Tonlé Sap Lake and the stilt village

South of Siem Reap is one of the largest bodies of water in the region, Tonlé Sap Lake. Famous for it’s stilt and floating villages, we decided to take one of the shorter trips to see a stilt village.

Our first view of some of the stilt buildings. Because it is the dry season the water level is low and the houses are quite tall!

In town. Here people use boats like we use cars.

Here is another group enjoying a tour.

On the outskirts of the village we had the chance to take a small raft through the flooded trees.

While I had a nice time and took some great pictures I think that if we were to do it again we would take more care to book with a reputable company. Especially at the end of the day they were trying to aggressively sell us soda, souvenirs, and some meal on the lake deal. We were both fed up with it by the end of the day. Should have listened to the guidebook, it did warn us!

Next we’re back to Thailand and traveling south to the islands.

Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm

My boyfriend is not much of an early riser, so unlike most people we did not wake up before dawn to see Angkor Wat in the light of the sunrise. We slept in and found a tuktuk driver while walking downtown, lol. It worked out great and we were able to see Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm, the Indiana Jones Temple! While these are the most popular temples they are also really cool. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across people talking about these or sharing pictures. I have no regrets.

Angkor Wat is actually just one of the temples that are in Siem Reap. There are tons and you can choose to see a bunch in one day in one grand loop. Most places start with Angkor Wat and go in a clockwise loop, but you can also go in the opposite direction in order to beat the crowds.

In order to see Angkor Wat you buy a ticket to enter the park area with all of the various temples. We decided on a one day pass at $20. You can also buy a pass for three days for $40 and a seven day pass for $60. This does not include temples that are located outside of the Angkor Archaeological Park so check out the page and do your research before you go. You will be asked for your passport and to take a picture for your ticket.

Actually we managed to get to the temple at lunch time and it was great timing. There’s a bit of a lull between the early morning crowds and the afternoon ones and while there were still a few other tourists there it wasn’t too crowded.

 

The first statues you see as you enter Angkor Wat. There really are people everywhere!

There are also a bunch of touts hanging around trying to sell you various items. This can be useful, for example I picked up a hat that probably saved me from some sun burn. Honestly they just can’t compete with everything around you.

Here were are crossing the moat.

This is the entrance to the inner part of Angkor Wat. Once inside you walk for a quite a bit before you come to the main structure. Unfortunately the sun was not cooperating with me and I didn’t get any good pictures of it.

In order to get to the top you have to walk up some steep narrow steps. I’ve read online that this is supposed to represent the difficultly of getting to heaven, which is what the highest point of the temple represents. Here is the view from the top.

Once we finished exploring the top we started to view the outer walls. This is one of the murals that I found interesting.

After Angkor Wat, we were invited by our guide to check out a hot air balloon view of the Angkor Archaeological Park. This was kind of disappointing as we did not know that it would be a quick up and down ride while tied to a tether! Oh well, it was still a nice view. I recommend you skip this one and move on to the next temple on your itinerary.

Next we went to check out the Bayon. This was actually one of my favorite places of the day. The smiling and sanguine faces make this place almost eerie, and the bas-reliefs are beautiful.

At this point we were pretty hungry and decided to stop and have an early dinner. Our guide drove us to a restaurant in the area. It was not very good and I think it was mostly recommended because of the incentive that the guides receive for bringing customers! If we were to do it again I we should have done more research on good places to stop for a meal.

After our disappointing dinner we went to our last stop of the day, Ta Prohm.

Ta Prohm was the place I was initially most excited about. It is famous for the huge trees that have grown through its ruins and is just like stepping into a movie set. Here are a few of the pictures that I took. It was a little difficult with take good pictures with the light and the crowds, but I just took a bunch anyway.

Funny story, even with our shortened itinerary we were exhausted from walking around all day. There are two entrances to Ta Phrohm, one on the east and one on the west and they look pretty similar. We were so turned around that we ended up walking straight through the complex and looking for our tuk tuk driver on the wrong side! It took us forever to figure out what was wrong as the entrances looked so similar.

In any case I think that it was the perfect trip for us and it was one of the highlights of my trip to Southeast Asia. I’m a big Anthropology nerd and this was so cool! Honestly I see so many references to Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and the Bayon online and I don’t feel like I missed out on much by not seeing the other temples. If you aren’t that much of a walker or just want to have a more relaxing trip don’t feel like you need to see everything. Pick the places that you’re interested in and go see those.

Some tips for going to the temples are to bring a hat or buy sunscreen, there is a lot of walking in the sun. You can also buy a hat from one of the many vendors but know that the prices they quote are 3-4 times that of what the item is worth. Wear comfortable shoes. These are massive sites and you are going to do a lot of walking. As for drinks and snacks there are actually tons of shops along the way so you don’t really need to bring those.

That’s all I can think of for now. I hope that one day you will get a chance to go see Angkor Wat for yourself! Next time I am going to talk about riding Quads around the outskirts of Siem Reap.

Siem Reap, the city behind Angkor Wat

I’d actually never heard of Siem Reap before researching our trip to Angkor Wat and I think that in many ways the city gets lost in the tourism the attraction brings. Angkor Wat is one of a group of ancient ruins located in the Angkor Archeological Park. The whole area is included in the ticket price and there are few if any hotels located inside. If you’re going to Angkor Wat you will be staying in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap has exploded with tourism in the last few years and you cannot cross a street without encountering a tuktuk driver shouting offers to bring you on a temple tour. If you’re coming from Thailand like we did the aggressiveness of these encounters can be somewhat jarring. Try to remember that the local people don’t have much money and getting your business can make a huge difference to them. If you’re not interested just smile and move on.

Because the hotels and restaurants are aimed at tourists rather than the local population you will find they are more expensive than other places in Southeast Asia. I think that I probably spent in a week what would have taken 3-4 weeks in Thailand. That said we did cram a lot of activities into our five day visit and we all had a lot of fun.

The one thing that is very inexpensive here is the beer. It is only $.50 in most places, and often comes free if you order a meal. If you’re looking to try bar hoping or just kick back with a cold one when it gets hot this is the place to do it.

Now that I’ve talked a little about the town I will go into some details about our trip. Tips, where we stayed, where we ate and other services available in Siem Reap.

Like I mentioned in my last post for the most part they use US dollars for currency in Cambodia. You will want to use bills no larger than $20 and to make sure they are in good shape. Overly dirty, wrinkled or ripped bills may be refused. You may also receive some Cambodian currency as small change. Try to use all of this up before you leave as it’s too small to exchange.

My other tip is that you get a sim card and a week long tourist plan for your cell phone. Being connected to our friends back home and being able to look things up was invaluable and made me feel a lot more secure. It is conveniently located at the airport and doesn’t take more than a few minutes to set up.

We stayed at the HI Siem Reap hostel in a private room with bath and air conditioning. This was maybe two blocks away from the Art Market and a short walk to downtown. It was clean, comfortable, and because they are owned by the same company as the HI Siem Reap Deluxe we were able to use the roof top swimming pool at that location.

If you are planning to swim at the pool you will probably want bring your swimsuit with you or make sure to wear a cover up. While it is not far to walk I did feel uncomfortable walking for so long in a wet swimsuit and towel. There is a public bathroom at the pool that you can use to change.

The one things that I have to mention about our stay is a problem I had  with their laundry system. They sew small colored thread into your clothes in order to keep track of them and this permanently damaged a few of my pieces. All of the clothes that I had washed during our trip have small holes in them now, many in visible locations. I was pretty disappointed by this and would not choose to use their laundry service again.

Other than that I would highly recommend the HI Siem Reap hostel. You do not need to be a HI member to book, but you do have to pay 10-15% more. It still worked out to be fairly inexpensive.

The location of our hotel was perfect for us to walk to downtown to  go to one of the many restaurants, get a massage, or to grab some snacks from the convenience store.

While in Siem Reap we chose to eat out for most of our meals. For the first few days we didn’t have much luck finding good restaurants however by the end of our stay we found a few nice places to eat. Here are some of the places that we discovered.

Nai was one of the first restaurants that we encountered and while there selection is a little hit or miss they do have some very tasty sandwiches. Also, like many other locations in Siem Reap a lot of the specials came with a free beer! They had a huge menu with lots of pictures.  Check out this tomb!

After several days we wandered into an area with much better restaurants. One great but unexpected find was Viva, a Mexican restaurant.

The food at Viva is really good and coming from California probably the best Mexican that we had in all of Southeast Asia. Here you can see we simply devoured a plate of taquitos with fresh guacamole and salsa. In addition to Mexican food they make some asian dishes so this is a good place for groups that can’t decide on a single cuisine.

We also stopped into the Yolo Bar for beers and to play a game of jenga once or twice. I don’t remember if we had any food there but the beer was nice and cold!

Other than eating out we got two or three cheap massages that helped our sore muscles. The massage place that we went to has a bunch of comfy chairs out on the sidewalk. You take off your shoes, roll up your pant legs and a nice Cambodian woman or man rubs the aches out of your shins for about $6. We definitely needed it after all the walking!

For our trip into the Angkor Archeological Park and when we wanted to relax in our room we went to one of the many off brand 7-11’s and picked up snacks or drinks as needed. I even bought a cheap pair of headphones after I lost mine. These are not as nice as the 7-11’s you find in Thailand and are more like the ones back home.

That’s all I can think to mention about the city of Siem Reap. While I had a lot of fun in Siem Reap I don’t think that I will be back for a long time. I feel a lot like I’ve seen Angkor Wat but have yet to see Cambodia.

Next time I am going to talk about our trip to Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm.

Taking the sleeper train to Bangkok and traveling to Siem Reap

Rather than take a plane to Bangkok we decided to try the overnight sleeper train. You can choose to travel in first class, which includes a private berth with air conditioning, or you have the option to go second class with or without air conditioning. Second class is more like a dorm room with an open plan and beds along the walls of the train. You leave in the evening and arrive very early in the morning.

Because first class was sold out we decided to get second class tickets with air conditioning. Second Class was comfortable and it was a fun trip. During the day you sit at a table with two cushioned seats and at night these are converted into two bunk beds that come out of the wall. If you’re interested there are pictures on seat61, a site dedicated to the various forms of rail travel all over the world. We were on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.

Some of the food left something to be desired but there was plenty of it. It still amazes me how many meals are included when I am using public transportation in Southeast Asia. We didn’t even need to go to the dining car for snacks. Here is a picture of our dinner:

The berths were pretty comfortable and with the curtains drawn fairly private. I’m fairly picky and I even managed to sleep some. I wish that I had gotten a picture of them but I guess I was too sleepy! Here is a picture of us rolling along.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and though not quite refreshed, in good shape.

In Bangkok we stayed at the Good Day hostel for a few days. We rented a private room with access to a communal bathroom. Our room had a bunk which was kind of fun. It reminded me a lot of being a kid. I got the bottom bunk. The rooms are very clean and had outlets accessible everywhere which I thought was great. There was one bathroom for the floor and it was also very clean and nicely decorated. The toilets and showers are in stalls so it’s a little more private than a locker room. All and all I had a good stay here and was very comfortable.

Then we were off to Siem Reap to check out Angkor Wat! The plane ride was uneventful. Siem Reap has a tiny airport and thankfully a very short visa check in process.

You actually use US dollars in Cambodia, which would have been more convenient if I had known about it before, lol. You also want to make sure that all your bills are in decent condition as most places will not accept bills that are overly dirty or in any way ripped.

Here is our plane! We arrived safely and were ready to check into our hotel. Next time I will talk about the city of Siem Reap.