“As you travel solo, being totally responsible for yourself, it’s inevitable that you will discover just how capable you are” – Anon
One thing I’ve learnt about travelling solo is that you are rarely alone. In fact, whenever I have wanted to be by myself, it’s been difficult to find time! For all of those people nervous about traveling in solitary – fear not! You are constantly surrounded with new found friends! So when I arrived in Siem Reap, Cambodia – it wasn’t long until I met Kat during a yoga class and we hit it off straight away.
Getting to Siem Reap was no easy task. I had read blogs about the border scams that occur from Bangkok to Siem Reap so I was well prepared. There are 2 options to get across by land. You can opt for the government run bus (large 50 seater coach for 950 baht) or hop on one of the small privately run minivans (who are known to steal things from luggage for 300 baht). I took the government run bus for safety if anything.
What is the scam?
The bus stops just before the Cambodian border and pulls into a small square. A guy in an official looking uniform boards the bus and asks for everyones attention. He informs travelers that they will need to buy a visa from him. They are required to fill out the form he hands out and pay USD$50. If anyone questions him, he simply advises to do it now because the lines at the border are very very long and you could be waiting all day. He could do it very quickly and the bus could go straight through! If I hadn’t researched this, I would have probably believed him, but I knew that the visa should only cost US$30 and should be obtained officially at the border. I had no doubt that he would get the visa’s, and there probably is a line at the border, however he was making a US$20 profit per person! Everyone on the bus took his word and started filling out the forms.
I can’t believe what I did next. I don’t even remember my thought process prior. I stood up and told the people around me that it was a scam and to follow me to the border to avoid getting ripped off. The border official glared at me. I was ruining his daily profit. He came over to me and told me to get off the bus, to which I refused (he couldn’t kick me off could he?) I just stayed put and told everyone to trust me. And they did. The officer angrily stormed off the bus (knowing very well that he couldn’t do anything) and we continued onto the border where there was no line and visas were only US$30 as expected. Phew!
TIP: Save the visa hassle at the border by obtaining your visa in advance online. It’s easy!
The bus finally arrived at 6pm (9 hours later) and I walked straight to The Siem Reap Hostel (which had the best reviews) and booked a dorm room. The hostel was incredible. It had a spa, travel agency, yoga studio, pool, bar, free bikes, food tours, games room, cinema, comfy beds, spacious rooms and best of all – a great atmosphere! (For only US$10 per night!)
A N G K O R W A T
Angkor Wat is only one of many temples within a huge archaeological park located only 7km from Siem Reap’s main town. I would recommend getting a 3 day pass. I could never spend all day at the park so divided the exploring into 3 half days and I managed to do most of it. A 3 day pass costs US$40 and can be used on any 3 days within a 7 day period – so no rush! You can opt for a tuk-tuk to drive you around the park or if you enjoy the exercise like me, you can grab a bicycle and ride around from site to site. They are big days! I probably rode 30km each day so expect a sore bum and jelly legs!
The first day, Kat and I explored Phnom Bakheng and Bayon. Both stunningly beautiful in their own right. We were saving Angkor Wat until the last day because we didn’t want it to ruin the beauty of the other temples! We were incredibly eager to see the official set of from Tomb Raider with the large tree (Ta Prohm). It was magnificent. I was stopped occasionally for photos with Japanese tourists. The blonde hair seems to fascinate Asian cultures. We were so busy staring in awe at the trees growing around buildings that we lost track of time. The park shuts at 5pm. It was currently 5.30pm and the sun was setting – we still had a 7km ride home. It was a scary ride! The bikes had no lights, we didn’t bring head torches and worse – we were on the road with other traffic and no streetlights. It took awhile to get back.
TIP: Bring a head torch with you incase you get stuck riding in the dark. Streetlights are scarce.
We got up at 5am on the 3rd morning and cycled to Angkor Wat for the sunrise. It was truly spectacular. I strongly recommend doing it – even for those who are not early risers. There were many people there yet it was really quiet. Everyone was mesmerised by the sunrise and the astounding colours that reflected on the temple. Plenty of places to eat when you get there (just be prepared to pay a bit more than town).
TIP: Allow time to explore other temples. There is more to Angkor Wat than just the ‘Angkor Wat’ temple.
To get to the main section of Angkor Wat, you need to climb a very steep set of stairs. Take your time!
TIP: Ensure you cover your shoulders and knees with clothing. I brought a scarf to cover my shoulders but it wasn’t good enough so make sure it’s an actual t-shirt and not a covering!
The primary reason I came to Cambodia was to see Angkor Wat and try the Cambodian food. I was drawn to street food most of the time – despite getting food poisoning here! I still went back to the street BBQs and street side noodle carts.
For those who enjoy sitting down and having a meal, I would highly recommend visiting these:
1. Peace Cafe – Beautiful garden setting cafe with hammocks, lounges and delicious healthy food and juices
2. Sister Srey – Awesome restaurant run by 2 Australian sister. They pride themselves on healthy, gourmet basics with a twist.
3. The Indian (if you need a break from street food) – decently priced delicious curries and naan bread!
TIP: If you cant handle dairy well, ask the fruit shake carts to avoid adding condensed milk. They add it discreetly and a few people got sick.
For those staying longer, there are many day trips from here to jungle treks, tribal cooking classes and boat trips.
Getting back to Bangkok
When it was time to say goodbye to Siem Reap, I was on a tight budget and decided I would embrace the minivan experience on the way back to Bangkok. This time I was fully prepared. I expected the worse. Lucky I did. It was a disaster. It should have struck alarm bells when the journey was only going to cost me US$10. The minivan was late (I was surprised it turned up at all to be honest) and we sped towards to border with another 8 people crammed in. When we got to the border, and got back through to Thailand, the bus just left. The driver was impatient! I wasn’t even that angry. I was really calm, I just found a man who was from the same company I had booked with and I demanded to be taken via taxi to Bangkok and I wouldn’t leave his side until he got transport organised for me. This meant I was following him around for 3 hours before he got annoyed with me and put me into his friends car. I have no idea what happened to the other people on my original bus. But I was on my way. Hours later, at a random intersection on the outskirts of Bangkok, the car stopped and the friend told me to get out. “Dis is Bangkok” he said. Umm we are no where the main area where am I supposed to go? He didn’t care. Anger overtook me then. It had been 10 hours since we left Siem Reap. I held my bag tightly and refused to get off until he dropped me to Khao San Road. He laughed and said no. I don’t know where I got the confidence from that day but I flat out refused to get off. After 15 minutes of arguing, he finally agreed and dropped me to Khao San Road at 11pm.
Lesson learnt: You get what you pay for.
TIP: Transport companies don’t expect you to fight back – this is how they are making their money. Be confident and stern with them and you will get what you paid for!