13 months
Dec 27:
silky smooth
Dec 27:
hanging with the monks
Dec 28:
run, don't walk, to cambodia
Dec 29:
not WAT i expected
Dec 29:
my favorite
all galleries
next location

sign over a cell phone shop
Phnom Penh, Jan 2, 2005

the low down

What we did: 8 days total: 5 days in Siem Riep visiting temples and the surrounding area, 3 days exploring Phnom Penh

monks quarters outside of Bakong temple

Overall: The temples are spectacular and we recommend that you seem them for yourself (see cambodia: run, don’t walk to cambodia). In retrospect, 5 days seems about right (any shorter and you might feel rushed, any longer and temple-fatigue might set in unless you’re somewhat of a fanatic). We are glad we visited Phnom Penh, too, though if you’re short on time, missing it would be okay (in our opinion). Although we didn’t have the most exciting or interesting visit to Phnom Penh, it was nice to see real Cambodia (outside of the crazy temple tourist bonanza of Siem Reap). Ideally, we’d also like to have seen some of rural Cambodia, but we just didn’t have time during this visit.

Getting around Siem Reap: You can get around on foot to local restaurants, but you’ll need some mode of transportation to get you out to the temples. Tuk-tuks (motorbikes attached to a passenger cabin) are cheap and easy to hire as are taxis and normal mopeds. A ride around town should cost you only around $2 USD. If you tell the driver that you’d like a return ride at a specific time they’ll usually offer to hang around and wait for you for free. If you’re staying in the more upscale hotels, the taxis and tuk-tuks (as well as the hotel drivers) will try to charge you higher prices. You can walk down the street and get a cheaper rate if you care to do so.

Lodging in Siem Reap: You can stay at expensive hotels, mid-priced hotels (this was our option at around US$40/night), or cheapie hotels (from $10 to $20/night).

pass to the temples
(you can buy 1-day, 3-day, or 1-week)

Temple guide & driver: We recommend hiring a good driver and guide, possibly beforehand if you can manage it (that’s what we did). It made our experience much easier and more educational; we were able to learn more about the temples and much more about local life and culture. The cost of the driver, guide and car we hired was US$40/day plus discretionary tip. The cost of hiring a car and driver without a guide from a hotel is about $20/day (as mentioned above, you can also walk out on to the street and hire a car or motorbike or tuk-tuk for a few hours for much less).

>> Recommended guide: Kao Samreth <<
email; phone: (+855) 12 763 462
For a guide, we specifically recommend Kao Samreth (Sam for short). Sam used to be a teacher and he's very knowledgeable about the temples, not to mention being a great guy to spend the day with. And be sure to book ahead. Sam will also set up a driver for you. Make sure to tell him that we sent you and that we miss him and his great explanations. If you can't get Sam, try to get another guide that comes with good recommendations.

Food: It's okay, but the food in Siem Reap is not the reason to go to Cambodia. Our favorite dish is the local Amok fish - a fish curry cooked in a coconut shell. We found it difficult to find local restaurants in Siem Reap that weren't touristy and we didn't feel quite comfortable enough to eat the local street food. A cheap main meal is between $6-$10 USD and non-alcoholic drinks are between $2-$5 USD.

People: We didn’t have a ton of interaction with the locals except those involved in tourism (guide, hotel, taxi drivers etc.), most of whom we found to be reserved, but friendly and generally a pleasure to chat with and meet. (One time that we did have a chance to meet with non-tourism-industry locals was at Dongroem Pagoda - see cambodia: hanging with the monks.)

Malaria pills: Our health clinic in San Francisco recommended that we take malaria pills here, but a local doctor in Vietnam (he was French, actually) told us we'd be wasting our money to do so. He instead recommended covering up at night and generally keeping an eye out for mosquitoes, which is what we did. We got a few bites, but luckily, no malaria.

Exchange rate: $1USD = 4000 Riel

Standard of living: Low. The average non-professional wage is about $20 USD per month (though much higher in Siem Reap due to tourism). As a result, you'll see a lot of kids in tourist areas trying to sell you cheap scarves and souvenirs. This sight can be difficult, depending on what you’re used to.

Essentials: We recommend bringing anything you need with you. There are some essentials available, but they can be hard to find and overpriced. Bring a good hat and sunblock as you will be baking outside. (Note that the prices in Phnom Penh are much more reasonable than the prices in Siem Reap.)

Places we visited near Siem Riep:
  - Chong Kneas floating village (This is an interesting half-day trip from Siem Reap. The total cost for both of us, including a driver for the day which got us to some other places, too, was around US$40. It seemed, however, that we might have been able to get away for less since the price was somewhat random when we passed through the "check point" - we negotiated down from the stated price at the check point by referencing the cheaper price quoted in town. Early in the discussion we were asked what amount we wanted to pay, opening the door for negotiation.)
  - Artisans d'Angkor Silk Factory (another interesting half-day trip from Siem Reap - see cambodia: silky smooth).
  - Dongroem Pagoda (This one's not on the tourist circuit. In fact, it might be difficult to find somebody who knows where it is. If you do go, please say hello to the monks for us - hopefully they'll remember us. See cambodia: hanging with the monks.)
  - Lots and lots of temples (We aren’t going to describe all the temples. They are all different, and fall into a few basic style categories. Some people seem to have had enough after seeing a few; others seem to be able to go on and on, remaining interested. We really enjoyed this part of our trip; it is something not to be missed. Take a look at the cambodia gallery to get an idea of what some of the temples look like. This ones we visited are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom (including Bayon temple), Phnom Bakheng [for a sunset view of Angkor Wat], Pre Rup [or Pre Rub in Cambodian], Preah Dak village, Banteay Samre, Banteay Srei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Thommanon, Lolei, Preah Ko, and Bakong.)
  - Preah Dak village (One of many small villages near the temples. We stopped here to stretch our legs and get some fruit. It was nice to walk around this peaceful village, well outside Siem Reap proper.)
Places we visited in Phnom Penh:
  - Independence Monument (frankly, this is a rather ugly monolith thingie, but it is… um… easy to spot – and it looks like it might be made of chocolate)
  - Royal Palace (this definitely deserves a spot on MTV Cribs – it’s an amazing place, and worth an afternoon of exploring)
  - Wat Ko (a quaint little temple that seems to double as a place for neighborhood kids to practice their soccer skills)
  - Psah Thmei (a large, mostly-indoor market where you can find all sorts of stuff)
  - various outdoor markets

As always, check out the cambodia gallery for a visual tour.

© 2004-2012 susan & grace, all rights reserved

-- comments from readers --


I just came back from Cambodia/Angkor Wat. Sam was my tour guide too, and I went around on his motorbike, it's fun. He's a fantastic person to hang around with for the 3 days I was there, and reliable too, both in terms of logistics and knowledge about the place.

--Elaine (Singapore); Aug 31, 2005