I close the bathroom door in the ticketing office, and read a text on the inside. It’s written in big, angry letters: “This country is a tourist trap!! F*** you, Cambodia!” I have to chuckle, as I can totally see where this person is coming from. As a matter of fact, if I wouldn’t have had an extra day in Siem Reap tomorrow, I would have been tempted to write the same thing.
Only tempted, indeed. Because despite the fact that around every corner lurks another scam, I love this country. People have the biggest, genuine smiles on their faces, are extremely polite and greet you with a little bow of their head; hands folded together.
The Cambodian visa costs 30 US dollars, and if you’re travelling by bus, the staff will almost force you to let them arrange your visa, for another $5.
We thought we were cluey on scams, and had made a pretty good estimate of all costs for our Ho Chi Minh City – Siem Reap trip. Being so close, we couldn’t miss out on the biggest religious monument in the world. Having paid for accommodation and the bus, having 60 US dollars in cash for our visa, we thought that pretty much covered it. Clearly we did not anticipate the extra costs.
Tuk tuk drivers will charge you at least 15 USD for a trip to the temple, and some of them make you pay up to 85 USD as soon as you’ve paid for your entry ticket.
They are at every corner of the street, and ask if you want transport. “You go to temples? Tuk tuk? Maybe tomorrow?”
After our 13 hour bus ride, it’s an understatement to say we were knackered, and we decided to have a rest day. The day after, we left at 5am for the temple, ón the motor bike. We pay 10 USD a day (to compare, in HCMC a bike costs less then 3 USD to rent). Unfortunately, the backpackers before us returned the bike without fuel. Which meant we had to find a petrol station that was open this time a day. Precious time was passing by, as the sunrise would be soon and this is the best time to take photos.
Before February 2017, the Angkor Wat entry fee was 20 USD. It has increased to 37 USD, and you have to buy your tickets at Angkor Enterprise (4 kilometers from the temple entrance).
Right before we finally reached the temple, we stumbled upon a checkpoint and were asked for our tickets. We can’t buy them here? ‘No you need to go to ticket office, very far from here.’ It turned out to be another 10 minute drive. By this time the sunrise was in full process. We decided to postpone our visit to the next day, but to get our tickets now to make sure we would be in time for the sunrise tomorrow.
A vender in front of the ticketing office tried to sell us long pants, while pointing at the sign that states you’re not allowed in with shorts. After I bargained it down from 10 to 5 dollars, I walked into the toilet to get changed. I realized she gave me a tiny Cambodian size, and even though I have lost weight while in Asia, I have to shuffle rather than walk to avoid ripping these.
I sigh and look at the angry letters on the door again. Tourist trap.. Yep, I feel their pain.
Angkor Wat is a sacred place and you have to cover your knees and shoulders before entering. You will want to bring food, or will be forced to pay 5 USD for cereal and milk.
Once you are within the grounds, and breathlessly witness the sunrise with some hundred other people, you realize it’s all worth it. All photographers, amateurs and professionals, are gathered around the lake, in which you can see the reflection of the majestic temple. What a beauty it is, towering above us. As it gets lighter, she slowly reveals more of her details and leaves most people speechless. Or maybe just concentrated on getting a good photo.
Besides Angkor Wat, lies a whole ancient kingdom with many more temples. Make sure you bring a map of the terrain, as they are all quite far from each other.
If Angkor Wat was breathtaking, I enjoyed Bayon even more. It’s not as massive, and there are way less tourists here. Even looking at it from a distance gives me goosebumps, but tourists walk all over it. Apart from two ‘no access’ areas, you are allowed to walk and climb everywhere. We ride around a little bit more to see more temples and buildings, but for me they don’t compare to the two we have seen. For sunset we go back to Bayon, and then call it a day.
Children try to sell you things, or ask you for money in the streets. By supporting this, you encourage them to not be in school and earn their money this way.
We dodge one child within the temples, that tries to teach us words in Khmer (the national language in Cambodia). He asks for a donation for a school, while I wonder what he is doing here on a school day. On Pub Street in Siem Reap it is worse. After 5 minutes we both want to leave. Apart from hearing “Tuktuk? No?” every few meters, children try to get money from us. One girl states she is hungry, grabs my boyfriend’s hand and starts dragging him along. He pulls his hand out of her grip. Not only is she probably involved in some sort of pick pocketing or scam, it frightens me more how she just grabs a random person. Where are her parents, and what would happen if she does that to the wrong person? We end up buying food for a child on the street, so at least we know what the money is used for.
Back at the resort, a local is playing pool with one of the guest’s children. He asks us if we need a tuktuk, as he is a driver. “No?” He gives us his warmest smile. “Maybe tomorrow.”