Cambodia: A Mini Adventure
Our first long weekend was last week and we jumped at the opportunity to travel. Our first out of country adventure? Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Traveling to Cambodia was the definition of a shot in the dark. We live in such a small town that there are no bus schedules to find on the internet and since we can’t read Thai, we were pretty much winging it. We live relatively close to the border crossing (Chong Chom on the Thai side and O’Smach on the Cambodian side), but since it’s not the passage most people use to cross into Cambodia, we weren’t sure if they would issue visas on arrival. Erring on the safe side, we took the long way around. We took a bus from Suwannaphum ⇒ Surin ⇒ Sa Kaeo to meet a fellow teacher friend and then went to the Aranyapathet (Thai side)/Poi Pet (Cambodian side) border.
To get home, we decided to test out the Chong Chom/O’Smach route and it took less than half the time! Anyone in northeast Thailand traveling to Cambodia should definitely consider going this way. We took a two hour taxi ride from Siem Reap to the border and then took a taxi/hitchhiked to Prasat (beware of a white Toyota with a crazy eyed driver and thank goodness for the kindness of strangers). From Prasat, we took a bus from Surin ⇒ Suwannaphum and made it home in record time!
Border Crossing Tips
- To get a visa, you will need a 4x6cm passport photo. You can get an e-visa in advance on the internet (photo still needed), but it is a bit more expensive, plus I like having physical proof in my passport 🙂
- There are convenient little places around the Aranyapathet/Poi Pet border that will take your picture and give you multiple copies for only 100 baht!
- There will be a lot of travel companies waiting beforPassport Control to try and sell you a visa. They might be legit, they might not. Either way, I suggest going through the official channels (obviously).
- Make sure you have your passport (duh), departure card (because you are departing Thailand), and passport photos and head through Passport Control. It is pretty straightforward and there are plenty of signs to guide you through the process.
- Once you get past Passport Control, you’ll have to go to the visa on arrival office (little building to the right of the giant, pretty stone gate) , fill out a form, pay about $30 (1200 baht), and then you have a visa that is good for 30 days.
- Then head to border control, where you fill out an arrival card and then you’re good to go!
- There is a free bus shuttle from border control to the Poi Pet bus station, and from there you can get wherever you need to go very easily.
There are SO many hostels in Siem Reap, go on Hostelworld and browse to your hearts content. I suggest selecting one that is in close proximity to Pub Street (the main tourist area in Siem Reap). We stayed at The Siem Reap Hostel and it was amazing. The staff at the hostel are extremely helpful and book your tours and transportation for you. You just have to tell them where you want to go!
Our first adventure was seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were up and ready to go at 4:30AM (yes, I was awake at 4:30AM). You can get an Angkor pass, which allows you to visit all the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. One day tickets sell for $20 or a three day ticket for $40. We sleepily trudged our way to the temple and while it wasn’t the generic orange and red sunrise, it was still beautiful and well worth the early morning pilgrimage.
Next in the circuit was the city of Angkor Thom. The Baphuon Temple in the city was hands down my favorite temple. The view from the top was breathtaking and I’ve decided that I could definitely have gotten used to being a queen back in the day.
Last on the circuit was Ta Prohm. Unlike most of the other temples in Angkor, it has been left alone, resulting in a beautiful interaction between man-made objects and nature. Towering trees that are easily hundreds of years old grow on top of and through the various structures of the temple.
After the temple tours, we went on a walking food tour organized by our hostel to introduce us to Cambodian foods we might not have tried otherwise. We tried a sweet and salty noodle dish, fried bread, veggies, and meats, cow intestines, and a dessert that I have dubbed an Asian snow cone. I would 100% recommend the dessert because it’s delicious, but I did think it was too sweet. Words I never thought I’d utter my whole life. The cow intestines weren’t the worst thing I’ve ever eaten, but definitely not the best. The texture is what really got me. It’s chewy, like squid. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the Cambodian delicacy of fried tarantula was not available (apparently spiders aren’t in season right now…?) and I’m (not so secretly) glad because I didn’t have to decide between my paralyzing fear of spiders and my curiosity to try something new.
On Saturday, we visited Cambodia’s holiest place, home of a large reclining Buddha carved right into the mountain top and swam at the base of the amazing Phnom Kulen Waterfall (as seen in Tomb Raider, and sadly, we didn’t see Angelina Jolie).
All in all, seeing Siem Reap was well worth it and I would absolutely recommend it to anyone who wants to go to Cambodia. It was a nice change of pace and it was kinda fun to be the tourists again. In the future however, I would like to go back and experience a less Western and more authentic Cambodia.
Shirley is 21 years old and a recent graduate from the University of Richmond. She fancies herself a fish (the water is her home) but her friends call her bird. Well, Shirleybird. Shirley took an amazing opportunity to study abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Now she’s teaching English in Thailand with one of her best friends.
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