I love historical ruins. I have heard mixed reviews about tourism and Cambodia. There is a dark side to everything. Traveling is no exception. Sketchy people travel abroad to do things they would never do in their home countries. Entitled people travel outside of their countries and pretend they own the earth. You can’t win them all. Cambodia has a dark recent history so it is a vulnerable tourism industry. Tourism can help the economy, but it has to be sustainable.
**If you are going to volunteer at an orphanage, DON’T. Please. Orphans are a vulnerable population and this kind of tourism needs to stop. Please do more research on why this is bad for everyone. If you want to help an orphanage, send money to a reputable organization instead.**
The generation that lived through the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge is getting older and passing on. Everyone who visits Cambodia should make it a priority to visit Phnom Penh and go to the museums. It may be uncomfortable, but we don’t learn anything important being in our comfort zone. And what is the point of traveling if you are not learning more about the world?
Stop and talk to people. Absorb, learn, and enjoy.
Siem Reap Airport (REP) is lovely: new, clean, and decorated with pride. You can get a visa on arrival (for most countries) and the line of course depends on the number of passengers on your plane. Be careful of scammers. My traveling buddy was asked for a bribe by the immigration officer. This happens to almost everyone traveling in Cambodia. I don’t think you can avoid it but just be aware.
For the visa, you need:
- 1 passport sized photo (2×2)
- $35 USD
- 1 blank page in your passport, and a passport valid for at least 6 months
The unofficial currency in Cambodia is USD. You should bring/exchange small bills as you will most likely pay for everything in dollars. The Cambodian Reil has devalued so much, its currently 4,000 Riels to 1 USD.
Where to Stay:
I stayed at Lovely Guesthouse and it was truly lovely. The entire experience was a positive one. I booked an airport pick up for the first time, and it was very convenient. There was a nice tuk tuk that picked me up. The driver was friendly, we had a pleasant conversation. My flight was delayed and it took some time to get through immigration. He was waiting and missed lunch and we felt so bad we took him out to lunch. The first night, I was exhausted from traveling, and I checked in the room and relaxed.
If you are looking for accommodation, I highly recommend Lovely Guesthouse. It is away from the tourist center so it is less noisy, but still walking distance or a short tuk tuk ride to everything. The beds were comfortable and clean, the rooms had free wifi and a hot shower. Really, what more can you want from a budget guesthouse? The place was perfect!
What can I say about the marvelous ‘city of temples’? While Europeans were just starting to wake up from the Dark Ages and unifying its warring tribes, the Khmer Empire was thriving and erected the grand Angkor Wat to honor the Hindu gods. Supposedly, it is designed to replicate Mount Meru, the home of the gods. It served as the state house and capital. Marking the change in society, later kings dedicated the structure to Buddhism and kept it as a central place of worship.
I rented a bike from the guesthouse for $2 and went to a few temples. It was a great experience going on a bike. I went in October and it rained on the way back, it was fun biking in the rain, but in the dark, I would not recommend it since it is not exactly safe. Shh. It is a huge place, so to go by bike is slow. And hot. The next day, I hired a tuk tuk instead.
Entry permits were $40 for 3 days. There is also a one day pass, and a seven days pass. If you buy it at 5:00PM, you can enter and watch the sunset, and it won’t count for one of the days. Keep it accessible as you will be asked for it on multiple occasions.
Do not assume this money stays in the country. A private Japanese company facilitates the renovation and operation of Angkor Wat. So the millions of tourism dollars obtained from the entrance fees, the people of Cambodia will most likely never reap the benefits. (This is true for most attraction entrance fees for any country.)
You can help the local people economically by supporting small businesses: local shops, local vendors, local guesthouses, local artists, etc.
We took the “Grand Tour” by tuk tuk which included five temples. Going through the ruins and studying all the carvings was an experience! I wish I had read more about the carvings so I could have noticed the little things. Every structure had a story carved into the stone walls. It was amazing. A lot of work. A lot of stories.
Can I just say how much I loved these tuk tuks? It is an old style carriage attached to a motorbike. The front can be put down to hold luggage, or put up to seat more passengers. The seat is removable so there is even more storage under the seat. Genius!
Angkor Wat by tuk tuk again: Tha Prom, Bantasarei, Bayan, the main Angkor Wat, and a few smaller ones on the trail. Staying for only three days is definitely not enough to experience this massive ruin. There were many other unique temples I did not visit because of time and distance. I also came back to my favorites again: Bayan and the main Angkor Wat and stayed for a while.
I took what is called a ‘hotel bus’ overnight. This bus has beds instead of seats. Genius! I am so impressed. The drive was smooth and I had no problems. Although, the beds are very small. I am a small person so I had no problems. But there were two very tall Americans trying to sleep in the next bed, and they were not comfortable.
After checking into the hotel, I went to the killing fields and then the prison by tuk tuk. I had time for the national museum as well. The last two survivors of the prison were there for the day. I bought one of their books. I started reading it, I am so glad they make it their mission to educate the world about the genocide that happened. Education is the only way to prevent future atrocities. Everyone should read as much as possible.
I also got to visit the Royal Palace just before it closed. The Khmer style architecture is similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand. Thailand still retain a lot of Khmer influence in their art, architecture, and clothing.
Woke up and went straight to the airport.
It was a very short but very sweet trip. I wanted to learn more about the history so these places were priority for me, I am happy I had an opportunity to visit. I wish I can go back and spend more time there someday.
**Some of these photos were taken by Kem Ramirez Photography and used with consent. Please practice artistic integrity and obtain permission before replicating.**