Why You Should Visit Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, a beautiful resort town in northwestern Cambodia is a heaven on earth. Due to its rich history and great temples it becomes very crowded every holiday season. I have visited Siem Reap back in 2011. And here is my story about my visit to Siem Reap
It was to this destination that I travelled on Christmas Eve 2011 as I began my teaching career in South-East Asia. I remember taking a 300 baht minibus (around $9) from the border town of Poipet. Poipet is an unremarkable small town on the Thai-Cambodian border. It is popular for Thai gamblers coming across to take advantage of the casinos.
Unfortunately, due to the large numbers of tourists that transit through the location there is a “border mafia”. This mafia in Siem Reap city runs the transport options and to some degrees control the visas issued there. A watchful tourist should be in their guard but keep their calm. A firm no will suffice when dealing with pushy taxi drivers and scam artists. Keeping valuables safe at all times and excising diligence is the key.
Common scams in operation include lying about bus times and tickets in order to sell more transport options as well inflated taxi prices and bribes. A traveler will also be struck by how dirty the place seems. It would be unfair to judge the rest of Cambodia on this evidence, unfortunately, it is the first experience that sticks with us.
Once through the border crossing and on the way to Siem Reap, it is a one lane road in, what is fair to say, a poor condition. Huge potholes mark the road and in some cases, they have been lazily filled in with rocks and other unsuitable objects. Infrastructure is not Cambodia’s strength as the country is still relatively poor with a large percentage of the population living under the population line.
The trip from Poipet to Siem Reap takes around four hours and is relatively cheap at $9. Alternatively, you could take a private taxi for around $25. My tip is the taxi but don’t be afraid to negotiate. The journey offers some nice views of Cambodia culture from the house on stilts to roadside sellers. The landscape is flat with few trees (illegal logging is rampant in Cambodia) and many fields.
Places to visit in Siem Reap
To visit Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples there are a number of options available but the best thing would be to hire a Tuk Tuk driver for the day and have him drive you around the temples. The cost would be around $20 per day and you could really take your time. Guides are also available if you book through a travel agent or your hotel Siem Reap Cambodia.
As it was my first time visiting the place so I checked online and found this amazing travel guide, "Siem Reap:20 Must-see attractions". It was really helpful, it enabled me to organize my visit to see as many of the sights as possible. If you're visiting Siem Reap for the first time I would recommend this book to you.
Working and Volunteering
Cambodia like many Asian countries has a desire to learn English and become proficient and competitive internationally. To that end there are many opportunities to work in Siem Reap and in Cambodia in General. Bearing in mind that Cambodia is relatively poor, there are also volunteering opportunities. One of the biggest things not to do it to volunteer at an orphanage. You may feel that you are doing some good but in reality, these children are being exploited and in many cases, they aren’t really orphans but their parents have given them up. In some cases, these children are being abused. The better thing to do is to sign up with a reputable organization that is transparent and worthwhile. There are many such projects running in Siem Reap.
One worthwhile thing I can recommend is called Jimmy’s village school and it is run by a local called Jimmy who uses his mother’s house to teach local children English for free. These children come from impoverished backgrounds and they receive lessons from Jimmy himself and volunteers that stop by.
Many expats and travelers teach at international schools and the salaries are very reasonable when you consider the living expenses and cost of things. A full time English teacher will earn around $1000 a month and with rent being around $100 a month and cheap food, your money will go a long way.
The students are diligent, well-behaved and eager to learn. It is a rewarding thing to do should you wish to stay longer, just dress nicely and visit the schools with your CV. Remember Khmer culture (like many other Asian countries) does not appreciate losing face and showing anger. So, remember to take a breath and remember where you are then you will be fine.
In summary, Siem Reap is a very worthwhile destination to visit. Just remember you are a stranger in a conservative country and be respectful and careful.