Siem Reap (4 days) >> Phnom Penh (3 days)
One week is not nearly enough to cover Cambodia so we debated whether to go at all. However, we decided some time was better than nothing at all. Especially for the temples of Angkor Wat which we distinctly remember topping the ‘Ultimate Travelist’ by Lonely Planet. The temples of Angkor Wat are the largest religious monument in the world and date back to the 12th Century, that’s around 900 years ago.
We made our trip to Cambodia part of a shoestring loop from Bangkok, visiting Vietnam as well. It made for a nice 3-week tour around South East Asia before returning back to Thailand and heading south towards our final destination of Bali for our return flight home.
Our itinerary for Cambodia:
- 29th May – Bangkok (Thailand) to Siem Reap via bus – booked tickets online via Thai Ticket Major
- 4 days in (A) Siem Reap for Angkor Wat temple complex
- 2nd June -Siem Reap to Phnom Penh via Cambodia post bus booked through Cambo Ticket
- 3 days in (B) Phnom Penh
- 5th June – Phnom Penh to (C) Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) via Kumho Samco bus booked through Cambo Ticket
A little bit of useful travel info:
- Currency: Cambodia uses US dollars which makes it very easy to get currency in advance and exchange any leftover.
- Transport: Buses were certainly the easiest way to travel through Cambodia and were very easy to book online. Cambo ticket in particular shows a comparison of buses so you can pick your preferred choice. All the buses we booked were very efficient including the border crossings.
- Visas: For UK citizens, you need a visa for Cambodia which costs $30 (bring dollars with you) and you can get this at the border. You need 2 x passport photos (worst case they can do them for you there for an additional cost). We had read lots of stories about scams operating at the border and even the bus we were on dropped us off at an unofficial visa place. The people here immediately started to ask for our passports and passport photos. To be fair they were very efficient. However, they charged 1400 BAHT (about $41) and we could not pay in dollars so we immediately realised it wasn’t the official visa office. We paid it anyway as many other travellers were doing so. Once all the forms were prepared, we had to walk to the border to get our passport stamped and receive a departure card. We were a little sceptical that we were about to be charged again but in the end our visas did actually get processed very quickly. Quicker, in fact, than the few tourists who realised in time to go to the actual border to sort their visa out. For Vietnam, UK citizens can currently stay for 15 days visa free which is why we could take the bus – this option only works if you already have a visa or like us, you don’t need one. It’s better to fly if you need to get one.
Now for the good stuff, our actual experience…
Siem Reap & The Temples of Angkor Wat
We stayed at Villa Sweet Angkor Central, it was really cheap at £11 for both of us per night and our room even had two double beds! The hotel also had a small swimming pool which was great given we were nowhere near the sea.
It was a bit of a walk to Pub Street (the street is actually called ‘Pub Street’) which is where all the bars and a lot of restaurants are. This street was really good fun and beers were as cheap as $0.25!!
The next day we took it easy and had a wander around the town. We found a great bakery called Bloom Cafe which had the nicest coffee and cakes!
For Angkor Wat, the temple complex is too big to walk around so you can either hire a tuk-tuk for the day, cycle or hire scooters/motorbikes. We found a place offering electric bikes which we thought might be fun (and more eco-friendly) costing $10 for 24-hours. The lady in the shop told us we could get tickets for Angkor Wat from 5pm the day before and see some temples that same evening. This worked out well as it made it easier for us to get to the temples for sunrise the next day which had been heavily recommended by everyone we met. As we rode to the ticket office, a monsoon from hell came down and we got absolutely soaked from head to toe. It was pretty hilarious walking up to the ticket counter leaving a puddle behind us.
You can either get 1, 3 or 5 day tickets for the Angkor Temple complex. We decided on 1 day tickets and although we did not see everything on the site we felt it was enough for us – you can get a bit ‘templed’ out in the heat if not careful.
After we’d got our tickets, we decided to check out one of the temples that was open until 7.30pm, Pre Rup temple.
The way back was funny as we had to ride the bikes no more than 14 kph or risk the bike running out of charge and having to use the most ridiculous looking pedals! We made it back eventually haha.
After a quick shower, we went out for our first taste of Cambodian food at what became one of our favourite restaurants, Temple Design Bar, which was just a few streets back from Pub Street. We tried the Amok curry which was delicious.Bright and early the next morning (a crazy 5.45am), we set off on our freshly charged bikes (we had to charge the batteries in our room overnight). We arrived at probably the most famous and well preserved temple, Angkor Wat, for sunrise. It was pretty spectacular, even if it was cloudy.
There was a monk giving prayers to tourists.
We spent time looking around the temple and you could even go up one of the spire towers.
Next we went to Bayon Temple which is known for the faces carved into the rock.
Here, we witnessed the sun have a surreal ring around it which was really incredible.
We had to stop to charge up the bikes, but used the time to have an early lunch. We tried Beef Lombok, another traditional Cambodian dish.
Next we visited the main gates and a few more temples around the site. Ta Prohm temple (below) is famous for being used in the film Tomb Raider. It has trees literally growing through the temple walls.
Finally we watched Angkor Wat as the sun begin to set, before making our way back. After a tiring day, we treated ourselves that evening to a BBQ plate on Pub Street and a few drinks after 🙂
For our final day in Siem Reap we decided to spend most of the day relaxing by the pool and having a bit of pampering. I got my nails done for $2 and we both had a fish foot massage with free beer! We had the best curries at Cambodia Tradional Chef – the fish Amok and beef Khmer curry were really good.
Phnom Penh, S-21 & The Killing Fields (not the nicest title I’ll admit)
The bus to Phnom Penh was again very simple. It was a small minibus which departed from the main post office. The bus stopped for a break on the 6 hour journey at a beautiful location.
Sitting on the bus for so long enabled us to catch up with House of Cards on Netflix 😉 We also met fellow travellers Don and Adam on the bus, and decided to meet the next day to go to S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. If you haven’t heard of the Khmer Rouge regime or the history around this, I urge you to read up on it. It’s likened to the Holocaust. We didn’t take many photos of these places as they were extremely harrowing. I’d certainly recommend a visit and the audio guide was well-done.
That afternoon, we needed something much lighter so we did what many Brits do and went to the pub. We were still with Don and Adam and enjoyed a few rounds of pool, some drinking games and a lot of beer together!
Sensibly realising we needed to sober up, we decided a Khmer massage would be the best approach. The massage though, was actually really good and involved a lot of stretching (or the beer helped to mask the pain…).
Our accommodation (Longlin House) was in an area equivalent of pub street in Siem Reap. It was great for restaurants but it was a little seedy with many prostitutes outside the bars. We did find one great restaurant called Kabbas Restaurant which had really good Cambodian curries.
Our final day in Phnom Penh was spent wandering around the Royal Palace (it was closed so we didn’t go inside), the river, central market and the National Museum of Cambodia (personally we didn’t feel the museum was worth the $5 entrance fee).
We had a late lunch at David’s Handmade Noodes restaurant but the handmade dumplings were even better!
Then it was on to Ho Chi Minh city or Saigon in Vietnam. We were pretty chuffed when the seats we’d booked had extra leg room!
So there you have it; both breathtaking and unforgettable experiences, the tastiest food, good company and lots of fun. Safe to say we enjoyed our 1-week visit to Cambodia!
Vietnam blog coming soon…