Travel planning details: Cambodia
American citizens need a visa to enter Cambodia.
Visas are available at the airport on arrival in Siem Reap. If you are arriving from Thailand, you can pick up an application when you check in for your flight and fill it out on the flight. You’ll also need a passport sized photo.
In Cambodia our tour guide was Soun Choeun with Exotissimo Travel in Cambodia. Choeun is a former school teacher who speaks beautiful English, was flexible and willing to alter the itinerary to provide us with a better experience, and very knowledgeable.
The temple of Angkor are spread out over a large area.
A pass is required for foreigners to visit the temples in the Angkor Archeological Park – our three day pass cost $40 (included in our tour package). Passes are available for one, three, or seven days.
A passport-size photo is required for the multi-day passes, so bring an extra.
Siem Reap, with a population over 85,000, is the rapidly developing gateway to the temples of Angkor. Luxury hotels appeared to be going up everywhere – it is a town that is clearly undergoing rapid change. This rapid transformation has created quite a mishmash of development around and within the city’s historic core.
With new hotels seem to spring up every day, so there are a wide variety of lodging options available.
It was far lovelier than I was expecting – it was both beautiful and comfortable. The grand teak staircase and carved-on-location seating was lovely and helped fill the grand spaces with warmth and character. The staff was attentive and helpful. In no time at all everyone on the staff seemed to know who we all were. I don’t think I ever had to give them my room number after the first day and the restaurant staff always ensured that there would be a large enough table available for our group to sit together.
The restaurant was also good. The same menu was served for lunch and dinner, with a decent mix of traditional and Western dishes. The buffet breakfasts were pretty much the same as in Thailand, although leaning more toward Western than Thai favorites.
On the down side, the hotel was in the process of expanding, so there was construction noise from early in the day until dinner. Power outages (usually brief) occasionally occurred. Almost overpowering varnish fumes in the halls (but not in the rooms) were an additional hazard toward the end of our stay.
We were the first to stay in our room, so everything was brand new. However, there was also a lot of leftover construction dust (which was cleaned up as soon as I mentioned it) and a few design flaws (showers that flooded the stone bathroom floors) to deal with. Still, it’s hard to complain, as our room was lovely, airy, large, and comfortable with a functional deck overlooking the lovely pool area.
Honestly, we often ate in the hotel restaurant, since it was convenient, pretty good, and reasonably priced. Some of the traditional Cambodian seafood dishes were particularly nice.
Meric Restaurant in the Hotel de la Paix is, as noted in my post, a lovely and reasonably priced spot for fine dining – but do try the Khmer tasting menu. It’s also worth noting that the prices for wine were very reasonable, making this a great spot to stop in for an appetizer and a drink.
We had dinner our final night in the fine dining restaurant at one of the luxury hotels. (I think it was the Sofitel, but I’m not positive about that, as I was just sort of following along with the group and not really paying a lot of attention.) We were the only ones there, which seemed like a bad sign. The food was fine, but for the price it should have been exceptional. (The hotel’s poolside bar looked pretty inviting though.)
Choeun took us to a wonderful Khmer spot for lunch one day, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get the name. (I’ll keep trying though.) It was a big, busy place with wonderful, inexpensive local foods.
We didn’t do a lot of shopping, having done lots of it in Thailand and the markets we passed didn’t look particularly enticing.
Having said that, if you are looking for high quality traditional crafts, the Artisans of Angkor has many lovely items that are copies of originals that now reside in museum collections. All items are made in Cambodia. Along with the craft items, these shops also sell tea, coffee, and some other specialty food items. As I relate in my posting, the silk is absolutely gorgeous. The main shop is located in Siem Reap, with a smaller shop at the airport. The two shops do not carry identical merchandise, so if you like what they have, check both places. (The prices in each are similar.)
Local touts (mostly children of varying ages) are stationed at the entrance of all the main temples selling the same books, postcards, and cheap textiles and souvenirs. These unfortunate children are loud, insistent, and more obnoxious than those we met in Peru and Ecuador, all of which makes for a rather unpleasant shopping experience. Fortunately you will be free of them once you actually enter the temple complex itself.
In rural areas, the roadside sports a selection of local crafts – mostly purses and bags, simple carved wood items, and baskets.
Because we only had a few days in Cambodia, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for guidebooks. I brought a copy of Lonely Planet’s Cambodia that I borrowed from a friend.
While on tour I purchased a copy of Michael Freeman and Claude Jacques’ Ancient Angkor. While having a guide like Choeun is wonderful, Ancient Angkor includes recommendations for touring along with fairly detailed descriptions and lovely photos of each site. In most cases where the book says “most tourists enter here, you should instead. . .” Choeun had taken us in via the recommended alternate route. I am thinking that says good things about both Choeun and this book!
Guidebooks (including Lonely Planet), history books, and other Cambodian-themed materials are available for about $5 (after some bargaining) from the touts outside the main temples. But be aware that – despite quite high-quality printing – these are undoubtedly being sold in violation of copyright laws.
A myriad of web resources exist, including:
- First published in 1944, Maurice Glaize’s “The Monuments of the Angkor Group” includes photos and illustrations (including the site maps reproduced in some of my entries), all of which can be found on the web at the Angkor Guide.
- Probably my favorite site, Tales of Asia: Cambodia has loads of useful and reliable information.
- Tourist bureau type information and links are is available at Cambodia Travel Guides, including a very useful page on visiting the Angkor Archeological Park that includes the map reproduced above.