Cambodia Quad Bike Tour and the Floating Village

My last post about our SE Asia trip will conclude with a couple other activities that we did – one which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as a must-do, and the other as a very much must-do.

We’ll get the Floating Village out of the way first.  I was underwhelmed by it.  This isn’t to say that the attraction wasn’t interesting.  It was just a bit too far out and a bit too expensive to waste time on if you’re on a time budget.  The Floating Village is about 30-45 minutes drive from Angkor Wat.  From there you pay $20 to hop into a boat and take another 30 minute boat ride down a river to the lake where floating houses reside.  Remember, the $20 fee is in American money, so in relation to everything else, it’s really expensive.

It was a nice day, so the boat ride wasn’t too bad.  But at the end of the day, all you really saw were a lot of poverty-stricken shacks.  In that sense, it’s good to see in that it reminds one of how much the rest of the world actually lives, and how we should be grateful for everything that we have.  And seeing this community living literally on the water (floating schools, stores, etc.) was very unique and something that I hadn’t ever seen anywhere else before.  But at the end of the day, I’d probably skip it for more time at Angkor Wat or other activities.

What was cool?  The Cambodia Quad Bike tour we took.  Now this is an activity worth doing.  The $35 we spent on taking the ATV tour in my opinion was the highlight of Cambodia.  This isn’t a knock on Angkor Wat by any means, but when I travel I do like to get my heart racing a bit and get the adrenaline going; this tour was the fix.  If you do sign up for the tour, sign up for the sunset ride.

The ATV tour takes you out to the countryside where you can ride through the rice fields past water buffaloes, beautiful landscapes, and Cambodian farmers at speeds up to I would say 40-50 mph.  Our guide, Heng, was great as well, stopping at various points to let us take photos and take photos of us.  But the best part of the tour was the sunset.  We stopped at a rice field with practically no one else around.  In front of us a family of about 50 ducks marched along without a care, and a water buffalo chilled beside us.  The sunset itself was incredible, so serene and vibrant with color.  Whereas the Angkor Wat sunrise was amazing to see because it was both iconic and awe-inspiring, the sunset we saw in the rice fields was spectacular because of the zen-like calmness it brought.  I can’t imagine a better way to have wrapped up what was such a whirlwind trip.

Angkor Wat

The main attraction of any trip to Cambodia is undoubtedly a trip to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples of Angkor.  The impressive temples are not only profound because of the sheer size of how many temples are in the area, but because the detail on them is still remarkably intact.  The temples span across miles and miles and it no joke takes several days to see all of them if you’re so inclined.  Because of the popularity of the attraction, I highly recommend getting a personal guide and I would very highly recommend having your hotel reserve you one in advance.  We made the mistake of not planning ahead, so when we arrived in Cambodia, our hotel said that most of the guides were already booked, so we had to scramble to find someone for the next morning.  We did get a guide eventually, so all’s well that ends well, but don’t go through the stress we went through.  Book in advance.

I’m going to again let the pictures do the talking for this blog post, but I will mention a few tips/highlights:

  • A 3-Day pass is $40.  You’ll need to have it on you at all times to get in and around Angkor Wat.
  • It is an extraordinarily hot place, especially during the summer.  Bring a ton of water.
  • The early sunrise is worth seeing, but I don’t think the arrival time of 5 am is necessary.  You could probably leave a little later and still catch the best part of the sunrise over the temple.  For a good picture, take a spot at the edge of the pond in front of the temple so that you can see the reflection in the water.  It’s not a secret, so you’ll see plenty of people around that area.
  • Obviously Angkor Wat is huge, so there’s too much to get into in this one blog post, but my favorite parts were
    • the magnificently preserved Monkey vs. Demon carvings on the main Angkor Wat temple;
    • the tree wrapped temples at Ta Prohm with their giant roots where they filmed Tomb Raider (something they were proud to point out incessantly);
    • the Banteay Srei aka “Pink Temple, which was like a mini Angkor Wat made of pink stone with easily the most detailed carvings of all the temples that had been preserved; and
    • the 49 columns with Buddha/the King’s face at Angkor Thom.
  • One last note:  There are so many temples aside from the main Angkor Wat temple that aren’t as highly regarded or populated with tourists.  At those temples, be on the lookout for wildlife.  Even though the temples are marked off as tourist attractions, they’re still in the jungles of Cambodia.  As a case in point, when we went to Beng Malea, as I was taking a picture, my buddy and tour guide abruptly told me to get the hell out of the way fast.  I had no idea what they were talking about until I looked up and saw a giant green snake on the branch above me.  I promptly shit my pants and stepped away.  The guide told us that type of snake was actually quite poisonous and he used a branch to try and get it to slither back up the tree to at the very least give it some distance from the path.  Quite a scary moment indeed and one that should be a reminder to be vigilant.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Going back to a more industrialized, urban country was a bit jarring coming from the serenity of Laos.  After our exhausting delay, and relatively frightening flight, we landed in Cambodia for the final leg of our trip.  Again, when you get to Cambodia, you’ll need to have cash on hand for the $35 visa.

Our hotel was The Golden Temple Hotel, which arranged for a tuk tuk to pick us up and bring us there.  The Golden Temple Hotel’s staff welcomed us with tea and a snack when we arrived. The folks there are incredibly helpful and accommodating.  The place itself is brand new, and only has 30 rooms so the staff does their best to get to know their individual guests.  The rooms are equipped with all the amenities to make a comfortable stay (HD TV, free WiFi, A/C, nice clean and new furniture).  The hotel also provides a cell phone for you to use (which is HUGE for those of you without an international plan), a free wine happy hour, a very generous complimentary breakfast every morning with a box breakfast for those who leave early for Angkor Wat, and when you leave they give their departing guests a free T-shirt and scarf as a thank you gift.  The deal we got through Expedia also included for each of us a free massage at the hotel spa and a free Khmer dinner cooked and delivered to your room.  What did we pay?  $80 a night.

So, yeah, that hotel might be the best value I’ve ever gotten at a place I’ve stayed traveling.  There’s only two things that they could improve on.  One, they need a few more lounge chairs by the pool.  And two, while the staff was great (and I really want to make sure that’s clear, they were GREAT), they were a bit overbearing in their attempts to accommodate every need.   While I do feel kind of like a dick for saying that a negative is that people were too nice, I do wish they scaled it back just a notch.

The location of the Golden Temple Hotel is also a huge plus.  It’s within walking distance of the Siem Reap Night Market as well as Pub Alley.  My first impression of these places was this: I hope that Luang Prabang doesn’t turn into it.  The Night Market in Siem Reap is the exact opposite of what was in Luang Prabang.  It was loud and seedy, with tuk tuk drivers and whores coming up to you constantly.  I almost punched a guy in the face because he grabbed by arm and spun me around so that he could get my attention.  Despite that, knowing that it is what it is, it is a rather fun place to go out if you’re looking to have drinks and a crowd.  Pub Alley is essentially trying to be the Bourbon Street of SE Asia, so there are plenty of different types of bars with large quantities of cheap drinks to be had.  Most of the bars have outdoor seating for people watching.  Our experience was even cooler because there was a power outage (not uncommon for SE Asia apparently), so half the street had no electricity and people were using candles for lighting giving the street a really cool, rustic, exotic look.

One place in particular that I’d recommend for drinks is Beer Battle, which has a bit of a calmer vibe surrounded by all the madness.   I would also recommend walking to the Night Market from there and grabbing dinner at Genevieve’s Restaurant.   This restaurant was the closest thing to a Mom & Pop place we went to all trip.  We honestly weren’t expecting much, but it ended up being a surprisingly good meal.  The owner is an Australian who opened up the place, named after his wife, and sends a portion of his proceeds to charity.  The staff he hires are all local Cambodians whom he hopes will one day take over the restaurant and make it their own.   He came by our table at one point, and it was had not to feel good about eating there after speaking with the kind, grandfatherly figure.  One thing to note – if you ask for spicy, they will give you spicy.  My buddy on the trip is Indian, and he had been noticing that there wasn’t any really spicy food so far on the trip, so he specifically asked our waitress to make our beef salad spicy, spicy.  I lasted one bite; literally one bite.  He on the other hand impressively finished the dish, but at the cost of practically not being able to eat the next day!

Coming up: The signature attraction of Cambodia — Angkor Wat.

Tuk Tuk – the Auto Rickshaw

A popular mode of transportation in SE Asia is the Tuk Tuk (pronounced “Duk Duk”), which is an auto rickshaw.  Generally cheaper than cabs if you can negotiate correctly, the Tuk Tuk is a fun way to get around.  But know that your heart rate will be accelerated as you ride on them.  Think of it like taking an amusement park ride without the benefit of a safety bar.  And again my mantra for SE Asia — Keep Your Elbows In!