Out of India

Smiles & Miles Away — On the streets of Siem Reap – Cambodia

Topics covered

Introduction

Visa for Siem Reap/ Currency conversions

Places we covered

Good to know info about Siem Reap

Approx cost/ budget for 3 days

Introduction & Touchdown

We were ready for a Cambodia adventure after a week in Vietnam. With a heavy heart we parted ways with Chaitra and Hanoi. She couldn’t join us for personal reason. We (Me, Bharthi & Veni) reluctantly boarded plane and headed to the land of Architectural beauty.

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Lovely Airport

As soon as I got down in Siem Reap Airport, I was mesmerized by its architectural beauty. Its relatively small airport. We had eVisa’s ready with us to clear immigration without hassle. Once I cleared Immigration I took some time go through the free broachers, it’s then that I understood Siem Reap Airport draws inspiration from Cambodian tradition, making it a showcase of local heritage, it beautifully reflects the traditional Khmer architecture, with long sweeping elevations and galleries of its Angkorean heritage.

Currency conversions – See more about it in good to know

We were uncertain with regards to currency conversion. The official currency in Cambodia is Cambodian Riel (code: KHR). Currently, Riel trades at around 4,000 Riel to the 1 US dollar (as on Nov 2018). Visitors like us are surprised that in the Siem Reap there is a 90% level of dollarization. Even though we were aware of this fact, we were still skeptical and debating our options. Finally, we decided not to buy Riel and came out of Airport.

Stay — See more about it in good to know

I had booked my accommodation in Siem reap much earlier through Airbnb. Our Airbnb Host has offered us a free pickup from Airport to his home. I saw a tuk tuk driver Reith holding my name’s playcard, we spoke to him and waited for him to bring tuk tuk.

All of us were super excited when we were passing through impressive sights of different buildings all the way till we reached our Airbnb stay. Even though I was aware that Lim’s house (Airbnb Host) was in residential area l never expected interior mud roads and beautiful pond with full of lotus flowers right in front of the house. We spoke with host and our tuk tuk driver Reith to pick us up next day and headed back into the house to call it for a day.

 Places we covered

Siem Reap is full of surprises. Everyone is aware about the Angkor temples, but this place has more to offer than that. I was expecting a quiet small town with little to do at night and few dining options but that wasn’t the case at all. Pub Street is a boombox at night. Tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor temples. For first-time visitors, it’s important to understand that there isn’t just one temple. The most famous one — Angkor Wat — is just one of many temples scattered in a large area. To visit them, you’ll need to buy an Angkor pass. Pass will cover close to 72 temples. Prices are as follows

One-day pass– $37
Three-day pass – $ 62
Seven-days pass– $72

If you want to see all the temples and have lot of time, then I suggest getting the 7-day pass. But if you want to visit just the major temples, then the 3-day pass will suffice.  You can buy this pass online or in the official ticket office. The entrance ticket can be paid in cash (US Dollars, Cambodian Riel, Thai Bath, Euro) or by credit card (Visa, Mastercard). An on-site ATM is available to withdraw cash.

You can find some good clothing stores in that ticket complex. It’s a best place to buy quality goods for reasonable price.

Day 1

Angkor Wat Temple

My primary reason to visit Siem Reap is to visit Angkor wat temple. The largest Hindu temple complex in the world, Angkor Wat is a massive structure surrounded by a moat. I visited Angkor Wat twice — once during the day and another early in the morning to get sunrise view. Yep, you might find it a little crowded (at certain times), yet worth a visit. We decided to visit Angkor Wat without a guide, which now I repent. I suggest taking a guide. Angkor was the historic capital of the impressive Khmer Empire. Sitting within the city of Siem Reap, it has become one epic place to cover. Filled with incredible architecture and Khmer Culture.

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Sunrise
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Infront of Angkor

Bayon Temple at Angkor Thom

Surrounded by both a wall and a moat, Angkor Thom – which translates to Great City – is home to several sights and is an ideal start to visiting the temples of Angkor. We entered through the Angkor Thom South Gate by walking across the bridge through the ‘Samudra Manthana -Churning of the Ocean of Milk’ (with demons on our right and gods on our left) and passing under a high tower with four imposing faces looking down on us.

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Bayon Temple

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Bayon temple is famous for being covered with over 200+ intricately carved faces that have been remarkably well preserved. It’s an extremely unique temple and, often busy, takes a couple of hours to explore fully.  Bayon is best known for the huge faces carved into the stone towers. Although small in comparison to Angkor Wat, this sacred building is much more condensed.

Baphuon Temple

Post spending time in Bayon temple we walked to Baphuon Temple. When we entered it was deserted and beautiful. We liked the moat near this temple and spent time enjoying the peaceful serenity. This has steep stairs taking the visitors right to the terrace which is offering breathtaking views of the Angkor Archaeological Park. We witnessed few wedding photo shoots’ here and enjoyed our Sunset view from one of the moats in the temple.

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Bharathi enjoying the peaceful evening infront of Bhupon Temple

We ended our temples visits for the day as it was 5.30 and explored the remaining of our evening in night market and pub street.

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Day 2

Preah Khan

This temple was deserted as we visited early in the morning soon after our sunrise view from Angkor temple. The entrance to this temple has a long corridor with a view of “Samudra Mathana” (As per Hindu Philosophy – Gods and demons churning the ocean of milk). Moat near this is so serene that we spent considerable amount of time here eating our home-made takeaway breakfast.

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Decimated Statue of Samudra Manthana

The temple has some terrific apsara carvings worth watching. The “greek style” pillar development varies from the rest and you’re competent to get the structure behind it and buy a truly great point of view. With massive trees growing among the ruins its beautiful sight to behold. Later I realized it’s like Ta Prohm. An old lady in the temple gave us her blessing by tying a traditional tread around our wrist. We couldn’t communicate with her much due to language issues, yet we conveyed our thanks by sign language and doing traditional Hindu namaste by touching her feet.

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Moat near temple

Neak Pean

A long wooden corridor over mush leads to this small temple amidst a small artificial lake. It was extremely hot when we reached this place and yet we spent considerable amount of time near the moat surrounding this and in long wooden corridor. Indeed, a tiny temple, even though it wasn’t as attractive as others the long wooden corridor with both side moat and plenty of lotus flowers will make it worth a visit.

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Neak Pean
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Wooden corridor and Moat near Neak Pean

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm is one of the most popular Siem Reap temples and is featured in many Angkor Wat pictures – especially after the temple was made famous by the movie Tomb Raider. I got to know about Tomb Raider as one of the Chinese couple explained to me on this.  And later Veni told me how it became popular after Indiana Jones. The beauty of the temple is not the architecture so much as how nature has impacted the temple – as it is gradually being taken over by the forest. I later saw a board explaining India Cambodia cooperation project for conservation and restoration of Ta Prohm Temple. We are proudly looking at Archeological Survey of India Work & a localite walked to us and talked over stating that all Bangalorians are rich, with his limited India experience.

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Ta Prohm
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India restoration office

Banteay Kdei

Even this resembles as Ta Prohm conforming to a similar style with four concentric walls that enclose the central sanctuary and four entrances decorated with arudas. Known as the ‘citadel of chambers’, the temple is a treasure chest of sculptures and impressive bas-reliefs of apsaras and dancing girls.

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Old lady’s blessings to Veni

We ended our temples visits for the day were badly in need of Coffee. Reith stopped the tuk-tuk near a coffee shop. Even tough the coffee was delicious me being stuck in the bathroom due to bad lock for 15mins became the highlight than coffee 😊. Now scenario looks hilarious even though it wasn’t then. We ended up roaming in pub street and old market for the rest of the day.

 

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Moat near temple

Day 3

Kbal Spean

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I wanted to visit Kulen National Park so I started discussing several prons and cons with veni, Bharathi, Reith(Tuk -tuk Driver) and our Airbnb host. After weighing our options, we decided to drop on Kulen and visit Kbal Spean before our flight in the night in same day. It was indeed the best decisions we made. We started early as its situated almost 45Kms from our place. It takes from one to and and half hours to get there from the provincial town. A spectacularly carved riverbed, Kbal Spean is set deep in the jungle. More commonly referred in English as the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas’, It is a 2km uphill walk to the carvings, along a pretty path that winds its way up into the jungle. The entire pathway was deserted as it was very early in the morning. Surprisingly and elderly couple recognized our local mother tongue and we became a good comrade. The path eventually splits to the waterfall or the river carvings. Both are good to spend a good amount of time.

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Hike to Kbal Spean
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Linga Submerged in water
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Small Falls

Banteay Srei

Around an hour away by tuk tuk from the main temple complex, Bantaey Srei is one of the smaller temples but also one of the most unique. Our Tuk-Tuk driver called this Lady temple. This is around 20 kms from Kbal Spean and on the way back towards town. Carvings here are related to Indian epic Mahabahratha. We met an Indian kanndiga Couple (Whom we had met first time in Kbal Spen) there, and their guide explained me on the fine-grained rose-pink sandstone.

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Good to know info about Siem Reap

More about Currency

Most tourist-oriented establishments like hotels, restaurants, and groceries quote their prices in US dollars. Little stores might quote their prices in riel; however, they wouldn’t refuse you if you want to pay in dollars.

Another thing you must know is that Cambodia only uses $1 and above in notes. If you need a change lower than $1, you’ll be given riel. If you want to exchange money to have riel at hand, it’s best to do it in the bank. Many money changers in Siem Reap don’t accept INR, even if they accept the rates are terrible, soooo far from the standard forex rates. Bottomline, if you’re visiting Siem Reap, bring US dollars. And just exchange in your home country before and after the trip.

More about Tuk -Tuk

Tuk-tuks, two-wheeled carriages pulled by motorbikes that can fit anywhere from two to four people, are a ubiquitous sight throughout Siem Reap. Riding around the city on tuk-tuks is a boundless joy. Wind and dust in your hair, you’ll zoom past beautiful and distinct Khmer architecture, glittering temples, tall beautiful trees, prominent lakes its worth an experience. Tuk tuk drivers will help you negotiate the price, stay safe, and it’s easy and best way to get to your destination hassle free.

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Negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers – Make sure to negotiate the price ahead of time. Moreover, don’t take the first number they give you — it’s inflated. I paid $15 for a full day tour from Morning 8AM To 6PM. Before or after that they may charge close to $5 extra.

Bicycle – You can rent a bicycle here for less than $5 USD a day. You can find rental shops in the Old Market. Some hotels even have free bicycle rentals.

Cambodian Visa

For most visitors to the Kingdom, visa is obtainable upon arrival at both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap International Airports. At land crossing from Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, visa can be obtained at International Check Point border. Tourists also can get their visas prior to their arrival through a Cambodian Embassy or Consulate overseas. Tourists also can get eVisa through online eVisa before travelling. I got it from below site

                https://www.evisa.gov.kh/

Tourist Visa cost

  • Single entry visa fee for tourist (T) (30 days):    US$ 30 + 6$ only visa processing fee
  • Single entry visa fee for business (E) (30 days):  US$ 35
  • Processing time – 3 business day

Visa Exemption:

The nationals of the Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, Myanmar do not need a tourist visa and may stay in Cambodia for 21 and 30 days respectively. Check their official website for more details. Source – Wiki

Print out 2 copies of the e-Visa certificate. Give one copy to immigration as your Travel Visa upon arrival in Cambodia and one copy upon departure.

Stay in Siem Reap

When booking for a hotel in Siem Reap, I suggest staying near Pub Street and Old Market since everything needed is here – restaurants, shopping malls. You’re never short on places to stay in Siem Reap- accommodation for all budgets is literally everywhere. You can even opt a peaceful residential area though Airbnb (which we did) and meet some wonderful locals. If visiting in season I suggest booking in advance.

Dress code for temples

Angkor Wat enforces strict dress code. Appropriate attire when visiting temples in Angkor Wat is long pants (covering the knee) and shirts that cover shoulders. It is for religious reasons and a sign of respect. The little problem is the hot weather.

Food in Siem Reap

 I m not a foodie and we all were vegetarians. We tried some vegan food in common food courts near temples. The salads had local aromatic herbs and spices which tasted good and it was super healthy. We ate many delicious meals and never struggled to find meat-free options. That said, we weren’t very adventurous. We didn’t eat street food, we cooked ourselves in our Airbnb home atleast once a day. we mostly ate at restaurants aimed at Westerners. It was more expensive and did leave us feeling a bit distant from local life, but the food was delicious for me, even though Bharthi didn’t like any veg options available throughout our stay in Cambodia.

If you want to eat more like a local be adventurous and try numerous local stalls near old market and countryside stalls outside of Siem Reap. You can see several decent mid-range restaurants throughout Siem reap.

Sim card – Wifi

I managed my entire stay without buying a local sim card. Our Airbnb host was generous enough to tell me early that he is going to provide a phone with local sim card for us to use and we had free wifi in his place. Most of the restaurants/ hotel offer free wifi. I have downloaded an offline map of entire city before entering Siem reap. If staying for a shorter duration I suggest not to buy a local sim card. We can manage without that.

Buying an inexpensive prepaid local SIM card in Cambodia should be easy. Conveniently, you can even pick them up at the airport. Several leading companies offer prepaid SIM cards. My understanding is all the networks work well in the major cities. Check out offers in another official site.

 Shopping in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is more than temple ruins and historical landmark. As a tourist friendly town, offers lot of stone carvings and art galleries. Old market is mainly filled with fresh produce for the household. Travelers also find great souvenirs to buy in this market. Due to lack of time we didn’t spend too much time shopping, but I did buy few souvenirs, swing and few clothing from old market and stalls near temple.

We got tempted to buy something from the stalls near temples. Initially we bought few shawls for the price they quoted. Later we got to know how we got cheated when other stall person quoted 5 times less for the same shawls we took. Make sure to negotiate the price. Most definitely its hyped 5-10 times of what they quote. Example – On day 1, we bought 1 glass of sugarcane juice for 1$ each and on last day I negotiated 3 glasses of sugarcane juice for 1$, even then I noticed a local couple buying 2 glasses for less than 1000 Riel (1$ is – 4000 Riel). Its same in Old market and few other local Stalls. There are lot of branded shops near pub street, old market and central Market.

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Pub Street

As I have already stated nightlife in Siem Reap is boom box. We accidentally stumbled upon it. We asked Reith to take us for shopping and he dropped us in old market and explained that pub street is right around the corner. We got curious and went in as we had lot of time as most temples and other places were closed post 5.30. It compromises of lively bars, cocktail lounges, international restaurants and vibrant nightclubs that often stay lively till early hours of morning. There are plenty of hotels with roof top bars and trendy nightclubs playing raucous dance tunes. Cost of beer is 0.5$ in happy hours. Enjoy wide variety of cocktails and culinary treats ranging from Khmer specialties to Western favorites offered in food trucks, bars and pubs.  If you’re not quite feeling a wild night on Pub Street, it is worth your time to check out  Sok San Street  streets around the night markets.

Moats in Siem Reap

Srah srang Lake

This is a large manmade lake that is popular with locals for evening. It has been a place to go for a cool breeze and fresh air. I was unlucky, as I couldn’t spend much time here even though I passed by it several time in my short visit. If you have time, enjoy your sunset here. It’s close to main Angkor wat temple.

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Srah srang Lake

Some more Tips

  • Avoid getting dehydrated! This whole Angkor tour can be quite exhausting and draining. Bring a bottle of water or buy fresh coconut juice.
  • Read up on Angkor and Khmer history in general before your trip– if you don’t have a guide this will allow you to appreciate the temples and its many features better.
  • Carry a universal power adapter – Sockets used are different and I m not sure of the type.
  • Use a good pair of footwear –Angkor can bring so much pain to your feet if you’re not wearing good footwear
  • Best time to visit – Nov to Feb, even then it’s hot.

Approx cost/ budget for 3 days

As per my calculations and my budget itinerary, it will cost close to $280 to 300 for 3 nights and 4 days. It may go up if you are travelling solo or come down if you are in a group.

Stay  :I paid $92 for 3 nights 4 days for 3 people (it was quoted for 4 ppl). It’s independent 2BHK home, it is in residential area in Krong Siem Reap. This cost Included wifi, pick and drop to airport and Phone with local sim for us to use along with all kitchen items to cook & bathroom essentials. Our host generous enough to provide 9 water bottles every day for same price.

Food :If you eat out all 3 times a day in some budget hotel it will cost close to $30 a day. We managed to cook one time and day and eat out twice.  For 3 days food alone will cost you Approx. $90

Tuk – Tuk :Commute in bicycle will cost you less. Per day complete tuk -tuk rental cost (Including fuel) from morning 8AM to evening 5.30 PM is $15 (For max of 4 Person). If you want to extend the time either in morning or evening he may charge you $5 more. And for Kbal Spean he charged more which was acceptable since its 40+ kms. We paid a total of $80 for whole 3 days.

Other expenses

You might end up spending some $10 – 15 on Coffee and cool drinks as its super-hot or even on beer.

Per person cost for 3 nights 4 days
Stay $35
Food $90
Tuk-tuk $30
Other Expenses $30
Angkor Ticket $62
Visa $30
Total $277

I had to bid my Adieu, but I can definitely say that I m going back again. Due to shortage of time I couldn’t visit Koh Rang and Kulen National park. Looking forward to seeing you again Cambodia.

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