Since I'm currently working at a university in China, I get the Chinese New Year off! That's SIX WEEKS of holiday time. I'll take it :) Being already in the Eastern hemisphere, and with so much time to kill, my roommate and I decided to take a month and visit some sights in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Enjoy the fifth installment of that decision involving Siem Reap, Cambodia:
Getting to Siem Reap via the Poi Pet border is most easily described as a series of steps.
1. Train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet
A slow, but no unpleasant ride. The large windows are all open which is nice, albeit a bit dusty in some places. It stops a lot to let people on and off, but that’s cool too because you get to meet cool people like this lady who offered us a snack.
2. Tuktuk from Aranyaprathet station to the “border”
The train stop is not really within walking distance of the border, but it is a short (less than 10 mins) tuktuk ride away. Except they dropped us off a shady looking place that I think was scamming people to pay for a passport “stamp” you didn’t really need. Keep walking down the street, ignoring anyone who tries to ask you about your passport/visa situation unless they have some kind of official looking uniform on.
3. Finding the actual place where you show your Thailand departure card. Or fill a new one.
Ignoring the scammers, down the street a bit and to the left you can see a sign that seems to be directing you through some food stalls. Not very official looking but if you follow it that’s the right place. It looks legit once you get there. When you entered Thailand you should have gotten an arrival/departure card. Present the departure card here, or fill out a new one since you probably have definitely lost it. They do have these, but their English isn’t too great if you don’t already know you’re supposed to have this little piece of paper. We may have made one guy pretty grumpy because we definitely did not understand we were supposed to have that.
4. Finding the place where they check your visa, stamp your passport, and get an entry/exit card for Cambodia.
You’ll leave that building and continue down the street a bit more. I didn’t see any signs, we just kept asking around to be sure. Then there’s a small building with several windows where people are lining up to get their passport stamped. Don’t forget to get a Cambodian arrival/departure card from some guy walking around the back of the lines, and have your visa stuff all ready to present along with the filled out arrival card.
5. Free shuttle from there to the bus station
Wait around a bit and some guys will direct you to a bus. It really is free. It really is legitimate.
6. Bus from there to Siem Reap
Exchange any baht you may have for real or dollars, they take both in Cambodia. Get a mini-bus to Siem Reap ($9).
7. Sketch tuktukery.
Our bus actually drove AROUND the city center of Siem Reap and dropped us off in a shadier place where a bunch of tuktuk drivers were waiting. We had no choice but to pay them to take us where we needed to go. Kinda smart for them. Kinda scammy.
On the recommendation of a friend, we were booked in Funky Flashpacker hostel. It’s a party hostel, but the party doesn’t invade the rooms so that’s nice. It’s very clean and comfortable, and has a nice pool as a way to beat the midday heat. We took our first day to rest up a bit and get a big chunk of homework done. Because, oh yeah, we’re still trying to be students too.
Our second and third days we explored the Angkor Wat and the surrounding complex of temples.
Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century.
We hired a tuktuk drive for the full day. Mr. Ra, and he was very kind to us J $13 for the first day and $15 for the second because we took the bigger loop (together, not $13 each). This price seemed to be pretty reasonable, but if your haggling skills are on point you’d probably be able to get it for a few bucks less. We really liked doing it this way because we weren’t attached to a tour group or time and could see what we wanted, when we wanted, for as long or as short as we wanted.
Our final day we relaxed some more. Actually, we both were having some internal issues (if you know what I mean) so we weren’t feeling very adventurous. But we did spend the afternoon with a cool guy we met who had been there two weeks teaching English and coaching soccer at an orphanage in town. We went with him in the afternoon to play soccer with the kids. No pictures, obviously, but it was a very good way to spend an afternoon.
Honestly, there’s not much in Siem Reap other than the temples. I wouldn’t spend more than 2 or 3 days there usually, but we needed the homework and rest days. We were about halfway through our trip at this point. Keep on following along if you’d like!