In case you haven’t been paying attention, we really loved hanging out in the temples in Cambodia, especially in Angkor Wat. It’s incredibly atmospheric, especially just after dawn when the crowds haven’t completely descended on it yet. This time of day is also good since the sun isn’t hot enough to make you feel like you might actually be cooked alive while walking around. Lots of people don’t really take the time to walk around the backs of the temples and poke in all the nooks and crannies. It’s a shame they are missing out on some really interesting spots, but it makes it much easier for us to get pictures that don’t include hundreds of strangers.
One of our favorite parts about traveling in Southeast Asia is wandering around in dusty little towns and then stumbling upon hidden gems, like this wat, which we discovered one day while we were riding bikes around the outskirts of Siem Reap. The temple complexes are often much bigger than they appear at first glance, and we love the bright colors that contrast some of the very old bits of stonework.
Number of days spent in country – 4
Cities/towns visited – Siem Reap, Chong Kneas, Kompong Pluk
Number of different lodgings – 1
Flights – 0
Bus journeys – 1
Boat rides – 1
taxi journeys – 1
Rickshaw rides – 7
Bike rentals – 1
Attempted extortion by border officials – 1
Total US dollar amount spent –$ 348.60 including $40 in visa fees
Average cost per day, per person -$43.58
Average lodging cost per night, per person – $7
We only stayed at one place during our time in Cambodia – The Phrom Roth Guesthouse – $14 for a HUGE room with AC, private bath and wifi. The only room they had was for 3 people and cost slightly more than we would have paid for a double room, but we arrived at night and didn’t want to waste a lot of time searching for a place in the dark. We had already looked at a few other places in a similar price range, but this was easily the nicest. They also had a FREE water re-fill service which saved us probably $8-10 during our stay so it worked out very well in the end.
Average food/drink cost per day, per person – $9.75 You can eat at anything from local street stands to very nice Western Restaurants. Some days we spent $12 each on food, other days we spent $6. We also drank a lot of beer here as there were .50 cent draughts all over the place.
Angkor Wat – This really goes without saying, but if you are in Siem Reap, this is what you are here to see. This was my second trip and it was just as awesome as the first time, even with the HUGE increase in tourists.
FYI, if you want to get the classic reflecting sunrise shot at Angkor Wat, you will need to battle for your spot in the massive crowds that gather along the edge of the little reflection puddle. We took one look at the mob and opted to go to the other side of the road, skipping the classic shot, but still seeing a lovely sunrise.
Breakfast at Temple Club – This was a pretty good deal for a hearty breakfast. The cheese omlette is large and comes with a huge baguette, fried tomato, and a tiny little juice for $2.50.
Pumpkin curry from the local food stalls that line the market.
50 cent mugs of beer from most places in town.
If you rent a bike you can ride the 11 kilometers out to the boat launch for the incredibly touristy floating village Chong Kneas. We rode out there, but didn’t end up taking the boat since we found what we consider to be a much better option for whiling away the afternoon. All along the road before the village are little local restaurants where you can lounge about in a hammock with a beer and a great view of the rice fields. With the bike you also get the chance to see the villages along the way.
The border crossing at Poipet can be a pain in the ass. If you pay in Thai Baht you are getting ripped off. If you let someone buy your visa for you ahead of time you are getting ripped off. If you pay the extra ‘fee’ the border officials ask for, you are being ripped off. The visa costs – for US citizens at least – $20, payable in USD. That’s it. Don’t pay more. When we were asked for extra I smiled politely and shook my head ‘no’. There is a ton of info about the crossing on the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum as well as on Travel Fish so I won’t reinvent the wheel here.
We found the ‘tour’ of Kompong Pluk, a stilted village, to be a bit of a rip off. The village itself is interesting enough to see, but it takes about 40 minutes in a tuk-tuk (about $15 round-trip) to get to the boat launch, then an hour in a little boat to get to the village itself. We were taken around in the boat for about 20 minutes through the main town area, and then returned to the boat launch. In the guidebook the price was listed as $8 per person, but when we arrived it had risen to $20 per person. We balked at this and turned around to leave but it was low season so we ended up getting a ‘discounted’ price of $25 total. It just wasn’t worth even the discounted cost for how little time you actually spend in the village, especially considering our boat guy didn’t say a single word to us the entire time.
Ankgor Wat is undoubtedly the biggest tourist draw for the temples outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia, but there is so much more if you have a day or five to explore. There are dozens of smaller temples in the surrounding area and most of them boast intricate carvings, some of which are very well preserved. These particular figures can be found along the walls near the Elephant Gate, and we were fascinated by the different colors each figure had taken on despite the fact that they are all basically exposed to the same natural elements. Some were simply grey as the stone they’d been carved from, others were shades of green and red. Each figure is unique, and we spent nearly an hour wandering along the wall and inspecting the the details.
I first went to Angkor Wat in 2005, and while there were plenty of visitors, it was nothing like our experience there last week. Tourism is booming in Cambodia and has definitely brought some changes. One of them is the inability for people to go climbing about on the temples as they please. In 2005 I snapped this shot of a monk climbing up the central tower in Angkor Wat. There was almost nobody else around and he had stopped to catch his breath, or perhaps just to admire the view and I happened to look up and catch him gazing out at the front of the temple complex. Today, you can’t just make your way up the crumbling stone steps, they have built wooden platform stairs on top of the originals, you have to wait in a long line to go up, and you are restricted to a brief 20 minute visit. It was sort of a bummer to not be able to wander at our leisure, though the new rules do make it safer, and better for the preservation of the temples.