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Three days in Siem Reap, Two in Phnom Penh

Three days in Siem Reap, Two in Phnom Penh

May 6th, 2017, 10:33 PM
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Three days in Siem Reap, Two in Phnom Penh

This covers our recent trip to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh (April 28- May 5 2017).
SIEM REAP
Hotel

We stayed at the Golden Temple Residences and I can't say enough about how overwhelmingly nice it was. From pick up at the airport (cold towels, choice of drinks, gift of scarf in the car) to checkout when we were asked for a photograph with the staff and presented with a final gift of a woven bag, everyone was ridiculously friendly. Arriving back hot and dusty from temple viewing, we were invariably greeted by name and a chorus of 'welcome home!' plus more wet towels and cold drinks.....

The hotel was generous with freebies: vouchers for spa, Khmer dinner and dance show, packed lunch - none of which we used. We did stop in at the daily Happy Hour a couple of times. The pool is small but beautifully designed and maintained. Getting a lounge chair was not easy - the hotel was full and to our surprise some guests were there on a resort vacation, ie spending all day by the pool.

I'd worried about the noise after an experience described by one poster here but our room was fine. We overlooked the pool and occasionally heard a motorcycle noise from the street but no loud music or carousing. The location was perfect for us - just a few steps from pub street and the night market, ie close to restaurants and shops. Good breakfasts with a lot of choice including eggs cooked to order at a hot food station. Also Included was an a la carte menu (eggs benedict, pancakes etc) but the (always charming) staff were a little haphazard about remembering to offer this.

The Golden Temple Residence by the way is locally owned. The owner, a former taxi driver, has a small chain of properties and must be investing a lot in staff training, judging by this hotel's service.

Sightseeing
I had fretted a bit about hiring a guide. I actually had an email exchange with one of the guides recommended here but something about the tone was off and in the end decided to wait and hire one through the hotel. On the plane, I sped read one of the Dawn Rooney books which provided interesting background but which was out of date (there have been many recent archaeological advances and temple openings that were not covered in the edition I had).

We got to the hotel around 10 PM and after another welcome drink and snack, the manager suggested a 'late start' the next day: 9 AM. Looking at the booking sheet, we noticed the other start times were down as 4:45AM....The manager suggested we do the 'Grand Tour' plus Banteay Srei on the first day. The longer route necessitated an airconditioned car, cost was $35 for car, $35 for guide. Park pass for three days was $62 per person, doubled in February 2017. Everyone we spoke to referred with pride to the Government's taking back control last year of the ticket agency, formerly Vietnamese owned. However we were also told that only 10% of ticket revenue goes towards temple maintenance. The rise in the park pass has probably led to a rise in guide and transport fees as well. At the end of the day, we were happy to be aiding the local economy.

I'm not going to write much about the actual temples - it is an overwhelming experience and everyone will respond differently. Suffice to say we are very very glad we went. Yes, there are crowds but they are concentrated in the 'big temples.' There are temples open now that only a few years ago were off limits. Beng Mealea was only cleared of landmines about 15 years ago. And I personally would not have been able to climb up some of the temples without the wooden steps which are a recent introduction. Oh, and I wonder if the very clean toilet facilities in the park were there years ago....

I didn't like the first guide. My husband felt he was OK and was reluctant to ask for a change but I insisted that there was no problem requesting someone else. He was perfectly courteous and pleasant but I was frustrated by his inability to provide an overview and background to what we were seeing. He'd refer to 'the King' and get flustered when I asked which King, what dates? Although I'd looked at the Dawn Rooney book and read short general introductions elsewhere, I was still confused about the overall picture of what we were seeing. I also didn't like the many slurs on other nationalities. Given the history of the country, anti-Vietnamese sentiment is rife but when he started an anti-Chinese rant that was it for me. (The French, oddly, escaped with little condemnation, though he did relate the Andre Malraux theft. )

The Manager lined up a new guide for the following day's 'small circuit'. We requested a tuk tuk as we were covering much less ground that day and frankly we preferred the experience over the airconditioned car. The guide cost $35 again and a car would have been $30. I think the tuk tuk was half that but not sure. We much preferred the breeze to the aircon and there was no sense of being squeezed into a small space with the guide. There was no 'knees touching' which someone here referred to! I also preferred having the guide face us. The tuk tuk driver also provided cold water from an ice chest whenever needed.

Our second guide was very good - provided a thorough background which had been missing the day before so we were able to slot what we were seeing into context. Although we were seeing some of the 'big' temples that day (Bayon, Angkor Wat), he routed us so that crowds were not a problem. We started at 7 AM but the key was to save Angkor Wat until noon when it was virtually deserted. Yes, it was hot, but I had a sunshade, my husband had a hat and there was enough shade most places. To enjoy the temple unhindered by crowds was worth braving the noon sun. At one point we climbed up steps that had a ropeway marked off for the queue - which apparently can take 40 minutes in peak times.

The third day we set off for Beng Mealea - which is 45 minutes away so a much more expensive route ($75 for the car). The hotel manager said that as the temple was in complete ruins, a guide was not really necessary but we decided to indulge and hired the second guide again. He had done an excellent job and frankly I wanted to do all I could for the Cambodian economy. He suggested we stop at the Rulous Group - the earliest site - on the way back, which made a lot of sense. Beng Mealea was my husband's clear favourite temple. We left the hotel at 7 and so beat the big tour groups. It is overgrown, a true 'jungle temple' and very atmospheric.

If anyone feels strongly re the need to prearrange a guide, our 'good' guide can be contacted via email here: [email protected]. I just looked him up on trip advisor and see he gets five stars (under Nicky Angkor Day Tours: https://www.tripadvisor.ie/Attractio..._Province.html) Obviously as our experience shows, guides can be arranged easily through hotels but it can be a bit hit or miss. Our first guide wasn't 'bad,' my husband was fine with him. I just felt we could do better and am glad we changed. I don't know if fees differ if one contacts a guide directly - we were not concerned about saving relatively small amounts of money on this trip.

Finally, it is of course possible to do without a guide at all but it would require more time and preparation than we were willing to give.. The guide made things easy - eg many times he had the driver drop us at one place and pick us up at another, we would not have been able to do that. We saw people searching their guidebooks to see what they were looking at. Our guide was stopped more than once by a tourist who couldn't figure out the route or wanted to know (almost hysterically in one case) where the exit was. And I'm afraid I tut tutted loudly in annoyance when someone asked our guide the most basic question (what are the holes in the stones?).

Other stuff
We didn't go to the landmine museum, the silk factory, the floating village (in dry season the last is not particularly worth it apparently). We didn't rise at dawn to see sunrise or stay till dusk to see sunset. The skies were cloudy during our visit and we really weren't motivated. Our guide also pointed out that during the dry season, the famous dawn reflection of Angkor Wat in the pools simply doesn't exist.

We had a decent meal at one of the Khmer Kitchens and a very nice one indeed at Viroths. We graciously lent our presence to a number of the small bars on pub street (50 cents for draft Anchor) and had a 'fish foot massage,' which was a first for us. $2 including a free beer. We let the fish nibble away for a good 15 minutes and the stallholder was surprised we gave up so soon.

We didn't buy anything though I wish now I'd picked up some of the spices/balms in the round china discs in the market - $2 each. They were $6 at the airport and the only ones available were the ones with tiger balm. They would have made pretty omiyage to bring back to Japan.

PHNOM PENH
Originally scheduled to stay for three full days, we cut it down to two - that probably says it all. In retrospect, my husband says he would have cut it out entirely. He says he isn't unhappy we went but he wouldn't advise anyone else to do it. I would suggest going to PP before Siem Reap for maximum one day to see the National Museum but even that isn't an absolute necessity. Visiting the Museum and sitting on the verandah at the Foreign Correspondents Club having a drink are the only two things I enjoyed on this leg of the trip.

Hotel
We stayed at the Frangipani Hotel. Excellent location (our balcony overlooked the Royal Palace and National Museum) but nothing was going to compare to the Golden Temple Residence. It had a rooftop pool where I had one quick dip.

Sightseeing
We went to the National Museum which is to me the only must-see. (There is also a nice airconditioned cafe on the grounds.) Went to the Royal Palace. Ended up at the Central Market while on a walk. My husband went to the Genocide Museum. Says it was worthwhile..

Other stuff
While my husband was at the Genocide Museum I went on a quest to buy some clay orchid pots. This involved tuk tuks to three different markets and finally to a spot on the side of a road where a stallholder had the elusive item. I would not have succeeded in this quest without the help of (1) someone at a welfare handicrafts store in one of the wats who drew a picture and wrote in Khmer what I was after, and (2) a stallholder at the third market who had plastic pots but understood what I wanted, left her business, went into the street, hailed a tuk tuk and told the driver where to take me.

Obviously people are kind. There was the tuk tuk driver who called us back to point out my husband had left his camera on the seat. My husband later had his phone pickpocketed. But there are bad apples everywhere.

We had a good dinner at the Sugar Palm restaurant .

The many single white middle aged males sitting around in the bars during the day made for a very depressing atmosphere.

SUMMING UP
Go to Siem Reap! You will come away grateful for having seen the magnificent temples and curious to learn more about Cambodia's ancient civilization and heartbreaking modern history. And with an appreciation of Angelina Jolie who appears to be universally admired for all she is doing there. Now if only she could use her influence to try to shame the many museums and collectors around the world to return even a fraction of the stolen antiquities.
Boveney is offline  
May 7th, 2017, 05:42 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2016
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Great info! Very detailed.
gillianma is offline  
May 7th, 2017, 08:29 AM
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I'm glad you got to visit the temples of Angkor. Everyone is different in how they prefer to visit, and I thought your description gives people some sense of the range of ways to visit.

We visited back in 2001 and opted for no guide. I'd been reading about Angkor for decades and we brought along Dawn Rooney's book, though I felt like I'd memorized it. We had a driver who spoke very little English, but we were still able to instruct him where to drop us off and where to meet us after we finished at a temple.

Thans for your report!
Kathie is offline  
May 7th, 2017, 10:12 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2014
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First time we went to PP we never visited the Killing Fields or S21 Genocide Museum, and I regretted making that decision.

Second time we visited, we made sure they were both top of the places to visit, and it was the right decision.

Both places are living social history. The Cambodian people want foreign visitors to see the horrors they endured in the Pol Pot era. Killing Fields are tastefully presented, S21 is raw.
LancasterLad is offline  
Jul 25th, 2017, 07:53 AM
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Interesting and informative report.

Maybe too late for this thread but I had read a previous poster suggest taking an early morning tuk-tuk to Beng Mealea. Seems impractical if it was 45 minutes by car, correct?
dcdee is offline  
Jul 25th, 2017, 09:09 AM
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It would be a long ride in a (very uncomfortable) tuk-tuk, but you could do it. I'd prefer a car for that long a trip.
Kathie is offline  
Jul 27th, 2017, 05:39 PM
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Thanks, Kathie. What about Bantey Srei by tuk-Tuk?
dcdee is offline  
Jul 30th, 2017, 07:06 PM
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The drive to Bantey Sri is also long. You might ask at your hotel how long it would take by tuk-tuk and base your decision on that..
Kathie is offline  
Aug 1st, 2017, 02:34 PM
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Thanks.
dcdee is offline  
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