After three months in Vietnam it was time for us to leave the country in order to obtain another visa. This is normally called a ‘visa run’ for all of us expats living short term in foreign countries. We’re enjoying Vietnam and probably haven’t really done that much since we’ve been here, mainly due to my foot injury (hence no updates to the Blog either). We have checked out a few local sights and have also been down to Hoi An a couple of times, which is only about a 40 min drive down the road. It is a place that is very touristy and everyone seems to rave about, but we just don’t see what the great attraction is. Don’t get me wrong, it is a nice place, but we prefer Da Nang and the beautiful beach.
So we decided on Siem Reap, Cambodia for the visa run. Cambodia is right next door to Vietnam and it takes just over an hour to get there direct from Da Nang. It’s quite cheap also, flying with SilkAir (Singapore Airlines budget airline). The flight was continuing onto Singapore, which I would have preferred to be going, but not this time. I’m a big Singapore fan, but sadly Learne isn’t. Anyway, it was an uneventful journey, and we landed at the very small but nice Siem Reap International Airport, to be transported to our hotel. One of the drivers waiting for other guests had a sign for ‘Conor McGregor’. Lochlan and I were looking out for him but we didn’t see him. Somehow I don’t think it was “the” Conor McGregor.
Our trip from the airport to our hotel was in a tuk tuk, Cambodian style. It was a little different to what we are use to as it was just like a little open buggy towed behind a scooter. Do you feel safe in them? Not really, but a great way to see things all the same. I’m glad we were travelling light as there isn’t much room for luggage. We were going to be in town for 3 nights only, so we didn’t need a big flash hotel because we weren’t planning on spending much time in it and in the end, chose a basic 3 star called Angkor Pearl Hotel. It was about 20 mins away by the slow moving tuk tuk.
First impressions of Siem Reap – both Learne and Lochlan said it wasn’t they expected. I’m not sure what they mean by that. To me, it was flat, dirty, dusty and looked poor. But there were the usual big flash resorts along the main airport route. It looked something like a smallish Thai town. It is hard to explain, but one thing I would say; it is not ‘pretty’. About the same size as Hua Hin, with a population of about 240,000. They do call it a resort town, but that’s a bit of a stretch. There is a huge lake (biggest in SE Asia) about 8ks out of town but not a beach in sight.
Our hotel was fine and came with the usual friendly Asian staff and their English was limited but it was way better than my Khmer. Like I said, it was nothing flash with 2 x beds in the one room. We spent US$35 per night for the three of us, which included breakfast each morning. The one complaint we did have about the hotel, and it is probably a biggie, was that both Learne and I were attacked by bed bugs at night. Learne got hammered from day one and I fobbed it off thinking it couldn’t be bed bugs because I wasn’t being bitten too, but they managed to find me on the last night. I’m not sure how we are going to approach the Trip Advisor review, but I guess other guests need to know things like this. The hotel was a fairly central and it was walking distance, albeit about 20 mins, to the famous ‘Pub Street’ downtown. This is probably the more touristy part of town, with all the backpacker pubs, restaurants, markets and the likes. A must place to visit.
Now the Cambodian currency is the Riel, but it is rarely used. The whole of Siem Reap operates on the mighty US dollar. Every price tag in shops, markets and menus are all in USD. Everywhere! The only time you will see Riels is when you require change from US$1, then they break out the small stuff knowing damn well they are going to get it back as a tip. What sort of country doesn’t do business in their own currency?
Brief History Lesson
Now here is history lesson from Jim regarding Siem Reap. They were fighting with everyone for about 30 years up until about the mid 90’s. We’ve all heard about the Khmer Rouge (Communists) and their leader Pol Pot – a huge civil war that resulted in about 30-40% of the country’s population killed by various means. It was actually the Vietnamese in 1979 that moved in and removed the Khmer Rouge, which I found surprising considering they were allies of the North Vietnamese. Everywhere in town is called ‘Angkor’ something, which made me wonder why they call it Siem Reap. Apparently, Siem Reap means ‘chased off the Thais’, as Thailand (back in the day called Siam) took over the joint but were forced out eventually. These days Cambodians like the Thais but dislike the Vietnamese. God knows how that came about. But it is still a country that is affected by war with over 6,000,000 land mines still spread throughout the country that the UN is slowly but surely removing. You do see quite a few land mine victims around town, and it is something openly spoken about with various charities set up to assist these victims. It appears more people are injured by them (a lot of kids) than killed. History lesson over.
You can click on the images, to make them change a bit quicker.
Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm
Now to the reason everyone goes to Siem Reap, other than for a visa run. To see the world famous Angkor Wat. We can’t take credit for the featured image, Learne pinched that off the internet to show the overall size of the area (but neglected to jot down who owns it, to acknowledge their work!). Anyway, it is the largest temple complex on the PLANET and is spread out over about 162 hectares. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and you can read all about here on Wikipedia, if you would like to know more. We organized a tuk tuk to pick us up at about 9am on Friday for a 6hr tour. It is only a short distance out of town, and you have to first head to the ticket box, which I might add is a hugely impressive building itself. US$20 each for a day pass with a photo attached. They do check the tickets at every temple and the main entry, so there is no sneaking in for free.
On arrival at the main Angkor Wat temple, was unbelievably impressive. It is a huge looking old structure surrounded by a magnificent moat. Straight away we were hassled by the local guides, so for US$19, we went with one which was a smart move as you learn so much more from a local. It wasn’t that hot, but it was humid, and there is a lot of walking out in the sun. I simply cannot do the place justice by my writing, but it was huge as far as temples go and very impressive. Just the sheer size of it and the amount of effort that went into building it over about 37 years is hard to believe. It started off as a Hindu temple but was later changed to a Buddhist temple. So we spent a couple of hours sweating around this massive complex mixing with the large crowds and being hassled by the locals selling everything. By the time we got back to our tuk tuk, we were buggered, but onto the next temple.
The next temple on our tour was called Angkor Thom and it was the one with the trees growing through it and on it. It was nowhere near as big as Angkor, but still very impressive. The only problem here were all the locals, including very small kids, hassling you as soon as you stepped out of your tuk-tuk all the way to the temple entry trying to sell you some trinkets. They are in your personal space the whole time. A quick walk around this temple and then back through the locals into the tuk-tuk to head to our third and final temple. This one was called Ta Phrom, which was different again. It too was impressive, and I’m sure has plenty of history. Lochlan and I climbed to the top whilst Learne took cover in the shade downstairs. The stairs aren’t that flash and don’t exactly instil confidence in the reluctant stair climber. But anyway, we conquered that one and even managed to get up close to a group of monkeys playing in a water hole just outside the temple.
We were all templed out and my recovering foot injury was suffering so time to head back to the hotel. All up, we were on the tour for about 5hrs and that was enough for us. Not sure how or why some people buy the 7 day pass for the temples, and visit multiple times throughout their stay. Not our thing I’m afraid. I’m sure others find it way more interesting than us. Don’t get me wrong, the place is absolutely full of history and mystique and we are all very happy that we managed to see it. But would I go again? No. Would I travel to Cambodia from a far off place like Australia just to see Angkor Wat? Probably not unless it was really a highlight on your bucket list. But I’m glad we went. Like I said, I was impressed. Mixed feelings here amongst the family members though.
So temples done and dusted, so what to do on Saturday? Learne and I headed to the local War Museum. Another tuk tuk ride to a slightly out of the way outdoor museum. Glad we went as we elected to take up the offer of the free guide, whose parent’s survived the Khmer Rouge era, even though their village was attacked several times. The museum gave further insight into Cambodia’s struggles and was a real eye opener. The guide was excellent and really opened our eyes to a few things. We just don’t appreciate how lucky we had being brought up in a country like Australia. After a couple of hours there, back to our tuk-tuk, where our driver tried to upsell us on a few other tours. We declined his kind offer and on the way back to the hotel, he just pulled up at a road side food stall, where he turns to us and says something like “Sorry, just have to get my lunch”. Yeh, no worries mate, thinking he was just going to grab a takeaway. But then he sits down to a meal and gives us the 10 mins hand signal. WTF? Learne are sitting in the tuk-tuk pissing ourselves laughing and just passing time.
That was us done as tourists in Siem Reap. Just time to relax now and enjoy Pub Street, Cambodian food with a little bit of shopping thrown in. One thing we do miss about Thailand is the food. Cambodian food is just as good, with plenty of curries on offer. So we really hooked into that and even bought some curry powders and spices to take back to Vietnam. 10 out of 10 for food in Cambodia. Love it. Siem Reap is a cheap place where during happy hour on Pub Street (which can go for several hours) you can get local beer for US$0.50, with some places even offering them at $0.25. Generally around US$1 to US$1.50. It is quite a good beer if I do say so myself. Spirits also dirt cheap. Now whether you get the real deal with spirits in some parts of Asia is another question. Wine, not so cheap, but still reasonable. Pub Street had a real vibe about it and was a great people watching place. More of a younger person’s place though and we were home before we turned into a pumpkin.
So back to the airport for the flight out on Sunday, and back home to our new apartment in Vietnam for at least another three months. Next big trip is back to Oz in Sept, so looking forward to that. Even after we landed back in Vietnam, we headed down to Hoi An the next day to catch up with an ex RAAF mate we hadn’t seen since the late 80’s and dragged him back to Da Nang for the night to enjoy a few local bars. Thanks Hammer for a great catch up. It was a pretty good super long weekend, and the funny thing was, me being a Currency Trader, I probably missed the biggest event in the last decade with the Brexit vote on the Thursday that we headed off to Cambodia. Probably a good thing I did miss it.
Finer Details re: Prices
(For others from Da Nang thinking of going)
As it was difficult to find a bank in Da Nang which would change money to USD, it was a relief to find out that there were no problems with the Airport Money changers doing this.
3 x single entry 3-month visas back into Nam
$45 USD for letter (3 pax) = $177 AUD
(Usually, this is $60USD p/p, but I received a deduction due to website difficulties)
(Used Nina Dang on FB Visa Forum)
2 x photos each required for entry back into Vietnam
+ $25 USD p/p stamping fee = 98 $ AUD
3 x visas into Cambodia – Arranged on arrival
* A completed visa application form – received on the plane
* 1 x photograph (2 inches x 2 inches)
* Appropriate visa fee in USD 3 pax – $105 USD = $143 AUD
USD 613.50 = $880 AUD
Total fare including taxes and surcharges
3 nights’ accommodation at Angkor Pearl
USD 35 per night (incl. breakfast) = $105 AUD
Angkor Wat Pass
3 x 1 day Pass = $80 AUD
Passes are not obtained at the temple itself. They are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Photo taken on the spot is required at the time of purchase. Only US Dollars are accepted at the ticket booths. Also, only cash is accepted – no credit card payments. However, there is an ATM close to the ticket booths so you can pick up cash if needed to pay the entrance fee.
Any Ticket to the Angkor Archaeological Park is valid for all temples within the Park. Visiting hours are 5:00AM – 6:00PM.
TOTAL COST $1378 AUD (excl. spending, but it wasn’t much – perhaps $300 or so)