Difference between revisions of "Siem Reap"
Revision as of 10:31, 28 October 2007
Siem Reap, literally "Siam Defeated", commemorates a Khmer victory over the neighboring kingdom of Thailand. These days, however, the only rampaging hordes are the tourists heading to Angkor and this once quaint village has become the largest boomtown and construction site in Cambodia. It's quite laid-back and all in all a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. It's a nice compromise between observing Cambodian life and enjoying the amenities of modern services and entertainment, thanks to the large expatriate community in Siem Reap. As business has increased, so have the numbers of people wanting your custom. Expect to receive almost constant offers for motodop and tuk-tuk rides, along with everything else which drivers may be able to offer to you.
Be sure to pick up your free Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide from your hotel/guesthouse. It contains lots of info on Siem Reap and Angkor, including hotel/bar/restaurant/shop info, travel info, maps, etc.
See Cambodia | Get in | Visas for detailed visa information.
Siem Reap - Angkor International Airport (IATA: REP | ICAO: VDSR) has frequent flights from Phnom Penh and several flights weekly to Sihanoukville. Internationally, there are direct flights to/from Korea (Seoul), Laos (Pakse | Vientiane | Luang Prabang), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, Taiwan (Kaohsiung | Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok | U-Tapao/Pattaya) and Vietnam (Danang | Ho Chi Minh City). Low-cost carriers Air Asia and Jetstar Asia now fly to Siem Reap from Kuala Lumpur and Singapore respectively, but the popular route to Bangkok is still monopolized by Bangkok Airways, which charges accordingly.
The airport is less than 15 minutes from the town centre by car (US$5) or motodop (US$4 or less). If you have an advance booking in a hotel, you can ask them for a free airport pickup (in of their tuk-tuks). This way you can avoid the monopolistic taxi service in Siem Reap.
There are separate terminals for international and domestic flights. International departure tax is a steep US$25 (children US$13), payable after check-in and before clearing immigration. Often this can only be paid in cash, as the credit card facility is unreliable. Airport fee upon departure on national flights, to Phnom Penh, is US$6.
Cambodian highways have improved considerably in the last few years (although there's still plenty of room for further improvement) and some routes that were once epic adventures are now sealed roads. For most routes you have the basic options of chartering or sharing a Toyota Camry taxi, sharing a ride in a pickup truck, or if it's a sealed road, taking the bus.
To reach Aranyaprathet from elsewhere in Thailand, see the Aranyaprathet article.
Most of the Poipet - Sisophon - Siem Reap road is not sealed; the condition of the unsealed sections varies seasonally and depends on when it was last re-graded - for recent reports see Latest Road Conditions between Siem Reap and Poipet.
Whichever route you take, beware of scams, touts and pickpockets at the Poipet border crossing. See the Poipet article for information on the irritating Visa on Arrival process. Once you're through all of that, take the free shuttle bus from outside the entry stamp office in Poipet to the transpotation depot about 1 km away. Tourist travel in Poipet is currently run by an unofficial monopoly, unfortunately, and you're not allowed to bargain directly with drivers.
The fastest and most comfortable way to get from Poipet to Siem Reap is by Toyota Camry share taxi - US$60 for the whole car (US$35 for the driver, US$10 for the government, US$15 for the monopoly) - in which case the entire trip from Poipet to Siem Reap could take less than 3.5 hours on an good day. The transport monopoly in Poipet will not allow more than four tourists in one of these cars, although they often carry 10 or more Khmers at a time.
If US$60 is too much, you can take the official bus for US$10/person. The bus leaves when full - and only then, even if it takes a few hours - and can take about 15 people, with all the bags on the back seat. Extra people will be squeezed onto the back seat if necessary, which might not be so comfortable. Two fold down seats in the centre aisle are also not so comfortable. The trip is advertised as taking 3-5 hours, but in reality it takes at least 6 hours when the road is not too bad. An enforced stop after 2 hours at a restaurant can add to the time of the trip, depending on how long the driver wants to stay. There is the possibility of additional delays (e.g. "mechanical faults") and these are almost certainly due to the same reasons as the Khao San scam-bus: getting you to Siem Reap late, tired and ready to take whatever guesthouse you're delivered to.
If even this is too much, you can try to hop on the back of a pick-up truck for a fraction of the price, but these are now hard to arrange from Poipet, due to the travel monopoly operating there. Also, the ride is a lot more uncomfortable, takes longer and may require a change of vehicle at Sisophon.
Alternatively, you could join the backpacking masses and pay a couple hundred baht for an uncomfortable bus ride directly from Khao San Road all the way to Siem Reap; any travel agent in Bangkok will be happy to sell you a ticket. Buses leave Khao San Road around 8am and arrive in Siem Reap between 5pm and 3am. How long it takes exactly does not really depend on road conditions, but on the mood of the driver. Because he can "sell" you to a guesthouse in Siem Reap he will try to arrive there as late as possible, because if you are tired and afraid of walking around in Siem Reap late at night, his chances increase that you will stay at the guesthouse of his choice. (There is no obligation to stay, regardless of what the guesthouse owners tell you.) Even if you start in Bangkok on a big aircon bus, you will almost certainly find yourself in the back of a pickup or stuffed minibus for the Cambodian part of the journey. For the return trip, expect to pay around US$11.
If you arrive in Poipet the Khao San Road buses, you'll be swarmed by offers of extra help and assurances that you're better off paying 1000 baht (US$30) or even more for the visa - which should cost US$20. Stand your ground - the bus won't leave without you, because the driver wants the guesthouse commission you represent.
From Phnom Penh
There are several bus companies that you can take to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. The most popular bus companies with tourists include Capitol Transport, GST, and Mekong Express. Each bus company leaves from a different location, although there are many located around the Central Market. Nearly all of the bus companies have buses leaving at 7:30am and 12:30pm, and the trip costs US$3-6. Expect to get to Siem Reap in 5-7 hours. In contrast to the Siem Reap-Poipet road, the entire road is paved, making for a much more comfortable ride. If you're driving yourself, watch out for the make-shift patrol pertol stations next to the road, selling petrol in old 2 litre Coke bottles. Much cheaper than the real thing, but who knows what the quality is...
Fast, Soviet style Hydrofoils also make the journey from Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap lake. Asking price for a "foreigner" ticket is typically US$20-25, US$15 is a good price to pay. There are also services between Siem Reap and Battambang (asking price US$15, pay US$10).
These can be fantastic trips which give travellers the opportunity to view life on the lake, floating houses, fishermen going about their work, and to get a sun tan if you choose to sit on the roof of the boat. However if you travel on a windy day and you have not kept waterproofs and sunscreen out of your luggage you could be in trouble. These journeys take anywhere from five to eight hours and without waterproofs and sunscreen you will become incredibly cold and will be burned by the sun at the same time. As the boat is generally packed with travellers, those on the roof will have to stay up there, and once your bags are in the hold, they stay there.
If you are planning a week long trip in Siem Reap, the boat journey is fine, but if you are only planning two to three days, I would advise taking the bus. If you are specifically taking the boat to see the floating village, don't. The floating village is at the very end of the boat journey. You could ride the bus from Phnom Penh, get a guest house, take a tuk-tuk to the port, tour the floating village, and be back in Siem Reap before your friends arrive from Phnom Penh by boat.
A word of caution: If you find yourself taking the boat/bus and person asks for your name to have his friend pick you up, he is in actuality selling your name to a tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. This is a fairly convenient way to get from the port to Siem Reap, just be prepared for an extremely hard sell to one of his select guest houses, restaurants, etc. If you just "roll with it" he will take you to a guest house and you will quoted US$10 for a normally priced US$6-8 room. Since the tuk-tuk driver has now pinned you for a "sucker", he will try to sell you on his services to the temples for about US$20-25 a day. Be firm, and negotiate, they will bend towards the market rate. You'll never really be ripped off, but keep in mind that if you are staying for longer than four days, that tuk-tuk surplus would be much better served through a charitable donation.
Most of the sights in Siem Reap can be seen on foot. For the foot-sore and sun-weary, you'll have plenty of offers from locals on motorbikes. Only the longest rides should be more than US$1 though prices go up at night. Simply agree a price and hop on the back.
Many guesthouses provide bicycles free for "round town" use, or US$1/day (single speed) and from US$2/day (with gears). It's also a good way to see Angkor on your own - the terrain is flat and most roads are decent - but leave early to avoid the mid-day heat.
You can hire a motodop (motorbike taxi with driver) for a full day for US$8-10 or so. Some motodops may be able to provide you with a helmet if you request one in advance.
The rental of motorbikes to tourists in Siem Reap is prohibited. However, foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (e.g. Phnom Penh).
Guesthouses can usually arrange a driver and car for you; this works out at about US$20-25 per day and is a good way to visit the temples if time is short. Ask for Mith Bundy (Tel: 012 942 561) for a very friendly driver with basic (but workable) English skills.
An additional and very convenient way to get around the area, and also get to and from the airport, is to use an 'official taxi', which are available at the airport for the fee of US$7 to the city and payable to the counter at the airport. Whilst in the taxi you will be offered the services of the car and the driver for US$25/day, which is very good value if you want to visit several temples in one day. They also have the added luxury of air conditioning, which you will be craving after walking around temples for a couple of hours The US$25/day is payable directly to the driver, who will speak English, have had training, will have a proper driving license and also have knowledge of the temples and surrounding area. The Tourist Transport Association  also have an office just behind the tourist information office in Siem Reap, which you can contact if you have any questions or queries. All other services and prices are listed on the back of the receipt you receive when you pay the US$5 at the airport for the trip into town.
Unlike Phnom Penh, bicycle rickshaws are almost non-existent.
The reason most people come to Siem Reap is the Angkor Archaeological Park, which is thoroughly covered on its own page.
As usual in Cambodia, dollars and even Thai baht are preferred over riel for all purchases except the very smallest. There are a number of large, flashy souvenir shops around town, complete with temple-style decorations and a surplus of staff, which happily charge 2-5x the going price elsewhere in town and are best avoided.
Despite what you may be told at the Thai border, international ATMs in Siem Reap are plentiful, and banks can do cash advances from credit cards.
There are many hundreds of restaurants in Siem Reap, and you will have no trouble finding something which suits your tastes and your budget. If you don't want to go out, most guesthouses have a basic restaurant attached, and can quickly whip up a decent fried rice.
For something a bit more special, head into town. There are whole streets catering for the travellers tastes, with pizzas, hamburgers, or tasty westernised offerings such as Amok and 'Khmer curry'. Many of the most authentic Karaoke-style restaurants are hidden in the backstreets, though your moto or tuk-tuk driver will no doubt know where to take you. He will be happy to wait (or join you) if you are really out in the boonies.
The street directly west of Pub Street is lined with lots of stalls offering simple yet filling meals for about a dollar apiece. The food is clean. The markets also offer local Khmer fare, but hygiene can be dubious.
Pub Street is best known as a watering hole, but it has also many nice restaurants that won't break the bank. Nearby you'll also find a whole range of pizzerias, including the original Happy Herbs Pizza, which depending on how the police are feeling that day either may or may not sell you cannabis-laced "happy" pizza. Don't try the "extra happy" unless you know what you're doing, and note that they will not sell you any herb without the pizza.
There are a few good options elsewhere in town. The numerous Karaoke restaurants offer a real authentic experience of modern Khmer dining. Try to sit far from the speakers, and prepare for mozzies. There is often no english menu, but one of the staff will no doubt be happy to help you order. Try phnom pleurng, a delicious cook-it-yourself beef barbecue. Another sensational dish, which is only available at these types of restaurants, is the trei bung gancheyt - a whole fish bubbling in a tasty peanuty sauce with green veggies.
Most of Siem Reap's watering holes are concentrated in a few lanes north of Psar Chas (the old market), mainly on a street known appropiately as "Bar Street" or "Pub Street". Drinks usually US$2 and up, although most if not all bars have happy hours before 8 PM and draft Angkor often goes for as little as US$.50.
Accommodation ranges from towering air-conditioned hotels by the airport (mostly for get-in-get-out all-inclusive tours) to local rooms-for-rent and a range of modest guesthouses in town, particular on and around Wat Bo road.
If you arrive with a tour bus or van you will be taken to a "suggested" guesthouse. Usually these are not too bad and you'll probably be too tired to argue.
If you arrive by plane, you may wish to contact a guest house in advance. They will then usually arrange for free transportation to their place. Otherwise just take a motorbike (US$1) or a taxi (US$2) to town. If you don't know any place to go to, they will ask for your budget and will then 'suggest' one.
Internet cafés abound in Siem Reap, prices being US$.75-1.50 per hour. Speed of connection, and speed of PC, very much depends from place to place.
Generally the Siem Reap area and the temples of Angkor are relatively safe, however the usual cautions still apply as with any town or city. Whilst visiting the temples, however, beware of off duty police officers, who are in uniform, that start walking beside you and start showing you around the temples. At this point either say that you would like to see the temples yourself, or agree on a price at the start. Several people have been requested for a fee of over US$10 at the end of the temple tour and you are not going to argue with a member of the police force! The official wage for a police office is very low, so they can easily double their salary by being tourist guides.
Siem Reap and the Angkor temples have long since been thoroughly demined.
Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and this means virtually no reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals or medication are available except in the capital, Phnom Penh. Even here, hospitals can be in very poor condition and badly equipped and medicines are often past their sell-by date or made up of local mixtures of flour and sugar.
If you become seriously ill in Cambodia and require urgent medical treatment, or even minor surgery, it is essential to get to Bangkok, or at least to Saigon. Make sure that you have good travel insurance which covers flying you to a city where you can be treated safely. On no account should you ever receive an infusion to treat dehydration, as people often die of septicemia which is caused by bacteria entering their blood during infusions. The same goes for blood transfusions. If you have to go to hospital in Cambodia, the best one is the Khmer-Soviet Hospital in Phnom Penh.
Having said that, it is possible with a certain amount of care and common sense to avoid getting ill by proper preparation before you travel and good health care while you are there. Although no health certificates or vaccinations are required by visitors to Cambodia, it is recommended that you get vaccinations against tetanus, diphtheria, meningitis, a polio booster and especially gamma globulin shots (against hepatitis A). In addition to this, you should take a course of malaria tablets, as well as a mosquito net. Take a medical kit including panadol, antihistamines, antibiotics, kaolin, rehydration mixture, calamine lotion, bandages and band-aids, scissors, insect repellent, etc.
The most common ailment for travelers is diarrhea, which can deteriorate into severe dysentery, resulting in dehydration. It is absolutely essential that you do not drink unboiled water (or ice made from unboiled water), or eat fruit that has not been either peeled or washed in purified water.
Take water purification tablets with you or iodine crystals to sterilize water. Only drink boiled or bottled water. If you do get severe diarrhea and become badly dehydrated, use a rehydration mixture to overcome it. A further warning about the sun: in the hottest months, March and April, the temperature can rise to 35 degrees Celsius, so use sunscreen and always wear a hat to avoid sunstroke.
For further information on health care for travelers in Cambodia, get a good health guide for traveling in tropical countries. It is also important to consult your doctor a few weeks before you leave to get the most up to date advice on which inoculations you need and what to take with you.