In and around Siem Reap: Travel Do’s and Don’t’s

Monk

There are only two existing flights from Manila to Siem Reap, namely Air Asia and Cebu Pacific. We took Cebu Pacific because it offered the most economical and practical usage of our time in maximizing the 3-day trip to Siem Reap. Cebu Pacific flights leave at 7:45 PM. If the flight does not get delayed (ours was moved to 9:15PM), then you should be arriving in Siem Reap at 9:30 PM local time. There is an hour difference between Manila and Cambodia so that makes it 10:30 PM for us. Their departure is at 10:30 PM of the fourth day, so that gives you three full days to go around town. Our itinerary looked like: Day 1 – evening travel from Manila-Siem Reap Day 2 – whole day temple hopping Day 3 – tour around the city Day 4 – whole day temple hopping and other activities; evening travel back to Manila We did not do the temple tours on two consecutive days to give our legs enough rest because the tours, from what we read, are really exhausting. That also gave us time to do some activities apart from the temple visits, such as tours in museums, see the Aspara dance (we did not do this but this can be part of your itinerary), explore Pub street, the French Quarter and other places. By the end of this entry, I will provide what I think is a better itinerary than what we had set for ourselves.

Selecting your hotel

Two months prior to our trip, I had already been browsing through Trip Advisor and gathering reviews about prospect hotels. This is very important to me because the feedback and comments of fellow travellers are important as first-hand account of their experience with the hotel. I narrowed my search to 5 resorts/hotels that have a 93% and above rating in Tripadvisor. When selecting the hotel, apart from your budget considerations, make sure to include the following factors:

  • Do they offer free airport / tuktuk service? That’s also between 8-12 USD worth so it would be nice to get a hotel that offers free tuktuk service.
  • Do they offer bike rentals? This to me was another deciding factor because we put biking around Siem Reap in our itinerary. That also saves us between 2 USD.
  • Wifi – I’m pretty sure almost all hotels have wi-fi services – Location – near Angkor area or away or along the National highway?
  • Free breakfast I had originally booked us at Frangipani Villa. They have good reviews online and the place seemed really beautiful.

But a month before the trip, as I was printing all necessary documents, I realized that the hotel booked me in Frangipani Phnom Pehn and not Siem Reap! I checked our email thread and I did inform them that I was booking with the Siem Reap hotel. It was an oversight on their part and by the time they gave me a new quotation, the cost was already out of our budget. So we settled for Gloria Angkor, which my friend Jael stayed at a month prior. To us, this hotel was excellent service-wise. They offered free tuktuk service, bike rentals, and a free 60-minute massage because we were staying for three nights. Their rooms are basic but very clean. The staff are very customer-oriented and the little details (fruit trays and bananas, water after every temple visit, little stories on Cambodian culture, movie schedules, and a souvenir when you leave), really made all the difference. The only downside was that they were along the National highway, about 4km from Pubstreet and Angkor Area. It seems the hotel has already solved this for us as they also offer free tuktuk service to town from 6pm to 10pm. How perfect!

When to do the tours Miggie

As a general information, weekends tend to have bigger volume of guests than weekdays. And in Siem Reap, this was significant. We found out about this when we actually did the tours on Sunday, our first full day. When we did the tours at the main circuit (namely Angkor Wat, Ta Prom and Angkor Thom which includes Bayon plus all the smaller temples within the area), the place was packed with tourists, mostly mainland Chinese and Koreans. I really have nothing against them, but when you want to explore and enjoy the serenity of the temples and you have a sea of non-stop chattering pink-clothed tourists wearing pink hats and bags, you get a little overwhelmed by their presence and it affects your personal touring. Of course we can’t dictate our own schedules and expectations, that’s why I would suggest that you take the weekdays more than the weekends for your tours. There would be a relatively fewer group of people. My practice has always been to do DIYs over group tours. I want to be able to explore at my own pace and not be pressured to move to the next stop because of time constraints. If you’re staying for more than 3 days, get the 3-day temple pass which costs 40 USD.

templepass

Which temples to go to

It should be said that unless you take a personal interest in temples, in architecture and design, in archaeology and in history, you will get pretty much tired and bored touring the temples by the third day. Precisely because all you ever see are temples upon ruined temples. People have different expectations of the Angkor Wat experience. Some just want to see the famous temples, while others take a keen interest in their history and whatnot. I represent the latter. An important tip I can give you is to ditch the tour guide (just a preference, unless you want a personalized tour and don’t mind shelling out 35USD) and just do either the following:

  1. Read up on the history through a guide book (the book Ancient Angkor that’s being sold by locals inside temples would cost 1 USD if you are lucky; prices tend to vary).
  2. Go to the National Museum (12USD) and spend two to three hours learning about these magnificent temples. We did this for the second day, which admittedly we should have done on the first. Just the same, it made for a more enriching touring because we already knew the context, the history, what the symbols were, who the deity statues were, the significance of the temples and whatnot. Even when we were visiting temples that look very similar, Miggie and I can already distinguish their styles and context, if it was dedicated to this god or that god. The museum tour is very informative and I definitely will recommend it. I really enjoyed it and wished we had something like this back in Manila. They have preserved many artifacts of those lintels and lingas and statues and 1000 buddhas and the information was enough to get you going on your tours.

So which temples should you visit if you have three days? It really depends on the number of days you’re staying in Siem Reap and on your preferences, but I would suggest the following, cut down in two days. Hiring a tuktuk for the main circuit costs 15USD; 25USD for the Banteay Srei and other temple tours.

readup

downstairway monkspilgrim

  1. 1. Visit the main circuit on day 1. Our route went like this: a. Morning: We started at Angkor Wat, moved to Prasat Kavan en route Bantaey Kdei. b. Afternoon: We had lunch at a Khmer restaurant, went to Ta Prohm, known for Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider movie, moved to the smaller temples of Takeo, Thommamon and our last stop was at Bayon and Angkor Thom which was HUGE.
  2. Visit the outer temples on day 3. Our route went like this: a. Morning: En route Bantaey Srei, we started at Sras Srang, Pre rup, East Mebon, Tasom then Bantaey Srei. Going back, we passed by the Land Mine museum.

peeking miggiewall The Tree

Exploring the city: French Quarter? The Passage?

Forget these labels. None of the locals know it. When you ask any of the locals about the French Quarter or French colony, they don’t know it. One, because they can’t get past the English language. If you listen close enough, the Khmer cannot speak the last syllable or the last ending of a word so when you say French, they go, “Fre?” and the translation gets lost there. Second, because it isn’t known locally as such. We didn’t even know where the “French quarter” was it until we figured out by the second day that all this time, we had already been passing through the French quarter –buildings, offices, residences that are French-inspired. You can also tell by the surrounding: they were cleaner, their buildings are obviously European-inspired, and most of the names are, well, in French.

Biking around town or go by Tuktuk?

And I don't even bike at home!

And I don’t even bike at home!

Our tuktuk driver, Nolan

Our tuktuk driver, Nolan

First of all, do not bike around town unless you are confident of your biking skills. Second of all, bike around town if you are near the Angkor Wat temples or in Pub street. When your hotel is along the National highway, and you decide one day to go biking around town, believe me, it’s short of a suicide mission. I should know. On our second day, we decided to take the offer of a free bike rental from our hotel. Well, the bikes were okay but a little rusty and just…not so easy to use as the normal bikes we have back home. It also didn’t help that we were far, far from the temple area. That means we would have to ply the national highway along with all the cars and tuktuks and motorcycles and bicycles in Siem Reap. It was like a warzone. I fell thrice, got hit almost twice, and just as I was reassuring myself it was safe to bike (hey, I got myself travel insurance!), the girl biking behind me got hit by a car. I much prefer the comfort of the tuktuk.

What do you wear to the temples?

Wear something comfortable!

Wear something comfortable!

miggieup

Word of caution to travellers: Respect for local customs and culture is a BIG part of traveling. Hence, even the dress codes must be followed. Cambodia is a conservative country and while for the last 15 years or so Siem Reap has been a favorite place for tourists, the community in general still frown upon tourists’ disregard for modesty in clothing. I’d like to be more practical on this note, as well. You are going to climb up stairs and some of the temples are really high. You don’t want your skivvies showing and you certainly do not want to make accidental peeping toms out of other travellers. Wear something practical and comfortable. Especially on the main circuit temples, they will not allow tourists wearing short shorts, short skirts, spaghetti straps and cleavage-bearing tops to go inside the temples. You will be stopped at the entrance. Read about a recent case of this being violated here.

  • We wore hiking attire. Go for loose or comfortable shirts (dri-fit ones work best) because it can get really hot and humid.
  • Wear hiking or rubber shoes. We saw sooo many tourists wearing heels (yep, you read that right), flipflops, and office shoes that are just not made for long walking. You will be walking the whole day, going up and down steep stairs. Wear something comfortable.
  • Bring a shawl. If you are wearing short sleeved shirts, at least bring a shawl to cover yourself. When you’re outside the temples, you can just remove it.
  • Alibaba pants! The market is teeming with Alibaba pants and all those beautiful prints on loose pants that are very comfortable and light and breezy to wear.

hundreddoorways

Khmer cuisine or go western?

Admittedly, I am not the adventurous type when it comes to food. Apart from my restrictions (no pork, limited beef and chicken), I’m really just the picky eater. We tried Khmer dish and we were 50/50 with it. In some restaurants, we liked their cooking. In others, we couldn’t finish the dish. So I’ll leave this option with you. They do have their must-eat choices: Lok lak and Amok, a type of curry dish. To my humble opinion, out of the Asian cuisines I’ve tried (Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian, Chinese, Filipino, Singaporean, Indian, Thai), Khmer dish is last in my palette.

Some restaurants we recommend you try:

  1. 1. New Leaf Book Café – my personal favorite which you will find in the quiet part of the French quarter. Healthy eating, vegetarian friendly, good ambience, surrounded by books, quiet atmosphere, good cause and especially good food.
  2. The Singing Tree Café which is at the Pub street – vegetarian friendly, and this was where Khmer dishes to me were redeemed. I loved their yellow curry dish with pineapple and their sautéed chicken in lemongrass and basil. Their vegetable springrolls (fried) was also very good.

Restaurants

How much do you bring for a 4-day Siem Reap excursion?

In total, I spent 200USD for the whole 4 days in Siem reap. This is exclusive of our airfare and hotel. Bring in *crisp dollars. Especially at Pub street, they are very particular with the crispness of the dollars. Their local currency (Riel) isn’t really useful except for small transactions like tuktuk rides (4,200 Riel to 1 USD).

Breakdown is as follows:

  • Airfare – Php8,760
  • Airport tax – Php1,620
  • Terminal fee – Php550 Hotel – USD 45 (USD 90 for two of us, 4 days, 3 nights) or Php1,980
  • Tuktuk for two tours – USD 20 (USD15/2 and USD25/2) or Php880 USD
  • cash on hand – 200 USD or Php8800
  • Total expense (approximately) Php23,000 or 512USD

Game changer: if you can get a much cheaper airfare. This was actually a promo already. If we had gone on the July trip, it would have cost us Php15,000 round trip. The cash on hand was spent on meals, souvenirs, museum tours, tip for tuktuk drivers, and other expenses. Overall, I loved Siem Reap. And I loved traveling it with my friend Miggie, who was as adventurous and as crazy as I was. The place was very provincial, the roads were wide, the people were friendly, and though it was hard to communicate with them because of the language barrier, you just take it all in, the experience of communicating in other gestures. Don’t get swayed by vendors and sellers in their one-tone, “hello lady, would you like to buy this for a dallah? (dollar?). Just smile back, say, “Okun *thank you*” and move along. P.S. Our photos. Please do not download without permission. 

image-1413192845496-V 8

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