Visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia
After saying goodbye to Koh Tao, I jumped on a mix of buses and ferries to get back up to Bangkok so I could cross the border into Cambodia. Before coming out this way I figured – ignorantly – that all the countries would be fairly similar and there was just different things to do in each. How wrong I would be.
Getting scammed in Siem Reap
It feels like the moment I started working to get into Cambodia I began getting hustled harder than ever. Bangkok and some other larger cities require a decent amount of haggling. Cambodia takes haggling to a new level. Everything is priced at least at a 100% premium, so you should begin with a counter of 70% less of the first price and settle for nothing more than 50% less than the list price.
The islands in Thailand have set prices so what they tell you is what it is, for the most part. Going from that to Cambodia was a shock.
Day one I took a tour bus that included the ride, visa, and border crossing all straight to Siem Reap. From Bangkok it cost 1000 baht. A decent price.
It got fishy when we were charged $60 USD. Double the price for a Cambodian visa. Cambodian visas are $30 USD. Any more and you are getting played.
Crossing the border to Cambodia
Next at the border our guide gave us a big pitch about how there are no ATMs and paying in USD will get you ripped off, so we should trade all our Thai Baht to Cambodian Riel between the borders. Sure enough they took us to a certain exchange desk where we got a horrible exchange rate and I was taken for over $100 USD I later learned.
Cambodia accepts both USD and riel. There are plenty of ATMs also. Never exchange at the border.
We had to get off the bus and physically walk across the border and confirm our visas. This is standard though. We got back on the bus at the other point.
After getting back on the bus and continuing on, we eventually made a stop for a toilet break and food half way to Siem Reap. Here everything was extremely overpriced and that included SIM cards. I paid $40 CAD for 6 days of unlimited data. Whereas I should have paid about $10 for 20 days. I still hadn’t wrapped my head around the currency conversions and they are very pushy to make the sales happen. Best bet is only purchasing at legitimate stores or at airports.
Arriving in Siem Reap
The 6 hour promised bus ride turned into 10 quite quickly. Everything in these countries takes longer than advertised or expected. It was late and dark by the time I arrived. I took a tuk tuk from the bus station to my hostel. Tuk Tuk drivers will frequently ask you how much you want to pay. They will either begin with 50,000 Riel or $10 USD. A trip across the city should not cost more than $6 and in many cases you should only pay $3-4 USD
I stayed at Siem Reap Pub Hostel. The hostel and staff itself were great. The only issue I had with it, was it was located in a back lane that required a few minute walk to a main road. Backlanes in Cambodia are to be avoided especially if you are alone. More on this later.
Cambodia is a much, much poorer country than Thailand. For the first time in years of travel I felt unsafe here. Siem Reap was less like a city and more like a village. Traffic operated in a much more chaotic way than many other Asian countries I’ve visited.
There’s less street food available but food and beer are generally cheaper than in Thailand. Though you usually need to bargain for it.
There are also no 7/11’s which are literally life savers in Thailand.
Visiting the temples of Angkor Wat
The incredible temples located a mere 20 minutes from Siem Reap are probably one of the main reasons people visit Cambodia. There are many temples besides Angkor Wat. Personally, my favorite temple was the Bayon Temple, the one with tons of Buddha faces all over the structures.
These temples are packed from early morning until late evening. There are a variety of ways you can get to, and experience the temples.
The first is to hire a private Tuk Tuk. These drivers will pick you up, drive you to, and wait while you visit the various temples. You can go to as many temples as you like and they will wait as long as you wish. They usually advertise this service at $40 USD but you should be able to get it for between $20-30 USD.
Another option is to join a tour group. Now I know I’ve talked shit about tour groups in the past, but the one I join from my hostel was well worth it. I paid $10 USD and went with a group of people from my hostel. The bus I booked for the tour was through Siem Reap Pub Hostel.
I liked this because it was a guided tour, I met people from my hostel and we were carted around in a minivan with A/C.
The Angkor Wat tour
It’s best to go for either a sunrise or sunset tour. I chose the sunrise tour and we left the hostel at 4:30am.
The ticket for a one day pass to all the temples is just under $40 USD, so it’s a bit more expensive. I overheard some people talking that if you buy the ticket after 4pm and do the sunset, you can also use that ticket the next morning too. Something to check out.
The temples are truly amazing and I recommend them to everyone.
How my phone got stolen in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Above I mentioned how back lanes, as in many cities, can be dangerous. On my second night I was walking down the back lane from my hostel to the main road. It was about 10pm, I was drunk and alone. I was walking in flip flops with beer in hand. Probably looking like easy prey.
About halfway between the hostel and road a bike with a man and woman drove by. As they noticed me they did a 180 and the woman hopped off and started strutting towards me.
She got right up in my face, grabbed my man parts and started asking if I like ladyboys.
Drunk and shocked by this situation, I was like a deer in the headlights. Within those few seconds and with her other hand she had stealthily checked each of my shorts pockets.
Luckily my money and valuables that would normally go in my wallet were in a money belt that was worn inside my shirt and around my chest.
Unfortunately, since I had pockets my phone was in one of my front pockets and not in the money belt as it sometimes sat throughout my trip.
Well, she quickly released me, pushed me away and ran faster than Usain Bolt back to that scooter, jumped on and rode away into the night as I chased as screamed as soon as I released the reality of what had happened.
Tips for Siem Reap Cambodia
Bargain for everything. Certain more upscaling looking restaurants, hostels, hotels will have set prices that are relatively fair. But anything on the street or stores you should be looking to get it down at least half the original price.
In these Asian countries there are 3 prices; tourist, expat, and local. Aim for at least expat pricing.
Stay at Siem Reap Pub Hostel. It was comfortable, staff were helpful and they have a great pool and bar. Despite the back lane location I would probably stay here again.
Visit the temples
Walk with friends at night, or take a tuk tuk home from anywhere.
Hold your belongings close and keep them hidden when walking. Thefts like what happened to me or people driving by on bikes and ripping backpacks or bags from people walking on the street are common.
Visit Pub Street. It’s like a mini Khao San rd, but in Siem Reap. Art Street is also a mentionable area to visit.
You shouldn’t need to spend more than 2 or 3 nights here in my opinion.
Get travel insurance. I am working on getting reimbursed for my stolen phone through my travel insurance. I honestly just bought it originally in case I hurt myself while traveling again. There are a ton of things Travel Insurance covers, I recommend World Nomads
In the next post I will discuss Phnom Penh and Hanoi, Vietnam! Stay tuned