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Trip Report 6 weeks in Cambodia and Laos with an unplanned itinerary

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We liked both Laos and Cambodia and easily found things to keep us interested during our six week trip. Hoping to avoid the worst of the heat, we started our trip in Siem Reap in mid-January and from there bounced down to southern Cambodia before moving north into Lao. Our heat-avoidance strategy wasn’t particularly successful.

We are in our sixties, recently retired, and experienced travelers. We’ve visited other developing countries before for extended periods of time, but, other than a two week visit to Vietnam, this was our first trip to Southeast Asia. We are moderate price range travelers who enjoy the outdoors and historical places and cultural activities. Wandering and observing everyday life are things we like to do. In addition to visiting typical sites that attract tourists, we are fairly fit active travelers looking for opportunities to do things like walking and biking, and we are not shoppers.

This ended up being another of those trips where we kept saying to ourselves the piece of advice we’d give to friends asking about doing a similar trip is: If you are contemplating visiting the Angkor temples but are starting to get older, do it now while you still have the strength and ability to clamber around places with uneven surfaces and the ability to hoist yourselves up into those that require climbing. Plus, the heat can be quite debilitating at times, so think about that factor too since heat can affect older people more. Many of the boat trips we took also required the agility to quickly hop on and off of a rocking, uneven surface. Of course, the crew was typically there to assist, but I can see how some people might have problems with this.


THIS WAS A VERY LAST MINUTE TRIP

For about a month I’d been investigating and thinking about the idea of visiting Cambodia and Laos as a long break from our horrible winters. Finally, we decided to make it a go, and we booked tickets for six weeks (Jan. 12 to Feb. 23) in Cambodia and Lao. This was such a last minute booking that our flight to Southeast Asia would leave in a week, so we had a lot to do to get ready in a short time.

When looking at all of the different flight and itinerary options, we vacillated between cheapest tickets and more convenient flights. Eventually we decided that easing the hassle factor was worth the money, so we paid a bit more for the convenience of being able to arrive directly in Siem Reap. As usual we were in coach and actually found the Delta planes better than other airlines we’d recently flown coach for long distances. On the way home we’d be leaving from Bangkok.

A FLEXIBLE TRIP WITHOUT AN ITINERARY OR PRE-BOOKING RESERVATIONS

I didn’t want to be stuck figuring out accommodation upon arrival in Siem Reap, and since I absolutely knew where we would be ending our trip I wanted to have lodging set up for our departure from Bangkok. So, I booked the first six nights of our trip in Siem Reap and the last four nights before our return home in Bangkok. Everything in the middle was left open so we could arrange while in the country.

A last minute trip was fine with us because we wanted a trip with flexibility where we wouldn’t be locked into a set itinerary or set lodging. We are not backpackers, and as we get older I’ve gotten quite picky about what I consider acceptable lodging because we’ve learned that in some instances lodging can make all of the difference between liking or not liking a place. But, I’ve also learned that even if my very first choice hotel might not be available, in most cases I will be able to find something that at least meets my standards for lodging.

There are pluses and minuses to this approach. The biggest plus for us was the ability to get to a place and decide how much we liked it. If we liked it we could linger, and if it wasn’t a place that called to us we’d move on. For the most part, this worked out extremely well for us. We added locales we hadn’t thought about visiting, we added days to places that we hadn’t anticipated we’d like as much, we ended up skipping some places we were vacillating about, and we ended up with a trip that was tailor made for us and was a reflection of our real-time desires and needs.

We’ve traveled enough that we know with a couple hours notice every hotel can arrange ground transportation, so transportation wasn’t a hurdle. We booked internal flights between three and six days prior to departure and got good prices if we were wiling to have a tiny bit of give on when we’d fly.

The downside to an approach like this is that it takes a lot of time out of the trip as you constantly try to figure out the logistics of your next stay. However, with a trip of this length we are not on the go all of the time every day anyway, so I just used our downtime to figure out our trip.

Since I am quite picky about lodging, researching and booking places took quite a bit of time. Prior to leaving I’d done some research and tried to figure out some accommodations that we’d like, but when push came to shove this prior research didn’t do a whole lot of good. So, during our six week trip I never did get a chance to just sit and read my regular book. I read our guidebooks and perused the internet. OTOH, my husband who doesn’t do the planning read a book or two and was always up to date on the current world news since that is how he spent his downtime.

CHINESE NEW YEAR

Our trip included the time period of Tet in Vietnam and Chinese New Year. At one point we’d thought about including parts of Vietnam we hadn’t seen on our trip there, but when we realized our timing would probably coincide with Tet we knew enough to forget that idea. What we didn’t realize is that Chinese New Year would impact our plans.

Chinese New Year became an issue (something I’d never even imagined) for us as far as finding lodging during this time frame, particularly in Luang Prabang since it was also peak season for other tourists. China has a growing middle class, and that group can afford to travel. Apparently many of them make extended trips during the time surrounding Chinese New Year. We also met ex-pats living in China who were taking advantage of the long break period to do some traveling.

It wasn’t as though nothing was available, it was just that the selection was very limited and many of the places that were available were either super high-end expensive or very low end. We could easily find places for a night or two, but finding a string of nights at the same place (and in a decent place that called to us) was somewhat problematic. And, apparently we weren’t the only ones who had some issues during the time around Chinese New Year. We heard that many backpackers went up north to Nong Khiaw in Lao because they were having difficulties finding lodging in Luang Prabang during this time frame.


OUR FINAL ITINERARY AND LODGING

Our itinerary was developed as we went along, and this worked fine.


6 nights Siem Reap at Solitaire Damnak Hotel ($95)

1 night Preah Vihear at Preah Vihear Boutique Hotel ($100)

5 nights Siem Reap at Sonalong Resort ($59) **One of our favorites of the entire trip.

3 nights Battambang at Delux Villa ($60)

5 nights Kampot at Rikitikitavi ($48 & $58)

3 nights Phnom Penh at Villa Langka ($85)

2 nights Vientiane at Dhavara Boutique Hotel ($125) **Our splurge

3 nights Luang Prabang at Apsara ($130)

4 nights Nong Khiaw—split between
3 nights at Riverside Rooms ($54)
1 night best forgotten at Phanoi Guesthouse $12 (yes, you heard me right on the price)

3 nights Luang Prabang at View Pavilion ($115)

1 night Pakbeng at Luangsay Lodge as part of a 2 day cruise

1 night Chiang Rai at Nak Nagara ($63)

4 nights Bangkok at Ibrik Resort on the River ($100)

Since many people often wonder how much it costs to visit a country, I’ve included the prices we paid for lodging because that is a significant part of trip costs. These are peak season prices that are a reflection of last minute bookings. In some cases I think we probably got prices that were somewhat discounted since they were trying to sell off un-booked rooms at the last minute. In other places, these were just rack rate I think.

Years ago we were in the “we’ll only be sleeping there” category and so would typically choose the cheapest room at a lodging. However, now that we are older and starting to take longer trips where we are not going to be out running around twelve or fifteen hours a day, we often choose to spend the $10 or $15 a night more that it costs (in the category of hotels we choose) to upgrade to a larger and nicer room. And, on this trip a few of the places we stayed (Rikitikitavi in Kampot and Apsara in Luang Prabang) the more inexpensive rooms were fully booked, while the more expensive ones were available. So, we ended up with the more expensive rooms.

Excluding our $12 outlier in Nong Khiaw, we spent between $48 and $130 a night for a double room. For our six week trip, we averaged $82 a night. This average was elevated by our splurge hotel in Vientiane and by the inflated price of lodging in Luang Prabang. Luang Prabang definitely rates as the most expensive place to stay in comparison to what we could get elsewhere for comparable money.

Would we return to the places we stayed? Mostly yes, with a couple exceptions. In Siem Reap we much preferred Sonalong Resort to our first hotel (Solitaire Damnak). Nak Nagara in Chiang Rai was in a decent location but was basically a motel-type place with some grounds with a pool in the middle; the staff was helpful though. The Phanoi Guesthouse in Nong Khiaw is a never again place.

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    I've been looking forward to this, so thank you.

    I too like "on the fly" travel. At the moment it's difficult with DH still working, although apparently he has long service leave available. Look out SEAsia !

    Agreed that it's sometimes worth the few extra bucks for a better room. We too like to dag around/have downtime in some comfort.

    Where do you live that the winters are so horrible ?

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    We live in the far northern part of the US in Minneapolis which is known as a fabulous place to live in all other aspects except the winters. However, this year at home we are experiencing the climate change so many of us have been hearing about. Our local lakes didn't freeze over until close to a month later than normal, and now we have had unbelievably warm weather (more like early May for us) so the ice is going out nearly a month earlier than usual. This is really strange.

    We easily filled our time in Siem Reap and enjoyed it more than we ever thought we would. Six of our days in Siem Reap we used our passes to visit temples. Of course, this was not just an on-the-go every second type of trip, so we had a couple days where we would walk around in town for about three or four hours and take in a local wat or two, and then we would just take it easy the rest of the day. It turned out to be a nice balance.

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    TRANSPORTATION

    Other than trains (which are non-existent in Laos and Cambodia), I think we used all the different variations of transport available. Since this was a last minute trip, prior to leaving we hadn’t had a chance to thoroughly investigate how to get around between places. Once we arrived and realized the time and difficulty in moving long distances (and we discovered that last minute airfares were very affordable) we flew much more than we’d ever thought we would. In fact, during our six week trip we took four flights, all on local budget carriers. Siem Reap to Sihanoukville. Phnom Penh to Vientiane. Vientiane to Luang Prabang. Chiang Rai to Bangkok.

    In addition we used tuk tuks, bicycles, songthaews (covered pickup trucks with bench seats along the sides of the pickup bed), the backs of motorbikes where we clung to the driver’s waist, large vans, smaller vans, car with driver, bus, very narrow longboat, small and large ferries, and river cruise boat. Let’s just say that typically the safety standards you’d expect at home were non-existent with most of these modes of transportation, but when in Rome…..Arrangements for all of these types of transportation were made on the spot or the day before, so there really is no need for people to have an agency arrange everything for them. It is easily done on one’s own. And, as most places we’ve visited around the world, if the person whose name you have as a contact for transportation can’t take you, he has a brother, nephew, uncle, friend etc. who can help you out.

    GUIDE BOOKS

    We’ve got a great library system where we live, so I’d looked at many of the available books that way. I ended up buying one hard copy book for Laos, one for Cambodia, one for Bangkok and one for the Siem Reap temples. I also purchased a few other books for our e-readers. I know from past experiences that I much prefer hard copies, but my husband kept nagging me about trying to travel lighter and not drag along many pounds of books. In retrospect, I should have just dragged along a few more pounds of books; we find e-readers extremely difficult to use as guidebooks. E-books are fabulous for straight-forward reading but a real pain to try to use as reference books (the way we tend to use guidebooks).

    For Cambodia I took the Lonely Planet guide in hardcopy and also used the Rough Guide as an e-reader.

    For Lao I bought the hard copy of Rough Guide and used Lonely Planet in an e-reader version. This e-reader we really had difficulty with, and I’ve read this criticism of other LP e-books.

    I bought an Insight Guide book that covers both Laos and Cambodia in e-reader format. This was an interesting and insightful book and was easier to use since I was using it more for straight forward reading for background insights rather than for day-to-day practical advice. I also purchased a Footprint Guide book in an e-reader format. This book covered Lao, Cambodia and Vietnam. On our trip to south India last year I really liked this series and considered it one of the best. This book didn’t impress me nearly as much.

    Last fall when we visited Sicily I found the smaller size Insight Guide very useful since it was light and small enough to carry along in my purse and also had a nice map included. So, I bought their Bangkok book. This time I didn’t find it quite so useful, but it was an okay book.

    For the Angkor temples I bought “Focusing on the Angkor Temples: the Guidebook” by Michael Petrotchenko. It certainly was thorough, too thorough for us and contained way more information that we actually needed. But, it has excellent background info, great photos, very detailed maps and notes about each temple and temple complex, and it a reasonable size to take along as a reference book when out on an outing. I’d read many recommendations here for Dawn Rooney’s book and also took a look at that before purchasing the Petrotchenko book. IMO, Rooney’s book is just too large to comfortably take along during your day visits. And, I really think the info in both books was equivalent.

    I purchased a large road map that included both Cambodia and Lao but didn’t use it much at all.

    Online travelfish.org was a great reference tool.


    HEALTH

    We live in a large city and have access to an excellent travel clinic. Since we’ve done a lot of traveling in developing countries in the past few years, we knew we were pretty up to date on our shots, but we still wanted to visit the travel clinic because we knew we’d need new typhoid shots, and we wanted prescriptions for Malarone protection against malaria.

    The big surprise of our visit to the clinic was that we needed polio shots. This was something we had never thought of, assuming that the vaccinations we’d had when children were life-long. However, there is now polio in Laos, so new shots are recommended.

    As usual when traveling to these types of countries, we were each given prescriptions for a couple rounds of antibiotics (azithromycin) in case we got travelers diarrhea. And, as has typically been the case during our six week trips to developing countries, we each needed to take one round of the antibiotic. The other piece of advice we got at the clinic was to bring from home any over- the-counter medications we thought we might want because in Cambodia and Laos there is a distinct chance that over the counter medications might be coming in from China.

    FOOD

    During our trip we pretty much ate everything and were only super cautious at the beginning of the trip when we did try to eat only things that were thoroughly cooked. However, as when we visited Vietnam, I started to realize that for many of the foods the fresh herbs were what made the dish, and I wanted a chance to get the full combinations of flavors of the dish. We are not deluxe travelers, and while we certainly weren’t eating at top-of-the-line restaurants we were primarily eating at places frequented by tourists rather than the locals. We had salads, smoothies, drinks with ice etc. As I mentioned, we each needed one round of antibiotics once during the entire six weeks, so our strategy seemed okay.

    Every place we stayed included breakfast, and in most cases this was a hearty breakfast if we chose to eat a lot. With these large breakfasts we usually found that we didn’t need to eat again until perhaps 3:00 or 4:00. Then, we’d just have a snack. So, typically we were going out for dinner in the evenings and just stopping for a drink or snack during the day.

    We are typically adventuresome eaters (not adventuresome enough though to eat the crickets, snakes, rats, cockroaches etc. we saw in some roadside stands in Cambodia) and prefer to eat the foods that are typical of a country. To us, Laotian food was better than Cambodian because there were more interesting and complex flavors and textures. During our four days in Bangkok we never were able to find the fantastic food everyone always raves about when discussing food in Thailand. What we found was fine but nothing I’d call exceptional.

    Having primarily travelled in India in the past few years, we came from home with an emergency pack of granola bars and a bag of trail mix for snacks stashed in our suitcases. We found we didn’t need to be concerned about finding acceptable snacks, and small stores where we could find decent snacks were much more readily available than we’d ever found in India. In comparison to India, beer and wine were also much more easily obtained.

    CLOTHING AND THE WEATHER

    Cambodia was hot, unbearably so at times! Quite a few people there told us that this year there did not seem to be a winter like there usually is. We had two days in Cambodia when (relatively) cooler weather that is more reflective of normal January weather arrived, but the rest of the time it was definitely very tropical. These weather aberrations seem to be a recurring theme during our travels, with people all over the world telling us that the weather is no longer predictable or normal.

    Even though we are not typically pool people, we found we really appreciated it when our hotels in Cambodia had these. Other than in Kampot, every place we stayed in Cambodia had a pool. These were marvelous for cooling off and refreshing in the late afternoon.None of our places in Laos had a pool, and there was much less of a need there.

    Lao was more balanced and more comfortable weather for the most part. We were in Luang Prabang and then further north in Nong Khiaw during quite a cool spell where everyone was completely wrapped up in all of their warmer clothes for evenings and mornings. Two nights it was so chilly in our unheated room we slept with additional shirts over our pajamas, and I was kicking myself for forgetting to pack my silk long underwear that weighs nothing and takes up no room in my suitcase. Restaurants in Lao are all primarily open and exposed to the weather, so it is imperative to have warm clothes if you encounter any of these cooler weather spells. Early mornings on our boat trips were also quite chilly. Bangkok was just plain hot and humid.

    On this trip more than any other we’ve been on all tourists seemed to be wearing extremely casual and practical and comfortable clothes. I think that during our entire six weeks I never saw more than just a handful of people who were wearing anything more dressy than very casual travel clothing. Of course, we were not spending our evenings in super high end restaurants or venues, so maybe for places like that people do dress up a bit more. The exceptions I saw were a number of Asian women who were visiting the Angkor temples in their nice chiffon dresses. And, I really do believe that the sole reason for their visit was to pose in front of the various temples for glamour-shots type photos. More on this phenomenon later, but it did get to be annoying.

    Once again I was surprised to see people (primarily young women) who obviously had not done much research prior to their trip about culturally appropriate clothing and who were dressed liked they’d dress in the peak of summer in southern California. These are not the countries for tank tops, sleeveless tops cut down to the waist with an exposed bra underneath, butt-clinging short shorts etc. Plus, there are the dress requirements for many temples as far as conservative dress that covers shoulders and knees. We saw a few people who were forced to buy a tee shirt at the gift shop or to rent a cover-up for their temple visit.

    Since we visited both hot, lowland Cambodia and more mountainous and cooler Laos, we had a range of clothing—from very light cotton tops to a fleece and a wind breaker shell. And, we wore them all at some point in our trip. Because of the heat and dust and the sweat factor, we went through a lot of clothes and found that very few things could be worn more than once without washing. As is usual on longer trips like this, we did our laundry in the sink in the hotel. I’ve seen how laundry is often done in such places and have had a few small thing lost in the past when handing out my laundry, so now I stick to doing it on my own. (Plus, a couple of the high end places we stayed were asking $.80 for a bra or pair of panties. That is ridiculous IMO.) With all of the dirt and dust in the places we visited, when we arrived home our clothes got the super soak in Oxiclean treatment prior to the wash cycle.

    Knowing that we were planning to visit the hillier areas of Laos and would want to do some day hikes there, we’d worn our light-weight, summer hiking boots on the plane trip over. Surprisingly, we ended up wearing these more than we had anticipated. After realizing that because of the dust our feet were absolutely filthy in sandals when we made our Siem Reap area temple visits, we switched and wore our boots instead. They weren’t too hot, and we kept our feet much cleaner. Plus, when we clambered around the places with uneven terrain, it was nice to have the boots with better-gripping soles on.

    A good large-brimmed hat, preferably with a chin strap, is absolutely essential. On a trip of this type, practicality is much more important than fashion or style. You’ll also want your hat to be of the type that you can fold and cram into a bag if you don’t want to wear it all the time you are out. We saw lots of, primarily Asian, tourists walking around with their umbrellas to provide shade and protect them from the sun. This, rather than rain, is why you might want to pack a small umbrella.

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    So looking forward to your report. You spent a lot of time in Siem Reap! We loved our time there and hope to get back to more parts of Cambodia. The people are so sweet and the food so delicious. Waiting for more info.

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    SIEM REAP—10 days

    The Siem Reap area was much more to our liking and contained many more opportunities than I had ever imagined. When I’d been planning our trip I kept coming across postings on forums from people who were planning to spend a whole week and a half in Siem Reap. I couldn’t figure this out and wondered what in the world they planned to do with all of that time. However, as soon became apparent to us, the six nights I had originally planned for were inadequate for people like us who wanted to go more slowly and also do things other than just a few days of dawn to dusk temple hopping, so we decided to extend our stay. We found plenty to do to fill our time despite the fact that we didn’t do massages or any shopping like so many other people do.

    As far as the town of Siem Reap itself, we found it to be much more pleasant than we had anticipated. I think perhaps this also had to do with our choice of location for a hotel. Being on the east side of the Siem Reap River suited us well. We were within walking distance of pretty much everywhere we wanted to go in town, and this area did not seem to be as exclusively devoted to tourists. Still, this is definitely a town that is trying to enhance its image for tourists. For example, at nights trees and bridges along the river are all decorated with fancy illuminated lights.

    Despite our liking it (and we don’t typically like overly touristy cities), don’t get me wrong: Tourism is definitely what drives Siem Reap’s economy and purpose for being. It is a sprawling city that is constantly adding on new construction to its outskirts; every time we traveled to the outskirts we saw huge new tourist-oriented complexes being built. If we had stayed out in a large, generic, new hotel in a location more towards the outskirts (the places it seemed that many large group tours seemed to stay) or on the busy, main, unwalkable road north of town that leads to the temple complexes, I think our impressions would have been different.

    During our stay in Siem Reap we visited the area around Pub Street and the adjacent tourist-central at all different times of day—morning, noon, late afternoon and night. With its back-to-back restaurants and shops, the area didn’t do a lot for us. We also spent a couple hours walking through the hotel area just to the west of the congested Pub Street area, and this did not appeal to us at all. We were glad we’d chosen to stay on the east side of the river. Our second hotel--Sonalong Resort--while just a block or two further out from the center than our first hotel was a green, leafy, quiet oasis we could retreat to.

    Somehow in this process we kind of became temple junkies, visiting nearly all of them. We hadn’t planned this ahead of time, but it happened. We are the type of people who enjoy historic sites, and we also like clambering around to the far and more obscure corners of a site rather than just sticking to the same main paths most tourist who quickly pop in to see a place tend to take. Plus, at the onset of our time in Siem Reap we made a decision that our plan was to go slowly in Cambodia and visit everything that might ever interest us because this would be our only visit to the country. If this meant we’d run out of time to see everything we wanted to see in Laos we’d return to Laos, but this would be our in-depth trip to Cambodia. This decision probably also led to us becoming temple junkies because so many of them sounded intriguing from their descriptions, and we knew we’d never be back to give them a second chance.

    Now that I have returned home, the temples have kind of all run together in my mind—the same effect as church overload in Europe. However, while we were in Cambodia and doing our sightseeing, there wasn’t a time when we thought to ourselves that it was really redundant to be spending so much time visiting all of these different temple sites. The reality is that if some of the smaller, lesser-visited temples in the area were located elsewhere, rather than in the Siem Reap conglomeration, they probably would be at the top of sightseeing agendas. Here the plethora of temples available within a relatively small area probably, to some people, makes some seem less valuable to visit. While some temples were definitely more spectacular or interesting or had something that made them stand out in our minds, they all had something of value (and sometimes it was the setting or the rural scenery while just getting there) to offer for people who are looking for a more in-depth type of visit.

    Other than going on a one day bicycling trip, we never did hire a private guide for visiting any of the temples. This worked out fine for us and gave us the freedom to wander around the temples taking as much time as we wanted, lingering for lots of photos and having the chance to thoroughly explore the sites. The combination of the extensive and helpful information in “Lonely Planet Cambodia” and the very detailed Petrotchenko book on the Angkor temples gave us all we needed. The tuk tuk drivers all knew the best combos of temples for efficient visiting and even had suggestions for timing of visits; this way of visiting (sans guide) worked well for us. In fact, during our visits to the many different temples, we overheard snippets of tours from many different guides; I don’t think we really missed out on much by not having a professional guide. Obviously, the guides are familiar with the shortcuts within each complex, can quickly point out the highlights of each place, and know an amazing amount of information. But, many we overheard droned on and on about obscure things that wouldn’t interest anyone but the most dedicated temple tourist who wanted extreme detail, or they were pointing out things that most observant people would be able to pick up on their own.

    While looking through our photos and trying to remember a bit more about one of the places we visited, I ran across this excellent website for really good information about the temples. http://www.angkor-temples.com

    Some temples definitely stand out more in my mind than others—some in positive ways and some in negative ways. Unfortunately some of the most well-known and most-visited stand out in negative ways. They were absolutely jam packed with hordes and hordes of people, many on large group tours and many of whom had no sense of common courtesy or awareness of the fact that they were being extremely rude. This definitely affected our enjoyment of many of these tourism “biggie” temple complexes.

    It wasn’t just the numbers of people, it was also their behaviors. Often an entire tour group of thirty people would all stop in a cluster and effectively block off the only available passageway. Or, every single person in the group would want to stop at exactly the same viewpoint to have their picture take. Or, most annoying of all, there were some (I have to be honest and it is a stereotype) Asian tourists who were visiting these sites it seemed solely to have their photos taken. They’d pose and repose, and the younger ones would flash some types of what must be popular hand signals; then they’d readjust their spacing and their grouping and start all over again in the same spot. It seemed their purpose for visiting wasn’t to be observers of historical architectural and cultural masterpieces but to prove they had been there.

    When we first encountered this phenomenon we were polite, waiting to move on to let them finish all of their picture taking. But, the more we saw of this behavior the more grating it became, and finally we lost our politeness. Rather than waiting for them to be done, we’d walk right through the scene. Sorry, but we’d had it, and if we hadn’t taken this approach we’d never have been able to move through some of the more popular complexes. At one point with one particularly obnoxious large group I had decided that the next time this happened I was going to stop the group and ask if anyone spoke English, and then I was going to ask that person to please translate for me. I wanted to say, “Do you have any idea how rude your group is?” But, I chickened out and didn’t. I know we weren’t the only tourists who were affected by this behavior. One man who was obviously a serious photographer actually commented to a (non-Asian) couple and said to them, “If all you want to do is take photos of each other, why don’t you just do it in your garden at home?”

    So, the one piece of advice I’d give to people planning a visit to the area is to make sure to include time in your itinerary to include some of the smaller, lesser known temples too. They may not be as well-restored or as “romantic” or on as magnificent a scale, but they will also offer you the opportunity to have a different type of experience than the mass tourism you will see at places like Angkor Wat and Bayon and Ta Prohm.

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    Great start to your report. We stayed on the other side of the river from pub street along the tree lined street and also loved it. Is that the area you are referring to? One day we spent time just walking along the canal and through the various streets. There was so much going on by the river and we got great pictures. I think this is one of the reasons I was so disappointed in the Kerala backwaters. Did you take a ride on Tonle sap lake to see the Vietnamese boat people? Can't wait to hear more.

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    June--

    Yes, we too were on the opposite side of the river from Pub Street. We were back perhaps 3 or 4 blocks from the river in a much less developed and less touristy area. We too enjoyed walking the river and saw a lot of it during our walks.

    We'd been interested in the Tonle Sap Lake trip but had a tuk tuk driver who was honest enough to tell us that that at the time of year we were visiting it wasn't worth the trip because of low water.

    I am sorry you weren't at all enthused about your Kerala backwaters trip. Despite the fact that the place we were staying there was horrid, we enjoyed the backwaters and our chance to observe life there. Perhaps it was the different locations we were in and the level of authenticity. What interested us the most was how people lived and their adjustment to having the only access to their homes being the very small waterways. We've done quite a bit of boating in south Florida, and what we saw was not remotely similar to what you'd see in Florida.

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    Lots of interesting info here, thanks for all the details. Lots I might comment on, but for now I'll just note the impact of tourism. I first visited SR in 2002, and tourism was only just getting under way and it still felt like an overgrown village or small town. I hardly recognized it in 2004 and I'm sure I would be stunned now. And don't get me started on tour groups! I am beginning to think that any place with major coverage in tour guides and on tour itineraries should be approached with extreme caution, and possibly avoided altogether.

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    Julies - where'd you go? Where's the rest of your report?
    As we finish our plans for our upcoming October trip to Japan, the big debate is where to go next. Having only spent 4 1/2 days in siem reap, we may very well chose Cambodia as our next destination as we'd like to see other parts. Please continue on.

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    dgunbug,

    I too want to return to Cambodia. We only gave it 4 nights but I was telling someone the other day that it got under my skin.

    Keep us posted on your next choice. Looking forward to your Japan report too!

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    I think Julies may have given up on Fodors after getting harangued by the Fodors Taliban on another thread (now deleted I think). I do hope not though as she provided an interesting perpective.

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    Julie, we miss you! This excellent thread is good example of why we do.
    Amen to both dgunbug and crellston.
    LOL "Fodors Taliban" Crellston!! Very cheeky---and admirable-- of you!!

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    Julies...such an amazing report!
    Please finish it. We are going to Cambodia & Laos soon and appreciate your advice.
    Your travel priorities sound exactly like ours.
    Thanks!!

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