Siem Reap, Angkor, Phnom Penh
There has been a lot of development in Siem Reap since the last time I
visited the city in September 2000. There are now low end hotels with
Internet access in the room, you can withdraw cash from ATMs, new roads
have been built. But it is still surprising that the Cambodians prefer
the US dollar to the local currency.
I was positively impressed by Phnom Penh, which is a nice and very
livable city and even has some nice sights (was actually expecting
grim, "bombed-out" place, full of people carrying weapons and attacking
This time I leave without a precise idea of when I'll be where. I'm
rather planning to make a stopover in Dubai, then continue to Malaysia,
spend two days in KL getting the Vietnam visa there, then fly to Siem
Reap, do Angkor and then travel to Phnom Penh, Saigon and from there go
north to Hanoi, before heading back to KL.
||Siem Reap-Phnom Penh
|Dec 29-Jan 3
The overall price level in Cambodia is still relatively low, with for
instance hotel rooms available for USD 10-15 or even less. Prices
however seem to be going up and are sometimes higher than in
neighbouring countries, for instance USD 3 for a fried rice which in
Malaysia costs USD 1. Also, the hotel in Phnom Penh was USD 35, while
for the same price I got a much better room in Saigon (Vietnam). In any
case Cambodia still allows you to travel on a very low budget.
/ Exchange rate (December 2006)
1 Euro = 5193 Riel
the Universal Currency Converter.
Cambodians prefer to receive US dollars instead of their own currency.
It is now possible to withdraw cash with a Maestro/Cirrus ATM card in
Siem Reap and Phnom Penh at the ANZ bank. You get US dollars.
phones and prepaid cards
There are prepaid cards, but I haven't tried them. Good GSM coverage in
all places I've been.
Internet cafes are everywhere and cheap - depending on the
"competitive" situation, rates are now as low as 0.50 - 1 US dollars
Tropically hot, but noticeably cooler than in Malaysia. December falls
in the dry season in Cambodia: skies are blue and it does not rain,
although in the evening and in the morning the sky is often overcast.
Surprisingly cool the day I was in Phnom Penh.
You'll need the usual set of "tropical" immunisations. I didn't do any
immunisations specifically for this trip, relying instead on the
protection gained through the immunisations of the previous years. I
also dodn't take any anti-malaria pills and instead relied on insect
VISA / Entry
A VISA on arrival can be obtained by citizens of most delevoped
countries at the airport in Siem Reap (cost is $20, you need one
photo). Citizens of ASEAN countries do not need a visa.
Ok in Siem Reap, and in Phnom Penh too. The situation has improved over
the past years. Phnom Penh makes a relatively safe impression.
You will need your own private transportation in
Siem Reap - be it a bicycle, motorbike, car or tour bus. The distances
are big and there is no public transportation allowing you to get from
one place to the next.
I used a bus to get from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, which essentially
cost me a full day (leaving 12pm, arriving at 6pm). It would have been
a better idea to leave Siem Reap in the evening after a full day of
sightseeing and fly to Phnom Penh.
Lumpur -> Siem
Angkor Thom hotel, Siem Reap. US $15
for a basic
room with A/C, fan, fridge, TV, some furniture, toilet with hot shower.
Not too great, but basicaly ok. In the hotel lobby there is an internet
cafe and the hotel has a bar/restaurant.
Weather: sunny and blue sky with a
few small clouds in the early morning in KL. I guess in the future I'll
have to be
more active in the early morning in KL if I want to shoot some photos.
Sunny, blue sky with some clouds in Siem Reap. Hot, but not too hot.
The wake up call wakes up everybody at 6:26am. Alissia realises that
she is sleeping in the baby bed and loudly asks to be put back into the
big bed next to the mommy. Shirley complains that because of me she has
to get up so early. I don't switch on the light and get ready in the
After checking out in the lobby and paying for the room I jump into a
taxi at 7:30am. The driver uses no meter and will bring me to the LCCT
(Low cost carriage terminal), AirAsia's terminal, for 80 RM. That's
more than if he used the meter, but never mind. The drive proceeds
smoothly and we arrive at the LCCT by 8:25am. This is a not so
sophisticated and elegant airport as the KLIA one, but it is
well-organised and compact enough, so that you don't have to walk long
distances. There is a 112 RM excess baggage surcharge because my
suitcase weighs 23 Kg, 8 more than allowed (RM 14 per Kg). After
checking in (there is no queue, so I lose no time waiting), I have two
noodle soups in the airport's restaurant. Then I proceed through
immigration and security and get to the departure hall.
There is already a long queue of people at the gate T1. With Airasia
there are no reserved seats, so people queue up at the gate instead of
taking it easy and sitting on the chairs. At 9:45am boarding starts, by
9:55am everybody is on the plane and shortly after 10am the plane
starts rolling and leaves pretty much on time. I'm glad that this time
AirAsia dien't screw it up (last time there was a four hours delay).
The plane, an oldish Boeing 737-300, is quite full. You have to pay for
the food on board (they sell sandwiches and drinks). The plane lands on
time at 11am local time in Siem Reap. Then everything happens very
fast: I get the visa, go through immigration, retrieve the suitcase and
get a taxi to Siem Reap (US $5). The taxi driver offers to drive me
around the Angkor temples for US $25 per day, which is ok (the Lonely
Planet guidebook indicates a range of $20-25); getting to Banteai Srei,
which is about 32 (40?) Km from Siem Reap will cost the extra petrol.
On the way to the hotel I spot a branch of the ANZ bank, where I
withdraw cash (US $) with the ATM card (Maestro/Cirrus).
At 11:50am I'm in the hotel (the Angkor Thom hotel). The room is not
too terrible and at US $15 not too overpriced. I could have tried to
negotiate for a price reduction for a few $, but who cares.
At 12:10pm I'm ready for the sightseeing. After a stop we reach the
temple complex at 12:20pm. There I buy a three-days ticket for US $40
(by the way, in Siem Reap everybody is using US dollars for payments).
Then we proceed to the Angkor temple, where I make the first stop until
1:20pm. The second stop is the southern gate of the Angkor Thom city,
followed by the Bayon, Baphuon and Phimeanakas. Then follows a brief
stop at Ta Prohm (full of tourists) and then we drive back to Angkor
Around 5pm I get into the balloon for some aerial photography (US $15
for about 10 minutes). It turns out to be disappointing, because the
balloon shakes a lot, makiing it difficult to shoot photos. After that
I have a dinner in one of the restaurants (US $3 for a fried rice???
seems very pricey) opposite Angkor Wat. When it gets dark, I'm still
there hoping that Angkor Wat will be illuminated, so we drive back to
the hotel. In the evening I don't do much. I sleep around midnight.
15.12: Siem Reap
Angkor Thom hotel, Siem Reap. Today I
discover that there is an Internet line (through an Ethernet cable) in
Weather: sunny, blue sky with some
clouds the whole day. Hot, but not too hot.
I wake up abruptly at 7:13am, perhaps because of some noise. Try to
sleep again, but can't fall asleep. Around 8am I get up and get ready.
At 8:50am I'm down in the hotel lobby and shortly after that the driver
pops up. Hmm... no time even for a short breakfast. So I jump into the
car and buy some food in a bakery on the way to the Angkor temples.
Today I cover lots of temples: initially Angkor Wat from the eastern
entrance (9:11-9:54am), then we drive to the Phimeanakas for some shots
with the morning sun of the Phimeanakas, terrace of the Elephants,
Baphuon and the Bayon (10:12-11:22am). At 11:30am we drive to the Preah
Khan (11:48-12:37pm), then to Preah Neak Pean (12:52-12:58pm) where we
lunch. Then we stop at Ta Som (1:42-2:07pm), Eastern Mebon
(2:21-2:38pm), Pre Rup (2:44-3:03pm), Banteay Kdei and Sra Srang
(3:13-3:43pm and complete the big loop with Prasat Kravan
At 4:30pm I'm at Phnom Bakheng ("sunset mountain") for a sunset shot of
Angkor Wat. The temple is full of tourists and gets fuller the closer
we get to the sunset (the sunset view is actually nothing special). At
5:30pm I'm down at the car and we drive back to the hotel.
After dinner in a restaurant opposite the hotel (good food by the way),
I check some travel options to Phnom Penh. There is a boat leaving at
7am (or 8am?) for 22-23 US $ (leave Siem Reap at 6am?) and there is a
3, 4 or 5 days tour by bus/boat to Saigon via Phnom Penh (40-60 US $).
Tomorrow we'll drive to some far away temples Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea
and the Roluos group. The extra fee should be around 25 US $.
16.12: Siem Reap
Angkor Thom hotel, Siem Reap.
Weather: overcast around 8am, later
it gets sunny, blue sky with a few clouds (same as yesterday). A bit
less hot than yesterday.
I wake up around 7:30am, after a short night (could not fall asleep
until 2am I guess). I stay a bit longer in bed, then get ready and am
down in the lobby at 9am, where I meet the driver. Today we'll visit
some further away temples (Banteay Srei, Beng Mealea).
We first drive to the Banteay Samré temple (9:42-10:03am), which
is a surprisingly beautiful temple. It's not on the grand tour, but is
still a very scenic temple when visited in the morning (there are some
nice well preserved carvings among others).
Shortly after 10am we leave for the Banteay Srei temple,
arriving there at 10:50am. Banteay Srei is very nice, definitely worth
a visit, but is full of tourists. I spend one hour there, then have
lunch in the restaurant opposite the temple (food and service are not
After lunch, at 12:40pm we start driving to the Beng Mealea temple. It
takes a long time to get there, because the driver is
using a non-paved red earth road full of holes and bumps. We only reach
the temple at 1:40pm.
Beng Mealea is supposed to be a very special place according to the
Lonely Planet guide. In reality, this is a temple in a very sorry state
of preservation, mostly consisting of heaps of collapsed stones. To
explore this temple you have to follow a weird maze of paths, climb up
and down on walls, go through holes in the wall etc. In case of rain
this place gets really dangerous, because the smooth, flat stones on
which you have to climb get slippery. By the way, some mines have
exploded in the temple - are there any active mines left?
Anyway, since at one point the path seems to end in front of a wall, I
ask the temple personnel where the right way is. This turns out to be
not such a smart move, because now the guy shows us (two more tourists
have joined me) how to get through the temple. For the next 50 minutes
this guy leads us through a maze of paths, corridors, up and down walls
etc., which could be kind of interesting for somebody who is into this,
but which ends up making me lose too much time here. Finally at 3pm the
guy leads us to the exit - another exit, not the one from which I
entered the temple. he even shows me the wrong way, so I end up walking
for 15 minutes in the jungle, partially backtracking my steps before
getting back to the car.
In the meantime it's already quite late (3:15pm) and I regret having
made the detour to Beng Mealea. We drive to the Roluos group of
temples, arriving at the Lolei temple (16:15-16:16) one hour later at
4:15pm. After a brief photo stop we drive to the Bakong temple
(16:27-16:44), which around this time of the day is very nice.
At 4:50pm I'm back in the car and ask the driver to drive to Angkor Wat
for some sunset shots. It takes 25 minutes to get there, even if the
driver is driving quite fast. After 15 minutes we drive back to the
hotel (name of driver: Bin Solin, bin_solin @ yahoo.com, +855-12-961
and I pay the driver (US $75 for the three days + US $35 for the extra
trip, that is petrol and toll road fee).
In the evening I enquire about the Mekong river tour at the travel
agencies I saw yesterday, but again they are unable to show a program
so I decide to skip the tour (might still book one in Phnom Penh). I
also decide not to do a boat trip, after reading in the Lonely Planet
that the boats are very small so that you have to sit on the roof,
there is a risk of capsizing and there is not much to see anyway in the
middle of the lake. I'll take the 12:30pm bus tomorrow.
17.12: Siem Reap
-> Phnom Penh
Hope and Anchor Guesthouse, Sisowath
Quay, Phnom Penh. US $35 for a room with TV, fridge, private bath with
shower and hot water, A/C, some furniture, fan. Essentially you pay for
the location and the view over the river, although the room is noisy
because of the street.
Weather: same pattern as yesterday:
overcast around 8am, later
it gets sunny, blue sky with a few clouds. Surprisingly cool in the
evening in Phnom Penh (too cool to sit outside).
Somehow in this place I keep waking up at 7:15am, even I could sleep
longer, as my bus only leaves at 12:30pm. Must be the room, whose
window can't be darkened sufficiently so that it gets very bright
already at 7am. In any case I get up, check my emails, then spend time
surfing the web. That's the advantage or disadvantage of having an
Internet connection in the room.
At 10:40am I have finished packing and get out of the hotel for a short
walk through Siem Reap before leaving. At 11:30am I have some lunch
then get back to the hotel, where I check out. At 12:10pm the minibus
comes and picks me up and brings me to the bus station. The bus station
is a relatively simple place with a number of buses waiting on an
At 12:35pm the bus starts the trip to Phnom Penh. The road is paved
but is not too smooth. At 2:35pm we stop somewhere for half an
hour. Then there is another break at 4:25pm and finally we reach Phnom
Penh a bit after 6pm.
I wonder if it would have been a better idea to cover the distance
between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh by plane for US $65, because like this
basically I lose one day (today I've done nothing except for the bus
trip to Phnom Penh). I could have left yesterday evening (assuming an
evening flight was available) after a full day of sightseeing in Siem
Phnom Penh is actually not too big, meaning that it does not take too
long to get to the town centre from the outskirts. When we (that is the
other travellers and me) get out of the bus, we are overrun by touts
and tuk-tuk drivers, each of them asking to go to his guesthouse/hotel
or to use his tuk-tuk. Actually these are nice people and they are
trying to make a living, it's just that I can only use one of them.
These tuk tuk drivers appear really desperate to make US $1 (the cost
of the short trip to the hotel).
It takes some effort to find a room, because the places I check (from
the list of midrange places listed in the Lonely Planet guide) are
either full or have no rooms with window, or the room with window is
not on the side of the river (or perhaps I'm a bit choosy). In the end
I settle for a room at the Anchor guesthouse (which in reality is more
on a hotel level).
Phnom Penh is kind of nice, at least the area around the river where
I'm staying, with its French style cafes and restaurants. By the way,
very tough to find a supermarket or minimarket where to buy some
groceries here. I wonder what I should do and how long I should stay,
given that there is not much to see in Phnom Penh. I'll take the plane
to Saigon, but should I take the evening flight tomorrow at 6:50pm or
should I take the 12pm flight on Dec. 19th? I sleep at midnight.
Penh -> Saigon
(Ho Chi Minh City)
Chancery All Suite Hotel, Saigon, 196
Nguyen Thi Minh Khai Street. US $35 for a very nice room with
everything, even WLAN to which however I can't connect when I check in.
The room is actually a suite with a first room with a sofa and other
furniture and a second room. Very good value for US $35, some orders of
magnitude better than the hotel in Phnom Penh which cost the same. I
booked this room through a travel agent at the airport in Saigon. Breakfast included.
Weather: sunny, blue sky with no
clouds, very windy in Phnom Penh. Due to the wind it does not get too
hot. 27°C in Saigon when I arrive in the evening.
I wake up at 8am, get ready, pack my things and shortly after 9am I get
out of the hotel. Outside yesterday's tuk-tuk driver is waiting for me
asks where I want to go. Actually I just want to secure the plane
ticket to Saigon, and on Sisowath quay yesterday I found two places
which were selling the ticket for US $95. "No problem, I know a place
where you can get the plane ticket for less, don't buy it here, they
will overcharge you..." Ok, so we jump into his tuk-tuk and he brings
to a place near the Psar Thmei market. Ticket price there is US
$92, wow what a "saving", but hey I have to pay the driver, so there is
no saving at all.
Never mind, at 9:30am everything is done, will have to return after
11am to fetch the ticket. Back in Sisowath quay I start a walk, after
declining an offer of the tuk-tuk driver to drive me around the whole
day (and where should I go? There is not much to see in Phnom Penh
anyway). Until about 11 something am I walk towards the royal
palace, stopping here and there for a photo.
Phnom Penh is sort of a smaller version of Bangkok with French
influences and French colonial architecture. Quite a pleasant city for
a day or so. There are almost no taxis, with people relying on tuk-tuks
to get around. Lots of poor and disabled people on the streets, lots of
beggars and lots of children who work. I see small girls carrying heavy
loads - bookshelves full of travel books - asking if you want to buy a
book. Must be really tiring to walk around all day with these
bookshelves, especially if you are a small kid. Not much of a
childhood, instead of going to school these kids spend their days on
Internet access is available in Internet cafes which can be found
everywhere in Phnom Penh (and in Siem Reap
too) at prices between 0.5-1 US $ per hour.
When walking on the streets in Phnom Penh, tuk-tuk and motorcycle
drivers will constantly ask you to use their services. These people
must be desperate for some cash.
By the time I arrive to the royal palace it's 11:30am and the royal
palace is closed, as I find out. It reopens at 2:30pm, funny that they
close it between 11am and 2:30pm. So I start walking in direction of
the hotel, then take a tuk-tuk to the Psar Thmei market, walk to
the travel agency where I fetch the ticket. Then I walk a bit in the
area and finally take a tuk-tuk (US $2) to the independence monument
and from there back to the Sisowath quay. There I check my emails and
the Airasia flight from Hanoi to KL on Dec. 28th. I also check if
Airasia has packages for Langkawi from Dec. 29th to Jan. 1st.
Unfortunately no hotel is available.
Then I have some lunch in a restaurant and at 2:10pm I start walking to
the Royal Palace. At 2:30pm I get in and until almost 4pm I'm there.
Actually one hour is plenty to visit the palace compound, which is sort
of a smaller version of the Grand Palace in Bangkok (here the
Khmer are mimicking a bit the Thais), but after that I have an ice
cream break. It's US $2.50 for an Almond Magnum and a Lemonsoda soft
drink, which is not exactly cheap for a country like Cambodia.
At 4pm I start walking towards the Independence monument. Outside the
royal palace there is a lot of police cars and police officers. This
must be the escort of some members of the royal family. By the way, the
uniforms of the police officers look like those of Thai police
officers. After some time the police convoy starts rolling.
I then walk towards the river where there is fun fair and then get back
to the guesthouse at 4:55pm. Unpleasant surprise, the room where my
bags are, is locked and the person with the keys is not there. Some
phone calls, waiting and finally around 5:15pm the person with the keys
shows up and opens the door. Then I ask about a taxi, they call it, but
it doesn't show up in time, so at 5:28pm I jump into a tuk-tuk to the
It takes a bit over half an hour to get to the airport. The
interior of the airport itself is nice and modern with an elegant
furnishing and layout. Some nervousness at the immigration counter as
it appears that I have lost the immigration card (have to fill in a new
one). The VN818 flight with Vietnam airlines is 10 minutes late. The
plane is an ATR72 turboprop and the hostesses (wow!) wear the
traditional Vietnamese dress, which is sexy as the top part is quite
At 8:20pm we land in Saigon. Immigration and baggage retrieval are very
fast, then at 8:50pm I'm at the counter of one of the two travel
agencies at the airport. It takes half an hour to settle the hotel
bookings and the taxi. Basically I'm in the Sol Chancery hotel for the
first night and in the Sai Gon hotel for the next nights. It might look
as a dumb solution, but never mind. The taxi to the hotel is US $7 and
the trip takes around 25 minutes.
Saigon looks like a pretty developed town, with lots of elegant and
modern shops and cool restaurants (based on what I see while driving
from the airport to the hotel). Looks like Vietnam is much more
developed than Cambodia.