The last week of my Chinese New Year holiday I split between stops in Siem Reap and Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. If it weren’t for my desire to see The Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap I would have spent the entire month in Laos, in retrospect I wish I did, but if there is one thing I’ve learned on this trip it’s that there is no such thing as “should have” it’s pointless to think about.
Crossing the boarder at Voeung Kam was fairly easy. I got a bus from 4,000 islands that would go right to Siem Reap. The bus company took all of our passports and handled all of the visa and boarder crossing paperwork for $40. The actual visa cost is $35, but there is “processing fee” on both sides that are one or two dollars depending on the day. The “fee” being a bribe for boarder officials to pocket. Some people decided not to pay the $40 and do it themselves at the boarder to save the $5. They ended up paying $37 including “fees”. I had exactly $39 dollars with me and paid the remainder with 20 bhat and crossed the boarder with the equivalent of $7 dollars and hoped that would be enough to get me to my hostel.
Fortunately,it was. After being transferred to a mini van (unlike the VIP bus that was advertised) we were dropped at the bus station outside of Siem Reap city (unlike the city center stop that was also advertised) where the Tuk Tuks were waiting swarming. All the drivers wanted $3 USD to get to my hostel that was slightly outside the city center. I paid in both USD and Reel. When I withdrew money from the ATM I received USD instead of Reel, and for my stay in Siem Reap I operated mostly in USD, getting a mixture of USD and Reel for change. It is about 4,000 Reel to $1 USD so it was easy to convert unlike Lao Kip and Vietnamese Dong with so many 0’s. The street vendors took dollar bills, the grocery store, restaurants (I only ate at one), hostels, and I paid my tuk tuk driver and Angkor Park ticket in USD.
Immediately, I was struck by differences between Laos and Cambodia. Granted, I did come from the most low-key place on earth to one of the main tourist destinations of southeast asia (during Chinese/Vietnamese New Year no less). It was much more developed, more traffic, more tourists, more commercialism, a lot more garbage. Hotter,louder, dustier, dirtier.
Siem Reaps’ main attraction are the Angkor Temples obviously. It has a few other things to offer when tourists get tired of temples; bike tours, the Cambodian circus, a butterfly garden, a national museum, pub street, and that’s about it. Depending on how much Angkor holds your interest would really determine how much time you should spend in Siem Reap. I was there for three and a half days and that was more than enough for me to get my fill of Angkor and the city had nothing else to offer me. If you are really into the temples and history maybe five days would suit you to really take your time in the park. Siem Reap itself for me, was okay, maybe like a 4 or 5 out of 10, I would only go again if someday my partner wants to see Angkor but other than that I have no desire to return. It’s just a matter of taste I suppose. However, I am glad I saw the temples of Angkor and wouldn’t trade in that experience.