After two rounds of stays in Thailand I finally left the modern comforts of the Siam paradise for the backcountry tropics of Siem Reap, Cambodia. I heard so many great things earlier in my trip about Cambodia from other travelers so I was really excited to check it out for myself.
After finishing the unorganized visa process in the Siem Reap airport, I was already frustrated and missed Thailand. But wait, is the visa process ever smooth? It IS smooth… in Thailand. A visa isn’t needed for Americans (and many other countries) for 30 days in Thailand. Ok ok, fine, to be fair I almost always miss the country I left the first day or two when arriving in a new country… it’ll get better I tell myself.
It does get a little better, but then it gets much worse (more on that later in the post). During my ride into Siem Reap from the airport I observed so much trash on the streets, and so many pesky, aggressive mosquitos… that’s when I realized Cambodia is like the wild wild EAST of Southeast Asia.
Cambodian Currency is Wonky
One thing I learned right away in Cambodia is they use US dollar as much or more than their own currency. As an American this is really convenient, however, when paying for something and getting change, expect to get USD in return for the bulk of the amount, and Cambodian Riel (KHR) in place of coins – Cambodia doesn’t bother with coins. So while it’s convenient to count and use USD, you have to carry around both currencies – USD and KHR.
Another thing I find annoying is how the locals are very choosy with the quality of the US dollars accepted. Bills with tears, marks, significant blemishes, and sometimes even a low series year on the bill won’t be accepted. I couldn’t believe how picky they were, they aren’t near this picky in the states.
Someone finally explained to me why this is – US dollars, even one US dollar is MUCH more valuable than the Cambodian currency (1 USD = 4,000 Riel). Counterfeit money is notorious out here, so the locals have adapted by scrutinizing each bill received… so you should too, don’t get stuck with worthless dollars! 🙂
Angkor Wat Tour
After a couple days of getting adjusted to the new country, socializing with other travelers, and enjoying the 50 cents beers (wow Cambodia is so cheap) I finally went on the much-anticipated day trip to Angkor Wat. Joining me was a fellow traveler I met from Los Angeles and the tuk tuk driver whose name was something like “Mountain” 🙂 Angkor Wat is a must-see in Southeast Asia and the main reason why I traveled to Siem Reap.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the most advanced urban settlement of pre-industrial times.
Annoying Fact: Tuk-tuks are easier than ever to get in Cambodia, I usually have to tell them no twice before they stop asking.
The Underground City Near Angkor Wat
By the way, if you didn’t know, Archeologists recently discovered an underground city known as Mahendraparvata near Angkor Wat. It was connected by roads to Angkor Wat, and was determined to be as large as the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. It’s now considered by archeologists to be part of the largest empire on earth at the time in the 12th century.
3D aerial graphics of the ancient city were discovered using LiDAR laser technology (light detection and ranging) attached to a helicopter during flyovers. It’s a fascinating technology that uses lasers pointing towards the earth to collect an accurate 3D model of the earth’s topography from above.
Angkor Wat Tour Advice
Be prepared to do a lot of walking, sweating, and picture taking. Also, there’s more ground to cover than you might think so don’t spend too much time checking out one thing. Paying for a tour guide wouldn’t be a bad idea either. Especially if you want to learn more about the history behind the different rooms, buildings, corridors, art, etc., and don’t feel like referencing a book all day.
I only spent one day checking out the sites, but many opt for the 3-day pass for a more thorough experience. Also, as with any Buddhist temple visit, don’t forget to dress properly by covering feet, shoulders, etc.
If you pay this temple woman? a dollar, you can say a simple Buddhist prayer with her and she’ll give you a wristband and grant you life until 100 yrs. Ok I’m not a religious man, but I’ll take it! Does that mean I can keep drinking beer every day until I reach 100? Ha!
Additional shots from Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, & Ta Prohm. I hope you enjoy these pictures while kicking back in a comfy, air-conditioned, and mosquito-free room 🙂
Oh yeah, I got Dengue Fever in Cambodia
Ok I mentioned it got worse – after a few days I left Siem Reap and took a bus to Phnom Penh where I got sick and was stuck in bed for several days. I didn’t pay for lab results, but I checked several medical websites like WebMD and they all point to the dengue fever. I basically stayed in bed every day and watched reruns of Seinfeld on my laptop in bed. Twice a day I would walk to the mall to get food and walk back to my AirBNB and go straight back to bed. It was awful. I think caught the dreaded dengue fever from all the mosquito bites in Siem Reap.
Anyhow, I’m fine as of this writing 🙂