We ( 4 women ) just got back from a wonderful time in Siem Reap. Although it was our first time there we didn't want the package offered by agents as we preferred some flexiblity. Instead we contacted an English speaking guide (Phalla) who had brought a friend of ours around during his visit.
In case anyone is wondering, the E-Visa that we applied for online worked well and we cleared immigration smoothly in spite of all we read online about evisa's being rejected.
Phalla met us at the hotel lobby upon check in and briefed us about our itinerary which we had planned with him online before our trip.
During our 4 days there, we of course visited the main temples, viewed sunrise and sunsets from temples and hills, took a short trip on Tonle Sap to visit Chong kneas, scrambled over slippery rocks to get to the waterfall at Kulen hill after a short trek, visited more outlying beautiful temples, walked thro lotus ponds, took a ride in the hot air balloon near Angkor Wat, visited a village (guide's home village actually), watched rice planting and had a chance to grind some rice flour by millstone, visited a village primary school where the children sang and did a little skit for us in Khmer, had a durian picnic by the West Baray, visited the Old Market, their local Puok market famous for their barbequed Puok chicken, had a traditional massage, war museum, watched apsaras dance, silk factory and their artisans, and their National Museum.
-wear easy to dry rubber sandals, not shoes cos the roads get slushy with all the rain that comes inevitably everyday. Also good for walking along in the river at Kulen hill waterfall.
-have a disposable rain coat or 2, those allowed us to continue clambering up steep temple steps unhindered and not have to stop when it rained. We used them countless times elsewhere too
-sunscreen, hand sanitizer, insect repellant also needed
-have a small clean towel for your face if you feel icky about putting your face on the pillow at the massage place cos they are not about to change the pillow case just for you (sorry, that's the antiseptic me speaking) although they provided us fresh clean clothes to change into.
We found :
- ticket to Kulen hills was still US$20 per person even at City Angkor hotel, we had read in guide books that it would be $12 if bought there instead of at the hill. Reclining Buddha up there was..., well.., a reclining Buddha.
- food, plenty of variety near the old market and reasonably priced (yum...I still dream about that!)
- balloon ride was pleasant enough. Quiet and nice views of Angkor Wat, SR town, padi fields and farmers at work, Phnom Bakheng etc
- surprisingly, toilets easily available (either that or Phalla was good at pointing us that way!!) but bring your own sanitizer
- US$ was no issue at all, readily accepted and change given
- don't leave your spot even when you think the sun has set, the sky turns really beautiful just before it turns dark.
- apsara dance was quite charming which is a good thing cos food was just so-so, insects buzzing under the table (Kulen restaurant)
-apart from market & pub area, most Cambodians spoke mainly Khmer so we couldn't communicate with them in English
-people so friendly, cheeky and ready with a smile and a laugh
We like :
- sunrise at Angkor Wat - just magical
- having the freedom to plan our day / itinerary. Phalla was on hand to fill us in on all the facts about the temple complexes,
yet gave us our space when we wanted to do our own thing. We paid US$20 a day and liked him lots cos he never hurried us, spoke clearly without an American accent (oops!) and filled us in on aspects life in Cambodia. Friendly young guy.
- having the van to ourselves was very comfortable. We brought all we needed (lots of water etc) for the day and yet didn't have to lug anything from place to place. Cost was US$25 a day with driver.
- cycling to Angkor Wat , Angkor Thom and surrounding area a good and very pleasant option.Traffic is light and you need not be fantastically fit. Some baskets come with lids so you needn't worry about snatch thieves.Otherwise, just bring a little $ in your pocket and use basket for water bottle. There are designated bicycle parking spots at the temples ( small fee payable in riel ) Give yourself at least a whole day.
- lots of fun if you can get someone to pillion you to visit places around town ( foreigners are not allowed to rent motorbikes) which our guide did after 2 of our friends left for home. Cambodian law allows 3 on a bike.
- kbal spean cos we had spent too much time at walking around at Kulen hills and the waterfalls
- Prek Toal bird sanctuary cos would love to check out the wildlife
- kompong phluk
- & who knows what else this country has in store....
Should you need, Phalla is at firstname.lastname@example.org