THE SOLO DRIFTER: Experience the Exceptional Cambodia (A Travel Guide)

This article was first published on 3 June 2018, 9:23AM; updated on 2 June 2019, 2:02PM.

I experienced going to Cambodia from both Thailand and Vietnam. In 2018, I booked a seat through BusbudTravelMart BangKok Co, Ltd. took us to Siem Reap through a VIP bus. TravelMart is commonly known as Virak-Buntham Express in Cambodia. TravelMart has a number of crew who helped us depart from Thailand until the immigration process in Cambodia. I paid USD18 online for my bus ticket. TravelMart has the cheapest price. Other travel agency price ranges from USD23-30 with schedules 1AM, 8AM and 9AM. But traveling from Vietnam is more hassle-free as we don’t need to have an almost km-long walk from Thailand immigration to Cambodia and fall in long lines. In Vietnam immigration, we just waited for few minutes for our passport to be stamped. You may want to check the immigration process from Vietnam to Cambodia here. But yes, it’s more easy.

Before I continue my story, please have time to watch this video summing up my Phnom Penh, Cambodia tour:

At the border, I had my THB exchange to KHR. Tip: Do not try to exchange your money at the border. Money changers there have a bad deal. Also, you don’t need to exchange your money. Cambodian people accept anything there, especially USD. They also accept THB. In MNL, almost all money changers does not buy KHR.

Tuk tuk

TravelMart/Virak-Buntham offers a free tuk tuk service from their office to our hotel. My tuk tuk driver owns Siem Reap Angkor Transport Services. He offered me to avail a tour. I deposited KHR50,000 and at the end of the tour, I paid KHR50,000 – that is KHR100,000 in total. You may contact him through this number: 088 84 14 866 or 081 42 47 11 in WhatsApp. Depending on the price, you may choose from tuk tuk, car or van service.

Cambodia currently offers visa-free travel to nationals of 9 countries, including the Philippines. Philippine passport holders are visa-exempt in Cambodia up to 21 days.

What you need to know about Cambodia

  1. Bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east
  2. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism
  3. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia
  4. The kingdom is an elective constitutional monarchy
  5. The Vietnam War extended into the country with the US bombing of Cambodia from 1969 until 1973
  6. When French Indochina was given independence, Cambodia lost hope of regaining control over the Mekong Delta as it was awarded to Vietnam
  7. Rainy season is May to October
  8. The garment industry represents the largest portion of Cambodia’s manufacturing sector
  9. Agriculture is the traditional mainstay of the Cambodian economy
  10. Cambodians drink plenty of tea, grown in Mondulkiri Province and around Kirirom
  11. Currency is Cambodian riel (KHR)
  12. Commonly-used transportation is tuk tuk

What you need to know about Siem Reap

  1. A popular resort town and a gateway to the Angkor region
  2. The name “Siem Reap” can be translated to mean “Defeat of Siam” (siem in Khmer)
  3. European visitors had visited the temple ruins much earlier in 1586
  4. Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers “re-discovered” Angkor in the 19th century
  5. Frenh acquired Angkor in 1907 following a Franco-Siamese treaty
  6. Local specialty is rice wine

What you need to know about Angkor

  1. Derived from the Sanskrit nagara (नगर), meaning “city”
  2. The principal temple of the Angkorian region, Angkor Wat, was built between 1113 and 1150 by King Suryavarman II

What you need to know about Phnom Penh

  1. Literally, “Penh’s Hill”, Phnom Penh takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (“Hill Temple”)
  2. Water Festival is the largest annual festival in Phnom Penh, which celebrates the reversing of the flow of the Tonlé Sap river

Phnom Penh

After a tiring but fulfilling conference, I went to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh. It took me almost 5 hours to get there via bus thru Kumho Samco.

Jacuzzi at Ohana Phnom Penh Palace Hotel

I took GrabTuktuk to get to my hotel, Ohana Phnom Penh Palace Hotel. Tip: Always take GrabTuktuk instead of asking Tuktuk drivers to bring you to your hotel. Some drivers add up charges up to USD10 (KHR40,000) to your bill if they know that you are a tourist. I was only charged KHR6,500 by GrabTuktuk from the bus station to my hotel. I did not have high expectation for this hotel but I was wrong. With USD37.80, I was able to book a deluxe double room for a night, inclusive of a buffet breakfast, plus it has a pool at the ground floor and a cold pool and jacuzzi at the rooftop, with a view of Mekong river.

One of the acts in the play

Ten minutes from the hotel, I went to the National Museum to Cambodia to watch Plae Pakaa Cambodia Living Arts Show. I bought a ticket amounting to PHP729 in Klook for a Section A seat (middle, first five rows). I must say that this is the best cultural show that I ever watched. The show starts at 7PM everyday. The love the message the founder wants to convey – encourage and teach the next generations to embrace music and arts, not weapons; chose peace, not war.

Wat Phnom

The next day, my Cambodian friend from KPMG, Sophea, took me to Yi Sang Restaurant in the riverside for a breakfast. Then we walk around the Royal Palace and she drove me to Wat Phnom. She also showed me the new establishments in Phnom Penh. Wat Phnom’s interior has a central altar complex with a large bronze seated Buddha. This is open daily with USD1 entrance fee.

Siem Reap and the Angkor

If you want temple run, do not miss Siem Reap! Here, you can find Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument. In 2018, my tuk tuk driver picked me up in my hotel at 4:30AM and we went straight to the ticketing office to buy Angkor Pass for one day. Starting February 2017, price increased to USD37 from USD20. While for a three-day and seven-day pass, it now cost USD62 and USD72. The one-day ticket is valid only on the day of purchase. The three-day access is valid for ten days from the date of purchase. You can choose which three days you wish to visit the Angkor temples on. The seven-day access is valid for one calendar month from the date of purchase. You can choose which seven days you wish to visit the Angkor temples on. The opening hours of the ticketing office and the Angkor Park are:

  • Angkor Ticket Center – Open daily, 5AM-5:30PM
  • Angkor Wat and Srah Srang – Open daily, 5AM-5:30PM
  • Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup – Open daily from 5AM-7PM
  • All other temples – Open daily from 7:30AM-5:30PM
    Note: For Phnom Kulen and Beng Mealea, you will need to buy an extra ticket to visit these
Angkor Pass

I had a photo taken at the counter for my Angkor Pass. The ticket is non-transferable and non-refundable. Important: Keep your Angkor Pass while you are at the Angkor site. If you lose a one-day ticket, the penalty is USD100. For a three-day and seven-day tickets, USD200 and USD300, respectively. You do not need to give back the Angkor Pass to the ticketing office – it’s yours.

Let us start the tour!

Angkor Wat

Tourists wake up early to see sunrise in this central feature of the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site. The temple is admired for the grandeur and harmony of the architecture, its extensive bas-reliefs, and for the numerous devatas adorning its walls.

Angkor Thom

Meaning “large city”, which can be accessed through 5 city gates, one on each cardinal point and the Victory Gate on the eastern wall. At the centre of the city is Jayavarman’s state temple, the Bayon, with the other major sites clustered around the Victory Square immediately to the north.

Ta Keo

A temple-mountain, possibly the first to be built entirely of sandstone by Khmers.

Ta Prohm

Meaning “Ancestor Brahma”, founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university.

Banteay Kdei

Meaning “A Citadel of Chambers”, its structures are contained within two successive enclosure walls, and consist of two concentric galleries.

Preah Khan

Meaning “sacred sword”, built in the 12th century for King Jayavarman VII to honor his father.

Other temples

A number of significant temples you may visit include Ta Som, Pre Rup and Neak Pean. These temples may be visited along the grand circuit or the small circuit routes.

Floating villages

There are three floating villages around Siem Reap – Kompong Khleang, Kompong Phluk, Chong Kneas, with Kompong Khleang considered the most authentic. You may want to visit them after your temple run.

Nightlife in Siem Reap

At night, Siem Reap comes alive with lights and music. That’s because of the world-famous Pub Street, where majority of bars, restaurants, street stalls and souvenir shops are concentrated. I must say that Cambodians are good businessman – even young children know how to deal with customers. Tip: Beware with the vendors – some of them ask tip when you buy goods or avail their services.

Where did I stay in Siem Reap

I booked a room at Little Prince Resort & Spa though Booking.com. The King Room costs me USD29. What I love about Little Prince Resort & Spa is the place itself. It is relaxing. It is a place where nature and modern world meet. The facilities are excellent – from the bed to the shower area and bath room. It has a pool. The two English-speaking staff are accommodating. They really represent Cambodian hospitality. I really want to go back there! Thanks to the team for a warm welcome and accommodation.

Cambodia is really exceptional. Thanks to the people and organizations behind the restoration and improvement projects of the cultural heritage. I hope tourism in Cambodia will improve the life of every Cambodian people, the economy of the nation, the transportation and education of its younger generation.

This ends the first series of my first Southeast Asian tour (with updated guide). Thank you for reading!

Here’s my 2018 video in Siem Reap, Cambodia:

For a detailed budget and suggested itinerary, visit my Indochina Tour Series 1 main page.

Please click the following links for the following travel guide:
Thailand
Vietnam

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About the Author

Paul Michael Jaramillo
Paul Michael JaramilloExecutive Editor
Paul is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), a youth and environmental advocate, leader, writer, blogger, filmmaker and an organist. He’s the former Chairperson of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Ilocos Chapter. As a writer, he has found focus and interest on reproductive health, deaf rights, youth development. At the age of 14, he has fully embraced the call of leadership by leading student organizations and college publications. He was a recipient of the PGMA Campus Journalism Award. He joined and won national contests and published some articles related to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in a Spanish paper and website. Some of his articles were also published in leading Philippine news websites and featured in international organizations website.

He launched his career as a CPA in KPMG R.G. Manabat & Co. Paul is currently leading the Data and Analytics Network (and its university arm) of KPMG in the Philippines. He is also the Business Lead for Innovation. He provides trainings to KPMG professionals in the Philippines. He also joined Financial Services Academy for Shared Service Centres (SSC) as a presenter. He is part of the Technical Advisory Group of the Firm's Department of Professional Practice, focusing on data and analytics, audit methodology, accounting standards, root cause analysis, system of quality management, and financial statement quality control review. He represents the Firm as a resource and motivational speaker, arbiter, adjudicator and judge in academic conferences, audit conventions, accounting and audit cups, and audit case study competitions. He sits as a member of Root Cause Analysis team of the Firm. Paul is an Audit Methodology Champion and Workforce of the Future Champion of the Firm. He is also the Firm's System of Quality Management Implementation Manager.

Paul is the Review Master and Head Coach of PREMIERE Review School.

Paul is a member of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) and a Church officer in their locale congregation.