Happy 2014 everyone! I’d like to start the year by reviewing one of my most favorite places on Earth – the Kingdom of Wonder, the once-powerful, then-disgraced, now-picking up country of ancients, the beautiful and wondrous temple country of Cambodia.
This series will cover my experiences in Cambodia, including a rather personal review of the temples in the Angkor Archaeological Complex. I went to Cambodia with my friend Ella last year, and it was one of the most magnificent experiences of my life! I’d go back to the Kingdom of Wonder, and the next time around, it will not be just about temples!
The Angkor Wat is the most popular destination in all of Cambodia, but I guess, I just haven’t had the opportunity to fully appreciate what other stuff it has to offer. I hope this series will help you plan your upcoming trip to Cambodia. Oh yes, you will want to go to Cambodia after we finish discussing all the wonderful experiences I had there.
Did I use the word wonder and its variations too much? Oh yes, ’cause it will all be the word for it.
So let’s start with the most important part — the planning! I suggest you read up a lot of other resources. Wikitravel is a good crowdsourced material to start your travel cravings. I’d be leaving you with resources at the end of my posts, which I hope will get you pumped up to plan your own adventure to Cambodia.
So let’s start. There are a LOT of ways to enter Cambodia. It will all depend on the type of experience you’d like to have. A lot of airlines like Cebu Pacific here in the Philippines fly to Siem Reap (for Angkor) and Phnom Penh (the capital) once a week. And there are a lot of other choices, if you’re not picky. You can take a bus from nearby nations – Vietnam to Phnom Penh, and Thailand to Siem Reap, if you’d like.
One more factor is the time you have. If you’re working and you only have limited leaves like me and you like options for your trips, then we’d agree with each other. For this trip, we entered Cambodia by flying to Thailand and then taking a bus from the Suvarnabhumi Transport Terminal to the Aranyaprathet/Poipet (also, Aran) border.
Here’s a summary of the pocket and time damage so far:
MNL to BKK flight 4 hours – est. PHP6,000 via Cebu Pacific (US$ 133)
Take the free shuttle from Suvarnabhumi airport to the transport terminal. The transport terminal only has two trips to Aran, 8am and 1pm. So if you arrive later, book a nearby hotel from the information inside the airport.
Average hotel near Suvarnabhumi, with shuttles to and from – THB1000 (US$30)
Suvarnabhumi to Aran bus 1.5 – 2 hours- THB200 (US$6)
If you’re required a visa to enter the border, then that’s additional US$20
Poipet to Siem Reap 4 – 6 hours, depending on traffic – US$12 for a shared cab, US$9 for a bus
It’s pretty textbook to follow everything. What’s not in the textbook are scammers. I love Southeast Asia but it’s teeming with scammers. All throughout this series, you’ll be reading reminders from me, and you better remember them (because we almost got scammed, I tell you!)
- At the border, everybody’s desperate. I won’t put the blame on people – usual stuff like inflation and poverty, and Thailand and Cambodia are big countries and their central governments are far away from them. It’s very important to do your research so you know baseline prices for everything.
- Around here, the tuk-tuk is a normal means of transportation. Pretty much like the tricycle in the Philippines. Always agree on a price before riding. If possible grab a cab instead. The meter’s pretty fair.
- On that note, never agree with a cab on a fixed price. It’s illegal and they’ll really scam you with like 100-200% of the usual metered fare. I’d prefer the cab this side of the world. But if you’re in for the tuk-tuk experience, which is not really extraordinary, then try to haggle a fair price.
- A map will help you estimate your fare. I’d really suggest you try to map your journeys ’cause sometimes where you wanna go is actually just a walking distance.
- At the border, there is only one transport terminal that will get you to Cambodia fast. Do not agree on anything outside the border. This is where we almost get scammed. A local approached us and offered to lead us to the immigration office. Then suddenly he had a companion, and I was scared because this is what I read in the guides. Just before we entered the immigration office, they offered us to take straight to Siem Reap for THB800 (US$25) which is exorbitant and already an extortion. In this case, just say no. Insist, and they’ll leave you like they’ve never seen you before.
- Do not go into a fight. Pretty textbook wherever you go, actually. I read somewhere that they might gang up on you and you don’t want to spend the rest of your trip in jail.
- You are protected inside the immigration area, unless you’re bringing something illegal, so when you get to the border, head straight to immigration.
- It’s wise to pack light and smart. Because when you get offered to have your stuff carried, it’s difficult to turn that down when you’re carrying so much. And then that load goes to God knows where but not your hotel. I personally don’t like to deal with that.
- Lastly, get your visa at the immigration office ONLY. There’s no such thing as expedited, ’cause it’s just really easy to get your visa upon entry. I’ve heard horror stories, and you don’t wanna end up spending the night at the border. That’s just not right.
That’s a lot and reading up on forums and guides won’t hurt. I think this will cause some paranoia but with just the right sense of precaution, you still can enjoy your trip. I just think it’ll be wise to tell you this early so you know what you’re putting yourself into.
Immigration really depends on the amount of tourists in the area. Border crossing is pretty popular among backpackers around SEA and its best to plot around 40 minutes to an hour of waiting. Then there’s the waiting for the transport to Siem Reap. I think we waited for around half an hour for that as well. That day, it was rainy in some parts of Cambodia, and it’s not weird to be in the middle of a storm-ish rain then be at dry land again – that’s global warming in the tropics for you.
I’d really want to fly in instead of taking the road for this one, but schedule-wise, the flights were not on our side. Hey, there’s always a way, if you keep your options (and reservations) open. The border isn’t exactly touristy but it gives an insight on what life there looks like. The road trip isn’t much of a sight as well, plenty of fields and greenery, but if you’re up for some local observation, then this is a plus for you.
Up next: Banyan Leaf Hotel and a primer to the Angkor!