultural divide from rich to poor, it is worth finding out and seeing the place for yourself. If you love history and seeing ancient temples then this place is for you.

Average Costs

Hostel – Hostel costs can vary wildly from $1 (this means just a mat on the ground with a mosquito net to cover you with), to around $5-8 for normal dorm rooms. A private room can go for around $20 upwards.

Hotels- There are numerous hotels that you can pick from, budget hotels can range from the $25 up range, and the more expensive ones can range from $100 up, which has a pool in the compound.

Food – There are numerous choices around Siem Reap – from local delicacies to Western comfort food. You can also get a “happy” pizza if you are adventurous enough to try it. You can get cheap banana pancakes for aroud $2, but generally a meal should not cost you more than $5 a dish.

Transportation – You can easily get around Siem Reap on tuk tuks. If you plan to rent one for the day, it is around $25 to tour the Angkor Wat compound. If you just need a place to get from A to B, expect to pay around $2. If you need to get from one place to another within Cambodia or neighboring countries like Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, mini buses or deluxe sleeper buses are your best bet.

Tips:

  • Most hostels and guesthouses offer free or cheap bike rentals that you can use. While this is a cheaper mode of transportation to Angkor Wat, this is not advised! It is very hot and humid in Siem Reap, and the roads are quite dusty. You won’t get to cover much area on a bike anyway, so do yourself a favor and rent a tuk tuk instead.
  • Note that while Cambodia has their own currency (the Cambodian Riel), the US Dollar is the preferred currency (to protect against inflation) and you can see most of the prices in restaurants, hotels, or tourist attractions in USD. There’s no need to change from USD to your local currency, otherwise you’d get stuck with money you won’t be able to use much anyway. However, some establishments give you change in riel if it is below the $1 mark, which can be a nice souvenir from your trip.
  • You will encounter kids who are begging for money, exclaiming: “one dollar, one dollar.” Cambodia is a very poor country so most kids leave school to hustle. If you must give something to them, give them food.
  • Map your course before you go – there are a lot of temples in the area so go online and search which ones you’d like to see.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap:

  • Angkor Wat – A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex costs $20 to get a day pass, but if you’re planning to stay longer, best to invest on a multi day pass ($40 for three days, $60 for 7 days), all payable in dollars at the gate before you get in the compound. The best time to go is before sunrise, as most visitors wait for the sunrise to go up at Angkor Wat. If you are planning to climb up the temple, the shoulders and the knees have to be covered: no shorts or tank tops, otherwise you may be stuck at the bottom, waiting for your friends to come down. You can still climb up some of the ancient stairs in the compound, but take extra care as they don’t have any railings. You can get a guide outside if you need more information on the buildings, but they do go fast and can be pretty expensive.
  • Angkor Thom – Bigger than the Angkor Wat compound, the highlight of this is Bayon – which has four heads on every pillar it has, quite eerie and amazingly detailed. There is also Ta Prohm – famous for being a location for the Tomb Raider film. Here you’ll see trees that seem to pop out of the ancient ruins, and Baphuon – a temple that has collapsed, and has been rebuilt stone by stone.
  • Pub Street – the nightlife capital of Siem Reap. The best pubs and clubs can be found here, the most famous one being Angkor What? Here, you can get a dinner while watching an Apsara dance, and also shop for local wares and clothes while you’re at it. This is also your best bet to get the famous fish spas – where you dip your feet in the water and the fish will slowly nibble on your dead skin. Great to experience and definitely worth a try.

 

 

 

Phnom Penh
Cambodia, morning sun

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia, but it is not your typical capital city where everything is bustling around and moving at a speed of light. This city is home to very few skyscrapers and is a place where the rich and poor divide is very obvious. A place to see or to transit over to your next Cambodian destination (or a neighboring country), Phnom Penh has its own charms for you to see for yourself. And this is the guide on what to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Average Costs

Hostel – A typical hostel room dorm can range between $5-10, a bit more if you want to stay in a private room (around $15). There are plenty of hostels available in the downtown area.

Hotels- Cheap hotels can range anywhere from $20-50 for a private room. Some of these facilities include TVs with cable and some even have pools!

Food – Food is very cheap in Phnom Penh – from local food stalls, you can get a meal and a beer for less than $5. Best if shared with a group of friends, old or new. Try the luk luk, a typical dish or some BBQ.

Transportation – Tuktuks can be hired for around $2 per ride within the town. It is the only form of transportation from one place to another, and you can easily hail one as they are readily available. Sleeper buses and mini buses take you from Phnom Penh to other cities in Cambodia or neighboring Vietnam between $8-25, depending on where you are going.

Tips:

  1. Phnom Penh is a poor place, where the gap between rich and poor is outstanding. Tuktuk drivers asking you if you need a ride at almost every corner, which you can politely decline and just say no to. The only drivers in Phnom Penh are mostly expats, and there are only two tall buildings in the city itself. Some streets have trash on the sidewalks, but its all part of the city’s charm.
  2. Beware of scams – there are plenty of scammers waiting around the walls of the Royal Palace if you happen to walk around the area. These people will tell you that the palace is closed but conveniently enough, they can take you on a tour for a very small amount of money. Do not believe this scam – 99% of the time, the palace is open (when in doubt, check online for the operating hours or walk directly to the entrances and see if the gates are open or not).
  3. The USD is widely accepted in Cambodia so no need to change your money into their local currency.

Top things to see and do in Phnom Penh:

  1. The Royal Palace – the residence of the royal family of Cambodia, the royal palace is a massive complex with ornately designed buildings. It’s the home of the Silver Pagoda, home to the Buddha that’s decorated with precious stones, and the Emerald Buddha. Note that you have to leave your footwear outside if you want to go inside, and it is a place of worship. You can’t go inside all the buildings of the palace, but the place is enough to eat up half a day.
  2. The Killing Fields – Literally a killing field, it is an eye opener at what happened during a mass genocide that happened in Cambodia. In the days of Pol Pot, when intellectuals or people who are involved with foreign countries were rounded up and put to prison, many others have been stripped of their belongings and everyone literally became farmers. The Killing Fields is a mass grave, so several pieces of clothing or bone fragments can be seen in the grounds. It is quite a moving place, and no one from the outside world knew what was mostly happening. Today, the Killing Fields is open to anyone and is also home to a commemorative stupa with skulls of some of the victims.
  3. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – What used to be a high school was turned into a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime – it is a depressing, dark place that has a lot of graphic exhibits – from photos of the prisoners, to some torture devices that were used.
  4. Sisowath Quay (Riverside) – this place is excellent if you want to walk around and just hang out – there are plenty of cafes where you can buy a bottle of beer, or eat something and see the sights.
  5. Central Market – the best place to get the karma, a scarf that’s very distinctive and is a Cambodian national symbol. It is cheap, and a great souvenir. You can also buy all sorts of other kitsch in the market, as well as other essentials like clothes, and food. The building itself is worth seeing, with its art deco dome – but remember which entrance you came to, as it can get quite confusing inside.

 

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