The journey from Bangkok to Siem Reap is one that hundreds of people take a day but there is not much information on-line about it. Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor, a city which in it’s day (between 1010-1220) housed 0.1% of the worlds population. The city is now mainly ruins and protected by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
When planning how to get to Siem Reap from Bangkok there are two options, flying but the cost of a return flight is almost $350 as only a few airlines fly the route and have a monopoly on it. The second, more reasonably priced option is to get a bus crossing the border at Poi Pet. A number of bus companies offer travellers this route for just a few dollars however there is only one company who run a bus the whole way through to Siem Reap. Many of the buses travellers are offered take them to the Poi Pet border where they are left with all their baggage to walk through immigration on foot and then take a different bus for the second leg of the journey.
Nattakan runs a Government bus, which costs a little more at $28 each way but allows passengers the luxury of not having to change buses and to leave their luggage on while travelling across the border. An added bonus of this option is the snack and meal provided on board, however expect microwave meal rather than Michelin starred! The bus takes 7 hours of driving time leaving from Bangkok’s Mo Chit Bus station at 0800 or 0900 each day.
Juliette outside the bus
Even though it is a Government bus travellers should still be aware of scams. When parked at the Thai side of Poi Pet a Thai man got onto the bus and offered to sort out Cambodian Visas for $40. A few passengers took him up on this offer and all he did was told them to wait outside the visa office while he went in to get their visa. We did not take this offer and paid $20 for a visa and were back on the bus before the others who took the ‘VIP’ option (remember to take one passport sized photo as this is needed for the visa!) One lady who had paid a scammer $60 to sort out her visa but was refused entry at the border as her passport did not have a long enough expiry date. Be vigilant! Exit Thailand, buy your visa then go to “arrivals” to be stamped in – simple.
Arriving in Siem Reap a number of hours later we were offered a ‘free’ tuk-tuk to my hotel. At first sight this was a great deal however it turned out nothing really comes for free. The driver dropped us at our hotel and then offered his services the next day to drive us to Angkor. When we explained that we did not know what we were doing the next day he got quite angry and said that he had only provided a “free” ride in order to secure work the next day. Fortunately he left fairly quickly but it was a reminder to think twice about offers which seem too good to be true – they usually are!
The following day we decided to visit Angkor, which is located approximately 7km from Siem Reap. Visitors have a number of ways to travel to Angkor and enjoy the wonders of the ruins. Bicycles can be rented from a number of hotels and shops in Siem Reap from only $1 a day. This would be a great option if the temperature didn’t reach 35C most days with little shade. A second option is to rent a motorcycle which costs about $5 a day. Thirdly, a tuk-tuk which was the option we went with. You should expect to pay around $15 for a tuk-tuk and your driver will wait outside each temple for you (short route only).
The driver was waiting outside our hotel in the morning and drove us to Angkor stopping on the way to purchase the admission tickets. The tickets cost $20 for one day or $40 for 3 days. First stop was Angkor Wat which we explored for over an hour. As mentioned above our driver waited for us at the entrance to take us to the next site.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and means City of Temples. Set in immaculate grounds of thousands trees and flowers, the sandstone temple rises into the sky. What struck me first was the size of the buildings they span as far as the eye can see and seem to not stop. Once nearer you notice the beautiful carvings on all of walls which depict epic struggles and wars in intricate detail. Being in the temple was strange but calming experience as although there are thousands of people in the same area it is very peaceful.
My favourite temple we were taken to was Ta Prohm. This is a temple that was made famous by Angelina Jolie playing Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. The temple is perfect for losing oneself in both thoughts and direction, it is vast with many narrow corridors and turnings. Many of the routes are blocked by trees which, at one time covered the whole area, but have since been cut back so that visitors can enjoy the spectacular site. Our driver took us back to our hotel after the visit to Angkor which lasted around about 7 hours.
Siem Reap itself has a number of great restaurants and bars. There is a street aptly named Pub Street where bars are full of slightly rowdy backpackers. Behind this road is a smaller selection if bars for a quiet drink if that is more your scene!
There are enough excellent eateries to keep you away from the ubiquitous Burger King and KFC. A typical Cambodian dish to try is Amok which is usually river fish in a light curry sauce with turmeric and coconut milk. The best one I have had was in Marum and cost around $5 (It is useful to know that although the official currency in Cambodia Riel, most places prefer to receive US Dollars and quote all prices in Dollars however return all change in Cambodian Riel.) Marum is a restaurant and training center where the profits go to an NGO working with street children in Siem Reap.
Three nights in Siem Reap was all I had. It was enough to get a taste of the rich culture, fantastic food and spectacular temples at Angkor but stay longer if you can. There are so many more restaurants to try, museums to absorb and shows to see. I would recommend Siem Reap to anyone, literally. It could be added to an itinerary for backpackers, booked as a stand alone luxury honeymoon or family holiday and, of course, the more mature traveller too! You will not be disappointed visiting such a vibrant city and the magical Angkor.