Siem Reap, Cambodia

Landing in Siem Reap airport was a bit strange as I walked off the plane and had to find my own way inside, from the plane. A group of us even got lost before being redirected!

The visa on arrival staff were as ignorant as I’ve met anywhere, which is disappointing as these are the first people to give you an impression when you arrive in a country. When you give in ur passport, filled out form and picture, the immigration officer gestures at you to basically go away but you need to go around to next counter and wait for your visa to get stamped. They are not very clear and it leads to everyone getting confused. To further compound the unfriendly reception, when you get your visa you nearly have to reach over the counter to get the passport because the officers are lazy and won’t hand it to you easily. My visa was 30 US dollars although I read online it was 50 US dollars, so maybe this depends on where you are from.

When I booked my hostel, I opted for the quieter option (i.e. not party hostel). It was called The Mekong hostel. They had an offer for airport collection for 5 US dollars, which seemed ok and cheapish but hotel/hostel pick-ups are usually more expensive so I said I’d take my chances at the airport. As luck would have it there were no ‘dodgy’ men at the airport offering taxis and the official taxi was 10 dollars! Live and learn I guess. Although it was 10 dollars for the car so if I was in a group it would have been good value!

When I arrived it was in the evening and I wanted to get up early the next morning to see Angkor Wat. The hostel was very helpful in organizing a tuk-tuk driver for 4:30am the next morning. I Grabbed a quick shower and headed down to the pub street area, although I found a slightly quieter sports bar to catch the 2nd half of the Ireland v Wales 6 Nations game before heading back to the hostel and hitting the hay. In the end, I got about 4 hours sleep. One of the guys in my room was vomiting all night, he said it just came out of nowhere and might have been the food he had in the hostel. At that point, I decided that I wasn’t eating there just in case.

The next morning I woke up half an hour before my alarm and turned it off… and fell back asleep… luckily I woke up just before it was meant to go off again so I still got up on time.

I met my driver and we went to buy a ticket (37 dollars for 1 day) for the Angkor sites. He just left me outside and said go in to get the ticket. When I got in there were about 20 big queues and I wasn’t sure if they were tours or designated lines but I just joined one that had a sign for a 1-day pass and in the end, it was fine. When I got to the top of the queue they asked if I what pass I wanted so maybe you could have joined any queue.

From there we headed to the Angkor Wat, stopping once to check the ticket at the control area and then after my driver parked up and went for a sleep as I walked (following the crowds) to the ‘sunrise spot’.

At this stage, it was still dark but I found myself a spot even though it was crazy busy.  It’s completely hypocritical but it took away from the experience having so many tourists there. I know I was one of them but it just felt like we were all there for the perfect picture and not really caring about the history or brilliance of the construction. The Angkor Wat site is the largest religious complex in the world and it deserves to be appreciated in such a way.

I had seen so many pictures of Angkor Wat that I had expected something else, although it was great. I think maybe someone might feel the same after looking at my pictures and then visiting themselves. I think it was the scale, I thought it would be bigger. Of course, the complex is huge and the moats around it too but the famous element isn’t as massive as I thought it might be.

Regardless, I spent plenty of time exploring before moving on to the next temple and the next temple and the next. All unique and interesting in their own right. My driver loved to grab a quick sleep in his makeshift hammock while he waited for me to explore. I felt bad waking him up every time but we had been up since 4am!

At one of the temple I saw some elephants and there were plenty of people checking out the temples on bicycles and mopeds too. At some temples, there were monks to be seen doing some exploring of their own and you could see anytime one appeared, they became the Centre of attention for anyone with a camera.

Nearing the end, the famous ‘tomb raider temple’ was next to be explored and it was a really cool temple with how the trees intertwined and even took over some parts of the temple to create these amazing layouts. There was even a class of art Students drawing some of the intricate combinations between the temple and the trees.

I originally wanted to get a night bus after my day at Angkor Wat so I would be able to have enough time to visit a town called Kratie as well as Phnom Penh but the bus was sold out and I heard there were some dodgy bus companies that I didn’t want to risk. With that, an extra day in Siem Reap was in order so when I got back to the hostel I planned some lunch, shower and dinner before going to bar to watch some football. I would sleep well after all that before exploring Siem Reap the next day.

I slept in that morning to catch up on some sleep and found my trusty tuk-tuk driver around noon to take me to the War museum. It’s not the biggest of museums but has a selection of old tanks, guns, mines etc. on display. The museum itself is based on an old minefield with the hole of an old detonated mine clearly visible. There are some war veterans on hand to give you a guided tour for free too which I only noticed when I was leaving but I’m sure their descriptions and explanations would have been fantastic to hear.

We set off again for the hour-long trip to the landmine museum. I was looking forward to it as it’s nice to get out of the city, the weather was great, nice breeze coming through the Tuk-tuk, and it was a chance to see the Cambodian countryside. We were only 5 minutes on the road when we came across a beautiful pagoda so we stopped to take some pictures and set off quick enough again.

The landmine museum was great mainly to hear the story of Aki Ra, the man who set up the museum and his disarmed over 50,000 mines in his time. There was also an American man, Bill Morris, there giving tours around the museum who, along with his wife sold their house and moved here for a chance to do something good for the world. The helped set up the museum. Interesting to see, to say the least.

There are still so many people in the world affected by landmines, two people every day in the world are injured or killed by them. That’s crazy!

The long drive was so nice. The beautiful countryside was something I hadn’t really thought about until we set off. Most people, including me, come to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat but it’s great to see the not so explored parts too. On the way to the landmine museum, I noticed a sign for a shooting range. I didn’t go to it but the limited research I had done had only shown shooting ranges near Phnom Penh. Maybe that was because I was researching the bazooka-cow legend…

Along the trip, the odd pickup truck would pass us out and sometimes there were little kids in the back happy as Larry waving at me as they went by.

We took a slightly different way back but came across some really nice scenery. I asked the driver to stop and take a picture. Then my driver mentioned that I was taking a picture of his home in the distance, what are the odds! I had debated renting a scooter for the day and doing the trip myself but I wasn’t sure on the quality of the roads outside the city so I opted against it. In hindsight, although there was the odd pothole, I would have easily and happily done the trip on a moped myself. Live and learn eh!

We got back around 5pm and I had previously seen a place called ‘bugs cafe’ on Tripadvisor so I decided that I would check it out. The idea seemed great until the plate with a scorpion, tarantula, crickets, silkworms and fire ants was set down in front of me! To be fair most of the food tasted good, it’s just the thought that is off-putting. My silkworm and cricket curry was fantastic (Not joking)! The scorpion was the only thing that didn’t taste great. Did I just write that?? Haha. It’s always great to experience new things and although I don’t think I’ll be adjusting my diet just yet, I’m so glad I tried it!

While I was wandering around town, checking out pub street as well as a nice quieter bar called soil kitchen, I saw one of the fish massage for your feet things. I hadn’t tried it before. It was 2 dollars and included a free beer so that was good enough value for me to give it a go! It tickled like mad but it passed a half hour anyway.

Last on the list was to grab a massage before the bus in a couple hours. My back had been at me and my calves were quite sore last week so 10 dollars for a full body massage, again, was money well spent!

I had already prebooked my bus ticket ( I advise this as they fill up quickly in my experience). And I was travelling by the most reputable bus company (Giant Ibis) so I was hoping for a relatively smooth 7-hour journey overnight. I collected my backpack from the hostel and started to walk towards the bus station. A Tuk-tuk man stopped me and told me I was going to the wrong one. I was sceptical but with his broken English, he explained that for this company there is one station for day departures and one for night. He was right. That was 2 dollars well spent also!

The over night bus was pretty comfortable to be fair and was only 5 and a half hours long, in the end. Next stop Phnom Penh.

Price and tips:

Prices in US Dollars – Accepted absolutely everywhere. Easier to use the local currency even.

Visa for Irish Person 30 dollars (differs from county to country). Visa costs 2 dollars extra if you don’t have a picture ready for them to use.

Local SIM card with 6gb data for 30 days 10 dollars

Taxi from airport to Siem Reap town 10 dollars

The Mekong Hostel 4 dollars for per night

Angkor Wat one day ticket 37 dollars

Tuk-tuk man to drive me around for the day 20 dollars (no tour guide just driver)

War museum 5 dollars

Landmine museum 5 dollars

Tuk-tuk man for the about 5 hours 15 dollars

Average main course meal 5-10 dollars

Average beer 1 dollar

Giant Ibis overnight bus to Phnom Penh 15 dollars. This was the most respected/best quality bus company I seen on the net.

Giant Ibis bus from to Siem Reap from Phnom Pen 15 dollars.

Kratie town (approx 8 hours north of Phnom Penh) – I wanted to fit this into my trip bus times didn’t really allow for it. If you want to see a picturesque town along the Mekong river, as well as the famous pink river dolphins, then try fit this into your trip.

Cost of tuk-tuk to the airport from Siem Reap 7 dollar

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