Cambodia, other than Siem Reap and PP

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Mar 4th, 2005, 10:04 PM
  #1
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Cambodia, other than Siem Reap and PP


We're in the process of researching SE Asia trip for the upcoming winter period. Likely 2 weeks, give or take. A first trip to the area. Originally we thought we might do a few well spaced hops through Thailand, Laos and Cambodia but now we're rethinking that.

We thought maybe we'd like to focus more on one or two of these, Bangkok probably but mostly Cambodia. Does anyone have some positive (or negative) experiences in Cambodia other than the two best known places? We've discussed Battambang, Rattanakiri, Kampot, Kampong Cham. Would like to hear how people found getting around, where you found to sleep, etc.

Thanks for any help.

We're not backpackers but not ones to look for luxury either.
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Mar 5th, 2005, 08:40 AM
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Hi Clifton: Even though I'm getting ready for my trip next week to bella Venezia, I feel moved to respond to your post-and to ask you to please rethink your itinerary. Cambodia is not, IMO, a good choice to begin your first sojourn into S.E. Asia. If you are going to tack it on as a side trip to Thailand or Japan or China that is one thing, but to spend virtually all of your time there will not really yield the sort of positive and interesting value you apparently assign to this country, I think. As I'm sure you already know, Cambodia is very poor, and many of the areas other than SR and PP have virtually no policing at all. Riots and sporadic violence using grenades to make a point is not uncommon. But the land mine situation there is of particular concern-the areas around Battambang have a high number of land mines, and unless you have an expert local guide, you could put yourself at real risk by innocently wandering off into a rice paddy or field to take a photo. Why go someplace where you would have to deal with that, particularly since you're not familiar with that part of the world?

Cambodians also don't accept payment except in dollars-no Thai baht, no Euros, nothing but dollars-so it makes everything much more expensive than in neighboring Thailand.

I must say, that although I spent 3 days in SR, I can never envision a time when I would ever want to return to that country, and I can really say that I feel that way about no other place in the world except Algeria. Interestingly, I just met a couple last week who said virtually the same thing-they're glad they saw Angkor Wat, but they have no desire to go back there.

Given that I feel this way, you know I'm not going to comment favorably on any itinerary that prominently features this country- I really think you all would enjoy yourselves a great deal more by spending the bulk of your time in Thailand, which is a country filled with lush and exotic contrasts-there's so much history here, and if you want undeveloped, you can find that here too. I just think that Thailand would prove to be a far easier transition to this part of the world, and Cambodia or Laos,(preferably Laos) could then be done as a side trip. Just my two cents worth, of course, but I do hope you'll do some hard thinking about the problems and pitfalls of traveling through a country with no real infrastructure to rely on if you encounter problems along the way.

However, if you are intent on going to Cambodia, you might want to check out LP's the Thorn Tree, as I'm sure there are quite a few travelers who can advise further on more extensive travel within Cambodia. Good luck, and keep us posted on what you ultimately decide!

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Mar 5th, 2005, 05:26 PM
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Spygirl, what you've said makes a lot of sense and I appreciate the time you've put into your response.

We are a ways from finalizing any decisions and this is likely just one possible scenario right now. I've even recently developed a distracting interest in Ethiopia, so you never know. I guess, having begun international travel later than some, I've thought that visiting some of the "harder" spots on earth may be easier now than when we're older. We'd been planning a trip to Italy last year ourselves where we've never been,, but somewhere along the line, it became that self-drive through Romania. Eh, at 41, I'm not getting any younger. My wife still has a good long while yet though.

Excellent suggestion on the TT board. Found some good answers there for that last trip. Just at that age where I need to filter the advice a little, and explore alternatives to things like riding 6 hours on the back of a pickup.

Hope you have an incredible time in Venice! Someday, we'll be there too. In the meantime, we'll keep you posted and will be careful, no matter what we decide. Thanks again and have a sip of that tuica for us when it arrives.

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Mar 7th, 2005, 06:15 AM
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I took a trip this past November that included a cruise up the Mekong through Cambodia. It started in Vietnam and ended at Siem Reap. I posted a full length trip report on this board last week. The cruise went to Kampong Cham and other small villages. We were well taken care of and never felt unsafe. The cruise line was the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company. Their website is www.pandaw.com. I felt like I got to see off-the-beaten-path places and a lot of Cambodian countryside. It was one of the best trips I've taken. I'm happy to answer any questions, if you are interested.
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Mar 7th, 2005, 01:34 PM
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A trip to visit the temples at Angkor is well worthwhile. It is truly one of the wonders of the world. I spent a week there and loved every minute exploring the dozens of temples in the areea (and I certainly didn't see them all). Personally, I'd recommend combining a visit to Angkor with a visit to Thailand as a great introduction to SE Asia. You could divide your time into three segments, one for Angkor, on for Bangkok and one for, say the Golden Triangle area of Thailand.

I also would not recommend focussing your first trip on Cambodia alone. Travel outside of the main routes is more difficult than most areas of SE Asia, and has few comforts and conveniences. It sounds like Spygirl had a pretty negative reaction to Cambodia. While I did not have that kind of reaction, I would encourage you to remember that Cambodia has gone through a horrific time within living memory, where people were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge, often in front of family member and friends, who still live with those memories.
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Mar 7th, 2005, 06:37 PM
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Florida1, thank you for the invitation to question. I'll definitely pull up your report and read! Sounds like a very interesting trip.

Kathie, thank you too. I suppose everyone does have a point. I'm not sure that this will make sense, but I've read quite a lot about the tragedies in Cambodia. And it wouldn't be right to say that's a point of interest, because that isn't at all what I mean. Although phrased badly, I know, I am trying to better understand this place, I guess. The ancient ruins definitely, but the recent and the current as well. Easy or not. Ah, actually I can't think of how to explain why, but internally I know it's rationalized somehow. I think maybe it's because of whats happened there... not so much in a voyeuristic way, but in some sort of feeling that after all they've been through, that the Khmers have something more about them to be interested in than the accomplishments of 500 years ago.

Ack, too philosophical. I'm just trying to figure out how to get from town to town. Thank you too for your advice (and we are very interested in Thailand, by the way)




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Mar 8th, 2005, 06:01 AM
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Not sure where Spygirl is coming from.

Lots to see in Thailand, but apart from BKK (get ready for some serious traffic, but also some great culture and fascinating street life) I am not sure I would tout Thailand, which I've visited a few times now, so much over Cambodia. There are some nice beaches down south; and the hilltop temple outside Chaing Mai is special; and I liked Kanchanaburi a lot. Oh, there's lots more, and I have yet to visit Ayutthaya or Sukothai.

But I was knocked out by Cambodia on my only visit last October.

Just a week's side trip in transit. Flew in; no time to visit PP, just Siem Reap for 4 nights (Angkhor is amazing) then by boat to Battembang. If I had not been travelling alone I would have taken advantage of the many offers of trips out from Battambang to the countryside with local guides. But many of these are by motorbike, and while I felt this was OK round Angkor I thought I should be sensible further afield!

Travel back to BKK was easy and cheap via taxi to the border, tuk to tuk to nearest town and bus back to BKK.

I found the people welcoming; the history sad; the costs low (you can get a lovely en suite room in Battambag for under $10US) and I hope to go back one day.

If you want to do it - why not?
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Mar 8th, 2005, 06:12 AM
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For ideas of other itineraries, you might like to see this website I found yesterday when looking for guides for Angkor Wat area. This English photographer has a guest house in SR but also leads tours around Cambodia. Even if you didn't want to do a tour the itineraries may give you other suggestions. www.peaceofangkor.com/tours (and scroll down to the bottom for the tours that are more than daytrips). Have fun planning your trip!
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Mar 8th, 2005, 08:03 AM
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Clifton, it sounds like you have carefully considered this trip. You will find that visiting the temples at Angkor will not only be about the ancient Khmer civilization, but also will be about the more recent history of Cambodia. Your guide or driver, the children and adults at the temples, all will talk with you about their experiences if you are open to it. Visiting the temples will become a lens through which you can see the larger history of Cambodia.

A couple of source recommendations: you obviously already know about the Thorntree, and you will find excellent resources there. Another website (not affiliated with any tour group) is www.talesofasia.com. Gordon has excellent info to offer (it is considered THE source of info for the overland trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap) on many aspects of visiting Cambodia.
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Mar 8th, 2005, 12:31 PM
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I was in Cambodia in November 2004, and I want to second (third, fourth) everyone's recommendation that Angkor Wat is not to be missed.

However, I want to issue a word of caution. I too am not always a backpacker (I'd rather fly than take a 12 hour bumpy bus ride), so I tried to plan a week's travel around Cambodia by Airline. I tried to book ahead of time, and although I made contact, they couldn't confirm that the scheduled planes would fly. I was not just looking to fly b/w SR and PP, but I wanted to trek near Ratankari (sp). Unfortunately, the planes weren't flying and I couldn't complete my planned itinerary. I returned to Bangkok, where I "trekked" in Chiang Mai, which I DO NOT recommend doing without finding a good trekking company. I did not.

Moral of my story -- you should definitely visit Angkor, and proceed with caution if you are relying on the airlines for flights other than PP/SR.

A great website is something like www.talesofasia.com .

Also, did you think of Vietnam? I did two weeks there in 2002. Fabulous.



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Mar 8th, 2005, 03:09 PM
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The tales of asia website looks like a great resource! Thanks to all for recommending it. Was just browsing the info on overland crossings after reading one of the stories. Interesting place this is going to be.

I just realized from the comments that I titled the thread poorly. Something more along the lines of "in addition to Siem Reap and PP" would have been better. I'd not miss Angkor for the world.

gold75 - you know, I don't know how to spell if for sure either. Seen it a half dozen ways. Good to know about the flights though. My big concern there was flying to Ratankiri and having no flight back and overland looks like a tough deal to arrange. We may have to think hard about that one, but the tribal areas do look interesting. I was reading about the waterfalls and a group in the area that has unusual customs related housing for unmarried singles of the family. Hmmm... guess we'll see.

laurie_ann, I'll check that out. Probably be looking for a clean little guesthouse anyway (not big western hotel kind of folks unless we're in a big western kind of place) so the quick availibility of a local guide for non-temple type tours sounds like a plus.

Kathie, I'd be open to those sorts of talks. I'm not sure I'd start a conversation like that. Generally, I think I'd feel a bit like I was prying to do so, but very willing to listen. It's odd how these sort of talks start. Somehow got immersed in an hour ling talk about life in rural Romania a couple of months ago with a native from there, standing on the overhanging walkway on the Chain Bridge in Budapest of all places. Best moment of that trip.

Alice, thank you very much. Best of this board is hearing from someone who's been before and can tell you first hand how it works. Good to know that we're not entirely off base. May I ask how you went about rounding up your boat transportation from SR to Battambang and your taxi to Poipet? Is it something you negotiated before climbing in? A set rate? Was it a shared ride? Sorry for all the questions, but you know how it is...
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Mar 8th, 2005, 04:12 PM
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Alice 13-where I'm "coming from" as you so artlessly put it, is that land mines are a particular problem in Cambodia, and around Battambang particularly. That is a well-documented fact, and if Clifton wants to peruse the State Dept. information sheet on Cambodia, he'll find that information there as well. I would never go into the interior of Cambodia without an expert local guide for precisely that reason.
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Mar 8th, 2005, 05:42 PM
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I concur with Spygirl that Cambodia is not the ideal country to begin exploration of SE asia. I do like Kathie's suggestion of BKK, SR and the Golden Triangle as a first time visitors itinerary. What an interesting and varied introduction to this fascinating part of the world.
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Mar 8th, 2005, 07:27 PM
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Thanks again all for the advice. Who knows, what would be the future Thailand (Vietnam) trip could well become the next trip, but that's yet to be decided. I have read the State Dept's warnings, and more so (given my gen. opinion about the state of state) the in-country experiences of those who've been affected and those who haven't. But a guide in each local, while staying on the path between, I think is well advised.

In the meantime, behave yourselves. No sense fussing with each other about such things as our little trip.

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Mar 18th, 2005, 10:55 AM
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Phnom Penh is great. Siem Reap wasn't. Overbuilt. I read that someone didn't like or recommend Cambodia because of the poverty. You have to know what you can tolerate. The people there are gracious and eager for contact with outsiders. The Killing Fields made me fall in love with the people. It's also like an extended shot of adrenaline going to a place that westerners avoid. Very few of those places left. After Bush "infects" tthe world with "freedom" there won't be any.
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Mar 19th, 2005, 05:13 PM
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hammail, I appreciate hearing all opinions on both places. I guess I'm ok to some extent with the built-up nature of SR, being a tourist myself. Reality check for me, but I know what you're saying and I know I'd much rather see places that we're tailored for what people think that I want.

Still, I have to say I'm looking forward to the temples from the historical perspective. I do love history as I do cultural experiences, and Angkor, et al is the height of the Khmer empire, so that I'm pretty fascinated by.
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Mar 19th, 2005, 06:39 PM
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hopefully spygirl has fallen into a canal in venice and been eaten by a cambodian anchovy....!!!!
she attempts to spoil everyones interests...."the state department......."....we could well do without this and any state dept....
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Apr 20th, 2005, 03:09 PM
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Clifton I understand your interest on the recent history of Cambodia. Before travelling there I read a few books written by survivors of the KR. They both totally shocked me and facinated (wrong word but take in an unhappy context) me. When there our guide started to tell me about his experiences when PP fell to the KR. He was the same age as me and his story was so similar to the books. I think this recent history made my respect and admiration of the Cambodian people just magnify. I have always loved Asia & its people but I guess because this did all happen so recently it is more real. The history around SR was inspiring also. We are planning a quick 2 week getaway and want to return to SR and are trying to decide where else to include so in a similar situation to you except for us it is a return trip. We loved Cambodia but I have to say it was the people first that caught my heart.
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Apr 20th, 2005, 05:37 PM
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Clifton,

I concur with the postive comments about Cambodia. I was in PP and SR a few years ago and will most definitely go back. The Cambodian people are by far the most gentle people I have ever met. They will talk to you about their experiences under the regime of the Khmer Rouge and give you great insight into their culture and history-- the good and the bad. Like many others who have posted, I left with an enormous amount of respect and admiration for the Cambodian people. You won't find lovlier people anywhere.

As for places, I can only comment on where I've been but the temples at Angkor are spectacular. I had wanted to visit for years and built it up in my imagination to the point that it could not have lived up to my expectations. Well, I got there and was stunned, it did not disappoint at all. I remember getting to our first temple, Angkor Thom, the South Gate I believe, and I just stopped cold and stared with my mouth hanging open and stood there for what seemed like an eternity. We spent several days exploring the temples and never got bored or "templed out". Each one seems to have something different to offer and is unique. As for PP, the Killing Fields was a very sobering experience, as was the Tuol Sleng Prison. I found myself reflecting for a long time after how and why this was allowed to happen. I couldn't reconcile the gentleness of the people with the horrors that took place. PP also has some very beautiful spots, temples and a Grand Palace complex reminiscent of BKK's. The only thing I was disappointed with in Cambodia was the food. We had just come from Vietnam where the food was fabulous and the food in Cambodia did not compare well. It could be because we just weren't lucky with the places we ate at, or, most probably, I hadn't found the wisdom of our fellow Fodorites yet ;-)

I wouldn't worry too much about traveling around the country. If you fly from place to place and stick to the "beaten track", you should be safe from land mines and other dangers. Many people go to places other than PP and SR without incident. Just use common sense.

There is a lot of poverty in Cambodia and it is impossible to not see amputees. But unfortunately, poverty and war is a fact of life and trying to shield oneself from it seems silly. From your posts, you seem quite open to seeing things that are different and possibly disturbing so I say go for it. And I second Bob's comment about our State Department. Read the consular sheets but bear in mind that they are very political and may not reflect true reality, but rather, the current administration's "reality". Read comparable listings from the governments of other countries as well, such as Canada, U.K. and Australia to get a broader view.

One last thing, for I've already gone on too long, but DO spend a fair amount of time in BKK, the best city in the world IMHO and I believe, many others in this forum. You won't lack for discussions for the best hotel, best restaurant, best sight....we are all very opinionated!
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Apr 20th, 2005, 05:54 PM
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Clifton sounds like - rightly so - Siem reap is a given. I loved it and have been twice. A circuit you could consider and which works well with flights is Bangkok, Cambodia, Laos. In laos Lunag Prabang is a MUST do and there is also a highly recoed cruise. Both LP and the cruise might provide just the down time you need after a Cambodia visit. In SR don't miss the balloon ride - gives a great aerial perspective of Angkor Wat. We also enjoyed sunrise at Ta Phrom - we were the only people there at the time.
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