Planning for Cambodia

There’s a saying that goes “live with no excuses, travel with no regrets.” While I make a lot of excuses in my every day life, I usually heed the last line. Travel with no regrets. If you can do something new, something exciting while traveling, do it! And so, it’s a no-brainer. When you go to one Southeast Asian country, you also go to the next one. Either that be one additional country or two or three, traveling in Southeast Asia is one of the more affordable trips we’ll take in our lives. Why not see almost all countries when we have the opportunity to do so? And so we did not stop in Vietnam. We also included Cambodia in our itinerary. I would have wanted Laos in there too but you know, we can’t have it all in one go. Haha.

Finally, Angkor Wat!!!

Cambodia, or the Kingdom of Cambodia is a country located in the southern part of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is mostly known for the Angkor Wat. That’s what you want to see. That’s what we wanted to see! We went to Hanoi for Halong Bay, we went to Siem Reap for Angkor Wat. Raise your hand if you thought Angkor Wat is in Phnom Penh, the capital and most populous city of Cambodia! Haha,that makes us two. Actually, Siem Reap, a resort town, is the gateway to the Angkor complex. So when going to Cambodia, make sure you book a flight to Siem Reap and not Phnom Penh as that’s a few hours away.

Transportation (Hanoi to Siem Reap)

By Land. Since we were coming from Hanoi, Vietnam, we researched on options. How to go to Siem Reap from Hanoi? Our friend Florence has anxiety on flying so we researched for land transportation first. There are no passenger trains that travel directly from Vietnam to Cambodia but there are trains that connect Vietnam to Laos then Laos to Cambodia by bus. Land travel can be a mix of train and bus rides. But this land travel options will take hours, if not days! For example, a bus route goes something like this:

Hanoi –> Savanakkhet, Laos (22 hours by bus via thesinhtourist.vn) –> Mukdahan (1 hour by bus via home.transport.co.th) –> Aranyaprathet (9 hours by bus via iloveyellowbus.com) –> Siem Reap, Cambodia (3 hours by bus via home.transport.co.th) 

That’s over 30 hours in the road, not to mention the wait times in between stations! If you have a lot of days to travel and you’re backpacking, this is the route to go. You can also combine trains and buses. The Vietnam Railways can take you from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh then you have to ride the bus to reach Siem Reap. For example:

Hanoi –> Bien Hoa (30 hours by train via dsvn.vn) –> Ho Chi Minh (1 hour by train via dsvn.vn) –> Siem Reap (12 hours by bus via virakbuntham.com)

Again, this will be another gruelling journey! We only have a week for our trip and we didn’t want to waste a day or two for land travel and so we know what our ONLY option is: BY PLANE. We had to rally our friend to say yes to travel by air than by land. We even promised to hold her hand when we’re up in the air just to convince her, haha. She’s really afraid of smaller planes. She finally relented and we checked our options.

By Plane. Which airlines fly from Hanoi to Siem Reap? Well, there are two major local airlines that fly this route: Vietnam Airlines and Vietjet. We chose the latter because it was cheaper.

Our plane to Siem Reap from Hanoi.

Flight Ticket from Hanoi to Siem Reap via Vietjet Airlines
USD 71 (approx. SAR 273.35 / PHP 3,6000)

Of course, you can also fly directly from Manila to Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are a lot of airlines that fly this route but as always, go for the direct flights of Cebu Pacific Air because they tend to be cheaper than those with lay-overs. Cebu Pacific flies to Siem Reap four times a week. On regular days, a round-trip ticket from Manila to Siem Reap to Manila is around PHP 9,000 (approx. SR 700) per person. Since we were coming from Siem Reap to Manila, we bought one-way tickets:

Flight Ticket to Manila from Siem Reap via Cebu Pacific Air
USD 123.5 (approx. SR 476 / PHP 6,300)

If you’re coming from Riyadh, I didn’t see any direct flights. It will be a mixture of Middle East airlines like Saudia, Emirates, Oman Air and Asian airlines like Bangkok Airways, Singapore Airlines, Vietnam Airways, etc. This will be more expensive compared to coming from Manila, of course. And the flights duration is around 14 hours or more depending on the lay-over.

Currency

There’s one important tip when you’re in Cambodia: do not exchange your US dollars (USD) for Cambodian Riel (KHR). You can use US dollars every where! The USD is Cambodia’s unofficial second currency (actually it can pass off as its first already the way they use it all the time everywhere!) And it’s more practical. We made the mistake of exchanging USD 100 to Cambodian Riel. The exchange was just USD 1 = KHR 3,800. But in the stores, when we ask them to change the USD prices to KHR so we can pay in local currency (since we made the mistake of exchanging our dollars right?!), the exchange rate was USD 1 = KHR 4,000 (or sometimes KHR 4,200) so we lost around KHR 200 to 400 in the process. Our dollars were devalued. So yup, don’t change to Cambodian Riel. Your USD is perfectly fine.

Where To Stay

I’m using another quote with this one. Do you know this saying by Paulo Coelho: ‘And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it’? Yes? This usually happens to me, especially when planning for a trip. You see, my friends and I were planning this trip in August of last year. It had to be that early because two of us were coming from abroad (outside the Philippines) and we had to arrange our leaves and vacation schedules. So we were already set on going to Vietnam and Cambodia. We had our tickets to Hanoi already and we were just waiting for another seat sale for the flight from Siem Reap to Manila. During the first week of October, I received an email in The Pink Tarha account. It was from a travel blogger named Sai who writes at romancingtheplanet.com and is also the Digital Marketing Manager of a resort in Siem Reap, Cambodia called Tresor D’Angkor. He was inviting The Pink Tarha to stay at the resort on a complimentary media stay basis if we’re ever going to Cambodia. I blinked a couple of times and re-read his email because I can’t believe what the universe just handed to me. IS THIS SERIOUS?!

First of all, who in Cambodia is reading The Pink Tarha that we got the attention of a resort there? I mean, really?!? Second, what a coincidence! We were planning to go to Cambodia and here’s a resort offering us a complimentary stay for a couple of updates in social media accounts. WOW right?! Honestly, this was an unexpected gift and I attribute it to God and the universe for knowing what exactly I need and want at that moment. I told my friends the good news and they were delighted as well. We don’t have to think our accommodations in Siem Reap! Woot!

Whatever your budget is, Siem Reap has the right accommodations for you. There are villas and guesthouses that cater to those on a budget. There are those mid-range resorts and hotels for those who are looking for comfort without breaking the bank and there are those luxurious hotels that only the upper class can afford. I mean, USD 1000 per night?!? Wow.When selecting your resort and hotel, it’s also important to consider what you like doing. For instance, do you want a place near the Angkor complex or do you want to stay in places near the night market and pub street? Do you like day activities? Or night activities?

I mean… WOW!

Tresor D’Angkor Suites is perfect for my kind of traveler. The kind who likes the comfort and amenities of a hotel and the serenity of a resort that’s not to near the busy areas and not too far the tourist places. Also, the kind who doesn’t want to pay for an expensive accommodation that I will only sleep in but willing to pay for a mid-range price to get a comfortable room and amenities that I can use (like a swimming pool, woot!). If I wasn’t billeted in the Tresor D’ Angkor, I would want something like this to stay in in a country like Cambodia. It offers the best of everything.

Our villa at the Tresor D’Angkor

Tresor D’Angkor Suite is located in the green outskirts of Siem Reap. Just going there surprised us; we passed through a dusty, bumpy street. We considered it as our introduction to the rural life in Cambodia, haha. The resort is eight kilometers away from the Angkor Wat and the Siem Reap International Airport. It’s just 10 minutes away from the city center, night market, and Pub Street by remork (motor-trailer). The location is not the best if you want to be able to go outside your hotel and into the crowd of tourists and locals in a snap. It’s the perfect location if you’re looking for some tranquility. I love the sound of the insects at night, the swaying of the tree branches, the slow dance of the leaves in the afternoon, the still water of the pool at night, the view from the roof deck… it reminds me of the Philippines but also shows me how similar yet different Southeast Asian countries are.

If not for the Angkor Wat, I’m not going out of the resort! Haha.

The whitewashed villas in the resort surround a huge fresh water pool. Each villa is made of eco-friendly materials/ The design is minimalist with touches of modern aesthetics. I like the huge space!!! My friends and I each had a corner of our own where we kept our luggage and stuff. The bathroom is wide too and only separated by a white fabric. I love that the villas has a tough exterior but very soft and natural interior. My only gripe is that the air-conditioning was a bit weak; maybe because it had to cover a wide area.

A sneak peek of our room 😉

I have a lot of things to share about our resort but the best thing about Tresor D’Angkor is its staff. They were warm, friendly, and they take note of the little things (remember how much the little things matter to me when it comes to hotels I go to?). They helped us plan our itinerary. Also, the food is gooood (how can I forget?)! More of these on my Cambodia entries.

For reference, here are the sample rates in Tresor D’Angkor:
Villa Suite with Pool View – USD 66/night (approx. SR 255)
Villa Suite with Private Pool – USD 138 (approx. SR 530)
2-Bedroom Family Villa Suite – USD 152 (approx. SR 585)

What To Do

WAT to do? Visit the Angkor Wat, of course. I mean, no tourist go to Cambodia and not see the Angkor Wat!!! Especially if it’s your first time! We only had that mission when we went to Cambodia. See the Angkor Archaeological Park. See the reality of the pictures we’ve been looking at for the longest time.  This is it!!!

What a sight! Thank you , Angkor Wat! Photo by my friend Rence.

The Angkor Wat is a temple complex in Cambodia and it’s the largest religious monument in the world. The site measures 1,626,000 square meters!!! That’s huuuuge! That’s the problem with us tourists who just see the iconic picture of the Angkor Wat. We think that’s it but we’re surprised when we learn that there are so many temples and yes girl, you need to exercise for all the walking and climbing you’ll do at the temples. No kidding, we were done on the second day. Hahaha! That makes touring around at a limited time quite tricky. Apart from the main wat, what are the other temples worth seeing?  The staff of Tresor D’Angkor, especially Mr. Kim, helped us with our itinerary. We told him what we wanted to see (watch the sunrise and sunset, see Banteay Srei, etc.) and what we wanted to experience (riding the remork, eating local dishes, etc.).

The ticket to see you is expensive but what can I say? You’re worth it. Photo by my friend Rence.

Of course you have to pay for tickets to the Angkor complex and boy are they expensive! Tickets can be bought at the Angkor Wat Ticket Office. Tickets are bought personally because they need to take a photo. Every temple in the complex have guards that check that each tourist has their pass on them. Make sure you smile or look pretty when they take your photo. It will be in your pass for the duration of your visit to the Angkor complex. Haha. It would be great to have an ID lanyard. If you have a guide like we did, he held our tickets for us so that we won’t misplace it.

Angkor Archaeological Park Ticket Prices:
One-Day Pass: USD 37 (approx. SR 143)
3-Day Pass (with a validity of 10 days after issue): USD 62 (approx. SR 240)
7-Day Pass (with a validity of one month after issue): USD 72 (approx. SR 280)

USD 2 of the ticket go to the Katha Bopha Children’s Hospital Fund. The tickets give tourists access to all temples except for the Kulen Mountain and Bengmealea Temple. Just imagine the 2.5 million tourists that visited the Angkor Wat in 2017 and everyone paying at least USD 37 each! That’s over 92 million in revenue! We bought the 3-day pass because we made a 2-day itinerary to visit the park. I suggest you buy the 3-day pass only. In our case, we felt like we’ve seen all temples just by seeing some of them for two days! Haha! Nagsawa na agad, bes! There were no lines when we bought our tickets at around 9:00 AM. The Angkor complex is of course not open 24/7.

Angkor Archaeological Park Visiting Hours:
Angkor Wat Temple and Srassrang: 5:00 AM to 5:30 PM
Phnom Bakheng and Pre-Rup Temples: 5:30 AM to 7:00 PM
Other Temples: 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM

Here are the sample rates. Please remember that rates vary depending on the places/temples you want to see and the kind of transportation you’ll be needing. A remork is a motor-trailer. It’s exactly that: a motorcycle with a trailer at the back. Haha. You should try riding one during your stay in Cambodia. A car or van can be used depending on how many you are. You also have a choice of hiring a guide. They usually have English-speaking guides. Some guides can also speak other languages so make sure you ask for the one that speaks your native tongue so it’s easier for you.

One of the most iconic tree in the temples of Angkor.

Angkor Complex Small Tour or Big Tour 
USD 19 by remork
USD 40 by car
USD 50 by van
*Additional USD 10 (remork) and USD 15 (car) and USD 20 (van) if you want to see the sunrise or sunset at the Angkor Wat.

Kbal Spean + Banteay Srey
USD 34 by remork
USD 60 by car
USD 75 by van

Kulen Mountain
USD 80 by car
USD 100 by van

Tonle Sap Lake
USD 15 by remork
USD 20 by car
USD 30 by van

City Tour 
USD 10 by remork

English-Speaking Tour Guide 
USD 40

To build our itinerary, we chose what we want to do and their add-ons. For example, we want to do the Angkor Complex Tour by remork (USD 19) with a tour guide (USD 40) and watch the sunset (USD 10) on our first day. So that’s USD 69 in total for us (3 girls). For our second day, we had the Kbal Spean + Banteay Srey by car (USD 60, because it’s a 45-minute trip from the Angkor Wat) with a tour guide (USD 40) and watch the sunrise (USD 10). A total of USD 110. Do you get it? You’ll get there. Haha. I’ll explain more on my Cambodia entries, promise.

The remork is Cambodia’s main local transpo. I tried driving it but look at our guide holding on for his dear life at the back! Lols.

Of course, to make matters not that confusing, you can always go for package tours. I checked online and most 2-day tours (excluding the Angkor Pass) go for USD 155 for 3 persons.

Requirements

Cambodia tourist visa is not required for citizens of the Philippines for a stay of up to 21 days. Thank you ASEAN! For other nationalities that require tourist visas to enter Cambodia, you can go to this website to apply: https://www.evisa.gov.kh/application_new. Create an account, fill up the form, pay, get the approval letter within 3 days, print the visa, and submit it to the immigration officer upon landing in Cambodia! A single entry visa is USD 30 plus a processing charge of USD 6. You can stay for 30 days. Tourist visas are also available on arrival at the Phnom Penh or Siem Reap international airports, for USD 30.But you need to bring a passport photograph.

When we got to the Siem Reap International Airport, there were so many people lining up for the visa and we thought at first we needed to sign up too. We asked an officer and he said no need to get a visa and he directed us to the line leading to the immigration officer. There were a lot of tourists that the lines were long. Thankfully, they added officers to accommodate the influx of people.

What To Bring

Cambodia is more or less the same like Vietnam in terms of weather. So check out my list on my Planning for Vietnam entry. Hats and fans are very important to bring because the days get really warm and hot.

It’s hot guys, it’s really hot.

It’s also very important to bring clothes that cover your shoulders and go below your knees especially when visiting the temples. My friend didn’t bring enough long pants or dresses because she thought she can get away with not wearing one but I tell you, wearing long clothes to the Angkor temples is a serious rule. It shows respect to their sacred grounds. Even before going out of the resort, since the staff and guide know we were going to the Angkor that day, they already asked my friend (who was on shorts that time) if she has something to cover up her legs. They won’t let you out the door without covering up! If you didn’t bring any, there are a lot of pants and skirts made up of light fabric with different designs that can be bought in Siem Reap.

Long cotton skirts and pants are available every where.

I can’t stress the importance of sunscreen and bug spray also. I had a tinted moisturizer with SPF 70 on my face during our tours and thankfully, I didn’t get sunburned.

Set aside money too for souvenirs because you’ll love their scarves! Well I did. I hoarded that, along with a few knick-knacks and snacks (I bought peanuts that tasted like tom yum!).

So there you have it, another long entry on planning for a trip to Cambodia. Haha! It deserves the narrative; it’s one of the most memorable trip of my life after all.

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Janelle
Janelle

The Editor-in-Chief speaks 7 languages: Filipino, English, Wit, Sarcasm, Truth, Creativity, and The Pink Tarha.

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