Difference between revisions of "Siem Reap"
Revision as of 20:06, 6 August 2006
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. While it has no attractions of its own (at least when compared to Angkor), it's still quite laid-back and all in all a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. As business has increased, so have the numbers of people anting your custom. Expect to receive almost constant offers for motodop and tuk-tuk rides, along with everything else that the drivers may be able to offer to you.
Siem Reap - Angkor International Airport (REP) has frequent flights from Phnom Penh International Airport (previously Pochentong International Airport) as well as direct flights to/from 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 by car from the center of town. Visa on Arrival is available for $20 (payable in US dollars) and a single color photo. International departure tax is a steep $25.
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.
From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, either take a 1st class public bus from Bangkok's Northern Bus Terminal (frequent departures, 160-200 baht) or else travel by train from Bangkok's Hualamphong Train Station (two trains each way daily, all 3rd class, 48 baht).
From Aranyaprathet bus or train station, continue by tuk-tuk (50-60 baht) or motorbike (20 baht) or bus (10 baht) to the border market, and cross the border to Poipet on foot.
The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is not sealed, hence the condition varies seasonally and much depends on when it was last re-graded - for recent reports see Latest Road Conditions between Siem Reap and Poipet.
The fastest and most comfortable way to get from Poipet to Siem Reap is by share taxi - $40-45 for the whole car - in which case the entire trip from Poipet to Siem Reap could take less than 3.5 hours on an good day. If the car is shared between 3 or 4 people this is not as expensive as it sounds.
If $40 is too much, you can take the official bus for a fixed $10 per head. Take the Free Transport (it really is free) to the remote bus terminal about 2 km away. The bus leaves when full and can take about 15 people in a large minibus, 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 isle 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 people want to stay. There is the possibility of additional delays (mechanical faults developing which become suddenly fixed) and it is sad to say that these might be due to the same reasons as the Khao San scam-bus. Ultimately you will be delivered to a guest house in Siem Reap, but there is no pressure to stay.
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 this will be more uncomfortable, take longer and probably require a change of vehicle at Sisophon.
Alternatively, you could join the backpacking masses and pay a couple of 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. 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 $11.
Whichever route you take, beware of scams, touts and pickpockets at the Poipet border crossing. Visa on Arrival costs US$20, require one color picture, and you do not need anybody's assistance to complete the process. If you arrive with the Khao San Road busses the chances are high that they will charge you 1000 THB or even more for the visa. Try to bargain!
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 between $3-$6 (US). Expect to get to Siem Reap in 5-7 hours.
Fast, Soviet style Hydrofoils also make the journey from Phnom Penh across the Tonle Sap lake. Asking price for a "foreigner" ticket is typically $20-$25, $15 is a good price to pay. There are also services between Siem Reap and Battambang (asking price $15, pay $10).
A word of caution: 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 you luggage you could be in trouble. These journeys take several 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. Be prepared for the trip and you will love every minute.
Note: The rental of motorbikes to tourists (expatriates, however, are allowed) in Siem Reap is prohibited, however foreigners can ride motorbikes they've rented elsewhere (eg Phnom Penh).
Tel. + 855 (0)12 934 412 or (0)12 655 201. HCDBT offers once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to explore the countryside of Cambodia in a safe yet exciting way, by motorbike or 4-WD.
Psar Chas (Old Market), to the south of town, sells a reasonably attractive collection of artifacts and tourist junk. Please don't buy anything purporting to be antique; it probably isn't, but it's stolen if it is.
Phsar Kandal (Center Market) at the corner of Sivatha Blvd and Achamean Street offer an eclectic collection of clothes and trinkets for good prices. Don't forget to bargain down the price. Most stalls carry the same selection so you can shop around and find the cheapest price. Many of the goods here cannot be found in Thailand.
Accommodations range 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 cafes abound in Siem Reap, prices being $0.75 to $1.50 per hour. Speed of connection, and speed of PC, very much depends from place to place.