We arrived at Siem Reap within 55 minutes of leaving Bangkok. We completed the arrival and departure cards, medical form and visa application on the plane so it felt more like 20 minutes. The landing at Siem Reap felt much like arriving at Kaunas airport in Lithuania – very few staff, not many travellers and post-soviet grey concrete interior with 10 officials. Two officers collected the medical forms, then we were herded through to pay the hefty $30 for tourist visas (staying just 5 days..) and $2 for not having a photo. Our passports made their way through several officials and reached us with full-page visa stickers and a stamp, so make sure you have at least 2 full pages in your passport. I missed the visa number on the arrival slip, so the border officer gave me an odd grin and made this weird sound with his lips, as if he had something stuck in his teeth, or he was calling a sheep or something. Anyway he didn’t seem satisfied with my application.
We were hesitant to dive through the sea of tuktuk drivers, but once we ‘jumped in’, we saw a guy holding a piece of A4 with my name on it – I felt so important for a second! Some hotels offer a free transfer service with their own tuktuks, which are more reliable. I’ve read lots of online reviews that there are a number of dodgy independent ones that could potentially scam you big time, especially with the temple offers.
We checked-in, explored the area, and went for a two-dollar (!) meal with beer. Supermarkets are everywhere, as well as bike rentals, petrol shops and… dogs. Signs of French influence can be seen by baguette sales and signage of d’hotels and le’shops. Next day we had quality European breakfast, but orange juice was a bland instant-powder type drink of a deep carrot colour with Fanta-like taste. After breakfast – [In Robin’s, the Batman sidekick’s voice]: “To the tuktuk-mobile!”
We’re not tourist-type people, but we just had to visit the world-renowned temples of Angkor. I recommend you get a reliable tuktuk, who would wait for you outside each temple. We took aaaages, and ours was $15 for the full-day, as of October 2014. To avoid the tourist crowds, we started at Banteay Kdei, then went to Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Chau Say Thevoda, Bayon (Angkor Thom) and finally, Angkor Wat.
Some tips for exploring the temples from our experience:
It was a bit annoying when random people (employees?) approached us in temples and showed where and how to take photos: ‘sit here, point up, good photo, see everything, yes’. I suppose that’s useful information for the selfie-stick-people.
Everywhere around temples people ask for money – they’re singing, playing music, kids selling souvenirs, books – you have to learn how to say no, unless you actually want to buy stuff.
Some approach you and start saying ‘Hello, where you from’ – they don’t care about your answer and use this tactics to get your attention, since westerners find it rude not to answer. Try to reject them asap and not show interest, unless you want to give money. Otherwise they start asking you more questions and then you try to awkwardly avoid them, but they say they’re students and try to show some official paper and ask for money in the end anyway, and he’s learning English, he cycles many kilometres to school… And by the time you actually ask them to leave you alone, you feel more awkward as he’s given you the full tour of the Elephant terrace.
Talking about elephants, ALL the tourists are wearing those pants… do you know how they’re called? Elepants. I expect at least a giggle.
Tour guides were as scarce as tuktuk drivers, especially around Angkor Wat – there were dozens of them! It gets hot around 10 AM – we were in full sweat by then, even though we had been walking in the temple shade. If you’re considering bicycles – don’t. I thought of renting one, but I read reviews advising not to. You kind of only realise the distances once you actually see them. We were sweaty just from walking, even though we’re relatively fit. It was +30°C and we spent 9 solid hours walking in the temples – no way could we have managed cycling on top of that.
We spent the most time exploring Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm – the quietest, most mystical and least reconstructed temples. We were ‘templed-out’ by the time we reached Angkor Wat, and luckily we left it last as it was the touristiest one. We probably took more photos of tourists in Angkor Wat, than the actual temple.
We saw real monkeys for the first time and they were hostile! One of them grabbed one lady’s bag and scattered all the sweets and lollipops on the stairs. Then a few of the monkeys were having chupa-chups with their babies – they definitely had their 5-a-day.
We finished at around 5pm and went back to the hotel. In the evening we put our bargaining skills to a test at the night market and bought some clothes, walked around the pub street, had a couple of $1.5 cocktails and walked back. At night, most tuktuks approach you with a friendly smile offering drives for $1, then after being declined come up to you real close and secretly whisper if you want some weed. It was good weed though – just joking! During the day children come up to you and either ask for money or offer some books about Cambodia, etc. Obviously it breaks your heart, but there’s so much to the country’s history, it’s difficult to comment. That’s why the next day we went to the Landmine Museum to learn more. Read about our trip to the museum here and more about Siem Reap here.