Bucket List Update: [x] Explore Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia – DONE!!!
My friend, what fictional action hero do you like? Well, I got a lot. One of which is a cool chick named Lara Croft and I love her more because when they turned it into a movie, it was played by Angelina Jolie – my favorite actress. There was a scene at Lara Croft: Tomb Raider where Angelina went to a place with temple ruins with some have tall ancient trees that grew on them. Based on my research, that temple was at Angkor Archaeological Site located at Siem Reap, Cambodia. That started my dream of going to the Khmer Empire. And it did come true last month! When I was arranging this trip, I was worried because only a few people already went here and I only have one friend who can give me an idea on completing my itinerary (Thanks Marky!). After arranging this on my own and after the trip itself, I realized that touring this popular place in Cambodia was cheaper compared to other countries I visited. Heck! It’s even cheaper than my last Boracay trip. Again, I did it DYI-style. Yup! that’s the key for an affordable tour which you can do even if you haven’t been there yet. So my friend, here are some tips for your D.Y.I. Siem Reap tour arrangement:
1. Avail of special promo from any budget airlines
Before, plane tickets going here are very expensive because there is no local aircraft carrier here in the Philippines that offers direct flight to Siem Reap. God was ever so kind to us that He heard me when I said I want to see Angkor Wat. Last year, B and I availed of the discounted offer of Cebu Pacific to introduce one of their latest destination located at Southeast Asia which is Siem Reap. So we booked a roundtrip ticket for 2. The price? Around Php 6000 + for two people.
2. Stay in a budget hotel like Mandalay Inn
Thanks to The Poor Traveller for recommending this place. Indeed, the Mandalay Inn really delivers well. When I emailed them to reserve their VIP Room, they did not ask for downpayment to confirm my booking. The room cost us only $18/night, affordable as compared to other hotels at Siem Reap. By the way, don’t expect much of their VIP Room cause it only has the basic amenities. But the hotel was overall clean and the people went above and beyond our expectations like what happened during our stay. Due to the long walks under the sun and my tummy not accustomed to their water, I was down with fever and diarrhea after our tour. Unfortunately, I don’t have medicine to address the later. The manager of the hotel gave me meds and it was for free. In a few hours, my diarrhea was gone. They even checked on me if I was feeling better!
3. Choose your mode of transportation for your tour
The great thing about Mandalay Inn is they also provide transportation services with multiple options available. It seems that the service rate for transportation on all hotels were standardized since all of them follows the same rate. Again, their daily rates are in US Dollars:
Bicycle – $1
Motorbike – $8
Tuktuk – $12
Car – $25
Van – $35
My recommendation: Hire a tuktuk
This type of auto ricksaw is Cambodia’s common mode of transportation. Unlike our local tricycle where the cabin is attach at the right side of the motorbike, tuktuk‘s cabin is attach at the rear. Four people can ride here with space for luggages either at front or back of the cabin. If you are not good at reading maps, scared of getting lost or you want to blend with the locals plus enjoy the fresh air of Siem Reap, then tuktuk is for you. We chose this to tour us and our driver was also our tour guide. The great thing was bottled water was included on our tour for free. Rah (the name of our driver) was helpful and accomodating. Just make sure that when you go down and explore a temple, you agreed on where you will meet him after to avoid getting lost.
4. Choose other places to visit aside from Angkor Wat
There are so many temples to visit at Angkor Wat that there will come a point that you will be stressed or bored a bit. To revive your excitement and to know more about Siem Reap, here are my recommendations on other places to visit and things to do:
a. Wat Preah Prom Rath Pagoda – This Buddist Monastery was built in 1915 making it one of the youngest pagoda at Siem Reap. It is close to Old Market and you can go here for free.
b. Angkor National Museum – to know more about the history of Siem Reap and the entire Cambodia or see some artifacts, head to the museum from 8:30 AM till 6:00 PM. Entrance fee is $12.
c. Wat Bo – If Wat Preah Prom Rath Pagoda is the youngest, Wat Bo is one of the oldest Buddist Temple. No entrance fee for this one.
d. Fill your tummy at any time of the day and enjoy Siem Reap’s nightlife at Pub Street – This is the place to hang out during the day for a laid back brunch or enjoy their colorful party scene at night. The place have different bars and restaurants you can choose from high end to the cheapest. Tipical budget for an eat out will be $5-$10 per person but still it depends on your hunger. 😉
Favorite Cambodian Dish: Beef Lok lak. It’s a stir-fried marinated beef served in a bed of lettuce topped with onions and cucumber which has a dip that consists of lime juice, sea salt and black Kampot pepper.
Highly Recommended Restaurant: The Blue Pumpkin
We went here so many times and we love everything about this restaurant. Though a bit pricey than other restos but you will truly get what you have paid for and more! We enjoyed the food, the cold drinks, the frozen towels given to customers to refresh us after our tour in the morning, and their desserts! We love seating on their long, white day bed with fluffy pillows which gives extra comfort and enjoyment while we dine. If I have billions of dollars, I will definitely establish it here in the Philippines (crossing my fingers here). If you are at Siem Reap or in Cambodia, eating here is a MUST! Do try their home-made ice cream. They are popular for it.
Good news for Filipinos: in Cambodia, rice is also their staple food.
e. Shop at Siem Reap Night Market or at the Old Market – Both are located at Pub Street. You can buy different Kramas (Cambodian scarf) made of cotton or silk, trinkets, shirts, paintings, furnitures and other souvenirs that you can take home with you.
f. Enjoy Apsara Dance Show during dinner – the indigenous ballet-like cultural dance show of Cambodia is an experience you should never miss which you can enjoy over dinner. You may choose to go to the classy Apsara Theater at Angkor Village Hotel for $30/pax for a sit-down dinner with Ramayana Menu or $25/pax which you can choose either their regular menu or vegetarian menu. For a more affordable option, you may also watch the show at Koulen Restaurant and enjoy their international buffet for $12/pax.
g. Visit “The Great Lake” Tonle Sap – This freshwater lake is unsual because its flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically with the seasons. If you want to experience the local life of Cambodians by the lake and how they live, this is the tour for you. TIP: Beggars are a plenty here. These young ones who beg are usually the ones who avoid going to school since they can earn by asking money from foreigners. If you want to help them, go to any Cambodian orphanage or institutions that assist the needy.
h. Ride an Elephant – You can enjoy this ride depending on what time of the day. In the morning, you will see them at the South gate of Angkor Thom or near Bayon Temple. Fee is $10 ( for a 20-minute ride) or $15 (30 minutes). In the afternoon, they will stay at Phnom Bakheng which you can hire to enjoy the sunset for $15 for the ride up. If you choose to ride down instead of walking, cost is $10. This was so popular, the elephants’ services were always with other foreigners that we failed to experience this. 😦
i. Fish Massage – Along Pub Street, you will see aquariums scattered on the side of the street that allows you to dip your feet in it for the little fishies to “massage” your feet. Actually, they are not massaging but they are feeding on your dead skin. The $5 experience is ticklish but your feet will be squeeky clean after.
j. Try Khmer Massage at Lemongrass Garden Spa – For me, a relaxing trip is not complete without a spa experience. This highly recommended spa at Siem Reap by Tripadvisor offers this type of massage for 60 minutes at $10 or 90 minutes for $15. It is said that Thai Massage was derived from this. What is Khmer Massage? It is, “a dry massage partly focused on pressure points whilst increasing blood circulation. Without the stretching and pulling of Thai massage, you’ll find yourself drifting away into a state of total relaxation”. (Source: Lemongrass Garden Spa website). Dry massage means no oil will be used. If you don’t want to get naked during massage, this is for you because you will be asked to wear their loose shirt and shorts. How was it? I LOVE KHMER MASSAGE and enjoyed every minute of it!
That’s my recommendation on the different places and activities at Siem Reap. Plan wisely, my friend. This is just the first part of my tips in touring Siem Reap on a budget. Wait for my next post about the things you need to prepare before the actual trip.
My friend, hope you learn something from my post.