A visit to one of the most mystical places on Earth featuring temples visited by the likes of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider definitely draws tourists to Cambodia from all over the world. Offering mystical temples, a peek into simple life on the land, and friendly hospitality all make Siem Reap, Cambodia a place worth stamping your passport for. Although it may not be super convenient to get to Cambodia, if planning on visiting Asia, it is a must see. Nestled between Thailand and Vietnam, a savvy traveler can easily stop in for a visit. From the food to the sights, there are things to know before you go.
Grab a ride from a Tuk Tuk, which is basically a wagon attached to a moped, to get around Cambodia cheap.
- Tour Responsibly
Poverty is a big plague in this part of Asia. It is actually a bit of a clash between fancy, sometimes rich tourists and poorly fed, often struggling locals. The key to remember is that Cambodia has spent a lot of money on tourism to entice travelers to visit, hoping to stimulate the economy and even alleviate some of the poverty problems. If you have a few weeks to spare, visit the Concert Cambodia website. If you give them plenty of notice, they will pair you with an organization that will make your travels to Cambodia extra memorable. From volunteering as an English teacher to working on a medical team, there is really something for everyone who wants to provide a helping hand. The feeling of knowing you are doing some good is priceless. If it will be a quick trip, you can help out by eating in restaurants like Green Star (a non profit restaurant that donates proceeds to Gecko kids) or purchasing souvenirs from non profit shops. Giving wrapped food or school supplies to children in the streets is welcomed as well. One word of caution: please do not give money – often children are hired and they never see any of the money in their own lives.
- Beware of Scams
The very fact that Cambodia suffers from poverty is the reason why many whole-hearted tourists fall into deceptive scams and traps. One famous and wicked scheme is called the Milk Scam. Women and young children often parade the town holding sleeping babies with empty milk bottles claiming that they do not want money, only milk for the baby. Upon entering the store with her, she will choose the biggest and most expensive bulk formula only to sell it back to the store and not feed the baby after the traveler purchases it. In fact, these encounters can even get violent. I was actually a victim and was scratched by the girl for not purchasing the formula. Another popular scam is orphanage shows. Not only is the treatment of these children questionable, so is the usage of the money given. Please use reputable organizations to help you find good and credible places to help out. Also, many children will gladly accept wrapped non-perishable snacks from you.
- Know your temple viewing expectations
Many websites will tell you that it is impossible to see the temples around Angkor Wat in less than three full days. This is simply not true. My husband and I saw the temples in a matter of hours. It really depends how in depth you wish to get. You can hire a local tour guide who you can find hanging around the temples or you can walk through on your own. If you are like me, exploring on your own is more exciting and less demanding and can even give you more free time. Through your hotel (or on the street) you can hire a Tuk Tuk to take you in and around the temples. To go inside of the temples, you will need to purchase a ticket for $20 each ($40 for a three-day pass). However, you can actually see the outside of all of the temples for free. Just let them know you want to take pictures of the outsides of the temples. Be sure to see Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), Angkor Thom, and Bakong. If trekking through sometimes ankle sprain invoking rubble sounds a bit less than desirable, you can also see everything from an air balloon for around $20 using Angkor Balloon.
- Wild Animals Roam
On your trip, you will see monkeys, wild hogs, snakes, bats, wild dogs, and more. While most tourists do not find peril without interacting with these animals, attacks are possible. The numerous wild dogs roaming the land can be dangerous, especially if they are in a pack when you see them. Rabies is not eradicated either. The rabies vaccine is an option, but as long as you mind your p’s and q’s and do not engage any of these animals, the chance of an attack is low. Even the packs of dogs interact with people in the town on a daily basis. One way to avoid a potential attack is to use a bicycle or Tuk Tuk instead of traveling on foot. When interacting with the temple monkeys, remember that they should be approached carefully and the only direct interaction you should have with them is handing them a banana. Take care not to have any other food on you or hanging bags or straps.
- Check out Aspara Dancing and the Night Markets
At the night market, visitors can attend a show free of cost. If dinner is desired with the show, check out The Mondial, otherwise, just see the free version in town. After some haggling and shopping at the night markets, it is a great way to relax. Be sure to also check out the massage parlors inside the night markets where you can get a fishy pedicure and a massage for only $2.
- The price given is much more than what it can be sold
When shopping in and around town, remember that haggling is common practice. “For you, special price” is usually the most expensive. Try aiming a dollar or two under what you want to pay for the item. Once they drop their offering price, if it is not what you would like to pay, walk away. Most often, they will meet your price when they see your sudden lack of interest. Lades, you can score some amazingly life-like replicas of some of your favorite brands of handbags. Even my most high-brow bag friend cannot tell the difference in my replica Coach bag and the real thing. I paid $20 instead of $500.
- See Tonle Sap (Stilt Houses) sans tourist trap
If a boat ride is on your to do list, do it. Otherwise, save $20 for tons of souvenirs, food, and drinks. In all honesty, a lot of very interesting stilt houses can be seen just on the $2 tuk Tuk ride there. Tonle Sap is a very expansive lake that has many diverse parts to offer, but if it is just the stilt houses you want to see, just enjoy a ride through the countryside.
- Bring U.S. Dollars and enjoy the low prices
Cambodia has its own currency. However, bringing U.S. dollars is a great idea. Not only are most menus and goods sold in U.S. dollars, you will not have to pay any exchange fees (if you are from the U.S.). A meal can run anywhere from $1.50-$5.00, a drink from $0.50 to $6.00, and goods as cheap as $.025.
- Tourism is still relatively new and growing
Don’t expect your bartender to know how to make a Mai Tai or a Blue Hawaii. Tourism is new and growing and people are happily learning. Be patient with the people you interact with within the hospitality venues. They will appreciate knowing your happy and will only benefit from having the patience from you as they learn their craft.
- Come prepared for the mosquitopocalypse
Mosquitos seemingly come from all over the world to this very place to breed and spread diseases like Malaria. There is a mosquito net around your bed for a reason. Siem Reap is majorly flooded with many areas of stagnant water and flash flooding. This is the perfect home for those pesky insects. Be sure to come prepared with a good bit of mosquito repellant and even pants and long sleeves if you can bare wearing them in the extreme heat.
With the right attitude and preparation, Cambodia will be an everlasting memory for travelers everywhere. Knowing what to expect and how to help are half of the battle. Cambodia offers a treasure chest of wonder and mystique for those who walk its ancient grounds.
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© 2013 Elana Nichols, All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without prior permissions from the author.