Inquiry Submission By BrisbaneHolidaymaker
My husband (60) and I (57) travelled to Cambodia for the first time in December 2019 to January, 2020. As I sifted through so many entertaining and insightful posts on this forum I am hoping that I might be able to pay back some of that kindness and help other travellers. I am going to break my reports into three parts, this one about general observations, one about our travels in and around Siem Reap and finally about our trip in the south.
Arriving in Siem Reap from Brisbane, Australia via Singapore was straight forward if you knew what was going to happen. We arrived mid morning, walked across the tarmac to the terminal and joined the queue for visas on arrival. We had made sure we had $US30 each and had completed the forms given to us on the plane. For those reluctant to not have their passport in direct eyesight all the time this may not be the way for them to get a visa. We handed our passport and forms to the first official who directed us to another official an arms distance away to pay. Our passports were passed on by the official. We were allowed to pay together. We were then asked to go and join a queue about three metres away and around a corner and that our names would be called. Our passport then journeyed through a number of hands until we were beckoned over and asked our nationality. Our passports were found and we were off to immigration. I had my fingerprints taken while my husband didn’t. It must have been the machinery as I couldn’t possibly look more shifty. We both had our fingerprints taken on departure from Phonm Penh. We were looking for a store to purchase a SIM card but couldn’t see one inside. When we left the terminal the usual calls for taxi and people holding signs awaited us. To the right was a group of pop-up style shops selling Sim cards. For $US5 we got 3G and lots of calls. More than ample for us.
We have previously travelled several times to Vietnam independently so some things (traffic) that might worry other first timers seemed very tame to us. Go with the flow, relax and enjoy what is happening around you and if you have to cross a busy road do it at a steady pass and not in front of trucks or cars. Like many other people we found the people in Cambodia delightful. As our country burned people continually expressed their sorrow for what they were seeing on their televisions. It was touching.
In Siem Reap we had organised a tuk tuk driver who was a friend of our niece who had lived in Cambodia and hoped that we could help him by making sure he had a few dollars in his pocket that month. Generally his prices were the same as what is quoted on this forum. We didn’t haggle with him except when he seemed to push it a little bit but he always turned up on time and with a smile. Again the advice on here is generally if you find a driver you like keep him. We had also organised a driver to some of the outer temples and for transfers which saved the scrum at the airport. We used Cambodian Air to travel from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville airport. We had booked tickets before we left and had checked what we were buying to make sure it included checked bags. There were no issues at all with flights being on time and with luggage. We’d recommend them. Other travellers we met had their flight with another provider cancelled and had to buy tickets with Cambodian Air.
Money gets easier the longer you are there. By the end we were able to easily combine $US and Cambodian riel. Sometimes by using the riel as cents and sometimes by combining a few dollars and enough riel to equate to dollars as well. We used ATMs during business hours and then went into a bank to change into smaller denominations. In each bank we went to you take a ticket and wait for your number to be called and come up on a screen. There were always people to help. Tipping isn’t a customary in Australia and I think we are clumsy with when and how. We tipped one tour guide who told us we had tipped him too much but he was the only guide we tipped. We didn’t get the sense that it was an expectation and some restaurants but not many included a service charge.
We walked a lot and never felt unsafe in either Siem Reap or Phnom Penh but we were not out in the early ours of the morning and usually in busy areas.
The prices of food and drink vary depending on the style of food and restaurant. We ate from road side places to in full service restaurants. We bought some gin and whiskey in a supermarket and specialty store at prices that were amazing. Before I left I didn’t fully understand and wish I had the water refilling program, ‘Refill not landfill’ In many places which you can find online you can take your waterbottle to be refilled with clean, drinkable water. Some hotels we stayed in had glass water bottles that you could take to the bar and refill while other hotels would happily fill our bottles. If you look you will find ways to try to reduce the curse of plastic bottles.
When comfortable and relaxed around you Cambodian people are open and honest about their views. Chatting to people is a great way to understand their perspective on their life and the lives of their people. We found Cambodia bewitching and with lots of contrasts. When we reached 5 in two days we stopped counting the number of Rolls Royce cars we saw in Phonm Penh while on the other hand you don’t have to look far to see that people have difficulties surviving from day to day. There are so many NGOs supporting people and trying to create change that it can be perplexing to understand who or what to support. I guess everyone will come to their own conclusion and at the risk of drawing the ire of some, my thought is to direct your tourist dollars towards places that build capacity rather than provide hand outs. There are lots of signs in airports about children not being tourist attractions and as my work at home is with supporting children in need I strongly support the stance of not objectifying children’s poverty by going and looking at them but rather find ways to support organisations that create change in communities so that everyone can have a brighter future.
It’s a wonderful country, easy to get around and the prices are still reasonable even when you’re travelling on a weak Aussie dollar. We’ll be back!