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After the depressing story from my last travel post, I’ve decided to lighten things up by telling you about our trip to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (or “Snookieville” as the cool kids like to call it).
Before we went to Siem Reap, I knew very little about it, other than my friend urging me to go, saying that Ankor Wat is “the temple to top all temples” and “I will throttle you if you don’t go!”
So of course, out of sheer curiosity and self-preservation, we went. And let me tell you, if I thought Thailand and Vietnam had good value, Cambodia ended up beating the crap out of both of them!
Because it was in Cambodia that we discovered 50 cent beers and free SIM cards!
After we got the SIM cards from a “Smart” booth at the airport, we simply loaded them with just $5 USD and that’s all the data we ended up using the whole month (around 5GB)!
Rogers and Bell can SUCK it! This is why whenever I go back to Canada to visit I can’t believe how much Canadians pay for data compared to the rest of the world. How can those greedy bastards possibly look people in the eye and charge them $60-$100/month when so-called 3rd world countries have reliable fast data for only $5?!
And not only that, I had faster and more reliable data in Cambodia than I did in the ‘burbs in Toronto? What gives?
As it turns out, the cheap data was just the beginning. After landing in the airport, we were whisked off to a beautiful, air-conditioned hotel with pool for only $19.40 CAD/room/night (breakfast included!!!).
The location of the hotel was also great and within walking distance to great restaurants, a laundromat ($2 USD per load!), and lots of street food.
I kind of felt like we went back in time about 30 years when I saw these prices in USD:
After stuffing ourselves, taking a refreshing dip in the pool, we headed out to visit the temples—the piece de resistance of Siem Reap.
Here’s where things get a bit more expensive (but again, only relative to the hotel and food prices). You can pay $40 USD/person for a 3 days pass to the temples or $20 for a 1-day pass. We ended up buying the 1-day pass, and as it turns out, that was more than enough to see the all the main temples.
Before going there, most people (including ourselves) mistakenly thought there is only one massive temple and it’s called “Angkor Wat”. In reality, Ankor Wat is just ONE of the temples. There are over 1000 temples spanning an area of over 400 square kms. Since walking around was out of the question, we thought about renting bikes, but with the humidity and sun beating down at you at all times, I realized it wasn’t the best idea.
So we hired a driver to drive us around in his tuk-tuk. Which ended up costing only $15 USD (for up to 4 people) for the whole day! Make sure you tip generously, as these drivers end up waiting for you all over the place as you traipse around each temple (if you want the name of a trustworthy driver, just e-mail me for his contact info).
As much as I love historical architecture, I have to admit I got a little “templed-out” after visiting our 10th temple. So Instead of boring you, I’ll just highlight the most memorable ones:
Bayon (the temple of the “faces”)
Of all the temples, I was most excited about this one because of its many faces. But as it turns out, other people felt the same way as me and it ended up being one of the most crowded. If you are lucky enough to catch a break and get a picture without the hordes of tourists, it’s actually pretty cool.
Ta Prohm (aka “the Tomb Raider” temple)
This temple was made famous by the film “Tomb Raider” because of all the trees that grew into the building over time. The last picture was taken at the exact tree Laura Croft was standing at during her scene in the temple.
Terrace of the Elephants
This was one of my favourite structure simply because of the elephants. Because elephants are the BEST animals.
My favourite of all the temples. The best part is when you’re walking down the massive, long, pathway towards the temple. You can picture how the king must felt from the majesty of this grand entrance as he made his way home. “BOW before me, minions! BASK in my glory! BASK I SAY!”
Sadly, being the stupid tourist that I was, I thought bringing a shawl to cover up my hedonistic shoulders was good enough. Nope, in order to climb to the top of the tower inside Angkor Wat, you have to be wearing an actual shirt. Shawls don’t count.
I thought this was a bit bizarre, considering how NOT prude the rest of the temple was:
Oh well. At least Wanderer got to go. Here’s what he saw from the top:
Despite Siem Reap being fairly touristy, I really enjoyed our time there. Not only was every person so nice it makes you want to cry, Siem Reap is literally one of, if not THE least expensive place we’ve visited in the entire world. “you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here. You get WAY more than you pay for!
Something to watch out for: unlike in North America and Europe, when you use the ATM, you card stays in the machine and only comes out a minute or two after you’re done with your transaction. So it’s very easy to completely forget to take your card. And this is exactly what happened to me.
After a lot of calling around, trying to find English-speaking branch managers, we finally got our card back 4 days later. Luckily we had enough cash and backup credit cards that it wasn’t a problem, but we still had to take some time everyday to call around. This is where the “so kind they make you cry” hospitality of the Khmers comes in. The hotel staff went out of their way to help me.
After Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, we headed for Sihanoukville, the sleepy beach town where time slows down to a crawl, just like the drunk expats, who feed daily on 50 cent beers and $2 meals.
One of them, Jorg, a German man in his 60s introduced us to our favourite hangout. A 5-star hotel right by the beach, rooms cost up to $200/night, but all you need to do is buy a drink and they’ll let you use their lounge chairs and fancy-ass pool for free. And because they also had daily 6-7 PM happy hour, we were able to get 2 for 1 beers for $1.35 USD every day. It was magical.
Jorg, also introduced us to a bunch of his friends. A Canadian expat from Edmonton, a Scot and a Brit (with questionable views on how “great” Colonialism is—SHOCKING, I know!).
The Canadian expat, Dave, used to live in Edmonton, Alberta. After he got injured while working on the oil rigs, his company kept pressuring him to go back to work to save money on his disability leave. Problem was, he was having chronic pain, which wasn’t going away anytime soon. He waited until he was just old enough to collect a small pension, and then moved to Cambodia. Now, he’s much happier, his stress levels have gone down and he’s able to live large on a tiny salary that would be considered below poverty back in Canada.
Jerry, the Brit, backpacked from England to Australia back in his twenties, and never looked back. He managed to find a job driving a boat, taking tourists around the Great Barrier Reef. Even though his salary wasn’t the greatest, because he lived on a boat, he was able to save 75% of his salary, travel the world and live an awesome life. My favourite quote from him was “I wanted to make sure no one else was having more fun than me!”
I couldn’t believe that we had somehow found a whole community of misfits, just like us in Cambodia! And when I asked Jerry whether he would consider going back, he pointed to this sign:
“Would you go back to ridiculous prices and bad weather after seeing all this?”
Enough said. And with that segue, here’s how much we spent in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville:
|Category||Cost in CAD/couple||Notes|
|Accommodations:||$19/night||Hands down, the best value out of all the places we travelled to. Hotel staff are also the kindest people we've ever encountered. Thanks for helping me get my credit card back guys!|
|Food:||$23/day||$19 for eating out, $4 for groceries (mostly booze). My favourite was the 50 cent fruit shakes and the $2 curry shrimp served in a coconut.|
|Transportation:||$9/day||This includes the $48 CAD per person flight to Cambodia from Vietnam. Other than that, we only spent $20 (including tip) for the tuk tuk driver to take us around the temples.|
|Entertainment:||$11/day||The only cost for entertain was the $20 USD/person/day pass to get inside the temples.|
|Total:||$62 CAD/couple/day ($48 USD/couple/day).|
$62 CAD a day. If we lived there the whole year, we’d only spend $22,630! And since our yield is north of 3%, our time in Cambodia actually MADE us money. How awesome is that?