I'm visiting Cambodia for the first time in November on both business and pleasure. I'll be there for about a month. I have meetings in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap but my schedule is fairly open and flexible. I'm flying from LA to Phnom Penh. A few questions:
What's the best mode of transport to get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh in November?
Any hotel / guest house recommendations in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap? Doesn't have to be too extravagant just clean and wifi/Internet is a must. A pool would be nice too. I like being within walking distance to the action (city life, markets, etc.....)
Other then PP & SR where should I be sure to visit? I love temples, nature, mountains, and a little beach life.
Are there any festivals or events that shouldn't be missed during November?
I've been in Cambodia for the past 5 weeks and am leaving tomorrow, and i must say you should be super excited about your visit! It's a beautiful country if you can look past the trash and pollution. My family travelled from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap and then back to Phnom Penh, there are many different places that have buses that will take you back and forth for under 20$, depending on where you buy your bus tickets you can barter the price to even cheaper. When you stay in Phnom Penh i suggest staying near Mekong River, there's a long street along the river with lots of side roads, restaurants, bars, nightlife activities, night markets and all of the tourists go there. My family has a house right next to the airport so we were a little far from there so i didnt get to go quite as often but i really wish i had stayed there. There's so many hotels everywhere if your not happy with a price, barter with them, if they dont budge, then just walk 2 steps down to the next place until your satisfied. Same with shopping, anytime you want to buy anything, always. always. barter. They will always go down, and if they "dont" pretend to walk away, they will call after you.
For beach life, check out Kapong Som/Sihanoukville, its about 5 hours from Phnom Penh or from Siem Reap. The nightlife there is really fun, and theres nice beaches all around, check out Otres Beach, you can get a hotel right across the street from the beach for 15$ a night.
My family also visited Vietnam which isnt too far at all, we took a tour that included everything, such as food, hotel accommodations, transportation, etc for about 300, and the hotels and restaurants were actually really really nice, and the activities were actually pretty fun. My family usually hates tours but this one was actually exciting, they take you on a lot of different excursions to mountains/waterfalls that you probably cant find on your own. Or you can take a bus/boat and visit the surrounding countries, Thailand/Vietnam/Laos, might as well since they're so close!
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If you are looking to minimize travel time and cost isn't much of an issue, I would say by flight as it only takes 45 mins from Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH) to Siem Reap International Airport (REP) and costs around £60 ($100). Otherwise you can get a bus for around $15-20 which will take roughly 6-7 hours - always add an hour or two to what they tell you! The Cambodian buses are very dated and we never boarded one which actually had a toilet as advertised! The roads are also quite rough!
In SR we stayed in Garden Village Guesthouse which was cheap and had a lovely atmosphere :)
The must see place in SR is of course Angkor Wat. Your guesthouse will be able to arrange a tuk tuk to take you there but once inside I would recommend hiring a bike and exploring the temples without a tuk tuk guide :)
In PP be sure to visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields - the site of the Cambodian Massacre. An upsetting, yet thought provoking day that will fill you with both disgust in the human race, but also faith and joy in the power of the human spirit to overcome such tragedies.
Its such a shame that you will not be venturing to south Cambodia - the islands there are the most beautiful I've seen. Koh Rong especially.
Enjoy your trip!
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I love Siem Reap! You chose a great time to visit as it won't be too hot or rainy in November.
In terms of accommodation I used to really like the Hotel De La Paix (which had a lovely secluded pool and was located smack in the middle of town). The property was sold a few years back and it's now a Hyatt which I haven't yet tried. Location and facilities-wise it would be hard t beat (I haven't found a boutique to match it yet).
When it comes to the temples, my favourite is by far Beng Melea. A bit further from the city than others but still very accessible and pretty derelict in that 'jungle ruin' sense. I also plan on visiting Koh Ker next, this is a huge complex but has known little restoration (it is quite far from the city). If you are into hiking, Phnom Kulen is a recommended site but you need a guide as the area isn't de-mined yet. To travel to and from most temples you can either arrange for a guide from the Angkor Archaelogical Park or, if you are not keen on commentary, then a taxi or tuktuk will be convenient and cheap.
If this is your first time to Cambodia and you want to visit Angkor Wat I would recommend an early pre-sunrise start. But instead of fighting for a spot at the main West entrance, walk to your right, past the first library buildings to stand in front of the southern lotus flower lake (bains sacre). You will probably be the only person there and, while you won't get the straight facing view of the monument, the angled view is just as stunning and much more peaceful. If you want to explore the monument in peace and quiet, continue hugging the building to approach through the East portal. That means that while everyone is exploring the West facade, you will have most of the building to yourself. The main entrance will be a mad frenzy of touring groups and backpackers, and you will be in a quiet inspiring retreat!
There are loads of stunning places to eat in Siem Reap but I particularly like the Sugar Palm because it is quite secluded from the busy centre (yet you can still walk there). One last mention goes to Bodia Spa, a Cambodian business with really great therapists and very professional service -- while cheap by international standards it charges a bit more than local competitors, but then one pays for the quality, hygiene and privacy.
Have a fantastic trip!
-- if you want more info, here is a link to my blog post on the Angkor Park. It has been tried and tested a few times since my first visit ;) http://www.aforkinlondon.com/post/63107127484/siemreap
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Quick suggestion not included here. Ankor Wat has different passes. A 1 day, 3 day, and 7 day pass.
You have to use it consecutively, but you can actually ask upon purchase if you can have it on separate days. Many people don't know you can do this.
There are also three nice areas that are not too touristy but are worth going to with one day. (I feel 3 days inside Ankor Wat is too much). I mentioned it in my post below.
Visiting hours is from 5:30AM to 5:30PM
I also included a contact number for a tuktuk. He was very nice.
Make sure to go to the Koulen II Restaurant for Apsara Buffet. Its cheaper to book using a travel agency within the area than directly at the Restaurant. Rates also vary depending on the agency but the service is the same. Tell them to get you a table near the stage since there is an Apsara dance performance.