48 Hours in Cambodia

July 2013
I've always been a fan of the Amazing Race reality TV show. It fascinates me to see how they travel the world - always in a rush and yet they still manage to enjoy it. The reason why I'm mentioning this is because for our recent trip to Cambodia, I really felt like we were contestants of the show! For 48 hours, we ventured from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap then back to Phnom Penh again in 48 hours. This must me the most tiring yet adventurous trip I've ever had!

Our main purpose to go to Cambodia is to actually see (of course) the Angkor Wat and the other temples, which are all located in Siem Reap. This was all a sudden trip because we saw some airfare promotion but only to Phnom Penh. So we decided to hit 2 cities in 2 days!

Along with two of my girl friends, we arrived at Phnom Penh on a Saturday afternoon, . It is a one hour flight from Singapore. As soon as we arrived, we had to go to Mekong Express Bus Station to catch our bus to Siem Reap. Upon thoroughly researching, Mekong Express had the most favourable timing and reviews. We chose this option because the airfare from PP to SR is quite expensive. The bus ride goes on for 7-8 hours with one stop over. It could really be tiring, but the bus is so comfortable you wouldn't mind the wait. They offer free snacks and a bottle of water as well. It has a toilet inside and a Wifi onboard. How cool is that?! The fare is *USD 12 and reservations and payments can all be done online. 

So for the rest of our bus ride, there was nothing much that I could have done but to kill time by browsing the internet or reading a book. But I took this opportunity to see what the other side of Phnom Penh is like, since we will not have the time to properly explore it. We have seen the central part of it and it was all modern with skyscrapers and seeing the other side of it was a breath of fresh air.

What captured my attention the most are: (1) They have numerous farm fields. 
(2) Their main mode of transportation is motorcycle. (3) Most of their architecture are like a mix of Buddhist and Hindu. (4) They still adhere to old type of houses.
I like that they still keep their culture within their lifestyle. You can see it in their way of clothing, communicating, the architecture of most of the establishments, etc. 

As I have mentioned, there will be one stop over during this trip. We have stopped over to a local restaurant. It was a long needed break anyway just to stretch and have some dinner before we travel again.

After 8 hours, we have finally arrived at Siem Reap! It is advisable to arrange a pick up from the bus station to your hotel especially at night time. Although there are some tuk-tuks (local tricycles) waiting too.

We have stayed at Mekong Angkor Palace, which is about a 20 minute-ride from the bus station. It wasn't too bad since one of the staff from the hotel has picked us up. The ambience of the hotel is old and classic. It was a bit eerie especially at night, the corridors are a bit dim, the wallpapers have like an 18th century feel with wall lamps on it. I literally felt like I was walking into an old house. The room itself is spacious considering there were three of us and we have requested three beds. They have provided us with huge and comfy beds. The aircon was a bit hot, but I think it's because the weather at that time was just humid too. Overall, we had a fantastic stay at this hotel. Staff were all friendly, helpful and accommodating. One thing we have missed to check is the pool. 


Location-wise, this hotel is pretty much at central, a 5 minute-walk to the night markets, which we have checked out first as soon as we checked in.
We went a little crazy shopping for souvenirs here. We just thought we won't have enough time to buy stuffs because we had only til mid day the next day to explore the temples. There are a lot of souvenir stuffs you can buy here. One of the things I liked are the paintings.                

Just before sunrise at Angkor Wat

We started our day really early to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. I have read a lot of stories from other travellers that one of the best time to see Angkor Wat is during the sunrise and I am really glad that we did. The sunrise was about 7 AM although we arrived there like 6:30 AM and the sky had like a picture-perfect-rose-pink-light of dawn. It was magnificent.

From our hotel, it was about a 30 minute-tuktuk ride. I did see some travellers who rode a bicycle on their way, which I think was a fabulous idea. (Why didn't we think of that?!). 

Please be cautious to your attire. As this is a sacred temple, they are very meticulous when it comes to dress code. Shorts, mini skirts, sleeveless tops, tank tops are not allowed. There are people who did sell some pants on the outside for those who have not been warned or were not aware of this policy. I have read that they were really strict in the dress code but I thought I could just bring a shawl to cover (same like in Bali). But hey, I was just reminded that this is still a different country and the rules are not the same. Good thing our tuktuk driver warned us about it so we didn't have much trouble getting in. I was wearing a tank top for this and just decided to bring a cardigan. It was not to disrespect the temple and the people of Cambodia but it was just so hot!       
1 Day Entrance Fee is at *USD 20.00 . You've got your photo taken too.
The facade of the temple (and some parts of it on the inside) is being renovated, so most of my shots of it has a metal roof on the front. As we arrived, I was not surprised to see a lot of people who were already there waiting not only for the sunrise, but also for the beautiful water lilies to open by the pond.

I was just amazed by the structure of this temple. You can actually feel how old it is and yet it is still standing proud and have definitely stood the test of time. And if you actually look closely at its walls, you'll be amazed how intricate the designs are and to think they have all carved these in stones hundreds of years ago. It was just unbelievable how much detail and thought was put onto its design.

What I noticed while roaming around the temple was that almost everyone had an accompanying tour guide with them. They were all wearing a uniform, which makes me think that they really did study the history of Angkor Wat and the other temples. I'm just amazed that some of them are speaking other languages like Japanese, to guide Japanese tourists.

We did have a guide for this trip but only to show us where to go next. It's a shame actually because we didn't get much information about the temple. Good thing, I had my Lonely Planet Guide book to Angkor Wat. I assure you it's very informative.
It was also an advantage that we got there early as the temple wasn't too packed yet. We were one of the first batches to climb up to its upper level. This opens at *8 AM.
The stones they are seating at are actually ruins from the temple.
At the top level of the temple, the structure is somehow similar over all, unless you take a closer look at the design of the walls. Even the ceilings were intricately designed. 
From afar, they all look the same. But a closer look to it and you can find some minute differences.

  The view from the top was absolutely breathtaking.

With the young locals all dressed up.

I'd have to say Bayon Temple was my favourite among all the other temples. I was just stunned by how they were all carved beautifully and so identical. It is believed that these 216 faces was King Jayavarman VII's , one of the rulers of the Khmer Empire.

In each angle you try to look at them, they all look the same and it's impossible to tell the minute differences they have.

 This is just a part of what little remains of the Terrace of the Elephants which served mostly as King Jayavarman VII's viewing stage for public ceremonies, etc. I think most of the stones here are starting to fade off and get out of shape. But it still looks beautiful.

This has been more popular because of the Hollywood film Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie. I have never seen the film so it was hard to determine where Lara Croft have been to. I think it is a "must-see" temple in Cambodia and I was right. This must be the most crowded temple we've been to. It was quite difficult to roam around to appreciate its design, the temple was crowded with tourists and there's not much room to walk through.

What fascinated me the most about this temple are the very old trees with their massive roots still strongly rooted and crawling on the rooftops and stones. It's such a beautiful art piece to look upon.

This must be where the Tomb Raider scene was.
Too bad we didn't have much time to explore more of Siem Reap. We had to travel back to Phnom Penh to catch our flight to Singapore. But I am still glad we were able to see most of its beautiful temples and of course, Angkor Wat.

We had to travel by bus again back to Phnom Penh and spend one night there. The bus that we took back was a different one and we should have just stayed with Mekong Express. The timing for Mekong Express didn't match our schedule so our tuktuk driver suggested to try another bus operator. If ever you'll travel by bus, just choose Mekong Express.

Arriving at 12 midnight, we stayed at G Eleven Hotel. I like its location because its central, close to eating places and The Palace. They also served very good breakfast. We would have loved to got up early and explore more but we were just so tired from the bus ride. However, one of my friends decided to explore it for one hour before we head to the airport so I am sharing some of her photos of The Palace, The King's home. It reminded me so much of Bangkok's The Grand Palace.

Please excuse my ignorance with the names of their foods (I have to do better on my next travel). So I'm captioning the food with their taste and main ingredients. Overall their cuisine has a strong Thai taste and influence. They also had some dishes similar of what we have back home. Being one of the top rice producers in Asia, most of the restaurants we have eaten at served unlimited rice!
Sweet Pork Belly and egg similar to Filipino's Tocino
Fish and Mixed Vegetables
Beef with sweet soysauce similar to Filipino's bistek
Chicken Curry Rice
stir fry vegetable

There was no direct money exchange from Singapore Dollar (SGD) to Cambodian Riel so we had to change to US Dollar first. Although most of them or almost all of them are accepting US Dollar so bringing USD should be fine.

For this trip, I spent *SGD 423 (USD 330++) including airplane tickets, hotel accommodation for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, transportation, food and some souvenir shopping. It was still expensive for two days thinking we had the airfare on promotion. 
(*) All prices and figures were from July 2013 and may have changed.

Cambodians are so warm and always have a smile on their faces. Their simplicity and humbleness are surely what foreigners like me would come back for. 

I've always had this thinking that I wouldn't visit a place twice (or maybe will but after a long period of time). But I would love to explore more of Cambodia and trying to see it for 2 days was just not enough, let alone tiring. So it is definitely an exception and on my list of places to visit again.