A Lone Traveller in The Land of Angkor

September 15th, 2013

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Where do I even begin? To be honest, I am still mesmerised by this beautiful country. Although I’m already home, in the comfort of my own room, my bed and pillows, my thoughts are still in Siem Reap. That place is just beyond belief. Beautiful little country, amazing sceneries, friendly people and absolutely delicious foods. This marks the first time that I travelled alone. And I have to say, it was an amazing experience. Never thought I’d be able to do this. At first, I was nervous. Didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, I thought I was going to be lonely and miserable. But once I stepped foot in Siem Reap, everything changed. Nervousness turned to excitement. Loneliness turned into being surrounded by fellow lone travellers and friendly locals. And then I began to understand why some people chose to travel on their own without any company. The feeling is just different. No one to pester you. No one can say “Oh, that’s too expensive!” or “Why do you even want to go to that place?”or “Let’s do something else. Your plan is just too boring!” It’s just you and the road. You can do the hell you want to!

I spent 3 full days in Siem Reap. The first day I arrived, it was raining. It ruined my plan to watch sunset at Angkor Wat. So all I did was stay in my hotel room and planning my next itinerary. When the rain finally stopped, it was too late to catch the sunset so I ended up souvenir-hunting at Psar Chas and Angkor Night Market. Psar Chas was tiring. So many stalls and it’s quite easy to get lost. The stalls were neatly organised. You have the souvenirs at one side, women’s clothing on the other, men’s clothing on another and food in the middle and household items at the end. The souvenirs were not too expensive and not too cheap. You can haggle your way out. I bought a t-shirt for USD2 although the quality is not that good. Most of the shirts sold are made from fabric that will stretch when you wash or tug at it. In no time, that shirt will turn into a nightgown! Re-printed Lonely Planet books were sold at a really cheap price.  I was tempted to buy one but changed my mind in the end.

Day 2, everything went into full gear. Disappointed after missing the sunset, I was determined to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. After consulting with the hostel staff, I chose to embark on the Small Circuit tour first. At 5am, my tuktuk driver arrived at the hotel and off we went. I thought I was the early bird, but turned out many people came way early than me! It was already crowded despite it being 5.30 in the morning. I started off my journey in Angkor Wat and it was beautiful. Intricate carvings can be found in every piece of stone. It took me almost three hours to explore Angkor Wat. From there, we moved on to Bayon, Angkor Thom, Baphuon, Elephants Terrace, Leper King Terrace and Ta Phrom. Of all these temples, my utmost favourites would be Bayon and Baphoun. I was done in just a few hours and left for the hotel at around 1pm. It was perfect since the sun was only starting to reach its peak and I managed to escape the hot rays. The rest of the day was spent resting as I was pooped and my feet hurt so bad!

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Day 3 was exhausting as it involved long journeys on bumpy and dusty roads. I started my journey at 7am and embarked on the Grand Circuit tour plus two other temples. First, was Pre Rup. The temples on the Grand Circuit tour were different compared to the Small Circuit tour in the sense that they looked “newer” plus the stones used, I believed were clay and not lime. Hence, the temples look prettier and “cleaner”. From Pre Rup we went to Banteay Srei. When we reached there, there were a lot of Chinese tourists with their matching hats and around 6 tour buses. It was so crowded and noisy! Banteay Srei was different because it’s made to look like a park and you can have a nice trek and bird-watching on the many platforms provided. Next was Kbal Spean. I thought Kbal Spean was going to be a smooth walk but boy was I wrong! I had to do a lot of climbing and trekking and for a person who didn’t have any stamina, it was brutal! A lot of steep stones and stairs, slippery ground and tree roots. Kbal Spean is indeed located in a jungle. 2km hike took around 40 minutes and after reaching the spot, you will be treated with a great view of the waterfall and underwater relics. Kbal Spean is not a temple. It’s just carving on stones and it’s underwater. From there, we went down to Phnom Bok, Ta Som, Neak Pean and Prah Khan. When we got to Prah Khan, I asked my driver whether this is the last temple for today, he laughed and said yes. He could tell I was pooped and exhausted! Too many temples in one day! All in all, day 3 was worth it!

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Day 4, it was time to leave and we said our goodbyes at the hotel. I was grinning the whole trip home as I still couldn’t believe I made it on my own. All in all, I spent less than USD250. Siem Reap is definitely cheap and completely worth it!

Extra Tips:

1. Tuktuk driver charge around USD15 for Small Circuit tour and US25 for Grand Circuit plus Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei. Yes, you can haggle.

2. For small trips around town, USD1-2 is enough. Although you might not need to ride around in a tuktuk as the places are close to each other. You can just walk and not get lost.

3. Always bring a poncho or umbrella if you’re going in the wet season.

4. Tuktuk drivers will keep asking you whether you need a tuktuk. A simple “No, thank you.” will suffice and they won’t bother you anymore.

5. In Cambodia, it’s cheaper to buy Apple products here as there is no added tax. I was planning to buy an Ipod but unfortunately, there weren’t any stocks left.

6. Eating in a restaurant starts at USD3. You can get a complete meal with drinks at USD5.

7. When visiting temples, always ask your driver where he’s going to wait for you. Which gate or which spot as some temples have many entrances.

8. There are many children trying to sell you magnets, bracelets, water, books and so on. They will keep bothering you and making you pissed. Just walk along and don’t say much.

9. The souvenirs sold by these children are cheaper than the ones sold at Psar Chas. I bought 2 magnets for USD1. Scarves at USD3.

10. Cigarettes are cheap. Most are soft packs. I don’t really know whether they are fake or genuine. The likes of Marlboro are USD1 a pack.

11. There’s no need to change your money into Riels because you will get your change in Riels especially when the items you buy are in cents. USD1=4000 Riels.

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