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trip report, driving to Angkor Wat, Cambodia


stevehaigh
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i just got back from a major driving event, from Phuket, up to visit the wife's family up north, then into Cambodia and back, so i thought i'd share a few insights into the trip for anyone interested in Cambodia.

first off, I'd say, don't bother driving to Cambodia. much easier and cheaper to fly, but if you do want to drive, here's my story.

i drove in from Surin to the O'Smach crossing since i heard this was the only place you can drive a Thai car into Cambo. It took about an hour or so to get though the border and we got pretty stiffed i think. The wife and Thai daugther paid 200 baht for visa but me and my daughter paid 1500 baht. then when we thought we were done paying, we got charged another 2500 baht to take the car in.

driving to Siem Reap was pretty straight forward, the roads are not bad and virtually no traffic and unlike Thailand, no stupid time wasting traffic lights every 10km. but there are almost no road signs telling you where to go so you really need a GPS. no police that i noticed cooking up fake traffic violations either. in fact, no people at all, just mile after mile after mile of rice paddy with not a person in sight. i guess you can thank Pol Pot for that.

Siem Reap is kind of khao san road'ish. but much smaller, no 7-11s and quite a bit more expensive than Thailand. a mediocre meal in town is $4-6 (120-200 baht) for something that would be half that in Thailand. The only really good food we found was actually inside Angkor Wat in the evening when all the tourists had gone home. next to the side entry gate there was a lot of restaurants set up for the locals. no menus, just 3 things to choose from, stuffed pancakes, fired fish balls, and a noodle plate thing. all were all easily the best tasting things we had on the trip and only $2 each. beer $1 per can. half the price and 10 times the taste of food in town. either the locals are too dumb to market this area to the tourists, or just wanted to keep all the good stuff to themselves. i don't know which.

so Angkor Wat is spectacular. I've been pretty much everywhere, Rome, Greece, Paris, etc, and Angkor Wat is up there with the best. everyone has seen the photos and the tomb raider movie i guess and i'd say its far more impressive to see in person. but besides the 'A list' temples you see on the post cards, Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Phome, etc i really enjoyed the the smaller less popular temples where you could stroll though and see maybe only one or 2 other people. they were so peaceful, it just felt really magical. the A listers are architectural wonders for sure, but mid day they are a zoo of Chinese and Russian tour groups. my advice, get up at 5am and get your A lister visits early and after 5pm. in the day, find some less known places.

we went to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise with everyone else and that turned out to be a real waster of time. we should have been visiting Ta Phome (the one with the trees growing into the buildings) then. however, we did luck out on Bayone, we got there about 5pm and there was only a hand full of people there. we walked around some temple close to Bayone for an hour or so after sunset and came back to the car and were delighted to find that there was a VIP party been set up, so Bayone was lighted up. normally nothing is lighted up at night and everyone leaves at sunset so we really lucked out there.

the locals are missing a fantastic oportunity there. if they lit it up at night they could probably charge a night ticket price and people would pay for the sights and the cooler temps.

entrance to the park is $20 for 1 day and $40 for 3. its true you cannot see everything in one day but i was paying for 4 people and couldn't afford 3 days so we tried to cram everything into 1. you can do it although no doubt 3 days would be better.

for 1 day visits, i suggest rent a motorbike in town, don't take a tuk tuk. we took our car in since we drove there anyhow but i think a motorbike would be nicer way to visit. start at 5am, see one of the a-listers for a few hours then go back to hotel for breakfast, shower and relax. come back and see some off the beaten track temples, take your time and enjoy the spectacular jungle walks.

maybe take another mid afternoon break in the hotel then come back see an a-list temple late afternoon.

there are typically about 3-5km between temples in the park. typically you would tuk tuk, or motorbike, or bicycle if you are feeling energetic, between temples. at the temple entrances, there are restaurants and hundreds of people, mostly small kids trying to sell you crap. fortunately, they are not allowed to follow you into the temples but they will follow you around outside the temples. best thing is to show no interest at all, if you look even sightly interested in buying something, then can smell blood in the water and there will be a feeding frenzy surrounding you in seconds.

now here's a tip if you want to get in on the cheap. there is no ticket check on the main gate on Charles de Gaul road. you can get into the park and drive around there all day with no ticket checks. i don't think you are supposed to but i doubt it would be a big problem. you definitely need to spend at least one day in the temples and i think $20 is a very fair price for one of the wonders of the ancient world. all i'm saying is if you wanted to back that up with a relaxing day exploring the park area without paying the entrance fee, i think you could get away with it

after Angkor Wat we were thinking of driving around cambo a bit more but decided not to bother. i was getting tired of spending money, its not a cheap trip. there is a nice looking waterfall close to siem reap and i though about a trip until i found out it was $20 to get in. for a waterfall! $20 for one of the wonders of the world i can see,but a waterfall. you get the feeling there is nothing going on in Cambo except subsistence farming, again, thanks to Pol Pot, everything is imported from either Thailand or Viet Nam. their only source of income is extracting cash from tourists and i get tired of that pretty quick.

an uneventful drive back to Poi Pet and after a 2 hour wait at Thai immigration, back to Thailand. in the arrivals hall for foreigners there are 7 desks, 4 people working and a line a mile long. apparently, in the Thai passport arrivals there are 7 desks, 7 people 'working' and one or 2 people coming through every 5 minutes. welcome to Thailand! at least you get a good introduction to how Thais feel about foreigners.

Edited by stevehaigh
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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

Your eating experiences are exactly the opposite to mine - but then again, I mainly avoid Cambodian food and opt for good quality western food at a fraction of the price in Thailand.

I would never use a car to visit Angkor Wat, a far better ambiance is achieved when traveling by tuk tuk - especially later in the day.

Edited by Jip99
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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

i forgot to add that when we extied cambo the officer asked me if we wanted the VIP treatment, 200bhat each. i agreed since i figured they'd find some way to get money anyhow so they took our passports and 5 mins later returned and all checked out and ready to go.

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good report but like to add a few thimgs.

easy to drive into the [ark where the temples are located but no way would u ever be allowed into an temple without the pass. the check at every entrance

You can not easily rent motorcycles in SR, the tuk tuk stopped allowing companies to do that as it was cutting into their rice bowls,

no reason to anyway as u can rent a tuk tuk for$15/day an that is for 2 people.

I have done it a few times with tuk tuk and a few times with my car, the tuk tuk is nice as they drop u off an ur walk thru the temple complex an exit where he would be waiting , otherwise u need retrace ur path back to your car.

Food on Pub street is more expensive but there plenty of Cambodian rests where you will be the same u pay in Thailand but the food is not as good.

Angkor Wat was lite up for about a month back in 2009 but they discovered that the bright lights are very harmful to the wall paintings, I was lucky and was there and there were less than 30 people in the whole complex and it was magical. Angkor at night,

You can also have a catered dinner at angkor Wat for a group on 20+ people but u better have a high limit on your credit card

I have used osmach entrance 3 times with my thai car, never paid anything an have always been charged only $20, ( i have lots of Cambodian stamps) but it did go up to $30 for a tourist visa Oct 1st

Did i go see Banteay Chhmer??

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You can not easily rent motorcycles in SR, the tuk tuk stopped allowing companies to do that as it was cutting into their rice bowls,

no reason to anyway as u can rent a tuk tuk for$15/day an that is for 2 people.

i did wonder about renting motorbikes. i saw a few tourists on motorbikes but not many. i may be wrong but i think the $15 for the day for the tuk tuk assumes you are going and staying there all day. i think it would be a long day if you did that. i liked having the option to come back to my hotel for a couple of hours to relax but maybe that's just me. but i'm sure you can get the tuktuk to come back to town for a few extra dollars.

we didn't make it to Banteay Chhmer, i was getting pretty tired of driving by that point.

by the way, i saw an 'e-bike charging station' inside the park. i assume that means you can rent electric bikes somewhere although i never saw any. does anyone know about that?

Edited by stevehaigh
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locals can own them and there lots of expats living up there

as to the tuk tuk

my usual day is get up an the tuk tuk takes me out by sunrise till around 11 am when i head back for a meal /rest at the hotel, back to the temples at 3pm or so till the sun has set.

that's what my $15 gets :-)

One time he even came back at 7pm to take us out for the night an back at 11 pm ( for that i gave him an extra few $$)

That would be great if they start to rent Ebikes, I was in Bagan, Myanmar in July, an they will not allow motorcycles rented or driven by tourist (you need a Myanmar driving license) but they did rent the Ebikes ( $8/day)

I agree Phuket to sr and back is alot of driving, 3 times now i have driven up but I add in northern Thailand an Laos as well, total about 7,500 kms

twice just phuket to Koh Kong/Phnom Phen

I enjoy driving

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locals can own them and there lots of expats living up there

as to the tuk tuk

my usual day is get up an the tuk tuk takes me out by sunrise till around 11 am when i head back for a meal /rest at the hotel, back to the temples at 3pm or so till the sun has set.

that's what my $15 gets :-)

One time he even came back at 7pm to take us out for the night an back at 11 pm ( for that i gave him an extra few $$)

That would be great if they start to rent Ebikes, I was in Bagan, Myanmar in July, an they will not allow motorcycles rented or driven by tourist (you need a Myanmar driving license) but they did rent the Ebikes ( $8/day)

I agree Phuket to sr and back is alot of driving, 3 times now i have driven up but I add in northern Thailand an Laos as well, total about 7,500 kms

twice just phuket to Koh Kong/Phnom Phen

I enjoy driving

Yes, it is correct that no moto 's are hired out in Siem Reap but plenty of green electric motos for hire.

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Great post Steve. Thanks for the info. Looks spectacular at night. Heard quite a few stories about the mad rush of tourists to see the sunrise & sunset there. These other people gave similar tips to you, basically do the opposite to everyone else for a much better experience. Cheers.

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Hi, I am glad that you enjoyed the temples. I am an expat now living in Siem Reap very close to the temples. I lived in Pattaya for 15 months. As with most tourist places you will always pay more in the tourist areas. But we do not eat or drink in pub street. There are many places with good food at a good price away from the tourist hub. Good report.

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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

Your eating experiences are exactly the opposite to mine - but then again, I mainly avoid Cambodian food and opt for good quality western food at a fraction of the price in Thailand.

I would never use a car to visit Angkor Wat, a far better ambiance is achieved when traveling by tuk tuk - especially later in the day.

I traveled from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and other places last year when the temps were around 40c! Hired air conditioned car with driver - only way to go IMHO. Was not going to sweat it our all day in those temps and to hell with the "ambience". wai.gif

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when i went there 10 years ago tuktuks were $6 for the day.

the entry price for one week was $60 so that is similar.

but they had security checks at the entrance to each temple

which made it very difficult not to pay.

a group of 3 khmers, 2 in blue and one in brown police uniform.

some were relaxed about it and some were very aggressive about it

so much so that i declined to enter one temple after the pass check.

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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

Your eating experiences are exactly the opposite to mine - but then again, I mainly avoid Cambodian food and opt for good quality western food at a fraction of the price in Thailand.

I would never use a car to visit Angkor Wat, a far better ambiance is achieved when traveling by tuk tuk - especially later in the day.

I traveled from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and other places last year when the temps were around 40c! Hired air conditioned car with driver - only way to go IMHO. Was not going to sweat it our all day in those temps and to hell with the "ambience". wai.gif.pagespeed.ce.ptXUXgG4cA.gif alt=wai.gif width=20 height=20>

when angkor wat was operational they did not have air con.

now with all that hot stone the place becomes unbearable.

it cannot have always been like that.

it must have been a cool place with lots of water.

the theory is that angkor wat was abandoned

when the water ran out.

you can see high water marks on some of the temple walls

caused by flooding about 15 meters above ground level.

cutting so many trees cannot have helped either.

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Hi, I am glad that you enjoyed the temples. I am an expat now living in Siem Reap very close to the temples. I lived in Pattaya for 15 months. As with most tourist places you will always pay more in the tourist areas. But we do not eat or drink in pub street. There are many places with good food at a good price away from the tourist hub. Good report.

good for you.it seems like a nice place actually. missing the tesco lotus, macro and villa market that i kind of depend on in Phuket but i guess easy to get used to not having that stuff. my wife even said she could stay there so if Thailand ever kicks us out, i could live there.

it cirtainly has a feel to it like Thailand would have been 20-30 years ago.

i bet there are plenty of great business oportunities for someone wanting to set up a bar/restaurant/guest house or something more creative. i have no idea what the rules are around there however. i talked briefly to a english guy who i assumed owned the 'Angkor What?' pub so i assume its possible.

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My Thai wife and I love Siem Reap and have been 3 times. Though we have always flown in, I did not find the price gouging you speak of. Yes, they choose to accept USD, but 1 or 2 USD for a motorbike taxi is not expensive in my books, foot massages are cheap, food was cheap unless you decide to eat at someplace like the Hard Rock Cafe, the hotel we stay at was an excellent price, when you consider what the hotel offers you to include; free mini-bar, turn-down service, swimming pool, fitness center and excellent breakfast included in the price and discount coupons for their restaurant and free transport to/from the airport (which is also nice, albeit small) is well worth the cost. Angkor Wat might be a little expensive, but it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and to be honest, once you see one or two temples, they all start to look the same anyway. The new museum in town is not only interesting, it's a pleasure to walk through and should not be missed. If anything I can say that is bad about the place, it's the fact that more and more people are going there now and it's starting to lose the backpacker charm it once was.

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good report but like to add a few thimgs.

easy to drive into the [ark where the temples are located but no way would u ever be allowed into an temple without the pass. the check at every entrance

You can not easily rent motorcycles in SR, the tuk tuk stopped allowing companies to do that as it was cutting into their rice bowls,

no reason to anyway as u can rent a tuk tuk for$15/day an that is for 2 people.

I have done it a few times with tuk tuk and a few times with my car, the tuk tuk is nice as they drop u off an ur walk thru the temple complex an exit where he would be waiting , otherwise u need retrace ur path back to your car.

Food on Pub street is more expensive but there plenty of Cambodian rests where you will be the same u pay in Thailand but the food is not as good.

Angkor Wat was lite up for about a month back in 2009 but they discovered that the bright lights are very harmful to the wall paintings, I was lucky and was there and there were less than 30 people in the whole complex and it was magical. Angkor at night,

You can also have a catered dinner at angkor Wat for a group on 20+ people but u better have a high limit on your credit card

I have used osmach entrance 3 times with my thai car, never paid anything an have always been charged only $20, ( i have lots of Cambodian stamps) but it did go up to $30 for a tourist visa Oct 1st

Did i go see Banteay Chhmer??

That's really a nice night shot and the lighting appears quite pro.

Very cool and thanks.

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Cool report. Thanks.

I've been to the Acropolis in Athens & the pyramids in Egypt, & they were kind of...eh...

I was really impressed with Angkor Wat though.

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Hi, I am glad that you enjoyed the temples. I am an expat now living in Siem Reap very close to the temples. I lived in Pattaya for 15 months. As with most tourist places you will always pay more in the tourist areas. But we do not eat or drink in pub street. There are many places with good food at a good price away from the tourist hub. Good report.

good for you.it seems like a nice place actually. missing the tesco lotus, macro and villa market that i kind of depend on in Phuket but i guess easy to get used to not having that stuff. my wife even said she could stay there so if Thailand ever kicks us out, i could live there.

it cirtainly has a feel to it like Thailand would have been 20-30 years ago.

i bet there are plenty of great business oportunities for someone wanting to set up a bar/restaurant/guest house or something more creative. i have no idea what the rules are around there however. i talked briefly to a english guy who i assumed owned the 'Angkor What?' pub so i assume its possible.

Yes we had to get used to the fact that there are no large shopping centers and yes the development here are many years behind Thailand.

But you get your visa for one year from your travel agent (they send your passport to Phnom Penh and a few days later you are set for a year) No reporting every 90 days. Has not yet encountered any police corruption like in Thailand. You hardly see any police.

Drivers license also at the same travel agent. To work you purchase a work permit without any problems.

Many business opportunities. I would steer clear from bars restaurants etc. I have actually just registered a business and should soon be on my way. I am the sole owner and I can employ whoever I want, no restrictions. No funds required to invest.

The move here certainly suites my lifestyle but then it will not be for others.

Good dental and eye care are freely available. Basic medical is available everywhere and there is a very modern private hospital. But for serious ailments you will have to go to Bangkok.

I sold my car in Thailand and bought a new motorbike here and are very happy to use it about town. It was the first time in my 70 years that I rode a moto but soon got the hang of it.

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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

Your eating experiences are exactly the opposite to mine - but then again, I mainly avoid Cambodian food and opt for good quality western food at a fraction of the price in Thailand.

I would never use a car to visit Angkor Wat, a far better ambiance is achieved when traveling by tuk tuk - especially later in the day.

I traveled from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and other places last year when the temps were around 40c! Hired air conditioned car with driver - only way to go IMHO. Was not going to sweat it our all day in those temps and to hell with the "ambience". wai.gif

Only an idiot would go at the height of summer.

You can't take the air-con car into the temples - that is where it is at it's hottest.

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The fee for the car sounds quite reasonable. Going back via Poipet I think you did well not incurring any 'out of province' charges.

Your eating experiences are exactly the opposite to mine - but then again, I mainly avoid Cambodian food and opt for good quality western food at a fraction of the price in Thailand.

I would never use a car to visit Angkor Wat, a far better ambiance is achieved when traveling by tuk tuk - especially later in the day.

I traveled from Siem Reap to Angkor Wat and other places last year when the temps were around 40c! Hired air conditioned car with driver - only way to go IMHO. Was not going to sweat it our all day in those temps and to hell with the "ambience". wai.gif

Only an idiot would go at the height of summer.

You can't take the air-con car into the temples - that is where it is at it's hottest.

Excuse me - when working people take holidays it is not always possible to take them when you would prefer. The opportunity to visit Angkor Wat was taken and it was hot. But better to have visited than never to have visited. And it was great to get back into an air conditioned vehicle afterwards for further trips throughout the area. I am not so silly as to think you would be in an air conditioned car within the temples.

So, keep your "idiot" remarks to yourself and take your foot out of your mouth!

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You went to Angkor, not just Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat, though the biggest temple, is just a part of Angkor. But you're not alone in this mistake: it's one of the most common in the travel business.

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Very interesting and useful report.

I would like to know if you enter Cambodia using your Thai plate (In Thai language) or if you have a car passport (purple book).
And if you had to buy special insurance.

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Sorry that you were so stressed during the trip. I can imagine that it was not easy with two kids.

As for the food, try a bit away from Pub Street if you look for Cambodian food. Once you see where local Khmers eat, those who can afford a car, you can be sure that the food will be good and also not overpriced. There are places with better value than Thailand but they are few and not that obvious.

Banteay Chmar is a nice place in the country side and very different from the busy Angkor Wat scene. You would have liked it. Maybe next time ;)

The kids would have loved the lake and the houses there. So there is more to see next time and with some detailed preparation you can save a lot on accomdation and food. The nice thing about Cambodia is that it caters from 5 stars to shoe string budgets and accomodation is pretty good value almost anywhere.

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Very interesting and useful report.

I would like to know if you enter Cambodia using your Thai plate (In Thai language) or if you have a car passport (purple book).

And if you had to buy special insurance.

yes

dont need the car passport, that is ONLY for Laos, Th e english language plate/sticker are only for Malaysia

NO, u cant buy insurance unless u arrange it months ahead of time via PP

so drive carefully ( i always do)

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