Ok, so 20 is a bit of an exaggeration but I do have quite a few. I'm heading to Vietnam for a trip through my university and when everyone else heads back to the USA I'm going to go to Cambodia - I refuse to fly to SE Asia and not see Angkor Wat.
I'll be traveling from Ho Chi Minh to Siam Reap, ideally I'd like to take a bus but the travel agent advised against it. From what I've read the trip sounds safe so I think she might just be the unadventurous type that doesn't travel well without a tour group but you never know, any first-hand experience of the trip and advice for me?
The bus trip seems to be in 2 parts and cost about $25. From what I've read on this board and others you can find a flight for about $100 round trip. Is bus there, flight back ideal? I'm not sure if I want to lose two days to traveling back/forth. I'm also trying to see if I could fly from Siem Reap to Dong Dong on Dao Phu Quoc Island which is where I'd like to spend a few days before flying back to the US (I'm trying to check prices on Vietnam airlines but the site just won't load).
Supposedly you can do part of the trip via boat (HCM to Siem Reap) which sounds fun - has anyone done this?
After looking at various lodgings in Siem Reap Jasmine Lodge caught my eye. The price is low ($6-10) and it seems to be relatively nice. I like that its a small family run hotel. I don't need anything fancy - I'm not there to hang out at the hotel. Has anyone stayed there?
And my last question has to do with tours - I've never done one before so I'm not sure if the following is a good price - $157 for 2 days, one night lodging including pickup/drop off at the bus station, sightseeing in Kompong Village, a floating house lunch, a visit to a silk farm, traditional Cambodian dinner with dancing entertainment, a full day at Angkor Wat (includes ticket admission) and one hour traditional massage all with an English speaking guide and air conditioned car. Does this sound like a good deal? It would be much cheaper if I was with other people but I'll be alone :(
The same place also does a deal for a day trip to Phnom Koulen $16) and Beng Mealea ($5). $35 for the driver. Does $35 sound good for a driver for the day?
I'm not sold on doing a tour and $150 is a lot of money, I'd just like to experience as much of Cambodia as I can in the limited amount of time I'll be in the country. I'd just really appreciate hearing from people that have been there and can make reasonable recommendations.
Thanks ahead for any and all of the advice!!
#1 mindy has been a member since 19/4/2009. Posts: 7
Just penned a long post when I managed to accidentally hit some combination of keys that closed firefox DOH!
So here we go again. To answer your questions.
The HCM-> Siem Reap route is perfectly safe, it's just long, your talking 8 odd hours from HCM->Phnom Penh and then you can add at least 5 hours onto that too Siem Reap.
*If* you choose to double back to vietnam from cambodia be aware you'll either need two vietnam visa's or a double entry vietnam visa. most visa's issued are single entry, you come in, you leave that visa is dead irrespective of the number of days left to run, so if your planning on doubling back you'll need a double entry, that's best applied for in your native country. note that you *cannot* get visa on arrival for vietnam on land border crossings, you *might* be able to get it at the major international airports (HCM or Hanoi) but I'd be surprised if it's available at smaller airports, in other words get a double entry visa in advance, if that's what you intend to do.
In terms of accomodation in Siem Reap, I would strongly advise no booking in advance, reason being most places that do online bookings at that cheap a price ($6) are either going to be nasty OR be literally miles away from anything remotely interesting in terms of restaurants and night life. I visited Angkor Wat about three weeks ago and personally I just asked the tuktuk driver to take me somewhere near Bar Street, ended up in a place called the Ancient Angkor which was pretty much brand new and had a pool. Paid $10 per night for a single room, no aircon. If your worried about not being able to find a room, don't be, there has been a massive amount of guesthouse and hotel building there, frankly there are more rooms than they know what to do with so taking a quick walk round and finding a room you like in person is what I'd recommend.
On the tour your looking at my personal feeling is that you'd want two days at angkor wat at a minimum, a three day ticket costs $40 (there isn't a two day ticket). Tonle Sap lake is highly recommended, you can see how I did it here
Personally I would have a list of stuff you want to do and then arrange most of it when you get here, put it this way if you want too I'm sure you can walk into half the hotels in Siem Reap and they'll be able to organise the trip you described for about the same money, alternately you might meet some people who you can hook up with and you'll probably have more fun.
In terms of the car for the day $35 does not sound unreasonable however bear in mind you can hire a tuktuk (google it) for about $12 to see the central parts of angkor wat, I think it will depend largely on whether your the type of person who needs aircon or not, if you've been in vietnam for a little while and had chance to acclimatise then perhaps not, but that's up to you.
Hope some of that helps.
#2 dageshi has been a member since 1/3/2008. Posts: 56
Dageshi - thanks so much for the reply! I have already submitted for the multiple entry visa to Vietnam since I have to fly out of Ho Chi Minh City so that is taken care of.
I had only planned on visiting Angkor Wat for one day so thanks for the heads up that there's enough to see that I should dedicate a few days. Does one necessarily need a guide in the temple complex? Or could I just hire a tuktuk driver to drop me off and then find one to take me back to town? I actually prefer to wonder around by myself but I don't want to miss anything while there that someone in the know would've pointed out.
The $35 driver was for Phenom Koulen which I hear is incredible but a good 60km (?) away from Siem Reap. I imagine I'll need to hire a driver to Tonle Sap Lake as well. Air conditioning isn't all that important to me - I just want some reliable transportation!
Again thanks for the advice!
#3 mindy has been a member since 19/4/2009. Posts: 7
Couple of thoughts:
1) Unless you're really strapped for time I wouldn't book any tours till you are in Siem Reap and can shop around.
2) Agree with dageshi - bus is fine.
3) You can't travel from HCM to Siem Reap by boat, but you can bus it to Chau Doc (on border) and then boat to Phnom Penh and on to Siem Reap -- takes longer than the bus.
4) If you're heading to Phu Quoc Island consider travelling to Kep In Cambodia and crossing from there to Ha Tien/Rach Gia and onwards to PQ.
Mindy, in my personal opinion there is more than enough to keep you occupied in angkor wat for three days. Day one, angkor wat and angkor thom, day two the petite circuit and three out to one of the remote complexes Phenom Koulen as you suggest.
If your not bothered about aircon, I would basically go with a tuktuk, you hire one more or less for the day and he drives you to each site, waits in his tuktuk until you've seen everything you want too and takes you to the next site. Probably best bang for your buck, especially if you can find someone to share it with.
In terms of guides, my feeling is a guide might be a good idea for angkor wat and angkor thom, but perhaps tagging onto a group tour with a guide to angkor thom and angkor wat might not be such a bad idea. I say that because those two sites are usually very busy with tourists anyway so at least your getting the benefit of a guide on the cheap and your not missing out on much in terms of being able to wander around on your own. If you enjoy wandering around half deserted ruins then get too Phreah Khan or Bantre Samre (might have misspelled that) early enough and your likely to get them to yourselves.
Any more questions, just shoot, while it's still relatively fresh in my mind (the beer in Sihanoukville is taking a terrible toll on my memory)
#5 dageshi has been a member since 1/3/2008. Posts: 56
I went recently to all those palces you mentioned, so here are my toughts:
In siem Reap, I stayed at Popular Guesthouse, I paid USD3 /night for a single room with fan and shared bathroom. This USD157 tour is a total ripoff. There are lots of gorgeous temples in Angkor , forget these tourist traps like this silk farm and villages, buy a 3day pass and hire a tuktuk to go to the temples. USd35 to Bang Mealea is too much, I paid USD20. I stayed one week in Angkor and saw almost all temples there. The 7day pass is the best value at USD63, USD9/day.
I flew from HCM to Phu Quoc island. I paid USD100 return trip Vietnam airlines. I stayed in Sao beach, the most beautiful beach in Vietnam.
You can check my pictures at www.nathanchor.net
#6 nathantraveler has been a member since 27/1/2009. Posts: 5
Thanks everyone!! All of your advice has been duly noted. I definitely will hold off on reserving a tour before I get there. I contacted one of the hotels and they gave me a nice price breakdown for tuktuk drivers, etc to the different temples.
I did want to ask - has anyone been to Phnom Kulen? I've heard its beautiful but other people have said that its not worth the money ($20 entrance fee). I do have a keen interest in Hinduism since its the basis of my master's thesis so I would like to see it as its been described as a temple to Shiva - is that true?
Again, thanks for all the advice!
#7 mindy has been a member since 19/4/2009. Posts: 7
As for flying, Expedia shows Air Vietnam doing the return trip for $411 return. Bangkok Airways also does that leg.
You don't say how much time you have.
I did the Saigon - Phnom Penh leg late last year [I booked through Sinh Cafe Travel in Saigon]. Check out my blog on that subject (and Angkor ) at:
The references, and pics are in the latter section.
I am a fan of river travel as after about half an hour on a bus everything tends to be a blur. Others love bus travel.
I appreciate that Angkor is a major destination. If you do go via boat (and the Sinh Cafe option, while more expensive than doing it yourself as SomTam suggests, is quicker than going on your own), maybe you can schedule to stay a day in Phnom Penh. The Tuol Sleng genocide musuem & the Choeung Ek 'killing fields' are a grim reminder of man's inhumanity to man. Though dark, and emotionally troubling, I suggest it puts a perspective on Cambodia (and reflects on all despotic nations) that is a necessary part of understanding history, society and people.
As for Angkor, I read before I went that many get frustrated at "so many temples". Lonely Planet suggested that the viewer should read up first and have a plan for viewing in mind. I used a time sequence (started at the earliest temples and gradually moved along in years) and focussed on architectural developments. Others read the information first and ruled out those not in the 3 or 4 star category. Whichever, do your homework first for an enjoyable visit.
I also agree with the suggestion of Tonle Sap. Few realise the environmental significance of the lake, or that within a few years the floodwaters that feed it are set to be denied the lake as China dams the Mekong River. Environmentalists indicate that if China proceeds as planned, within a decade, Tonle Sap will merely become a big desert (like several of the large lakes in Russia). So, go see it as maybe it will be gone before you get back.
I agree with others not to pre-book anything in Siem Reap. Currently, the economic crisis is forcing operators to reduce prices to those that front up (pre-booking means top dollar), and you can only compare what is being offered if you 'on the ground'.
The Cambodian people are friendly, but the nation has a dark and troubled past. Be aware that this may play on your appreciation of the place. Also, because so many weterners fly in to Siem Reap, it has a quite different disposition to any other Cambodian city / town (compared to other places its almost artificial).
As for Phnom Kulen, I didn't go there.
But, check out:
Lots of very good advice already posted, especially by dageshi (I know what s/he means about typing a message/answer, typing the wrong key, and having it disappear into the etherworld '~))) and like others, I'd highly recommend if possible to squeeze in a few more days for Angkor.
You could get the 3 day pass and in previous years, one could buy the pass after 4pm and still be allowed a free entry for sunset at the complex.
Also, if you're headed to Phnom Khulen, then you might want to visit nearby Kbal Spean (the River of a Thousand Lingas) with it's carvings into the river's bed and rocks but it's best if there's a fair amount of water running since there's a waterfall you pass by near the end which is great for a dip. Some travelers combine Banteay Srei, Kbal Spean, Khulen, and Beng Malea into a full day but would recommend getting an early start.
Also, there are some very good VIP bus such as Mekong Express that run between Phnom Phen (highly recommended for at least a day) and Siem Reap and I think Mekong Express also gets high marks for it's journey between Phnom Penh and Saigon/HCMC.
If you have any questions about Cambodia, one excellent website with updated blogs is Gordon's www.talesofasia.com with a FAQs section that answers tons of questions about traveling in Cambodia and elsewhere. Another good site is canbypublications.
Have an excellent time!
#10 seagypsy has been a member since 5/2/2009. Posts: 136
I have just returned from HCMC, Phu Quoc, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Just a few days ago.
MY advice (just finished our 4th asia trip) don't book anything until you get there. When you arrive in a town get a tuk tuk/taxi to show you 3 or 4 places. And if you don't like it move. And negotiate the price. We got a 40% discount at a flash place in Siem Reap!! Just haggle.
Phu Quoc is amazing!! But Sao Beach is a fair way out from Duong Dong town.
We stayed at Sea Star resort and it was fantastic.
Where ever possible travel by boat. Local busses are a bit rough but bearable. And you see a lot more than flying.
Chau Doc is worth a stop as is Rach Gia.
HAve a sensational time. WE DID!!!