To be completely honest, I really didn’t know what to expect of Cambodia. The first time I heard the name of the country was in early high school, when we did a small study on Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. I didn’t know how big the country was or where it was. It was a few years later, when I became a little more geographically aware that I realised it sits between Thailand and Vietnam, and after travelling to the former in 2014-15 I assumed it would be quite similar. In recent years I have heard stories about famous pub crawls as well as tropical islands, but I think I mostly looked forward to visiting the place and seeing for myself the effect that the Khmer Rouge has had.
Let’s start at the beginning. I’m going to cover off the border entry into Cambodia from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet / Poipet crossing as many other travelers have had issues at this specific point. We managed to do it pretty easily. We stayed the night at Aranyaprathet, which was actually not a bad little town for a border town. We saw only one other foreigner while we were there. We got up early the next morning and took a tuk-tuk to the border for about $2. We got there just after it opened, which I’d advise doing as you really don’t want to be stuck in the middle of a few buses worth of Korean tourists.
Even at opening time, this border is MAD. There are locals everywhere, either transporting goods or crossing the border to go gambling for the day. There are more than a couple of casinos right on the border and the Thai go there on day trips to go gambling as gambling isn’t legal in Thailand.
We checked out of Thailand, walked over the border and into Cambodian territory. You then have to buy a visa ($35 USD) from the visa office on the right. They scam you with another 100 baht fee ($4 NZD) which isn’t technically kosher but I paid it in lieu of being held up arguing with people holding guns. If you can’t find your passport photos, like me, you pay another $4 bribe to have the man forget about that minor detail. All good. You then walk onward and find the other building to get your passport stamped, and into Cambodia you go.
After we completed all the formalities we walked for a couple of hundred meters to get past the touts that will try to scam you with every trick under the sun. I’ve read about the various things they all try on so we found a fellow who would take us straight to Siem Reap with a taxi (a 2 hour drive) for around $25 USD. I’ve read this is the best option, as the buses will typically take most of the day, stop for hours at a time to make you go hungry so you buy food from their friends, etc. It was easier to bypass that headache and pay a couple of dollars more. Even then he stopped just outside of the city and told us we had to take his friend’s tuk-tuk the rest of the way but being rather assertive in our original deal got us to the town in the end.
A local LPG refilling station, where locals freely smoke wherever they want. A lot of cars and especially taxis have been LPG converted.
Need a ute? Just convert your Camry, Bluebird, Familia… doesn’t really matter. It’s all been signed off and certified, I swear.
Need to tow something but don’t have a trailer? Tell you what.. use the aforementioned converted ute that no longer runs, and connect it to your tow vehicle using whichever piece of 4 inch branch you can find.
The Cambodian locals definitely seemed less pushy once we cleared the border. I was used to being constantly hassled in Thailand, and this was actually quite a pleasant change. Don’t get me wrong, they still want to sell you everything under the sun, but they take no for a no.
Something else I should probably mention here: It got hot. Hotter than Thailand, definitely. It was still only mid 30’s but the humidity was up there and it definitely seemed warmer. We found a hotel that would let you swim in their pool if you bought something from the bar, so we happily paid $3 USD for a jug of Tiger Beer and hung around in their pool. I should mention that we were also cycling everywhere as it was quite expensive to hire a scooter here.
Pretty good name for a beer that’s made in Cambodia.
You don’t need a booth to paint a car in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Just an ample amount of space and a motorcycle helmet.
We found a place that was cooking up what looked like pork so we just asked for some food; the language barrier was in full effect here (English isn’t as commonly spoken here as it is in Thailand). We expected some cut up pork, or something.
Phil sort of got what he wanted. Ears.
I think it was by now that I began noticing that the food wasn’t as good as I found it in Thailand. There’s definitely less spice to it, there’s less selection, less diversity and you’re more likely to find testicles in your meal (see below).
They do not let anything go to waste here, and don’t really have boundaries on what they eat, either.
Deep fried Tarantula and snakes on a stick. I didn’t actually try the spiders, I was pretty sick at the time. If I get another chance I definitely will as it’s something I’ve always wanted to try since I saw it done on Fear Factor.
When you order a chicken leg, you get everything, including the nails.
I found the spiders and snakes in Siem Reap town, in an area centered around a road called pub street, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. It’s full of pubs. Most places will have a sign out the front advertising local beers for 50c, and they’re not too bad albeit a little lackluster in the hop department. The street does have quite a good vibe to it. It is packed with tourists as you’d expect. We went on a pub crawl one night which was quite good; we ended up in this bar which was next to another bar covered in Rastafarian colours that freely advertised joints for next to nothing. Weed is quite commonly smoked in Cambodia; if it’s illegal, then nobody seems to care.
I took a tuk-tuk home so I could be closer to a toilet, and the dude ran out of gas. He left me to look after his ride while he found some fuel. The tuk-tuks here are scooters with a little carriage attached.
Something else that became rather apparent in Siem Reap was the amount of begging children. There are hundreds of them everywhere, and it’s quite a problem. Don’t give anything to them, because they won’t go to school. Adults often get them to beg for them, and they’re rather accomplished at welling up for a few seconds and then dropping a couple of Khmer swear words and disappearing the tears when you tell them to go back to school. Another issue here is people ‘volunteering’ at orphanages. It does more harm than good to be with an orphan for a week or two and then leave them again. There are better ways to help out than to visit an orphanage than to donate directly to someone who’s using the kids as a source of income, and then abandoning them.
Right, so Siem Reap. Aside from pub crawls and deep fried spiders there’s practically one other reason why a lot of foreigners visit this city. It’s home to the temples of Angkor Wat, which is directly translated as Temple City. Whilst I’m not the biggest fan of temple viewing, this is a complex which I couldn’t miss. Part of the complex is home to to Ta Prohm, which is where parts of Tomb Raider were filmed.
The Angkor Wat complex is the largest religious monument in the world and covers an area of 162 hectares. Die hard tourists can take several days to see the lot. It was built 8 centuries ago, originally for the state temple of the King and then eventually a mausoleum. I didn’t see the lot, but we cycled through quite a bit of it for a few hours and saw the main Angkor Wat temple, Ta Prohm and Angkor Thom.
Ta Prohm, the Tomb Raider temple:
I didn’t get a photo, but something else that’s not uncommon in Siem Reap other than Monks (see below) is landmine survivors. Cambodia still has around 5 MILLION estimated landmines still lying around from decades of civil war, and as you’d expect there are accidents. There are more than a few landmine survivors around the place and seeing fundraising or begging survivors is common. Shit like that makes me appreciate New Zealand.
I spotted a random wild pig, covered in shit and mud cruising between the temples. There are heaps of wild animals around here, and I’m pretty sure they’re all fair game. This one was probably carved up later on that day.
Wild monkeys. These things are vicious. I take great pleasure in watching other tourists treat them with little respect and narrowly escape with their fingers.
Something else that’s prevalent in Cambodia is a lack of toilet paper. You do your business, and embrace the cleaning power of this high powered hose next to the john. Or, if you’re like me, you carry baby wipes. Baby wipes are the shit, and will actually remove it.
I’m going to lock off this post here because if I try to cover everything from the rest of Cambodia this post will get too big. Next up we went to Phnom Penh via overnight bus. Phnom Penh is home to the Genocide Museum and one of the main killing fields used by the Khmer Rouge in the 70’s regime. My next update will cover off my visit to those places, which helped me understand the reason behind what I perceive is an apparent struggle compared to Cambodia’s neighbouring countries.
One other thing before I end this one, though. Cambodian currency, the Riel, is practically useless. They hardly use it. You use US Dollars everywhere. The only time you’ll be given Riel is for change less than $1. You can’t change it in another country either as nobody wants it; it’s funny money. Here’s a picture of a local walking around with the equivalent of about $4.
Tips so far in Cambodia:
- Use Giant Ibis for bus companies if you’re taking overnight buses. They have a better structure, better buses and they switch drivers halfway through the night so there’s less risk of a 4am crash.
- Don’t try and pet the wild monkeys.
- Carry baby wipes
- Get yourself some of those ultra-thin cargo shorts that dry quickly and have lots of pockets. They’re infinitely useful and you can just go swimming in them and they’ll dry out in about 5 minutes. They beat the hell out of thick shorts, and boardies don’t have lots of pockets.
- Cambodian Riel is useless. You use USD everywhere, but you’ll get change in Riel if the change is less than $1.
- If you’re planning on going to Vietnam after Cambodia, start looking into getting a visa now if you’re not staying for long. You can’t get Vietnamese visas at the border.
Thanks for reading!