We woke up the following day around 5:00 AM and went straight to the bus terminal where the bus that would take us to Phnom Penh was located. The bus company of our choice was Mekong Express. The fare from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh costed PHP 787.50. The fair includes snacks, bottled water, and wet wipes. The bus also had an onboard toilet which was very convenient.
TIP: Make sure your passports are ready. You will be asked to complete immigration formalities upon exiting Vietnam and entering Cambodia. Most bus companies assist with the immigration formalities and a representative will assist you through immigration.
We arrived in Phnom Penh after 6 hours of travel. Our van driver/tour guide Hat was waiting for us at the bus station. His van was big enough to accommodate all 11 of us including our big backpacks. He also had an ice cooler inside the van with several bottled water ready for those who are thirsty. I really appreciate the free ice cold bottled water. Thanks Hat!
Our only stop in Phnom Penh was Prison 21 a.k.a. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Prison 21 was originally a school but was converted to one of the many prisons and interrogation centres in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge after the Cambodian Civil War. Many prisoners were tortured here as the current regime that time feared that a revolution might arise hence they imprisoned and tortured any “potential” rebel. Most of the prisoners were killed after the interrogation. I got to say that Prison 21 was a very disturbing place however it is highly recommended that you avail the audio tour. Entrance fee is $5 and an additional $3 if you want to do the audio tour. Many people who visit Cambodia don’t fully grasp how horrific the country’s recent history is until they get here. And, unless you visit Phnom Penh and head to Prison 21, you might just think that Cambodia is just another developing nation.
We headed to Siem Reap after finishing our Prison 21 tour. The travel time from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap was about 6 hours. This was the chance for us to get to know Hat. Quite a nice fellow he was, his English was very good too so we were able to converse easily. He told us about Cambodian culture and history which was very fascinating. Along the way to Siem Reap I noticed there were loads of roadside parties. Hat explained that the parties were wedding receptions. People were wearing very colourful garments. There was even a stage and performers/dancers. I thought it was quite funny as it looked like a 90’s variety show.
We arrived in Siem Reap at around 12 midnight. We were all quite hungry by then so we asked Hat if he can find us a cheap place to eat. Hat is from Siem Reap hence he knows where he can buy the cheapest food. He stopped at a roadside just before entering Siem Reap town proper. Food carts that serve local Cambodian cuisine dotted the sidewalk. We ordered chicken/beef fried rice, Cambodian noodle soup, and some fresh fruit shake. The price of the meal was $1.50 which was expensive compared to the “carinderia” food in the Philippines. With our bellies full, we headed to our hostel, Angkor Sangrith, which costs USD 12 a night per room. The room can accommodate 4 people however, it was Hat who arranged that rate for us. Normally only 2-3 people are allowed to stay in one room but since Hat knew the owner, we were allowed to maximize the rooms that were allocated to us. Instead of renting 4 rooms, we were able to get by with just 3 rooms instead.
We woke up early the following day to start our Siem Reap tour. The first stop was Preah Prom Rath Pagoda. A Buddhist temple was located inside and there were many colorful statues and towers as well. Buddhist monks were also present hence make sure that you do not cause loud noises when on the temple grounds.
Next, we headed to the Killing Fields where prisoners from the many prisons and interrogation centres in Cambodia were killed and placed in mass graves. To save ammunition, the soldiers killed the prisoners using pick axes, sharpened bamboo sticks, farm tools, and even poison. They even killed the children of the prisoners and then were thrown into the pits alongside their parents. The rationale for this was the regime didn’t want the children to grow up and avenge their parents. We were told that even up to this day, farmers are still discovering bones and skulls when they till the ground.
There was also a Buddhist temple beside the monument built for the prisoners. Inside the temple was a large Buddha. The inside walls and ceiling of the temple depict the story of Buddha and the history of Buddhism.
Buddhism is the major religion in Cambodia hence the many Buddhist temples and perhaps one of the most beautiful is the Angkor Wat. We headed to the Angkor Wat ticket office and bought ourselves a day pass to the many beautiful temples in Siem Riep. The ticket costed USD 37 which is a pretty penny but I must say that it is very much worth it especially if you catch the sunrise/sunset in Angkor Wat. Below are pictures of both.
TIP: Siem Riep is a big city and has a lot of temples which is part of the Angkor Wat tour. If you are planning to stay in Siem Riep for a few days, it’s best if you buy a three-day pass (USD 62) or a seven-day pass (USD 72).
I was overwhelmed by how beautiful the temples were. It’s really hard to imagine how it was made with just basic tools. The detail of each structure and the carvings on the walls are out of this world. Angkor Wat and the other temples in Siem Riep is something that you should visit at least ones in your life. After touring the place and taking loads of pictures, we still had enough time left to check out the souvenir shops nearby while waiting for the sunset. We were surprised that many of the sellers knew how to speak Filipino and even used the words “Pak! Ganern” and “Petmalu” hahaha! They also accepted Peso which was great since we’re running out of Cambodian currency.
There are other great temples in Siem Riep aside from Angkor Wat such as Angkor Thom, Bayon Temple, Baphoun Temple, Phimeanakas, and Tomb Raider which where parts of the Tomb Raider movie were shot (well duh!). All of the temples mentioned above are part of the Angkor Wat tour.
We were all tired after exploring the great temples of Siem Riep and we were more than excited to just get to our accommodation for the night and get some rest. This time we stayed at Siem Reap Chilled Backpacker. The hostel offered easy access to the Angkor Night Market and Pub Street where we ate dinner and sampled Cambodian street food and by that, I mean spiders, snakes, insects etc. Each variety cost USD 1 a pop. If you’re not the adventurous type, you can just take pictures and make people believe you ate some. Taking pictures will still cost you USD 0.50 though. To get to the night market/pub street, you can ride a tuk-tuk (not sure how much it costs) or rent a bike (USD 2). Be careful though as traffic can be quite crazy in evening especially on the roads headed to the night market.
We headed back to the hostel around 8PM and spent the rest of the night swimming in the pool (yes, Siem Reap Chilled Backpacker has a pool) and drinking beer from the in-house restobar.
Note: We slept in bunk beds in a dorm type room with other backpackers. If you want more privacy, you may rent a private room which is a bit more expensive.
We got up at 4:00AM the next day and soon after, we headed to the Poipet Border. Travel time is around 3 hours. This was the gateway to Thailand. BY 7AM were already sorting out the immigration formalities. Jon was first in line exiting Cambodia. To his surprise, the immigration officer asked for THB 100 which was odd because if I’m not mistaken, if you are a citizen of one of the ASEAN countries, you don’t have to pay for immigration fees when entering/leaving other ASEAN countries. What’s sketchy about it was there weren’t any clear signs that you have to pay an ”exit fee”. Good thing Jon knew that he shouldn’t pay anything so he retaliated and told the immigration officer that he is from the Philippines which is an ASEAN country and that what they are doing was extortion. Jon’s voice was quite loud as well. Loud enough that people behind him would know what was happening. The immigration officer returned Jon’s passport no questions asked after the confrontation. Other members of the team weren’t asked to pay the “exit fee” by the immigration officers after what happened.
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