Cambodia: diving into history and culture…
Getting there: from Thailand through the Aranyaprathet-Poipet border, and on a taxi to Siem reap . Please read our updated walkthrough to Cambodia for advices on how to avoid scams at the border.
It is quite easy to find your way around and to live on the cheap in Siem reap. Hotels and homestays are everywhere, prices start as low as $12 US for the night.
For exemple: Naga hotel offers a standard bedroom with a descent bathroom for this price.
The town isn’t too big and there are tuk tuks on every corner willing to drive you to your destination for just a few bucks (negotiate!).
To do in Siem reap:
-The night market and Pub street: Pubs with 50ct beers, happy hours and $1 cocktails, clothes, gadgets, insects, you name it, you will find it all there!
-The blue pumpkin: if you need a break or if you want to work on your computer a bit, go to this nice café (there are 2 of them in Siem reap). You’ll enjoy a tasty croissant or pastry sitting on a very comfy long day bed/couch.
-Angkor wat: Truely a wonder of the world:
–Pack for the day: sunscreen, a hat, light clothings, good shoes, a 1.5l bottle of water, sunglasses, snacks, camera off course, small dollar notes.
–Getting there: Tuk tuks will propose their services for $15 for a whole day with them driving you around all the different temples. This is the best way as temples are quite far appart by foot and are really worth seeing. Instead of getting the first tuk tuk that you encounter, walk into town and negotiate with them. You can get one for $12 for the whole day and give him some more at the end of the day if you’re happy with the service.
Warning: We heard there are scams. A few of them will change from $15 to 50 or $90 once your ticket for the temple is bought. This happens more in the morning when you’re in a rush to get to the temple for sunrise.
The best way to avoid this is: Don’t buy your ticket in the morning, you can buy a ticket to angkor wat park at 5pm for sunset and use it the whole following day as well. If you go there for sunrise, you will then pass huge lines of tourists getting theirs. Get ready, mornings are crazy busy, everyone want this sunrise photo of Angkor wat… you could either go there extra early and enjoy the magical peace of the temple at night ( 2am…) to secure your spot for sunrise, or skip it all together, that’s what we did and we still had great shots coming at 9am.
The sunset hill really isn’t worth it. You would follow people up the hill to line up to get on top of a platform that only allows 300 people. You would have to line up for hours depending on what time you get there, and you would see a very ordinary sunset that you could whitness from any other places around Siem reap. Temples are barely visible from up there anyway.
As always, please don’t ride the elephants up the hill as they go through terrible pain to get to this stage of submission (check phajaan on google or youtube and the work of Lek Chailert). Instead, and this is the perfect transition, go to :
–Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary:
It is $400 each for a whole week volunteering in a beautiful landscape, close to monkeys and 2 amazing free elephants in their natural habitats. People there are very friendly and work isn’t very hard so if you want a good experience with locals, this if for you. If you want a good experience with elephants, this is for you. If you want a week retreat, this is for you. If you want a week volunteering , this if for you! Plus, your money goes straight to the program to help protect the Cambodian forest and wildlife and Asian elephants. Booking in advance is recommanded, more info here: Cambodia wildlife sanctuary.
From Siem reap to Phnom penh:
Overland, the best way is by bus but do your research, talk to several agencies before you make your choice, and please don’t believe the photos and the descriptions you’re given.
Our advice is: DO NOT GO WITH RITH MONI!
We were sold VIP tickets with this company and got on a bus that was absolutely wrecked, with no suspension for 8hours on a 4WD road. We should have checked the reviews online first. This company is known for deadly accidents and the lack of safety. Friends of ours even got their expensive camera and some cash stolen by the driver of the small Rith moni bus that picked them up at their hotel.
Giant Ibis bus company is a much better choice for both safety and comfort.
Every bus company has a different drop off, there isn’t a common bus terminal there. Check this before you go. You could then book a hotel close to the drop off and walk there.
We really recommand Bolyna Palace hotel. You can get a room for $15 with air cond, and their restaurant is great: good food, cheap, amazing service. It isn’t far from the supermarket, and market.
While you’re in Phnom penh, you can learn a bit more about the terrible history of Cambodia:
-The genocide museum:
It is the prison where hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were tortured and emprisoned for years during the Khmer rouge regime, now converted into a museum. Tickets are $3.
-The killing fields:
Prisoners were brought there to be killed and burried. Clothes are still coming out of the ground and bones appear regularly at the surface. It isn’t the creepy experience it sounds like, the place is actually really peaceful and the audio guide is really well made. Tickets are $6 with audio.
You can hire a tuk tuk driver for $15 for the whole day to drive you to both.
There are also some really nice buildings to see like the Royal palace or the National museum of Cambodia.
Organise your trip to Vietnam:
When we checked on the internet, it looked like the best way to get a visa to Vietnam wasn’t to go to the embassy as we thought but to go to some bike renting place to ask them to do it for us. Off course, it sounded a bit weird but we went there to give it a go, asking a thousand questions just to make sure it wasn’t dodgy.
We can now tell you that, as weird as it sounds, getting your Vietnamese visa from Lucky lucky motorcycle is a very good idea. You won’t have to deal with paperwork, it will be ready the next day and it will cost the same amount : $60.
Just know that if you are European and only intend to stay in Vietnam for 15 days, you’ll get the visa on arrival for free. So you won’t even have to get a $60 visa in advance. Check if this applys to your country beforehand.
Take the bus to Ho chi minh city. Do not go with Rith moni (we can not stress this enough), Giant Ibis is a much better option. Their service is very good, the bus is very comfy and you will even have someone looking after you the whole time. It will be cheaper if you get your tickets from a hotel than from their website. Here is the list of the hotels affiliated with them in Phnom penh. You don’t even have to stay at these hotels (not always the cheapest) to buy tickets; see which one is closer to you and just walk there. A small bus will pick you up from this hotel to the main bus. The steward onboard will ask you for your passeport to check your Vietnamese visa status, he will keep it for a bit, don’t worry, it is normal.
Then crossing the border goes as follow:
-you get your passport back and get off the bus with it (don’t leave your valuables onboard, take your small backpack with you), and follow the crowds through the immigration. Get your Cambodian stamp out of the country.
-get back on board, give your passport back to the stewart. You will get off the bus again 5minutes later and have lunch at a cheap restaurant for 30minutes while he checks your stamp.
–get your passport back when you get back onboard, then 5 minutes later, get off again with all your belongings and follow the passengers through customs, get your Vietnamese stamp, scan your finger prints and get back onboard to Ho chi minh…