toa BLOG


FAQ (and not so FAQ)


Most recent update: May 17, 2010

1.) Do I need a guide to see Angkor?
2.) Can't my driver be my guide?
3.) How many days do I need to see Angkor?
4.) What's the best time to start a visit to Angkor?
5.) How do I avoid the crowds?
6.) Okay, but isn't there a circuit all the tour groups take that I could avoid?
7.) What's the best time of year to visit Angkor?

8.) What's the worst time of year to visit Angkor?
9.) I'm pressed for time, can I see Angkor as a day trip from Bangkok?
10.) How much does Angkor cost?
11.) Angkor sounds expensive, can I sneak in?
12.) Where do I buy a ticket?
13.) When is the park open?
14.) What's this free sunset I hear about?
15.) Who owns the Angkor temples?
16.) Who takes care of the Angkor temples?
17.) Who gets the money?
18.) Okay, I don't have to use a guide, but what about getting around the temples, how do I do that?
19.) Why does the tuk-tuk arranged by the guesthouse/hotel cost more than some guy off the street?
20.) What's up with all these kids trying to sell me junk?
21.) Are there any toilets out at the temples?
22.) What else is there to do around Siem Reap?
23.) Is Phnom Penh worth visiting?
24.) I heard Boeung Kak Lake is a cool place to hang out, true?
25.) How about the beaches, any good ones?
26.) After Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville, what else is there to see?
27.) What do you recommend not seeing?
28.) What about the guidebooks? What are the good ones?
29.) What scams should I worry about?

Q: Do I need a guide to see Angkor?

A: There is no requirement that says you have to use a guide to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park. It's entirely a personal decision. Some people find carrying a guide book with them to be sufficient, others prefer having someone escort them through the temples explaining things as they go along. One option to consider is hiring a guide for one day only and spending your other days on your own.

For most languages, guides cost between $20 and $30 a day and are available speaking a number of foreign languages including English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Thai, and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese, but don't count on Ta Chiew or Hokkien...), though some of these languages carry a premium on price. It's also becoming increasingly more common that guides will charge an additional $5 if you want them to accompany you to sunrise.

Best way to obtain a guide is through your hotel or guesthouse. However, the demand for guides, particularly during high season, can exceed the supply and it may be difficult to get a tour guide at the last minute. This is especially true for languages other than English. It is not at all uncommon that during high season a hotel or guesthouse with as many as thirty or forty guides on file will still be unable to find an available one. Your last resort is to try a tour company or travel agency but expect to pay a premium.

Reasons to get a tour guide: A good guide can not only provide more background information than a guidebook (and who wants to spend their time at the temples with their nose in a book?), but can fill in the gaps with a bit of color and insight into many aspects of Cambodian culture, society, and even politics - though this last topic is often best avoided as there are a lot of questions concering the accuracy of the information given, i.e. who owns Angkor Wat, etc., and as with anyone anywhere on the planet, where politics are concerned, personal opinion often trumps facts.

Reasons not to get a tour guide: Once you start getting into the minor temples the background information can become very redundant. Some guides feel the need to talk constantly preventing the opportunity to slow things down and simply absorb the environment.

However, in defense of guides, or at least the *good* ones; the good ones are well aware of the difficulties that develop over a two-or-day three period in respect to redundancy and overload of information and are quite capable of keeping their presentations fresh and interesting and also allowing you some quiet times. The bad ones... well, hope for that quiet time we suppose.

Q: Can't my driver be my guide?

A: Guides and drivers are separate people. By local regulation drivers cannot guide and guides cannot drive. Drivers (car or tuk-tuk), no matter how knowledgeable on the temples or proficient in English, cannot walk around the temples explaining things but must wait in the parking areas outside each one. Only licensed tour guides may accompany you inside each temple.

Q: How many days do I need to see Angkor?

A: This is another question with no one right answer. The default answer is three days though we've met people that found three hours to be too much and others that found three weeks still not enough. For many the first day's response is "Wow, these temples are AMAZING!!". The second day is "This is really interesting." And the third day deteriorates to, "Oh, another organized collection of stones." Now that the ticket policy requiring consecutive day usage of multi-day passes has been scrapped it is easier to spread your Angkor visits out more, thus hopefully delaying the onset of temple fatigue.

Q: What's the best time to start a visit to Angkor?

A: When you finish breakfast. You're on holiday, not at the office.

The only exception would be if you want to see the sunrise or you're looking for the best early morning light for photographic purposes. And in both cases the answer should be obvious.

Q: How do I avoid the crowds?

A: Don't come. You can't avoid the crowds. This is Angkor Wat. At 5:00 pm it's elbow to elbow, but there's a reason for it. The setting sun puts a golden glow on Angkor Wat that can't be missed. Yes, you can visit Angkor at 12:00 noon and have the place a bit to yourself, but to what end? A noon sun beating down on your head and the temple in a washed out gray? You traveled half way around the world to see Angkor Wat so see it at its best.

That said, there are of course times where certain temples will be more crowded than others. Generally speaking 9 to 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. to sunset bring out the worst crowds everywhere.

Q: Okay, but isn't there a circuit all the tour groups take that I could avoid?

A: Yes, so you take the circuit all the people trying to avoid the tour groups take. It's one or the other. Mob or anti-mob.

Q: What's the best time of year to visit Angkor?

A: The end of the rainy season, notably September and October. Everything is green and lush, the skies are clear, the crowds aren't as bad, and the rains, contrary to popular mis-opinion, rarely create much of any barrier to getting to and around the temples. Just bring an umbrella for those brief but at times heavy showers.

Q: What's the worst time of year to visit Angkor?

A: For weather, it has to be April which can be unbearably hot (38C, 100F) and dry. The air is dusty and hazy, a lousy time for photography. For crowds that would be December and January, though these months do offer the coolest weather. Christmas/New Year week as well as Chinese New Year can be especially very very crowded times. Khmer New Year (April 14-16) brings half of Cambodia to the temples, but foreign tourists are few and far between. Khmer New Year is a very interesting cultural experience but given that the Angkor park is turned into one big party, it's not the best time for exploring temples.

Q: I'm pressed for time, can I see Angkor as a day trip from Bangkok?

A: Yes, you can, but it's complicated. Bangkok Airways will not sell a same-day return ticket from Bangkok to Siem Reap, so you have to play a bit of a game with them. If you purchase a round-trip ticket, either set the return as open or book it for any day, say a week later. Then when you're ready to leave, turn up at the airport and tell them you have an emergency and must fly back to Bangkok. You also can purchase a one-way ticket to Siem Reap and then when you get to Siem Reap purchase another one-way ticket back to Bangkok. Contrary to what Bangkok Airways might tell you THERE IS NO IMMIGRATION LAW that says visitors must spend one night in Cambodia. The land crossings are full of visa runners from Thailand whose stay in Cambodia can be counted in minutes.

If you want to try your luck, the day will cost you almost $400, but you should be able to do it. You'll want the first flight from Bangkok in the morning (around 7:30 or so - schedules change so check with Bangkok Airways for the latest); the last flight leaves around 7:30 p.m. (again check with the airline for the latest). When you arrive in Siem Reap, any airport taxi driver will be happy to be your transportation around the temples for the day (that's what they're there for!), so you needn't worry about wasting time looking for a car and driver. If you go straight to the temples from the airport, rush your visit a bit, and eat your lunch out at the temples as well (there are plenty of restaurants out there, or you could even bring a lunch from Thailand), you should be able to see Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm, and maybe one other temple.

While I wouldn't recommend doing Angkor as a day-trip, I realize some people have legitimate reasons for doing so, and one day is better than nothing. It may be a rushed and exhausting day, but yes, you can do Angkor as a day trip from Bangkok and people have done it.

Q: How much does Angkor cost?

A: A one-day ticket is $20, a three-day ticket is $40, a seven-day ticket is $60. After nearly a decade of complaints from tourists, tour operators, hotels, and anyone with the slightest interest in improving tourism in Cambodia, the Apsara Authority finally scrapped the regulation that multi-day passes have to be used on consecutive days. A three-day pass is now valid for any three days in a seven-day period and a seven-day pass is now valid for any seven days in a four-week period.

However, when you purchase your tickets you must specifically state that you want the non-consecutive day tickets or you otherwise will be given the old style consecutive day tickets which they continue to unload on unsuspecting tourists until they get rid of them all. Yes, simply throwing them away in light of the new policy would have made more sense, but this isn't about making sense. It's about not throwing away old tickets.

The Apsara Authority - the government agency in charge of taking care of the temples - have tried unsuccessfully to implement some fee increases under various guises.

The first failure was to raise the fees by $3 and offer tourists a "free" guidebook for their troubles. Intense opposition to the price increase forced the Apsara Authority to back-off this silly plan citing "technical difficulties". The guidebooks, which weighed a ton, were pretty useless unless you're looking for some information on investing half a million dollars into a hotel operation, further to that, a majority of visitors to Angkor are not English-speakers - 65% are Asian tour groups - and probably found these book as useful as we would if it were printed in Korean.

The second failure was to require all foreign visitors to buy disposal slippers, $3 again, for visiting the temples. Cambodians would be exempt. It seemed like the idea might fly until either it was suggested that Cambodian feet can cause as much damage to the temples as foreign feet and/or what happens the first time a slipper-wearing tourist slips down the stairs at the top of Angkor Wat?

The Apsara Authority will no doubt have another silly $3 fundraising venture ready for us soon.

Q: Angkor sounds expensive, can I sneak in?

A: Umm, no. Getting past the main gate is easy enough and contrary to what you may have heard, you shouldn't have to stop at the main gate if you have a ticket already. However, if you don't stop and they don't know you, they'll probably chase after you anyway. This is all stupid, because anybody can legally enter the Angkor Archaeological Park without a ticket as the roads are public and if you were going anywhere north of the park for any reason, you'd have to pass through. Getting hassled by the ticket booth people is in fact an ongoing sore point with western residents of Siem Reap and we optimistically hope that we might see some changes in this policy one day, but that's our concern. Anyway, what you can't do without a ticket is enter the temples themselves. Most of the temples have ticket checkers at the front and they do their jobs rather efficiently. If you are caught trying to sneak into one of the temples without a ticket you'll face a hefty fine. Don't be a blubbering idiot. If you've come to see the temples - buy a ticket.

Q: When is the park open?

A: Roughly from about thirty minutes before sunrise until thirty minutes after sunset, though you won't be allowed into a temple once the sun gets close to setting.

Q: What's this free sunset I hear about?

A: If you enter the park at 5 pm you can purchase a ticket that takes effect the following day and they will then allow you to spend the remainder of the afternoon (about an hour), inside the park. Most people use this either to go to Angkor Wat or up Phnom Bakheng for the sunset.

Q: Where do I buy a ticket?

A: For three and seven-day tickets there is only one place to buy a ticket and that is at the main gate on the main road from Siem Reap to the Angkor Park. It's a big facility that looks like a large toll plaza. It's off to the right and your driver will know to take you there. It is no longer necessary to bring a photo as they take them there and print the photo out as part of your ticket. One day tickets can also be purchased at Banteay Srei and Rolous as these tickets don't require photographs.

You absolutely cannot transfer the ticket to another individual. If any guesthouse, taxi driver, moto driver, or anybody else for that matter offers you a ticket, says they've purchased one for you already, will take care of it for you, etc, stay clear of this individual. There's a 99.999999% chance that the ticket is bogus.

Q: Who owns the Angkor temples?

A: The temples are the legal property of all ethnic Khmers and Cambodian citizens.

Q: Who takes care of the Angkor temples?

A: Restoration, preservation, and maintenance of the temples and the Angkor Park grounds is the responsibility of a Cambodian government organization called the Apsara Authority. Almost all of the restoration work is undertaken with foreign assistance, financial and technical.

Q: Who gets the money?

A: The ticket concession is under contract to a private Cambodian corporation called Sokimex. Contrary to false information spread by members of the political opposition as well as impressionable and ill-informed moto and taxi drivers, Sokimex is a Cambodian corporation and they do not own so much as one single stone of Angkor. They collect the money and issue and inspect the tickets. That's it. That's all they do. They presently get to keep about 15% of the revenue with the aforementioned Apsara Authority sharing the remainder with the Finance Ministry. For more information about the division of funds and the contract that governs this arrangement, read a story we did in October 2000 about this very topic. If you'd like some more information about restoration projects and management of the park, you might like to read an interview we did with Ang Choulean, Department of Culture and Monuments of the Apsara Authority, also in October 2000. However, one caveat, since both the story and the interview the structure of division of funds has changed somewhat with Sokimex and Apsara getting less and the Finance Ministry getting more, much more.

It's been our experience that the arrangement for the Angkor/Sokimex ticket concession is one of the most misunderstood issues surrounding the temples and quite frankly, most Cambodians, and certainly many of the moto and taxi drivers, really have no idea what the truth is. Hence, a lot of tourists walk away from Siem Reap with incorrect information about this arrangement. The temples are most certainly not owned by the Vietnamese, nor by a Vietnamese company, nor by Hun Sen. The temples as stated above are the property of the Cambodian people, administered by the Cambodian government, with a private corporation selling and inspecting the tickets. It should be stated that the governance of the Angkor temples is very much a political football in Cambodia and the political opposition has done a marvelous job of perpetuating the false information that so many tourists pick up while they are here.

Q: Okay, I don't have to use a guide, but what about getting around the temples, how do I do that?

A: A number of ways. Most people either hire a taxi or use a remorque (tuk-tuk). Taxis cost about $25-$30 a day (you'll do well to find one for $20 these days), tuk-tuks cost from $12-15. If you go to Banteay Srei you'll pay around $20, onward to Kbal Spean it's about $25-30. There are also surcharges for other distant locations like Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea. Hardly anyone uses motos anymore as most of the drivers have all purchased remorques now.

One thing to be careful about, particularly with tuk-tuks, is to be sure up front what the price includes. It is not uncommon for a tuk-tuk to quote you a price as low as $8 to $10 for the day only to then ask for a surcharge (after the fact of course) for a second person ("Noooo, my friend, I meant $8 per person, so sorry you not understand me!!"), sunrise, the grand circuit, a trip back in to town at lunch, sunset,etc. Be sure to confirm all of these in advance. Usually the higher priced tuk-tuks ($15/day) will include all of this already and will not play the surcharge game with you.

Since April 2003 tourists (as a distinct entity from expats) have been prohibited from renting motorcycles in Siem Reap. Generally speaking this is only a problem around the temples. If you want to ride your own motorbike in Siem Reap, you'll either have to buy one or sort yourself out a trip into the countryside with an outfit like Hidden Cambodia Adventure Tours.

Most of the drivers are reliable, friendly, and speak passable, sometimes excellent English. They know their way around the temples and will happily wait for hours if you so desire to spend so much time in a single temple. As they are not guides they cannot accompany you into a temple but some can give you some information as you're riding between temples.

Siem Reap has a licensing system whereby all drivers, regardless of vehicle, taking tourists to the Angkor temples must be licensed and carry visible identification in the form of a photo ID tag and a vest that bears in prominent figures, their four-digit ID number. Any problems? File a report with the tourist police. And no, we don't believe it would be a waste of time and yes, we do believe they will take the reports seriously. Problems worth reporting would include obvious ones like assaults and robbery (an extreme rarity, anyhow), driving halfway to a destination, stopping and asking for more money, undue pressure to stay at a certain guesthouse or eat at a certain restaurant, and making outrageous lies to get you into a certain guesthouse, such as saying that Siem Reap is very dangerous at night (it's not), the Khmer Rouge still kidnap people (seeing as they ceased to exist in 1998 this is an impossibility), etc.

A bit safer and slower, some tourists are renting bicycles and touring the temples that way. Nothing wrong with that, just keep the weather in mind. In April temperatures can hit 40 degrees Celsius (104 for my fellow metrically-challenged Yanks) and you'll be riding twenty, thirty, even more kilometers in a day.

For awhile a few years back there were electric bicycles available for rent at the park entrance and around town. There were however some maintenance issues with them - it seems they broke down and no one could repair them - and subsequently there are hardly if any still available.

And no, you absolutely cannot walk between temples. The temples are very spread out, several kilometers from each other, and you'd have to walk six kilometers from Siem Reap just to get to the closest one, Angkor Wat. Don't be silly. You're not walking anywhere.

Q: Why does the tuk-tuk arranged by the guesthouse/hotel cost more than some guy off the street?

A: There are several scenarios in play, but before discussing them, consider that regardless of why you are paying more for the tuk-tuk, you are being given somebody known to the guesthouse or hotel that should (in theory) be charging consistent rates known to the establishment where you are staying. Additionally, by using someone known to the establishment, they should be able to intervene if there is a dispute over service/fees/driver doesn't show up, etc. There will be very little possibility of recourse if you take somebody off the street.

Now why do they cost more? In many cases the hotel or guesthouse is taking a kickback- usually $2 from a tuk-tuk, $5 from a car. If they are not taking a kickback there is usually some kind of other arrangement, i.e. - drivers provide free labor from time to time, run errands for the guesthouse, etc. But ultimately whatever arrangement exists it is between the driver and the business. All you need to know is that for a couple of extra bucks you should be getting somebody known to the business which can intervene in the case of any dispute.

Also keep in mind the comments made several items up the page in reference to drivers quoting low prices and then jacking them up later. This can be a real problem with drivers off the street but should never be a problem with a driver obtained through a hotel or guesthouse.

Q: What's up with all these kids trying to sell me junk?

A: Deal with it. Most of these folks live within the Angkor Archaeological Park and have a lot of restrictions placed upon them as to how they can farm, build their houses, keep their chickens, hang their laundry, and so forth. The villages within the park existed in some form during the time these temples were built and the kid trying to sell you a cold drink may be a direct descendent from someone who built Ta Prohm or served as a concubine to Jayavarman VII. If anyone has a right to exploit these temples for personal gain, it's these folks. Unfortunately, due to the fact that regulations significantly curtail what they can do in their villages and that life is inherently unfair, these folks have been screwed every which way and selling souvenirs and cold drinks is about all they can do. That said, go easy when it's time to buy a drink or a t-shirt. Save your hard bargains for somewhere else. There is absolutely no reason why you should try to knock 500 riels off the price of a bottle of water from some twelve-year-old kid who makes a profit of $1.50 a day. Even more so when you consider you'll probably drop $10 in a bar later that evening never considering to bargain the price with the British bartender serving you the drinks. If there was ever a place to pay up or shut up, it's here.

Q: Are there any toilets out at the temples?

A: Yes, quite a few. There are a number of relatively new rest facilities located along the roads around the temples, rather intelligently we would say, away from any one particular temple. Show your ticket and they are free to use. There are also still a few of the ancient (well not Angkorian, but at least a decade old) restrooms found at Preah Khan, the Bayon, Angkor Wat, and Banteay Srei.

Q: What else is there to do around Siem Reap?

A: Quite a bit, actually. Kbal Spean, which offers a walk in the jungle and many riverbed carvings, is a good place to start. The attraction is part of the Angkor Archaeological Park system (Apsara already controls it) meaning you'll have to have an Angkor ticket to gain entry. Phnom Kulen has jungle, a waterfall, some temples, and a dastardly $20 admission fee for foreigners. Personally, as an act of protest of this outrageous entry fee, I suggest not going there, but it's your decision, really. Though even at a quarter of the price I'd still question whether the place is really worth it regardless of who was getting the money or under what circumstances. There's also the Tonle Sap Lake. Most tourists spend an hour or two visiting the Vietnamese floating village of Chong Khneas. There are better places to go on the lake, but it becomes a matter of time and money, though any alternative to Chong Khneas would be money well spent. The two nearest villages are Kompong Phluk and Kompong Khleang. For more information on visiting these villages you can contact the Two Dragons Guesthouse and no, you do not need to be a guest there to take one of their boat trips. For more information about Siem Reap, the temples, and other attractions, see the Talesofasia Guide to Siem Reap and Angkor and also grab a copy of The Siem Reap Visitor's Guide when you arrive in Siem Reap. This is a free publication produced by Canby Publications and distributed everywhere.

In an effort to promote sustaibable tourism in Siem Reap, the IFC-MPDF publishes a very useful booklet detailing a number of activities and attractions that not only give you an alternative from seeing another temple, but also in one way or another support the community. Try to get your hands on one. They are distributed free at a number of hotels and guesthouses. Listed attractions are: Sala Bai Hotel and Restaurant School, Krousar Thmey, Angkor Hospital for Children, Cambodian Living Arts, Rehab Craft Cambodia, Osmose, Sangkheum Center for Children, Cambodian Landmine Museum, Paul Dubrule School of Hotel and Tourism, Handicap International - Belgium, and Artisans Angkor.

Q: Is Phnom Penh worth visiting?

A: Yes. While the tourist attractions can be seen in a day, two at the most, the city has a bit of character and it's worth spending an extra day or two just hanging out and absorbing the energy of the place, which being Cambodia, is a rather odd sort of energy. I will point out, though, that while they have cleaned the place up a bit and kicked out a lot of the homeless, there are still some harshly real visible signs of destitute poverty here. If you're one who prefers to deny the existence of such things, then you might give Phnom Penh a miss. Actually, if poverty really makes you uncomfortable, avoid Cambodia and stick to the west.

Upon arrival in Phnom Penh I suggest getting Canby Publications free guide book, The Phnom Penh Visitor's Guide or see their website (linked to above).

Q: I heard Boeung Kak Lake is a cool place to hang out, true?

A: I think the place is a shithole, to tell you the truth. This area is basically the Phnom Penh equivalent to Khao San Road, only worse. If there's one place in Cambodia we'd like the Thais to claim ownership to, it's Boeung Kak Lake, so long as they agree to take it back. What does it have? Lots of cheap guesthouses, cheap places to eat, internet shops, backpackers, etc.

Sounds cool, huh? Well, there are cheap places to eat and internet shops all over the city so you can strike those two out. As for accommodation, I can think of numerous family-run hotels scattered around the city that offer decent fan rooms for under $10 and are in much better locations.

Now, I should also point out that the lake stinks, is quite polluted and infested with mosquitoes and would probably kill you if you fell in, you're not near anything worth seeing, you can't walk anywhere, and it's not exactly the safest neighborhood in town.

If all you want to do is lie in a hammock all day and smoke spliffs with other budget tourists (yes, YOU are a tourist!!!) with their noses buried in their Lonely Planets, then the lake will do you fine, but then why are you here? Really, are you in Phnom Penh to see Phnom Penh or to lie in a hammock, smoke spliffs, and wonder where's that Off the Rails experience you read about? If you're here to see Phnom Penh, then I suggest you avoid the lake (and no, Narin's is hardly better), and if it's the latter, well, I can't do anything for you and at this point I don't care to, anyway.

But it's all a moot point now as the entire area is set to go under the wrecking ball any time now and they've already started filling it in.

Q: How about the beaches, any good ones?

A: Cambodia doesn't have a whole lot by way of beach resorts, but it has a few beaches. The closest thing to a resort is Sihanoukville, a.k.a. Kompong Som. It's still a very quiet place with little to do but lie on the beach and go swimming. Several dive operators have set up shop, as well. If diving isn't your thing you can also get a boat and go to some of the surrounding uninhabited islands.

Be careful choosing a dive operator. There is presently one very dodgy operation that is probably going to drown somebody soon. Fortunately, there is Scuba Nation, Cambodia's first PADI dive center and they are definitely not dodgy. For more information see their website: http://www.cambodiadivers.com.

Sihanoukville has four main beaches that are all pretty good. Overall, Sihanoukville is a quiet place, especially during the week, but yeah, head on down and check it out. But don't stay too long, this is a really slow place and foreigners who have come here to set up business or just hang around for awhile all too often lose the plot.

Be forewarned, there are some real scum among the Sihanoukville motodrivers and several tourists have been assaulted and scores more threatened for not agreeing with the motodriver's opinion of where they should stay.

Kampot, though not a beach resort, is definitely worth a day or two of your time. You'll of course want to head up Bokor Mountain, but the town itself has a nice feel to it. French colonial, riverfront. It's a nice place.

Kep is another beach resort but it doesn't really have a beach. Still, check out the shells of the old French manor homes as this was a very popular resort area during the French Protectorate.

For more information on the Sihanoukville area, pick up a free copy of The Canby book - The Sihanoukville Visitor's Guide for more information or see their website (linked to two questions up) also see the Talesofasia Guide to Sihanoukville and the South Coast which has plenty of info on Sihanoukville and Kampot.

Q: After Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, and Sihanoukville, what else is there to see?

A: Quite a bit. Ratanakiri is one of my favorite places. It's in the far northeast of the country and is 70% inhabited by minority hilltribes. The province is very culturally different from the rest of the country. I have a large, though dated, section on Ratanakiri on this website as I haven't been there since February 2002.

South of Ratanakiri is Mondulkiri, similar to Ratanakiri but much less populated and much more difficult to get around. Also in the northeast is Kratie, a small friendly town on the Mekong that is home to the rare Mekong River dolphins. There's a viewing platform about 17 kilometers north of town, which they (who?) charge a fee to access. This is rather cheesy as there's no guarantee you're going to see any dolphins. Myopic greed or a local opportunist, you decide. Stung Treng is north of Kratie and west of Ratanakiri but doesn't offer much except on again off again access to Laos.

Still on the Mekong, but closer to Phnom Penh is Kompong Cham. A bustling place with a number of temples stretching back a thousand years and some interesting legends behind these temples. Definitely dig up an English-speaking motodop/guide to tell you about it all.

East of Phnom Penh are the provinces of Prey Veng and Svay Rieng. Not so much here except access to Vietnam. South of Phnom Penh are the provinces of Kandal, Takeo, and Kampot. There's quite a bit to see as a day trip from Phnom Penh, (see The Phnom Penh Visitor's Guide for more info) and Kampot with nearby Bokor Mountain is definitely worth an overnight trip or seen as a stop on the way to or from Sihanoukville. West of Phnom Penh is Kompong Speu and Koh Kong and things get pretty wild as you're heading into the Cardamom Mountains now. Lots of eco-tourism potential. For the time being, if you want to get into the Cardamoms your only choice is to get your hands on a 250cc motorbike and traverse the mountains north to south that way. You can read more about the Cardamoms and motorbiking elsewhere on this website. Bear in mind, the road through the Cardamoms has deteriorated significantly in the past six years and is now a very difficult trip. Koh Kong also offers access to Thailand and is a more hospitable place than that other border-crossing with Thailand, Poipet.

Continuing north is Kompong Chhnang and Pursat. Pursat is a continuation of the Cardamom Range and also offers access to some floating villages far more interesting than Chong Khneas (the village nearest to Siem Reap and the one everybody visits). Next is Battambang and Pailin. Pailin is a former Khmer Rouge stronghold, but is now very welcoming to visitors. Not much to see and do, but it's an attractive area with friendly residents. Anybody that tries to scare you off describing Pailin as dangerous doesn't know what they are talking about. The place is fine. Read more about Pailin and northwest Cambodia in general. However, do exercise your best land mine awareness skills if you visit the Pailin or Cardamom areas.

Battambang has a lot to see. There are a number of temples in the area, and if you get here in the rainy season, the place is gorgeous with all the greenery. The town is picking up a bit and you ought to spend two days and a night here. Read more about Battambang.

Next to the north is Banteay Meanchey. The main attraction is Banteay Chhmar temple in the northern part of the province. Other than that, this province largely exists as a place to travel through. Sisophon, the provincial capital, is the overland hub of northwest Cambodia, and there's the border crossing with Thailand at Poipet. Poipet is the armpit of Asia.

North of Siem Reap is Oddar Meanchey. The main attraction here is Anlong Veng, the last stronghold of the Khmer Rouge and the place where Pol Pot lived and died. Read more about Anlong Veng.

To the east is Preah Vihear province. Quite a few spectacular temple ruins in this province (Preah Vihear, Koh Ker, Preah Khan), access is still quite difficult, but improving. A road to Preah Vihear was sort of blasted through about five years ago and since then they've sort of fiddled with finishing it. It's mostly done now. Access to Preah Khan aka Bakan has also improved as of late. Hidden Cambodia Adventure Tours (see ad above) is a good choice for getting to these places. You can read more about Preah Vihear and Koh Ker. In a couple of years when they get all the roads sorted out, this province is going to see a lot more tourists, as it should.

The road to Koh Ker from Siem Reap is finished and Koh Ker is now very easily reached, though taxi drivers are asking sometimes rather silly amounts of money for the trip (over $100). A more reasonable price would be $70-80 though you may have trouble getting a cab for less than $90. Make sure you discuss whether or not the $10 road toll is included. You of course will be responsible for the $10 entrance fee.

Finally, there is the province of Kompong Thom, right smack in the middle of the country. There are a number of temple ruins here as well, with Sambor Pre Kuk the most famous.

Andy Brouwer's website has a lot of information about out-of-the-way temples and such and is definitely worth a look.

Also on this website, see the Talesofasia Guide to the Provinces of Cambodia.

Q: What do you recommend not seeing?

A: Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. Poipet. This is a miserable filthy border town with absolutely no redeeming features whatsoever unless you want to give your money away to Cambodian and Thai military generals by patronizing one of their many casinos. Poipet is a horrible introduction to Cambodia, the touts are everywhere, the dirt is everywhere, pickpockets, beggars, more touts, more filth, casinos, casinos, and more casinos, more dodgy characters... quite frankly, they should just level the entire place and start all over again. I can't think of a single place in Asia that's worse than Poipet. So there.

Q: What about the guidebooks? What are the good ones?

A: Due to the rapidly changing nature of Cambodia tourism and the amount of time it takes from when an author concludes research and the book hits the shelves, anything older than eighteen months should be treated with some suspicion and anything older than two years should probably just be ignored.

Most people walk around with a Lonely Planet Cambodia guidebook and the latest edition was released in mid 2008. The Cambodia guide tends to be strongest in its coverage of the northwest part of the country, which of course includes Siem Reap and Angkor, and weakest in its coverage of Sihanoukville. For what it's worth, neither the previous Cambodia book nor the Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guides got their information on my guesthouse correct. They solved this problem by omitting me entirely from the latest edition.

Footprint's latest offering was also published in 2008, and like most Footprint guides, the book is well researched and intelligently written. I'm of the opinion that presently Footprint offers the most intelligent and accurate guidebooks across the board and the Cambodia edition lives up to that reputation.

The third edition of Adventure Cambodia, self published by author Matt Jacobson, was released earlier in 2008. This book offers some of the best information for out of the way places that no one else covers. However, there are also a number of factual errors to contend with, but these are balanced with an energetic style born from the author's approach to the book as a labor of love more than a commercial venture and its coverage of more off the beaten path destinations is unparalleled. Particularly suited to motorbike travel and not at all catering to the stereotypical Lonely Planet toting backpacker.

The latest Rough Guide Cambodia was also published recently. The original, like most Rough Guides, was a well-researched book that covered the country quite comprehensively with minimal omissions. There were a handful of factual errors and a few bits of advice I disagree with, but no error is so great as to cause any tourist major inconvenience other than giving one a false sense of security in Poipet. However, while Rough Guide does a very good job on its first editions, some of their follow-up work leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps if they paid the researchers more money they could do better updates. I haven't really had a chance to see the new one to comment whether the updating is comprehensive and accurate or not but from what a few customers have shown me, it's well, par for the course.

Frommer's and Footprint both came through in 2005 and have updated sections for Cambodia in their respective Southeast Asian guidebooks. Footprint writes, I think, particularly intelligent guidebooks and are a good alternative to Lonely Planet and I strongly recommend taking a look a their edition.

National Geographic will have a Cambodia guide available in late 2009 or early 2010. Quite a few of its sections were written in our restaurant.

For a temple guide, I suggest buying Dawn Rooney's, Angkor - An Introduction to the Temples, published by Odyssey. This book is a thorough survey of all the major monuments and many smaller ones as well. There are many others as well and you'll see plenty of bootleg versions of them around Siem Reap and Angkor.

Q: What scams should I worry about?

A: Surprisingly, for a country we love to call Scambodia, from a tourist perspective there aren't all that many scams to deal with, or at least anything you can do something about (i.e. being overcharged on your visa if arriving by land). If you define a scam as duping somebody unwittingly out of money and corruption as making requests for payments where all but the most naive know there's corruption going on, then Cambodia is a corrupt country, but relatively scam-free. Most Cambodians are not running around looking for ways to cheat you. They will certainly over-charge you given the opportunity and the taxi mafia (opposed to the actual drivers) for long-distance share taxis, have historically been known to rip-off unsuspecting tourists. But generally speaking, in Cambodia you can let your guard down a little. If somebody says they're going to do something for you, they're probably going to do it. The only scam is whether they get you to pay three times what you should.

But a few things to look out for:

1.) Border scams. The most likely place you will be scammed is entering the country by land, especially if you are traveling on a tourist bus that originated on Khao San Road (which is precisely why people should stop using these services!!!).

Overcharging for visas at land crossings. Border guards will usually try to charge you over the official $20 visa fee. There is no reason to pay more and large signs are posted at all border crossings indicating the true price. Usually they'll tell you if you want express, it's 1000 baht, otherwise expect a long wait. In reality there's hardly a wait at all. On those rare times they do get someone to pay 1000 baht they will usually process that visa first but if only five people are standing around waiting for visas how long could any of you wait? Not long. So pay $20. Overcharging for visas at the airport is practically unheard of. At Poipet you can also expect tuk-tuk drivers from the Aranyaprathet bus and train stations to take you to the "Cambodia Consulate", a shack located in Thailand that will tell you a bunch of nonsense as to why you must buy your visa from them at around 1200 THB ($35!!!!). Don't even talk to them.

Another Poipet scam is to get tourists to exchange as much money as possible into riels at about 75% of the true value with a wide variety of lies given as to why you must do so. Just so you know - there are dozens of ATMs all over Siem Reap. US dollars are accepted everywhere at no extra commission. Exchange rates are better, not worse, in Siem Reap.

In general, the bus to Siem Reap, as booked from Bangkok, is one big scam and should be absolutely avoided.

2.) Never pay in advance, not even one dollar, if using a taxi (local or long distance). This also includes a taxi you hire for a day trip around the temples. Occasionally drivers have been known to drive halfway to a destination, stop, and ask for more money. Well, if you haven't paid him anything, you can call his bluff and threaten to get out. Remember, if he loses you, he just drove half way to wherever for FREE and he's not going to want to have done that.

3.) Friendly monks with sad stories. At some point you're probably going to visit a pagoda and you will certainly encounter a lot of friendly curious monks. In a vast majority of cases only innocent chatter ensues, rewarding for everyone. But occasionally one may encounter a monk who wants "help". Whether this "help" is requested on your first meeting or on a subsequent meeting, perhaps even a subsequent "accidental" meeting, you are probably being set up for a scam.

Regrettably, not all monks are really monks. There are numerous reasons why someone becomes a monk, and spiritual enlightenment isn't always the reason. Instead, for some, due to poverty it's the only way to get an education, or they are simply doing it out of tradition, or because their family wants them to, and that's all fine. But in a small minority of cases it's because they find that being a monk is better than working and opportunities to make a bit of money do pop up from time to time.

If you feel the urge to make a donation to a monk, every pagoda has a donation box, make your donation there. You can also track down the head monk and make a donation to him as well. But I have heard stories where "monks" have played tourists for as much as $20, 30, even $50. Be careful, for a monk requesting that kind of money is almost certainly anything but what he has presented himself to be.

4.) Buying gems. There are reputable shops and also shops selling worthless colored rocks for hundreds of dollars. Though not a major scam industry like the famous Thai gem scam, there are rip-offs occurring here. I strongly suggest that unless you know what you are doing be very careful about making any expensive gem purchases. Also consider that if you are visiting a souvenir shop and in the accompaniment of a local, he or she will be making an approximate 30% commission from your purchases and that in itself minimizes the likelihood of getting any good 'deals'.

5.) Send me money so I can go to school. With fair regularity I hear either in person, via e-mail, or see posted somewhere on the internet someone being marked for the scam. Which goes like this: tourist visits Siem Reap and is affected in a positive way by the people and environment. Tourist encounters motodriver, would-be-student, someone, almost always male, who befriends them and ultimately starts in with the plea of how poor they are and how much they really want to go to school if only someone would pay money for the school. If the tourist goes so far as agreeing at this point to help, the next issue is how to send money. "Oh, send it to me."
"Err, how?"
"My friend's back account."
"Well, couldn't I send it to the school. Surely, they must have a bank account?"
"Oh, no have. Send it to me, no problem."
And suddenly full bank account details are provided.

And that's how the scam unfolds. Unfortunately there really are people here who would go to school if someone could help send them. So what do you do?

1.) Meet the parents.
2.) Meet the director of the school in the company of the student.
3.) Get bank account details for the school and send money ONLY to this account.
4.) Request progress reports on the student. One language school, ACE, does provide this information to sponsors.

Under no circumstances should you send money to any individual's bank account no matter how convincing the story is. Cambodia may not be a developed nation, but it has banks and any school charging fees is going to have a bank account to put the money in.

The scam works because the players are convincing and there is no shortage of well-meaning westerners that would love to sponsor someone's education in Cambodia. And that is an admirable thing to do, but you must be sure that you really are sponsoring an education and not sponsoring an exaggeration.


Return to FAQ index.

Guesthouses, restaurants, tours and more
Cambodia businesses to serve your every need.



All text and photographs © 1998 - 2010 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.