A trip from Penang to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Tropical Expat is just back from Siem Reap in Cambodia, the aim being mainly to see Angkor Wat.

From Penang we flew on Malaysian Airlines to Kuala Lumpur – around 40 minutes by air, spent about three hours there in transit, comfortably ensconced in a lounge, and then another two and a half hours on Malaysian Airlines to Siem Reap.

The worst experience of the trip was simply arriving – Immigration is very unfriendly, and then they fingerprint and thumbprint you. There goes your privacy for the rest of your life. I wasn’t aware of this beforehand. Er, excuse the pun.

The government gouges you, with a $20 visa. And charges for non-locals to visit the museum or the temples are quite high, and many times the charges for locals. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation sent my wife a birthday email, as her birthday was a day after we returned from our trip. That was a nice thought.

From the airport to town is about 20 minutes. You can travel by tuk-tuk for about $5, or car for about $7.

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a tuk-tuk

They all drive very slowly, so even if there is no seat belt it’s not particularly worrying. Thereafter, a tuk-tuk to anywhere in town would be $1. They may ask for $2, but most will settle for $1. And if they don’t, there are plenty of others. Oh yes, they drive on the right side of the road – like the French.  But it’s easy to get by with the English language.

Basically you use USD as the currency, but if anything is not a whole dollar, you will get change in Riel.  Conversely, if you are paying a fraction of a dollar, you too can pay in Riel. 1,000 Riel are about 25c. So don’t worry if you are given some, they are easy to use.

Much has been written online about visiting the temples, so there is little point me repeating it. And there is plenty of accommodation, from very cheap to expensive, and it is easily researched, and details changing, so I won’t cover this either. There are free maps and booklets on Siem Reap you can pick up at the tourist office or many cafes or restaurants.

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free maps and booklets from tourist office or cafes and restaurants

There is Pub Street in the centre of town…

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er – street with lots of pubs etc.

– actually not one pub street but a  few streets with lots of restaurants and they are really jumping – restaurants are quite full, but you’ll still get a table, everyone is happy, beer is cheaper than water (sometimes beer 50c, water $1), food is lovely, portions are big; and there are no prohibitive taxes on alcohol, so cocktails and spirits are cheap. Wine is not so cheap, however. In the few days we were there we lived on either Cambodian food, or Mexican food. But there are many ethnic restaurants.  And a great many have Wi-Fi.

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Viva Mexican Restaurant

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typical sign board

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one page of a comprehensive drink and food menu

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frozen margarita

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One of the many nice Cambodian restaurants – I loved the curry and spring rolls here

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spring rolls

The Cambodian people are calm and friendly. And time passes very slowly. You look at the time and you think – it’s still early, yet we’ve done so much. Some parts of the town are dusty, but it’s clean, with very little litter.

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The countryside is also clean and nice.

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rice fields

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Ancient Kymer Restaurant

Mrs Tropical Expat noticed a lot of young gay couples around. The town and temple area has a great many tourists from all over the world – I heard Italian, French, German, American, English, New Zealand, Australian, Spanish, Japanese, Russian,  and plenty of languages I couldn’t recognise.

Our basic game plan was to visit the museum on the day we arrived to get an idea of the history. $12 per person, or $3 for locals.

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Angkor National Museum

The museum is an impressive building, but unless you have a photographic memory, after a while all the stories and myths explained get muddled in your mind, and if you are anything like me you give up and just browse thereafter, until you reach the final exhibit. If you can get Brahim, Vishnu, Shiva, Garuda and the snakes sorted, it’s a good start.  It did help visiting the museum before heading off to the temples the next day. I liked the scale model of Angkor wat in the ground floor exhibition room.

It does get hot during the day climbing stairs at the temples, so the earlier in the morning you are able to start, the better.  And I would recommend hiring a car and guide.  It costs more per day, but you can probably see in two days what otherwise would take you three, and actually then not cost you more. And the car has air-conditioning, and the dust will not affect you so much, so your stamina will be so much better. And, by the way, the toilets in the heritage area are very clean and pleasant.

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Angkor Wat

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Bridge over river – lots of statues on either side

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We visited the Butterfly Garden Cafe, and were greatly disappointed.  It had a small, nice garden, but only a few scruffy black butterflies in residence.  We didn’t stay long.

Another popular visit is to the Artisan Centre which gives a free tour, which is quite interesting, if you like arts and crafts.

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The products in the shop are quite expensive, though. They also provide a free tour to their silk farm, which departs currently at 11.30, and returns to town at 1.30; or departs at 1.30 and returns at 3.30.  The actual time of the tour is about 20 minutes, and it is interesting.  It takes 30 minutes by bus each way to the silk farm. The balance of the one hour there is spent in their shop  – which has the same products as the town shop, at probably the same prices. So, for the 20 minutes of interest, do you want to spend two hours? It’s up to you.

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At the silk farm

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The markets are good for Cambodian produce.  For spices, lotus seeds and nuts. Again they are in the centre of town, not far from the restaurants. There are day and night markets.

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Our guide told us they had eliminated mosquitoes, and malaria and dengue fever in this area.  And indeed I had no problems with mosquitoes even walking though the jungle. I did test this to the extreme, by spending dusk at the hotel by the pool in the garden in just my swimming costume – and I got two mosquito bites. Avoid dawn and dusk or cover yourself up, and you are likely to be all right.

Our guide also told us that the police and military have basically locked down the area so there is no crime – and it did feel very safe, although they didn’t seem so much in evidence. And, apparently “Siem” means “Siam” = Thailand, and “Reap” means “defeat” – so the town was named after Thai forces lost the area to Cambodian forces.

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Siem Reap River, near the night market

You might want to read this blog about Cambodia, also: Things to do in Cambodia



  1. Nice work – this is a great one page summary of everything you can fit into a weekend in Siem Reap. There’s a bit more here worth seeing but in a short space of time it’s impossible to do everything. Cheers, Nick

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