First of all, I want to thank the Destination Experts on this Forum. Their combined information was enormously useful in our planning for this trip. So, all of you, Ian/Angkor Lad, Baddles and others - thank you for taking the trouble and effort to post regularly. It really is appreciated. I urge all readers to take note of these folk - they know what they're talking about!
We are a couple of middle-aged, young-at-heart, early-retired "SKI-ers " ( Spending the Kids Inheritance), who enjoy "good value luxury". We wouldn't call ourselves seasoned travelers, but we've travelled a fair bit to lots of different countries. Apart from short stop-overs to Hong Kong, China and Singapore with hubby's work in Higher Ed, this was our first holiday in South East Asia. It will not be our last!!! We had 3 weeks in Thailand and then flew into Siem Reap. I think I had fallen in love with the country on the tuk-tuk ride from the airport:) Cambodia has captured my heart in a big, big way.
So, I humbly share here what we did in Siem Reap and our experiences; there may be others, like us, who might find a novice's experience useful when thinking about what they might do themselves.
I am not offering any recommendations on here, by the way, "other restaurants, tour guides, bars, spas, hotels, trips are available..", as they say!
We flew in from BKK. It's true - the VIsa On Application is dead simple! Our flight was delayed so the attendants actually gave the appropriate forms out in the departure lounge. All filled by time of boarding. On Arrivals, you follow the very clear signs to the queue for Visa Applications - it's all very easy and painless, and I was in awe of how they process everything so quickly. Then you stand in the collection q, and a guy holds up the passports one by one, you get your own and you're there. We had our pics all ready, but even those who had no photos didn't have to wait too much longer. Then everyone waits for baggage together. We were outside the airport at exactly the same time as those who had the online, more expensive version.
Hotel, Apsara Residence, sent free tuk-tuk. He made sure we knew his name! It was turned 6pm when we'd got unpacked. Went to a cute little restaurant on Street 27, away from centre, run by a collective of ex-uni students on a NGO loan. Super food and fab people. A great intro to the city. Wandered to Pub Street after - a bit mind blowing,not really our scene, but we needed to see it. Crazy place. Found a good bar for a couple of G and Ts.
Sunday - nothing planned. We mapped out a walk taking in Wats, coffee shops, riverside etc. Nearly collapsed in the heat, but enjoyed it, nonetheless. There are plenty of 'off-the-track' cafes - we used TA reviews to help map out a walk taking a couple in, used that as a guide, but often saw others down alleys etc as we were strolling. Always worth having a nosy down the alleys! Found SR a very safe place to walk round. Just the broken pavements need decent footwear. I bought some Skelotene citronella bug spray and have only been bitten twice since then in past 10 days:)
Went on a Street Food Tour - other couple didn't show so it was like a private tour. Brilliant fun! Well worth doing and helped us get bearings in city too.
Monday/ Tuesday - I'd booked a 2-day tour of Angkor temples with driver and registered guide. We paid $155, excluding ticket price. First day was Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Ta Nei, Ta Keo, Banteay Kdei, Angkor Thom gates, Palace walls, terraces, Bayon; Baphuon, Chao Sav Tevoda and Thommanon. On 2nd day, we started with a visit to the Floating Villages, did Banteay Srei, Samre and the Landmines Museum, Preah Khan and Pre Rup.
There's always lots of chat on forums about whether to hav guides versus tuk-tuk drivers etc. We felt this price was fair, having shopped for different kinds of tours, with and without guides. Our driver was courteous, polite, had cold cloths and ice cold water ready after every temple. It was a massive relief to get in the a/c car each time. Our guide was a delight and made the whole experience meaningful. We can read guide books etc, but he opened up each place for us, by taking us right to particular carvings, telling us the stories and legends, explaining the cultural history and far more. If you want the name, tap on my profile and look at my reviews.
We enjoyed our trip to the floating village, but was very moved by the poverty clearly experienced by so many people. By then, we'd had lots of conversations with local people about how life is in general. I have learned that this a nation of proud people who yet are gentle, generous and gracious. After all the country has been through, and is still recovering from, and the political uncertainty of the future, they have a remarkable resilience which is humbling. And the smiles!! Oh my word, they are incredible.
Oh, We didn't do the AW sunrise. Weather forecast both days was cloudy - no one saw anything either day, so we felt vindicated staying in bed till 6.30am!! I don't think folk should automatically think it's a 'must-do'.
Both days, we ate in the ANgkor Park - reasonable prices for great food. (We need to remember that electricity is expensive out there as the providers charge a premium; many restaurants don't have running water - have to bring it in, hence prices are higher than in town, but still cheap).
Wednesday- had the morning relaxing. Had a massage and late breakfast in one of the cafes by the river. A healthy, vegan type place with yummy pancakes etc and delicious smoothies. In th afternoon we did a Cookery Clas with 'Beyond Unique Escapes' - great experience and fun to meet others and visit a local community and see how cooking happens in their homes. After returning to hotel, we had a wander round Made In Cambodia- a lovely little market in a pretty, calm setting with stalls selling lots of unique products, most for various good causes, with back stories. Bought lots of lovely things and had lots of great conversations with the stall holders.
Evening- the Phare Circus- not to be missed! This an amazing company and the young people, as well as being super talented, are delightful. Grabbed a pizza for late dinner at the Brothers Bar across from the hotel - very cheap cocktails there and okay food. Lots of local young folk hang out there and it's a good opportunity to chat, they like to practice English and it's fun for us 'oldies' and interesting to find out about their hopes and dreams.
Thursday- sadly, and far too soon, it was time to pack up and leave. We'd had a pile of washing done and beautifully folded at $2 for 1kg, collected and delivered to hotel, so plenty of clean clothes! We've decided we can cut down our packing for future trips - I live in a couple of pair of white/ navy blue linen trousers and loose cotton tops, plus a few vest tops when I fancy catching a bit of sun. So easy to get laundry done and so cheap!
We took the Giant Ibis bus to PP. it took 6 hours, including 3 short rest stops, one longer one for lunch. Comfy enough but not much fun. You get water and a pastry when you set off. All for $15! So good value, if you have the time.
As I said, we've fallen in love with Cambodia and its people. Our time in PP had deepened that further, but that's another story. We are already planning our return. Hope this has been of some value to someone.
Have a wonderful trip whenever you go and whatever you do:)