My heart beat too fast as I walked near the immigration desk. Cambodia is my first out-of-country trip and I did it alone. Fears of the unknown was running through my mind, which I believe is experienced by most if not all people who travel abroad for the first time. I was afraid that my passport would not be stamped after hearing some horror stories of people who were offloaded after their interview with the immigration officers.
And it was not a smooth experience. I was bombarded with questions, which fortunately I was prepared to answer. TIP: Be honest, answer the questions short and sweet. After what seems like forever, I finally got that dream stamp on my passport. I thought to myself, I could now post on Facebook that I was flying to Cambodia. 🙂
As of this writing Cebupacific has only 1 scheduled flight to Siem Reap. The travel time is 3 hours, Siem Reap is about 1175.3 miles away from Manila. SR is in the northwestern part of Cambodia and is known to be the home of The Angkor Temples. It’s a popular tourist destination, which has more than 4 million tourist arrivals based on the 2014 statistics.
I arrived in Cambodia at 9:30 PM (10:30PM in Manila time). I was welcomed by the Tuk-Tuk driver that I commissioned via Couchsurfing. In case you are wondering which currency to use in Cambodia, you may use their local notes, Riel but U.S. dollar is acceptable and in fact, preferred by the locals. It’s worth noting though that they don’t use US dollar coins and use Riel for smaller change. Most people can speak English so communication was never an issue.
I booked my stay in a mix dorm-type room at Luxury Concept Hostel for less than PHP250/night. The best thing about this place is its location; only a 10-minute walk from the Pub Street, the party central of Siem Reap.
The hostel is basic, clean, and quiet. I love the size of their bed, it was big, which I honestly didn’t expect for a hostel. It made sleeping much more comfortable. Private lockers are also available for all the guests. What I love most about this place is their roof-deck bar, which is ideal if you are looking for a relaxing place to drink. Everyone is welcome even those who are not staying in the hostel.
I’ve heard stories of being scammed in Cambodia and despite my best efforts, it happened to me. I was sold an overpriced bus ticket to SR-Bangkok, $25, for a connecting bus and van. For you to avoid this, I recommend that you book your ticket with the hostel you are staying. It was late when I realized I’d been scammed and that the rate for a connecting bus and van ride from SR-Bangkok ranges from $8-15 only. So if someone asks you a rate beyond that, don’t take it.
Because I didn’t have a decent dinner when I left Manila, I was too hungry when I arrived to SR. After I checked-in, I immediately walked my way to the Pub Street to look for food. As per my friends, food that costs $5 above is already expensive. I find that most food sold at the Pub Street though costs more than that, so I decided to find my food elsewhere but walking along the main road away from Pub Street. Then I discovered an eatery where most of the locals are eating. It’s located in front of the Burger King.
I ordered Fried Sling Beans with Pork and rice for $2.5. That’s the first Cambodian food that I tasted and it was delightful. No wonder most locals choose to buy their food there. It’s authentic Khmer food and it’s affordable.
What I noticed about their food is that they always serve it with vegetables and serving is big enough for 2 people. If you love veggies, you will absolutely love Cambodian cuisine. Food is not too flavorful but it is fresh and healthy.
In my first night, I just grabbed a few bottles of San Mig light for $1.5 as I tried to familiarize myself with the Pub Street. Party there starts as soon as the sun sets and most of the bars close at 1:00 AM so you better start drinking early.
Even without getting enough sleep, I was too energetic preparing myself for our small circuit Angkor tours. I even woke up earlier than my set alarm. My Tuk-Tuk driver arrived earlier than 5:00 AM so we left our hostel early to start our tour.
The road of Siem Reap is like a typical province in the Philippines. Even Cambodians look like Filipinos too. Because of this, it didn’t feel like I was outside my own country in the beginning. If not for billboards written in Khmer and hearing foreign languages, I would question myself if I was really out of the Philippines.
Before entering the Angkor Area you need to buy your Angkor pass. 1 day is $20 and a 3-day pass is goes for $40. (UPDATE AS OF AUGUST 2016 ONE DAY PASS IS 37$ AND THREE DAY PASS IS 62$). I suggest to come on queue early as the line becomes long quickly. Also, take care of your ticket as you will need to show it whenever you visit different temples.
I waited patiently together with thousands of tourists outside Angkor Wat. I was astonished when I first saw its beauty. It was like wow! Am I dreaming?! I couldn’t believe I made it there. I read somewhere that outside Angkor can be very crowded, I didn’t believe that until I witnessed myself the great number of people waiting for sunrise.
After witnessing the mind-blowing sunrise, I started to walk around Angkor Wat to feel its century old stones. One thing that ran through my mind was the kind of life people led in its golden years. But okay, I’m not here to discuss you the history of every temple I visited. Let’s leave that to your tour guide they are the best people to share the story.
Angkor Thom and Bayon
The tour is about to end when I encountered another scam. By then I was trying to make myself think that I experienced all these schemes so other people can learn from it. Anyway, this happened during my last temple run at Banteay Srei. Someone approached me to take my photo then he kept following me, showing what he believed to be a perfect view to take some pictures of.
I knew then that something would happen, that maybe this guy would ask for something in return so I prepared $2 to give him as a tip. At the end of the road, I said “Thank you for taking photos of me, please accept this $2. Guess what, a look of disappointment appeared on his face and he asked me to give him $35. I said “What? Are you kidding me? $35?! That is even more expensive than my tour and Angkor pass for 1 day. I told him that I wouldn’t give him $35 because I didn’t have that amount of money.
He didn’t want to let me go and even said that because I’m Filipino he would give me a discount, so instead of $35 I could pay him $15. At the back of my mind, I was thinking “should I be thankful that I’m a Filipino at this point?” I still said no. When he realized that I didn’t have dollars with me he started asking for other currencies like Baht and Ringgit. I reiterated that I didn’t have any of those. Lastly, he asked for PHP1,000. In my firm voice I said no and told him, “I’ll give you 2 dollars, take it or leave it.” He then took it then ran away. It was a scary moment but I didn’t show him any fear. I think it’s important that you show scammers that you are not afraid of them.
I informed my Tuk-Tuk driver what happened. He told me that I should have called him or I should have told the guy that we should talk in front of a police officer. I realized he had a point but it was too late already. So in case the same thing happens to you, have a presence of mind and do not give in.
If morning is for temple run, every night is for bar hopping. I admit that I overspent with alcohol in Cambodia, but please don’t judge me! #IamnotAlcoholic. Who doesn’t love the night life? I’m single and ready to party! But I didn’t see the wild side of Pub Street, so to speak. Even so, going out at night allowed me to meet some wonderful people, making my Siem Reap tour extra special. To save more money, try their draft beer for only $0.50. Beer and cocktail prices range from $1.50 above.
The following day, my itinerary was canceled due to the holiday. Supposedly, I would visit a charity organization who is teaching underprivileged Cambodians. It saddened me that it didn’t push through because aside from the temples, volunteering is one of the reasons why I wanted to visit Siem Reap. I was planning to spend my whole day with the kids to teach them English, serve lunch, and donate money. Anyway, hopefully, I could do it next time.
Luckily, I met Vincent a fellow Filipino traveling in SR. I missed speaking in Tagalog so meeting someone in another country who speaks the same language as you were such a joy. At least for 2 days, I enjoyed his company walking around the old market of SR and having food trip.
The bad experiences didn’t make me love Cambodia any less. In fact, I’m thankful that I’m safe. I learned that regardless of how much preparation you do it’s still possible to encounter troubles along the way. How funny that I wasn’t able to escape it.
Cambodia will always have a special place in my heart and I wasn’t disappointed that this is the first country that I chose to visit outside the Philippines. I’m thankful for all the lessons that I learned on the road; to be more street smart. Every temple that I visited amazed me and you can never go wrong with their food. Cambodians, just like us Filipinos are people full of hospitality.