I had just got back from Siem Reap for a 4-day trip with my colleagues. It was finally a dream came true after reading and hearing so much about Angkor Wat. We started planning for it in October and from our research we figured out that we could save about S$200-300 by making our own trip arrangement. We contacted a local tour guide via email to book his time and van service and we got him to help us book a hotel that is located near the town.

Below is the basic cost we incurred :- 

– Online booking of SilkAir tickets with travel insurance cost S$264 a person. The cost was based on SilkAir promotion.

– Tour guide and van service for 5 persons cost USD55 a day.  (PS: Adventurous tourist can easily find a local tour guide at Siem Reap International Airport without prior booking. All the local tour guides are licensed by the Authority and they wear a light yellow colored uniform. Most of the tour guides can either speak English or Mandarin fluently.)

– A twin-sharing room costs US25 a night, inclusive of breakfast. (PS: check it out at www.mekongangkorpalacehotel.com. The hotel is within walking distance to Angkor Night Market and Pub Street. Breakfast served at the hotel is french loaf with eggs,  fruits and ooffee/tea.)

–  USD25 airport departure tax. Tourist visa is not required.

The flight to Siem Reap takes less than 2 hours. Siem Reap is one hour behind Singapore time and it was good that we had an early morning flight and we could start the tour immediately after we arrived. 

  Day 1: Angkor National Musuem /  Tonle Sap Lake

Our first stop was Angkor National Museum (http://www.angkornationalmuseum.com) to gain some understanding of Khmer civilisation, religion, arts and culture.  Admission ticket is USD12 a person. No photo taking is allowed inside the gallery and bags are required to be deposited in the locker room. The museum has interesting exhibits and run videos with English commentary. It is a great place for having Cambodia History 101 lesson before starting the tour proper. 

Lunch was at a local restaurant for khmer food. We were recommended to try Amok fish which is actually fish cooked with green curry served in a coconut. We were told that the fish served in local restaurants come from Tonle Sap Lake and is therefore fresh.  The chilled coconut drink was thirst quenching and it is value for money for just USD1.  The lunch cost USD29 for 4 dishes wtih white rice and coconut drinks for 5 persons. That gave us a guideline on how much money to set aside for subsequent meal.

The weather in Siem Reap is rather hot, like how it is in Singapore. The sun is the hottest from noon till 3pm. After lunch, it is best to retreat to the hotel for a rest and continue with the day tour after 3pm.

At 3.30pm, we set off to Tonle Sap Lake that is known for its floating village.  The boat ride to the village cost USD10 a person. 

According to the  tour guide, 30% of the water comes from the Himalayas during wet season and that forms the lake. In certain period of the year the lake  dries up and it beocmes dry land suitable for walking and travelling on motor vehicles.

The floating village is self-sufficient and has the basic amenities to serve the community.  It is interesting to see how the villagers live their daily life in that environment.

In Siem Reap, the sky turned dark as early as 5.30pm. There is hardly any street light on the road in rural areas so it is always good to have a torchlight in our bag.    

We were reommended to have dinner at Temple Restaurant & Bar at  Pub Street but were disappointed by the long wait and the poor quality of food.  If not for the complimentary Khmer traditional dance performance, dinner would be a disaster.

 

Day 2: Angkor Thom / Angkor Wat / Sunset View

            

Our first stop was Angkor Thom. We had to purchase a 3-day pass for USD40 to enter the Angkor complex.

The entrance at Angkor Thom is obviously a hot spot for photos.  There were tourists mounted on elephants to make their grand entrance into Angkor Thom. The elephant ride was USD15 a person and I suppose the ride could be quite an experience if budget is not a concern. 

Inside Angkor Thom be prepared to climb the long flight of steep stone steps leading to the temple.  For safety reason, we chose to climb the wooden stairs but I will encourage adventurous tourists to climb the steep stone steps for thrills.

Bayon temple is my second favourite stop next to Ta Prohm. The gigantic sculptures are simply awesome. The tour guide said it was believed that the ancient temples were constructed with the help of magical power. Perhaps so.

The magnificient Angkor Wat is the highlight of the day. Angkor Wat is believed to be the tomb for the royals as it faces  the west, unlike the other temples that face the east. It is a massive construction with a huge man-made lake and it is such a grand site that no wonder it is the pride of Cambodia.   

In the evening we rushed to the nearby Phnom Bakeng Hill for the famous sunset view. The hill was extremely packed with eager tourists of all ages. The steep stone steps leading up to the hilltop was quite a challenge to overcome.  The sunset view was spectacular but pity that we had to descend the hill before the evening sky started turning dark (for safety reason).

At night we had dinner in a restaurant located near the entrance of Angkor Night Market. After dinner, we hopped over to the market and bought some scarves, tea leaves and handicrafts. Some items cost as low as USD1 and other more expensive items can be bargained down by 50%.  We were rather pleased with our bargain finds that night.

Day 3: Sunrise View / Banteay Srei / Bantey Samre

   

On day 3, we woke up at 4.15am and set off at 5am to catch the sunrise .  Our tour guide suggested another place less crowded than Angkor Wat. Watching the big golden ‘egg yolk’ slowly climb its way up in the sky was thrilling.

The subsequent stops were Banteay Srei and other small temples. As these temples are located outside the Angkor complex, the van driver charged an extra USD10 for the long trip. Banteay Srei is very much smaller in scale compared to Angkor Wat but it has impressive intricate carvings and is considered by many a beautiful temple.   The other temples that we subsequently visited were not as unique and were less impressive. It gradually dawned on us that the temples were rather similar in their structures and we couldn’t remember much of what we saw if not for the photos we snapped.

The day tour ended early. We went back to the hotel after lunch to have a nap before going for a cheap and good khmer massage in a massage salon near the hotel.  The massage cost USD5 an hour and it was really relaxing. I wish I had tried the massage earlier on the previous days and fully enjoyed the goodness of it.  

As typical Singaporeans, we make our way back to Angkor Night Market again for second round of bargain hunts. More sense of satisfaction was achieved and I was pleased to discover that the law of diminising returns does not always work . 🙂 

Day 4: Ta Prohm and more temples

     

We wanted to see the modern temple for a change and requested the tour guide to show us a buddhist temple.  The ‘modern’ temple is nothing like those temples we had previously visited. The temple structure is very much similar to the temples in Thailand. The interior of the temple is basic and simple and the decor has nothing to shout about except for the wall paintings depicitng the life of  Buddha are pretty  interesting to view. What is special about this temple is its history. We were shocked to learn that it used to be a killing field during Pot Pol’s regime. It is an irony that a religious place provided no divine protection to the innocent people who were taken there for execution.

The second stop was an incomplete anicent temple that was abandoned midway during construction due to the belief that it was a bad omen for a temple to be struck by lightning. The temple is completely bare without intricate carvings on its walls. The abandoned site provided some clue how temples were built during ancient time. It confirmed the assumption that carvings were done only after the construction of a temple.  

The third stop was the long awaited Ta Prohm known for its affiliation to the movie, “Tomb Raider”.  Some parts of the temple were wrapped by gigantic tree roots and it is simply mind boggling how nature works out a way to protect this ancient temple and give it a stronger foundation to help it last so that the modern world gets a chance to see it and feel its magic. Ta Prohm is simply magical and definitely worth a repeat visit.

After Ta Prohm, we visited Angkor D’Artisan to understand how the locals are trained to be skilful craftsmen. The tour was led by a young man who speaks fluent mandarin. I am quite amazed by the linguistic ability of the cambodians. I believe with good education. the cambodians will acheive more in life. I sincerely hope the country will prosper again,  like how it was during the ancient time. 

A few thoughts :

– Cambodians generally do not  smile much and are seen not as friendly as the Thais and Vietnamese.  

– The hotel is clean but its service level could be better. If the staff had been more helpful ad approachable, our stay would be more enjoyable.

– The tour guide service was not fantastic and we felt short changed about the half day tour on the last two days.  In future it is better to check the operating hours of a tour guide before engaging his service.

– Food and hygenie in Siem Reap is okay but the roads are rather dusty.  

– Tipping is not cmpulsory for services provided.

– Tourists are usually hassled by young peddlers and local children who ask for money or sweets. Be prepared to be surrounded by them and being followed by persistent peddlers. 

– Elderly perons be aware that there is fair bit of walking and climbing of stairs to do at the historical sites.

I hope the information I shared here is useful to those who are planning a trip to Siem Reap. Good luck!