Questions about Siem ReapA friend forwarded me an e-mail from a friend of hers who is planning to visit Siem Reap. Here are my answers to his questions. Feel free to add any more suggestions or comments, or even more questions!
1)How many days needed to see the major temples in siem reap?
You only have three options: one day, three days, or a week. You could get temple burn-out by going for a week, unless you’re willing to forgo those days paid to enter the temple, to see more of Siem Reap and its surrounding areas. Mind you, it’s not cheap. A three day pass cost me USD40. A one day pass is half the price of a three day pass.
One day is not enough to soak up the temples however. You could possibly do the major temples such as Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phrom, etc.. in one day but I found that going back during the sunrises and sunsets to different temples made my travel experience more rewarding.
2) Which hotel is recommended and cheap?
Hmm.. depends on what you mean by ‘cheap’. I think paying more than RM40 is expensive. :D I stayed in a couple of places to try them out. I recommend Two Dragons because it is very clean and the rooms are bright and cheery. I stayed in the cheapest room for about USD6. It had no windows but the room had a cosy feel to it. It is located in the Wat Bo area, which is about a twenty-minute walk to the Old Market (and where most eateries are located). It has its own restaurant however which makes eating in very convenient. Food was ok. It prides itself for not using MSG but I thought the Thai noodle dish I tried out was too salty.
I also stayed at the Garden Village Guesthouse which is run by a Khmer family (compared to Two Dragons which is expat-owned). However you don’t get the feel of a family-run establishment as there are only young Khmer people hanging around the place. My room was so lovely, large with a window facing the rice paddy! I even had my own balcony that faced a large pond. Large bathroom as well. Floor was not clean (sandy) but at least the sheets were clean (I hope!). It was very atmospheric with thatched walls and ceiling. All that for USD7! I really liked the location as well because it is just a short walk to downtown, in a relatively quiet ‘rural’ road. Great value but be forewarned because there is a large Khmer disco next to it (which they don’t mention on their website of course) and if you have a room close to it, it can be fairly noisy. But it is a large area and my room was the furthest and all I heard was peace and quiet.
What I liked about the place was that they had Khmer families living in thatched huts that you have to walk past to get to your room – making it feel like a Khmer village, almost (it helped having the rice paddy with buffaloes next to it!!). It would have been my top choice if the receptionist was properly trained. She seemed to change her mind on the prices of the tuk-tuk from one day to the next, on what seemed pure whim (to earn extra cash? You pay the money directly to her, rather than to the drivers as the website claims). You really have to be firm with her. At least at Two Dragons, the expat owner is straight-forward with you and tell you as it is. I have more faith in his advice than I did with the Khmer people, sadly. Also, what I didn’t like was that there was always a large group of young Khmer tuk-tuk/motorcycle drivers lounging around the reception area. As a single Asian female traveler, it was really annoying to walk past it and them trying to flirt with you every single damn time. Of course, this happens everywhere but it’d be nice to have some peace at your paid accommodations at least.
They’re also not very on the ball with reservations. I had sent an e-mail booking to them, which they replied, confirming that they would pick me up at the airport. I even sent another e-mail confirmation just in case. So what happened when I arrived at Siem Reap airport, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed?? They didn’t show up at all. When I had asked about it later, the receptionist claimed no knowledge. Gee, was their e-mail reply my imagination after all?
Internet was impossibly slow, with one computer working. (And I use dial-up at home!!) It seemed to be quite the norm in other guesthouses offering ‘free’ internet. Certainly not worth it so don’t use free internet as a criteria in choosing a guesthouse.
What I don’t recommend is the Dead Fish Tower hotel: bad service, air-con not working and such low water pressure that I found scooping water from the sink with my hands better than trying to take a proper shower! They also offer free internet but it’s always broken down, so they sometimes give out free 10 or 15 minute voucher for the nearby internet café. What I don’t like is that they seemed to discriminate against Asian travellers [they were Khmer staff]. When an Asian guy asked about the internet use, they didn’t give him any vouchers but five minutes later when a white guy walked in and asked the same question, they immediately pulled out the free voucher. That really irritated me. They also offer free massages but the guy who gives it to you is the same guy who checks you in and it’s just right there at the reception counter, while other Khmer staff gawk at you. It’s not worth it.
I also stayed at the Green Bamboo, a Khmer-run guesthouse. I really wanted to like it because it came highly recommended to me by some French expats and even a Khmer woman that I had gotten to know. The owners were very sweet but on the blur side, not sure it’s the language barrier however. But what was pretty bad and got me out of there after one night was that it was just not clean. The toilet was dirty and they didn’t change the sheets after the last guest. I’m pretty sure that I don’t have any blonde hairs on me so whatever was on those sheets….. When I asked them to at least change the sheets, all they did was sweep the floor and pronounced it clean. Blonde hairs still on bed. When I tried to explain about the dirty sheets, they looked at me like I was being fussy! Hey, I can overlook a dirty floor.. sleeping on unclean sheets is another matter for me.
I recommend checking out Tales of Asia for more recommendations on where to stay. There are tons of guesthouses/hotels in Siem Reap for you to check out.
3) Do you need a guide (bayar) to explore? Or can you enter on own?
You can enter the temple area on your own. What I did was hire a motorcycle (and a driver) per day (USD8) and he took me around the temples. You can also hire a tuk-tuk (USD10), a car (who knows, definitely not an option for cheapie me) or even a bike! I wanted to try out the electric bike (a bit lazy lah to pedal around the large temple circuit) but getting there can be quite an adventure. It depends.. Traffic in Siem Reap to me was chaotic. I felt it was better to trust a local than myself to get there in one piece!
You can hire guides – just ask the receptionist of wherever you’re staying to recommend a guide. The higher the daily pay, the better the guide of course.
Basically, “my guide” was a book on the Angkor temples. It definitely helps to have either a guide or a book otherwise it’d just be a pile of ancient stones over and over again. If I would have done this differently, I would at least hire a guide for a day for the major temples. The other two days, you can do it on your own.
4) How is the temperature? Very hot during the day?
Very hot lah during mid day. A krama (local checkered scarf) makes for a great cheap souvenir and comes in handy in keeping your head cool. Great as well for covering your face whilst travelling on the dusty roads. Otherwise, bring along your cap. Definitely bring bottled water (don’t buy the water at the temple circuit – they just refill old bottles!!). What I did was rent the motorcycle for the day: left by 5 a.m., toured temples till 10 or 11. Headed back for lunch and a little rest (or visited the Old Market) and visited the temples once more from 2 or 3 up to sunset.
5) Halal food?
It wasn’t a priority for me so I didn’t notice, sorry. But you can eat cheaply by buying French loaves and fruits from the roadside. Lots of restaurants in downtown Siem Reap, including Indian restaurants so maybe those are halal.
6) If she knows, transportation - to Phnom Penh frm Siem Reap. Easy to buy or need prebooking? Most likely we'd be taking the bus as train is too slow.
I flew directly to Siem Reap so I don’t know. You can also take a boat to Siem Reap but apparently it is not the most comfortable ride? It would be pretty scenic though! The above photos were taken at Prek Toal Wildlife Sanctuary, which I loved. It is on Tonle Sap Lake -- if you arrive via boat from Phnom Penh, you'd arrive at Chong Khneas, a Vietnamese floating village/port which lies on Tonle Sap. I really recommend visiting Prek Toal if you can. I wished I had more time to take a boat out to Battambang, which I hear is more Cambodian than, well touristy Siem Reap. Perhaps next trip!
Tales of Asia has good advice on crossing Cambodia overland.
7) Crime rate? Cons?
8) Others- safety - lugging around a big camera-safe?
Siem Reap is SUCH a touristy place, not unlike Bali. Very safe. So many ang mohs, who are more likely to be targeted than a Southeast Asian face, methinks. So many people lugging around big cameras. Just practice common sense. Hardly think that it is any more dangerous than walking down KL streets! Believe me, visiting Siem Reap is not so much of an adventure than most people would make it out to be. :P Unless you get out of the touristy areas and into the countryside.. now that would be interesting.
I had a lovely time in Siem Reap and what they say is true, you *have* to see Angkor Wat (and the surrounding temples) in your lifetime at least once. There's something about the place that draws people back. I met a solo Japanese female traveller who confided to me that it was her fifth time in Siem Reap! She just loved it so much that she kept coming back. I feel the same way too.. I have other recommendations other the temples that are really worth staying longer in Siem Reap for -- that should be in an up-coming blog entry.