This post is for our English speaking friends, who are considering to visit Cambodia and Angkor Wat. Most of us are referring to Lonely planet guides when planning our trips, however things are changing faster than new editions are released and infamous Cambodian roads get improved. Here we are sharing our own experience of travel that happened in November 2009.
Getting from Bangkok to Siem Reap become easy like it never was before. You can forget travel agents in Bangkok: they are overcharging you for nothing. Ticket prices sold by travel agencies vary from 600 to 1300 Bath, plus they would charge another 1200 Bath for Cambodian visa and trip takes 12-13 hours. If you travel on your own you need to get to Northern bus terminal -Moh Chit- in Bangkok first (if you are taking a taxi, make sure that driver knows where he takes you:) in our case we were taken to train station first:) I still cannot figure out how “bus terminal“ and “train station“ could sound the same in ears of taxi driver:) and taxi drivers in Bangkok for sure don’t know how to read street map:)). Air conditioned bus (not the newest one but reasonably good and very clean) made 3 stops during 3.5 hour trip to Aranya Prathet. Ticket price was 212 THB and with it we got some water as well. Please note, that some routes end at Aranya Prathet while our bus took us to directly Border market beyond Aranya Prathet, thus letting us to save some baths for this 5 minute drive from town. Once at the border, avoid getting hooked by “travel agents“ offering visa services at “the last point before crossing the border“ for 1100 Bath. Neither you need a tuk-tuk as border crossing is just 100 steps from the market where a bus lets you out. Once on Cambodian side, hand 20USD and 100THB (I still wonder why baths?) and 1 passport photo together with visa application form (takes 3 minutes to fill) to any officer and in another 5 minutes you have visa in your passport. Then you proceed another 100 meters where you fill arrival/departure card. This way you save some 10USD without overburdening yourself:) Right beyond the border crossing there is a complimentary bus to “International tourist terminal“. There you have option to proceed to Siem Reap with bus (9USD, 4 hours) or with shared taxi (12USD, 3 hours). All taxi cars are Toyota Camry 5-15 years old. By the way, on Cambodian side much more people speak English. And there is a brand new road from the border to Siem Reap: forget all tales about bumpy and dusty travel – its only a legend now! Once in Siem Reap, you get from taxi to complimentary tuk-tuk that takes you to the hotel or guest house. If you do not have any advance booking tuk-tuk will take you to their preferred places within your indicated accommodation budget. So, our trip took 8 hours and we have spent just over 600 baths per person. P.S. All complimentary things have their own price:) On this trip they have limited our choices, so I believe that there are even more cheap alternatives to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap.
Some advice about visiting Angkor Wat.
November-December months are the best to come here because then there is cool and dry season. It is a good idea to go there for at least 2 full days. Daily ticket to temples costs 20USD. For the first day take a guided tour (small tour) to the major temples – negotiate with tuk-tuk driver fare of 10USD (15 USD should be for a grand tour). We prefer taking a private guide and we stick to this rule in Angkor Wat -25 USD and 6 hours of very informative tour that covered not only history on temples, but also some hot issues of modern Cambodian life, including civil war and fighting factions. For a lunch we went to Khmer restaurant in Angkor Wat – food was good but price exceeded expected level: 5-6USD per meal (for comparison, at Thai border good quality Thai food and bear cost us 5USD for 2 persons!) For the second day we have rented bicycles (4.5USD) and went for “grand tour“ (aprox 30 km) on our own. We followed advice of tour guide to go counter clock wise enjoying shadows on the road and good light falling on temples. Souvenirs and refreshments prices around temples are HUGE! Negotiate them down at least by 2 times:) And the best way to buy is in places where there are just few sellers around, otherwise hordes of obtrusive sellers are appearing next to you if you touch any souvenir.
Some notes about Siem Reap
This is tourist area (2 million visitors a year!), so don’t expect provincial pricing:) All prices are in USD, all ATMs dispense USD ! Change is given in USD as well. Otherwise, Lonely planet is a good guide about this town.