This is information dated March 98, and more recent than much you will read on the net. After the government split in July 97, many people who might have updated the guide material, opted to stay away for the time being. I am sure that, especially for first-timers, this will be useful stuff. I received good comments form those who already benefited from some of this. Have a wonderful and rewarding travel experience.
The owner and her son-in-law, the manager, in front of the Freedom Hotel in Siem Reap
A visa is available at the airport of Phnom Penh for USD 20. It is valid for one month. Have a passport photo ready. If you enter the country by land (e.g. from Vietnam), make sure you already have a visa. You will not get one at the border.
Both tourist and business visa can be extended at the Immigration Office, 200. Str. No 5, Tel 724794, Mo-Fr 7:30-10:00, 14:00-16:00.
1 week USD 20
1 month USD 30
6 months USD 100 (multiple entry)
1 year USD 150 (multiple entry)
Extensions to a visa are issued in Cambodia by the Ministry of National Security.
I flew both ways from Saigon to Phnom Penh. Vietnam Airlines is a class act with an all new fleet of aircraft, from the most modern Boeing 767 jets to the lowliest short-hop turbo prop. I felt very comfortable flying with them.
An expat told me that crossing the border near Ko Chang is "illegal and not advised, and considered by Cambodian authorities a serious offense". Jails in Asia are very very rough.
The going exchange rate is about 3700 KHR to 1 USD (Mar 98)
The Cambidian Commercial Bank in Siem Reap gave me a credit card cash advance. Their service is curteous and professional.
At least in Seam Reap, doctors and hospitals ALWAYS expect immediate cash payment. There is no shortage of clean needles.
Currently the country is extremely quiet and safe. I met a young French lady who has been working for over a year in Battambang and travelled there on her own. The road between Phom Penh and Siem Reap is heavily travelled and incident free. Foreigners travel it all the time in busses, in pickup trucks, and singly on motor bikes. After having gone back and forth on the speed boats, both Channa and Cham Lee ($25 each way) three times, I decided to do one return trip via the land route. While I encountered many tourists, I do not recommend it. It's just $13 one way, but the trip lasts about 7 hours, including a couple of breaks, and the road is a moonscape. Weak stomachs - stay away!.
The Khmer Rouge are, at least at this time, so confined in their specific border regions, that no one heard of any excursions of theirs in some time and Cambodia and Thailand announced the hopefully permanent reopening of some of their border crossings.
A British Mine clearing expert, who had been kidnapped in spring 1996, was kidnapped not by Khmer Rouge, but by Bandits, specifically Cambodian Army deserters.
Regarding the only reported rape of a foreigner, the one of the French woman in July 1996: The offenders had been apprehended three days later and are in jail with no hope of release. (Foreign women can - and do - feel much safer in Cambodian cities than in many Wester Cities).
Ragarding an earlier roumor: No tourist were kidnapped in spring 1996 at Ankor Wat.
There are now daily flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap.
There are no pirate boats on the Tonle Sap.
By now the Tonle Sap is quite safe. In my three crossings I did not see a single gun, and because of earlier reports I was looking hard. No one I talked to heard of anyone being shot at. I think that's more common on the LA Freeways than there.
The two boats I took:
1. Channa is small, uncomfortable, best ridden on the roof (wear a hat), but really fast.
2. Cham Lee is long, much more comfortable, still it's more fun to ride it on the roof. However, there are comfortable seats inside and a TV that shows Kung Fu movies. It is too long to get into the landing place in the floating city, which is in front of the shore with the road leading to Siem Reap. A swarm of small boats arrives and all the passengers and luggage are tranferred on the lake.
I never paid more than 1000 Riels for a moto except when I drove from the Phnom Penh Airport to a hotel. I paid $3 the first time (Samone, located on the airport grounds is an intelligent and caring driver who speaks good English), and $2 the second time. Distance is significant. Sometimes I'd bargain hard, get my price, and then if the rider was friendly and courteous about it, I'd throw in a couple of hundred Riels extra, and left someone with a happy and grateful smile behind me.
This map is interactive on the Lonely Planet site (click on map, or link below)
While somewhat gritty and tough, it is safe, even after dark. Let's be reasonable about late night walks. On the other hand, the riverside is quite populated, even late in the evening, and considered very safe. I was only once or twice called to by prostitutes, who seem to ply their trade fairly quiet. One, tried very hard, but also very quietly to get my attention at the FCC, but when I continued to ingnore her, she finally went away. I thought that Bangkok and Pattaya were much worse.
The Central Market is excellent and the few beggars easily either sent away or paid with 200 Riels ( 6 US cents) each to disappear. The Russian Market is swarming with countless beggars that make the experience much less palatable.
The Cathay Hotel was a well recommended hotel, quiet, close to the waterfront and the local market, and all in all clean and well equipped. After having been in country some time, I preferred a guesthouse. Prices at the Cathay were $20 for the first two floors and $15 for the rest. They do not bargain.
For the more hardy souls, The Last Home on #47 Street 108, just around the corner from the Cathay may be the ticket. The food is good and inexpensive, and the rooms start at $3 a night. Sufficient for the no-frills-traveller. The place is clean and the bathrooms are down the hall. No TV, but a mosquito net and fan in every small room. I prefer to sleep w/o air conditioning and like a fan instead. What I liked about it was the clientele. Many expats show up there to chat and hang out. Sort of a "down Home" place. They also have a ton of used books, hard and softcover, in a variety of languages for sale. You can e-mail them prior to arrival and they will have their moto driver come and pick you up at the Phnom Penh airport ($2). email@example.com
Yes, the expats still hang out at the FCC too, but it is getting a bit heavily trafficked by toursits these days, but definitely worth a visit.
Siem Reap can be reached easily and safely by plane from either Phnom Penh or Bangkok. The speed boats are the second most comfortable means of getting there from Phnom Penh ($25 US one way). Unless you are on a tight schedule, don't buy the return ticket at the same time you buy your passage over. That way you have the luxury to either fly back, stay longer, or to take the land route. The least comfortable, least expensive ($13 US), most scenic, and quite safe way, is by land. Many young tourists use this route, riding the backs of the numerous pickup trucks that, in addition to mini-buses, drive this tortuous route every day. (Once you get to Kompong Thom, the road gets relatively smooth).
Driving a motorcycle around the Angkor Wat sites without a local driver is not permitted. Motos with drivers ran about $6 per day.
Following recommendations, I found the Freedom Hotel to be excellent and quiet. Room prices vary depending on equipment, ranging from USD 10 to USD 25. It is a family business that is well run, friendly and all employees very helpful. A call from Phnom Penh, and Hak, the manager will be at the speedboat landing site with an air-conditioned minibus or car to pick you up, free of charge (or at the airport). Tel: (855) 063.963.473 or mobile 015.637.649. Soon he will have e-mail too. The restaurant serves excellent food too, and the prices for a typical meal range from USD 1.50 to USD 2.50. Their e-mail has been up and running, keeping me up to date on what's going on: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Ta Prom Hotel just started a traditional Cambodian dance show on Friday night, by the river. Admission is USD 5. Take a moto there from wherever you are. It's right next to the new market.
For those who care, the Angkor Village at Wa Bo Road costs now between USD 60-70.
I did find the food at the Freedom Hotel to be most sufficient in quality and variety, and definitely reasonable. Since I do not eat red meat, they either substituted foods of my choice or subtracted USD 0.50 from the already low price.
The Swiss Center, owned and built, as a labor of love by the former manager of the Grand Hotel, offers fine cuisine. The superbly equipped kitchen is a hobby of the owner, who loves to cook. Prices are quite reasonable. Mr Rudof Knuchel recived a number of awards in his time. email@example.com
Popular with the French expats is the Only One Cafe, Restaurant and Bar. The owner speaks English too and is very helpful and friendly. It is located right next to the New Market. His Vietnamese wife runs the kitchen.
It costs $20 a day, or $40 for three days. There is a longer pass available too. The ticket is good for all the temples within the larger Angkor Wat complex and three off-site locations. Except for the off-site areas, I was never asked to show my ticket. I strongly discurage using a "recycled" ticket. It's much too dangerous and the punishment is severe. The guards at the entry points look the tickets over very carfully, to see if the name has been tampered with. Resist the temptation. The risk of enormous problems are not worth the few bucks you save.
I highly recommend the off-site temple of Banteai Srai. It is about a thousand years old, small, yet very ornate and incredibly well preserved. Everyone who went there admitted that it was their favorite temple. It is located in a security zone that is patrolled at night by Khmer troops. In the morning they pull out of there and the area is opened to the public at 0800. It is a temple best viewed in the morning. Be at the checkpoint barrier as soon as they open to beat the rush. Most hotels will accomodate you with a driver and car for USD 30. The Freedom Hotel had a driver and guide ready for us at the appointed time for that amount. Share the cost with others. Your Angkor Wat ticket is good for this area too. There is just a single checkpoint between Siem Reap and Banteay Srai, and the small bribe was included in the $30 fee for our car. The driver/guide from my hotel handled all of the details.
Don't worry about roaming the Angkor Wat areas anymore. The Khmer Rouge pulled out of there four years ago. I did a considerable amount of walking, and wherever I went, large numbers of Buddhist monks and nuns were wandering all over the area.
Important Advice: I learned to go to the temples carrying a wad of 100 and 200 Riel notes in my pockets. About $2 worth. I called it "disappearance money". I'd give 200 Riels (six cents) to each of the kids, "guides" and beggars, and they more than happily disappear and leave me be. It's a lot of peace of mind for very little money.
There are guides available of all types. One, Graham Cleghorn, an expat originally from New Zealand, will take care of custom tour requests, provide a very high level of security if requested, lived a life of adventure and can fill the evenings with "war stories" and has the pictures to back them up. He did many things in his colorful life, including run a bar in Sieam Reap called The Minefield. He will arrange all the details if contacted firstname.lastname@example.org. He is well recommended, but is not cheap. While I was there he was guiding two American ladies for a few days and they seem to greatly enjoy their time with him.
Additional information for travel in Cambodia can be found on the Internet at these links:
The Internet Travel Guide (Asia and Switzerland) An excellent guide for Vietnam, Laos, China, Cambodia, Thailand. The Cambodian Information Center A homepage packed with info and links related to Cambodia. The folks of Lonely Planet Guide fame Destination Cambodia. Need I say more?. CARE Cambodia through the eyes of CARE.
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