Average food pricing
As I'm from Malaysia, and with the US$ not to M'sian advantages in Mar'09, The price of avg food in Siem Riep is actually worst than KL!!
Normal fried rice is at US$1.50 at non aircon small restaurants & at dirty wet market it's much cheaper at US$1.
However those restaurants at the floating village or even at Sras Slang is overpriced at US$4/plate!! Becareful!! We actually almost wanted to skip our luch at Sra Slang until thye restaurant owner willing to reduce the price to "Asian" rate of US$1/50....At floating market, as I was too hungry I managed to bargain the price to US$3..thats 2.5X the price of avg Kuala Lumpur fried rice!!
Unique Suggestions: Beware of those tourist attraction restaurants..price cant be more than US$2!!
Fun Alternatives: Goto restaurants at Siem Riep town..cheaper & cleaner there
- Budget Travel
- Arts and Culture
Bargain and Don't be fooled...
They are smart! and don't be fooled! I traveled with my family and we're from Malaysia. You can't afford to buy in US, they'll even accept Malaysian Ringgit! and to the right conversion. How they knew we were Malaysians, beats me. We spoke to each other in English... gosh!
Also, we were bombarded by a group of kids, all not more than 10 years old, saying " 1 dollah" for everything... one person from the group fell sorry for them and bought from 1 child and that was the end of it! We practically had to run to our waiting transport... cuz out of no where, a whole group ran towards us, all offering " 1 dollah"
Unique Suggestions: Bargain.... They know you are gonna bargain anyways, so they hike up the price... so bargain and don't be shy. They will be a lil' harsh and tell you that you bring them luck or they are giving you morning price, but bargain....
- Hiking and Walking
- Family Travel
- Historical Travel
Phnom Bakheng - Sunset
The sunsets from Phnom Bakheng are supposed to be the best in Angkor Wat. My first sunset was cloudy, but my second was very beautiful. Even more entertaining than the sunset, however, is the mass of people that flock here to watch the sun. It seems like every tourist in Cambodia has joined you on this hill at this very minute.
Unfortunately the sunset has become a fixed stop for most package tours, so after hours upon hours of solitude while exploring hidden temples deep in the forest jungle, you end up here and it feels like a shopping mall back home...but with better views!
Fun Alternatives: Maybe Angkor Wat at sunset is a little better...I'd love to see the front glowing in the light of the setting sun, especially over water in the wet season.
Woman Shopkeepers and Kid Salesmen
I almost don't feel like putting this under tourist trap because of how I feel about the whole experience of the kid salesmen, but I feel that to be adeqautely forewarned this was the most appropriate place. First the women shop keepers. These ladies are very aggressive. They grab you, they follow you, they are annoying. Have a sense of humor. Joke around, bargain hard, but only what you want and move on. Have fun with it. I even resorted to running away from these people to see if they'd chase me ( and they did) but make it fun for yourself and enjoy it as part of the experience.
Next are the kids. I traveled with a buddy and he wasn't as fond of the kids, but I freaking loved the kids. They are just fun, have a sense of humor, joke around and spare $1 and bring home a trinket that you can tell the funny story of that little Cambodian kid that wouldn't leave you alone. These kids are smart and fun, they are part of the experience, enjoy it. General rule of thumb, they will sit and harass you to buy until your food comes when you sit at the food stalls for lunch break between temples, and they will follow you around the temples a bit to get you to buy their stuff. I thought the kids were awesome and enjoyed every bit and don't miss the 5$ I spent on their goods. Oh and if you feel the urge to snap a photo do it and pay the kid 1$ and when you go home and upload your pics you will be definately glad you made that investment!
Corrupt organized activity at Banteay Kdei Temple
When I got to the middle of Banteay Kdei temple, a police officer required me to buy a badge or pay a bribe of $12 to continue on with my adventure and I feel cheated as I was not doing anything nor needed to hire him to do a service. A foreigner who traveled many times to Cambodia told me that it costs 300 Baht to hire the police should you need to pursue a criminal. After you are finished with the police, you are approached by many women and children who force all there wares in your face and you can't enjoy the temple despite it's long length with many chambers. If you leave thier without buying from the handicraft touts, guys in greyish prison guard or military officer looking uniforms will intimidate you a little and walk in the woods near the long sandy footpath telling you to go home or to Angkor Thom. This temple lies deep in the jungle with a long foot path and the temple being much longer allows an organized gang of locals to cheat you out of your dollars. I sensed a very evil bad karma about the place. The other temples didn't have this activity that I seen.
Some shops located outside of a temple entrance have a hired police officer who intimidates you into buying, but you firmly make it clear that you can't buy it all and you will only buy 1 or 2 items of your choice and from the seller of your choice. Too many people act like you owe them for no reason and trying to make money off of the last generations tragedies. They don't take no for an answer and don't leave you alone. Often, they are so determined to sell things to you, they will get thier feet run over by your leaving vehicle!!!
Unique Suggestions: Be stern and don't be afraid to speak up that you are uncomfortable with the situation and will not buy under these circumstances of rude aggresion. They usually don't listen to nothing you say until you raise your voice and give a mean face; they are only focused on separating you from your dollars. When trying to buy a shirt, the sellers began to argue with each other and demand that I buy from them all. Don't! You don't even have a reliable parcel post to ship extra things you don't have room to pack in your luggage. I told them I wont buy anything until they learn how to act and walked off. I did buy souveneers that I wanted from other sellers, but the problem mentioned above will play out again and again when you shop.
Fun Alternatives: Rent an electric bike instead of a tuk tuk (motorcycle and driver with a chariot carriage) so that you don't look like a rich king as a single man riding in one is the primary target while bike riders and groups don't attract all the attention. It only costs $10/day plus water and lunch for a driver and tuk tuk, but this makes you look so filthy rich and you will not be left alone when they see you roll up looking all fancy.
- Historical Travel
- Adventure Travel
Books are cheap but check first!!
Beware of those books that the local kids are trying to sell to you outside temples area. I bought a guide book with 5 USD, the cover and pages are of real good quality, it's worth the money. But, the moment I open it when reached back in hotel, it was in French!! The next day I bought the same book again in English from another kid, afterall it's still worth buying, for the quality and information you get.
Some kid also sell "replica" of "lonely planet" at around 5USD, well, again... check!! it's all in photocopy pages..
- Historical Travel
Watch out for camerafaceitis!!
The Angkor complex is so picturesque that you will find yourself taking pictures non-stop until your memory card is full. You will also see lots of "serious" photographers set up with their tripods and huge lenses. Sometimes these guys will camp out in front of a prime picture spot for 15 minutes or longer, inconsiderately blocking the view for others.
Unique Suggestions: By all means take lots of photos, just don't forget to put down your camera every now and then so that you can soak in the environment and enjoy the view in the present.
- Historical Travel
When a guide is not a guide
As people have pointed out, if some stranger approaches you to be your guide, you'd best just move along.
Our guide was arranged by our hotel, and was waiting for us there in the morning. He had the uniform, but it wasn't until a little later that we got suspicious. First off, his English was terrible. (Yes, of course it was better than my Khmer, but all the official guides are quite fluent in other languages. ) He had very little to say, and his descriptions were the bare minimum, as in, "This North gate. That West gate. That East gate..." All the while, we'd listen as other guides walked around with people being very animated, funny, and knowledgable, as well as being extremely proficient in English, German, French, or whatever other language they were speaking. They all had name tags and a big glossy phot ID, which our guy didn't have.
After an hour or so, we called him on it.
"Uh, we noticed that all the other guides have ID badges and nametags"
"Oh, um, I forgot at home"
"Are you sure you're an official guide (of course we knew by then he wasn't)?"
"Uh, um, sorry, I no feel good. I must go toilet."
At which point he went running down to a nearby toilet. When he returned, we gave him some money and told him we'd no longer require his services.
The moral is; Make sure your official guide is indeed an official guide.
"Tour guides" at the temples
If you are traveling on a budget, avoid the child tour guides at the temples. Each temple has several children who will follow you around and tell you about the temple even if you don't even acknowledge that the kids are there. As you are leaving the temple, they always ask for money, usually US$2 or 3 (this might not sound like a lot until you realize it's 1/2 a nights lodging or an entire meal--for them more than a day's pay!)!!! After one or two of these encounters, I began sitting down as soon as a kid came up to me. Eventually he would get bored and pester the next tourist that came along.
Fun Alternatives: Be polite, but forceful and tell them no!
Not so free local help
If a local comes to you and offer his help in showing you around, be expected to pay him for bringing to you to off the beaten track photography spots and for giving you simple explanations on the history of the temple.
Fun Alternatives: The best deal to know more about the temples is getting a licensed guide, however I encountered the peak season where guides are in shortage. Thus we can only rely on guide books, which suffice to give me a good insight. As for good photography spots, I'm sure you can find them yourself through self exploration. While it is a way to help them make a living, I felt that they should not demand us to pay US$5. And the one I encountered refused to accept our money that is lesser than the amount that he asked for. I am always ready to give them well-deserved money to show my appreciation, but not when it is demanded outright.
- Budget Travel
Shopping at the temples
The children who sell souvenirs and refreshments at the temples love tourists because we have fat wallets! The best thing to do is not buy from them... you can purchase many of the same souvenirs in town for 1/4 of the price. It will be very hot during you trip so bring water from Siem Reap. If you run out of water, at least talk them down to a reasonable amount! They may ask US$1 or 2 for a bottle of water you can buy in town for 12 cents US!!!! I was almost always able to bring their price down to US$0.25 or 0.33.
Tonle Sap Lake
The only disappointing trip for me was the morning I went on the lake. I was suffering from temple burn out and needed to relax and do something different. I have always liked being on the water but soon after I stepped aboard the boat I realised that there was not much really to see. After pointing out some of the fishing communities I was taken to every floating shop on the lake although one did have a nice deck on top where I enjoyed a drink and nobody tried to sell me anything
- Arts and Culture
- Sailing and Boating
Temple Kids, Good Or Bad?
There are mixed views on the temple kids. Nuisance? Well maybe, if you ignore them they will soon lose interest as all kids love attention and even kids can only be so persistent. On a couple of occasions there was a kid in the right place at the right time for me when my tongue felt like a sheet of sandpaper I was so thirsty and they even take the can away for you. Another time I bought a really cheap shirt and after I got home I realised I loved the design and wore it throughout the summer
- National/State Park
- Arts and Culture
A Lesson About Humility
At Angkor you will come across these little girls and boys who try to sell you anything from books about Pol Pot and the Killing Fields to buddhist jewerly to t-shirts. These girls are very persistent and reminded me a lot of the Black Hmong girls who hocked their wares in Sapa, Vietnam. Try not to buy from them because they should be in school instead of their families making them go to the temples to make money for the family. Our taxi driver told us that these little kids never end up going to school. But if you do decide to buy their wares, don't get too carried away with the bargaining. Remember after all they are children and they are poor. My husband learned a good lesson in humility when this young 16 year old girl kept begging him to buy a t-shirt from her for $4 US dollars, which is quite a bit of money to the Cambodian people. But at the same time he would never have found a shirt at that price in the US. He kept telling her the price was too much and insisted on only paying $2 because he loved to bargain with the girls. He ended up buying a shirt from another little girl. The 16 year old girl began crying because she was so frustrated because she tried so hard to get my husband to buy. My husband felt so miserable the rest of the day for having made her cry and for getting carried away with the bargaining.
Watch Out for the Supposed Tour Guide at Takeo
When I was at Angkor Wat at the Takeo Temple, I was approached by a young gentleman who wore a uniform that appeared to be like a national park ranger uniform for Angkor. He takes you all around the temple without your asking and explains to you a lot of great details about the temple. I assumed that this wasn't out of the goodness of his heart and in the back of my mind I knew I would give him a tip for his services afterwards because I did learn a fair amount of the temple that I wouldn't have known otherwise. However when my husband and I went to tip him $5 US dollars which is quite a large amount of money to the Cambodian people we were met with "That's all I get" and a story about how he feeds ten children back home while trying to attend college at the same time. And he would not accept that was all the cash that we had on us and proceeded to harass us. Thank god for big bald husbands. Anyway in general the Cambodian people were some of the nicest people I have ever met in this wonderful world with smiles that light up the room, but this one young man put a damper on such a wonderful experience.