Cambodia: The Extravagant Beauty of the Angkor Temples

So the epic backpacking continues after Vietnam…

Without any accommodation reservation, we bravely took the bus to Cambodia. After a six-hour journey, we arrived at Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. The name was famous to me in my history class, when I was asked to memorize the capital cities of every country. When I stepped on its land, I had so much curiosity. The whole day stay in Phnom Penh walking their numbered streets, checking their book shops and cafes was enough to at least see the basics of the Khmer culture.

We left Phnom Penh at 8pm. By 2am we’re already in Siem Reap, the life-support for the temples of Angkor, the eighth wonder of the world. There’s not much to see at 2am, well, except for the still open pubs with some foreigners drinking till dawn. Our sleepy tuk-tuk driver welcomed us with a weak smile on his face (which I understood, it’s 2am and he should be sleeping). He knew we’re backpackers (it’s obvious from the size of our backpacks) so he offered to bring us to one of the cheapest guesthouse in Siem Reap, the Cambodia Backpackers Guesthouse. The hotel looked close but when our driver knocked, the owner opened the doors for us. He was then sleeping at the hotel’s reception area. The room was 10USD per night. It has 3 big beds and bathroom with hot shower. There were four of us and we decided to take it because it’s fairly cheap and would only cost us 5USD each for our 2 day stay.

After deciding to take the place, our tuk-tuk driver offered a whole day trip to the temples of the Angkor the next morning. We wouldn’t want to waste our time there so we arranged for a pick up at 10:30 in the morning.

We woke up early for our much awaited trip to Angkor. Perhaps, all of us were really excited. Our tuk-tuk driver, Adam was waiting outside the hotel. He was waiting with a huge smile on his face as bright as the sunshine that day. His tuk-tuk was clean with white cushions and wooden frame. He also brought bottled water in a small cooler as he knew the trip could be tiring.

We dropped by the ticket booth and have them took our photos for the ticket which also worked like an ID while entering the temples. Tourists can choose to get one day, three day and one week passes. We got the one day pass.

First stop was Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world. At first sight, I thought, so this was where they shot Angelina Jolie’s movie. But as I went past through its ancient doors and as I touched the brilliant carving on its walls, there were more to that movie…so much more. Angkor Wat was Khmer’s national symbol, the epicentre of their civilization and a source of fierce national pride. Bayon, Terrace of the Leper King, Ta Phrom and Baphuon we discovered next before we ended our day at Angkor Thom or Phnom Bakheng, famous to be the view deck for sunset.  At late afternoon, the temple turned into something of a theatre with hundreds of shutterbugs jockeying for space. If you’re too tired to walk up the hill of Phnom Bakheng, you could ride and elephant for 20USD. The walk uphill would take 15-20 minutes.

For the whole day trip, our tuk-tuk cost us 30USD and that’s already for the four of us in the group (7.50 USD each) It was indeed cheap for the experience.

Our day in Siem Reap ended drinking Angkor bear and a foot massage at the Pub Street.

Just to share my basic expense in Siem Reap:

Bus from Saigon to Phnom Penh 8.00 USD
Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap 9.00 USD
Angkor teamples tour 20.00 USD
Tuk-tuk (30USD/4pax) 7.50 USD
Accommodation (10USD*2days/4pax) 5.00 USD
Angkor Beer (in a mug) 1.00 USD
30 min foot massage 1.00 USD
TOTAL EXPENSE 51.50 USD

GETTING AROUND SIEM REAP

    • BUS tickets are available at guest houses, hotels, bus offices, travel agencies and ticket        kiosks. Bus companies also send tuk-tuks around to pick up passengers at their places of lodging.
    • TUK-TUK – though can be found anywhere with eager drivers waiting on front of hotels, restaurants and markets I personally recommend Mr. Adam Noun, our tuk-tuk driver. This is a way for me to help him and his family. He doesn’t have his own tuk tuk. He need to borrow anytime he has guests,still a deduction from what he earns. By hiring him, we are helping him to save money to buy his own tuk-tuk.
    • BIKE RENTALS are available in some guest house and Bike Rental Shops. For 1USD per day you can go around Siem Reap and Angkor temples on a bike. Tiring but you can manage your own time. Free maps are also given when you hire a bike.

      SHOPPING – a number of shops support Cambodians with disabilities. Psar Chaa is a huge market stuffed with anything you might want to buy and lots you don’t. The Angkor Night Market is packed with silks, handicrafts and souvenirs.

      ACCOMMODATION – you can go to Siem Reap without any reservations. Accommodations are spread throughout town and these accommodations hold the bulk of budget choices. These budget rooms are ranging from 5USD – 12USD. The area south of Achar Mean St., around lively Psar Chaa and west across Sivatha Blvd., has an excellent selection of budget and mid-range hostelries.

      FOOD  – guest houses offer extensive menus mixing Khmer classics and comfort food. But hit the town to experience a gastronomic extravaganza of Khmer and international flavours. Siem Reap’s culinary heart is “The Alley” with good Cambodian restaurants lined up on the street. Cheap food stalls can be found at Sivatha Blvd.

      DRINK – I didn’t expect that there’s a party area in Siem Reap, I thought it’s a silent city. But when our feet brought us to the Psar Chaa area on a street they call Pub Street, it changes my impression to city. Pubs with live bands, alluring sounds and laid back ambiance were lined up. Depends on your mood on what music to listen to =)

      MASSAGE  – there are also a lot of massage parlours in Siem Reap. Even on the streets you can get a half-hour foot massage for only 1USD.

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9 thoughts on “Cambodia: The Extravagant Beauty of the Angkor Temples

  1. Hi Gail,
    We are scheduled to visit Cambodia this May 2013. With me is my husband and 3 kids (12,10,8). Would it be OK if i just arrange a hotel booking for us alone and no arrange tour of Siem Reap. Do you think it is wiser ( in budget and maximize stay)that i get tuk tuks there when we arrive? Pls advise. Thanks!

    1. Hi Deanna, thanks for visiting my blog. Securing your hotel booking would be wise as you have your 3 kids with you, but I suggest to do your tour arrangements there because it’s too costly if you’ll book it with your hotel. You don’t have to worry about not booking it early because when you get there, walk around and the tuk tuk drivers would be the one to approach you, and you can haggle the price =) Arrange the day and time and they’ll pick you up from your hotel. I admire you bringing your kids on adventures like this, I think as early as those age you should really expose them and let them experience different cultures. Kudos to you and your hubby! I pray you have a safe trip! Enjoy! =)

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