I am very sad at the same time enlightened to see this kind of warning around Siem Reap. Though it is a known fact that poor countries (mine included) fall victim to these kind of evil, it still upsets me to think that such beautiful, innocent and friendly people can be treated horribly in their own country.
Please let us be a responsible travellers and report suspicious acts to the authorities.
Doing the budget travel thing and going overland from Malaysia to Cambodia meant we had plenty of chances to experience the Cambodian "highways" and byways...
The Lonely Planet warned that Highway 6 from the border town of Poipet to Siem Reap was something of a joke... but our butts were not laughing (yes, this photo shows you what the highways looked like)...
This was around 11 p.m. and actually on the way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh but I've put it here as an example of what can easily happen with the way the drivers trash their cars on those Cambodian "highways"!
Pitch black all around and it had to happen.. all we could hear were pigs snorting in the nearby villages but had NO idea what was around us... there are no street lights, no emergency telephones, no nothing... when I called the travel agent in Siem Reap where we booked the car from, we didn't get much sympathy and were only give some non-committal grunts when we asked him to come save us...
Finally we were helped by a pickup truck full of Khmers sitting on a whole bunch of punctured tyres... our driver didn't even have any tools in his car!! It was amazing he had a spare tyre at all...
Kusumadevi can be seen here saying a prayer for us...
Forget about asking the tourist police at the Thailand/Cambodian border towns of Aranyaprathet & Poipet for help... they're in on ALL the scams!!
We finally found a nice young lad who seemed more accomodating than the rest to drive us to Siem Reap... and negotiated a good price.. before the tourist police himself came along and had WORDS with the poor boy and in the end we had to pay the 'standard' price which the other touts had quoted to us previously...
And be warned too that the driver DOESN'T drive you all the way to Siem Reap, they actually drop you off at a town halfway and you have to switch cars...
But it was all part of the experience! ;)
I would not call this a danger, but I think it might be helpful to know that a short trip to Angkor like ours can be quite expensive. You have to pay 20 USD for the visa, 40 USD for a three-day pass to visit the temples, 20 USD per day for a driver+car, and, what is new, 25 USD departure tax when flying out of Siem Reap (before it was only 10 USD).
Although this happened only once, we decided to write about it.
In Bang Melea, a few hours drive from Siem Reap, there´s a temple site that has not been unearthened. It is an interesting, but dangerous place, as there are no stairs, or handles where to grab into. There´s a route going through the site and the locals are kind enough to tell you the direction where to go, as there is no way of finding the way yourself. It´s a lot of climbing and hoping not to fall down 5 meters.
More than one million visitors in a year come to Siem Rap to visit the Angkor temples. This amount is increasing fast. The visitors come from all over the world, but the majority of visitors are from Asia. Especially the visitors from Japan, South Korea and China are the growing market.
In november we came at the start of the tourist season. I was surprised to see the traffic jam at the south gate of Angkor Thom arriving in the morning. Minibuses, private cars, tuktuks, motos, elephants, pedestrians, all tried to pass the gate at almost the same time.
When we visited the bas-reliefs of the Bayon (Angkor Thom) at the time of the best sunlight, we coudn't see hardly the reliefs because of the many visitors. For making a picture of the reliefs or the temples you have to be very patient to have not to many people at your picture. So I decided to make pictures with people or .... even with lots of people.
If you have enough time, you can try to visit the temples at other times than most visitors do. Friends told me that they manage to do so.
We each changed $100 into riel thinking that we needed local money for food and shopping but that was a big mistake. All the establishments we went to and even the little girls selling postcards wanted $'s. They'd take riel but with the confusion of computing the exchange rate, you're much better off just having small dollar bills. They'd give you dollars for change, too.
I think that tourists who nowadays come to Siem Reap are safe. Everywhere we went we met smiling people, offering help if needed. We (two middle-aged women) often walked away from the tourist places to see the 'real life' and never met with any hostile gestures or words. So it is not tourists that are in danger but Angkor itself.
In 1993, when Angkor was added to the UNESCO Heritage list, the number of tourists who visited it was just 7 600 people. Since then, though, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of visitors with almost 2 million in 2007 and predictions of 3 million in 2010. What's the problem? - someone may ask. Tourists leave money and give work to local people, so it seems there's nothing to complain about. There is - the problem is too serious to ignore it.
Pollution from cars and buses may cause darkening of the stone. People walking in and out of the temples are bound to damage them, unless the direct contact with the stone is made impossible. But the most serious thing seems to be upsetting of foundations on which Angkor wat sits. Siem Reap, with more than 250 hotels and guesthouses, is sucking up groundwater and destabilising the soil beneath Angkor. It's already visible in the wonderful Bayon temple which is collapsing into sandy ground.
You will be litterally eating the dust while travelling from Poipet to Siem Reap and back. Though you will not die from this ;0) I think it is still worth giving you guys a fair warning.
Initially, I plan to take truck in going to/from Siem Reap but decided against it after I have seen the state of the border. I was thanking the heavens afterwards after seeing the road condition...often bumpy and well...dusty! The extreme heat could also easily leave you feeling sick.
If you are into extreme adventure then this is good I think...if not, try taking the bus or taxi.
Whenever travelling in a country like Cambodia, it is vital that you carry tissues and moist wipes - preferably anti bacterial.
Some people carry a toilet roll, but I think that's totally unnecessary. Take a wad of tissues, or a soft-pack (what I carry). Wet wipes are available in the same soft packs which are travel sized and are great for cleaning your hands and just generally handy . If you cannot find regular wipes, look in the baby section of your supermarket for baby wipes.
With the amount of food poisoning that happens in Cambodia, it is extremely important to be prepared.
The toilets are abysmal at the complex. They cost 500 riel to use, so ensure you have change. The toilet next to the one pictured was actually much worse - too bad to take a picture of. This one did not flush.
You will be reminded of the effects of mines everyday in Cambodia as there are so many maimed and limbless people begging in the streets.
Areas frequented by tourists are cleared of mines, but make sure you stick to the worn paths. If you must venture outside of the main areas, be very careful and make sure you get some local information, there are still a lot of uncleared ones out there. You will see the signs warning of mines. Take notice.
There are several warnings with regard to tuk tuks. We used a tuk tuk one day and paid $3.00 to get to the Royal Palace (I know it was more than it should have been). The driver took us a slightly different route on the way back to the hotel then charged us $5.00. It was only a short drive and certainly only worth the same as the trip there. It's not much money, but it's the feeling of being ripped off that I hate. It was our constant companion in Cambodia.
The very bumpy, pothole-filled roads would make for a very uncomfortable ride. It's ok on city streets, but if you head out to somewhere like the Killing Fields, the roads are atrocious.
Cambodia is a great dust-bowl. As you drive along the dirt roads, at times there is so much dust that you can barely see the vehicle in front of you. If you have sensitive eyes, make sure you have eyedrops at hand.
Thick plumes of black exhaust also cloud the view if you're driving near a heavy vehicle. If you get affected by fumes such as these, it could be advisable to take a dust mask with you.
Another warning about the tuk tuks is to be careful of your belongings. Young boys will run up and snatch whatever they can reach.
Now, I'm quite sure you would have seen squishy-looking insects like this on the streets of Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh and Laos. Well, Siem Reap is no exception. Look what I found at a local market opposite Golden Temple Villa !
Big black water in its juicy glory and crisp brown fried crickets. Would you dare to eat one of these things? Proceed with caution if you do. One of my pals thought she was Jerry Hopkins (author of extreme cuisine), so she ate a couple of those crickets. End of story right? Nope, she came down with serious food poisoning and sat in the toilet for the longest time..
Driving in Cambodia is a hair-raising experience. It rates about as well as China for extreme risk-taking and stupidity on the roads. The things we saw our driver and other drivers do nearly put us in the grave, but it's commonplace there. Overtaking in blinding rain on blind corners with oncoming traffic, over-burdened vehicles with people sitting on the front to try to keep the cab down etc.
The worst driving was kept for the road to Siem Reap, once out on the highways they are even more careless and erratic. The cars do not have rear seat belts either which is not very comforting.
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