Photography & travel tips from an award-winning photographer, educator & wanderlust

Cambodia in 3 giant steps: Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville

A. Siem Reap

Visiting Cambodia’s ancient ruins is one of the most popular things things to do among tourists, so finding a convenient way to see the temples is as easy as saying Tuk-tuk. Thats exactly what we’ve chosen in order to sight-see as many temples as we could. With the tickets going up from $20 to $37 a day (as of February 2017), we decided to push for a temple overload in just 24 hours. Yes, you might get “templed out”, but we still had 3 more weeks of travel to stretch our budget.

TRAVELING TIP: If you’re planning on seeing sunrise at Angkor Watt, be sure to buy your tickets the night before. You’re able to do that at 5 pm (the place closes around 6pm) and you can still have about half an hour to get yourself familiar with the surroundings. Walking to the temple at 5 am, you’ll find yourself surrounded by hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people, all with the same goal – to get themselves to the best photographic spot at one of the pools of water near the temple. The path to the temple will take you through a raised platform over another pool of water, so knowing that the night before was incredibly helpful! Also, buy your ticket for the next day and don’t lose it, since the tickets get regularly checked at various temples.

By sheer luck, in the darkness, I picked the pool of water to the right of the temple (if you’re facing it) and as Robert Frost said: “That has made all the difference.”

This what the left pool looked like when the sun came up.

You’d think that getting out to photograph at 5-6 am would guarantee a place almost to yourself, unfortunately that is not the case at Angkor Watt.

And this is my shot from the right. I wish there were clouds or some dramatic sky that day, but with only one day to get the shot, I was happy. People were pushing and getting into each other’s picture, but I had a tripod and could snag a small territory around me by having this nifty accessory.

 

So, with the Tuk-tuk driver at our avail for the rest of the day (only $18 for the two of us), we were off to sight-see and photograph the small circuit of the Angkor Watt complex.

Courtesy of http://www.asienreisender.de

Honestly, it was hot, humid and after temple #2, all temples just started looking kind of alike. We were happy to be chauffeured around, with breeze flowing through my husband’s beard, haha.

Here’s a small gallery of my favorite shots that day

Obviously these ruins are a million years old and without the modern assistance from Japan, India, USA and other countries, we’d see less of them. I liked finding ways of how they spend their money.

 

Another entertaining place to experience while in Siem Reap is the Pub Street area with its restaurants, pubs, massage parlors, Dr. Fish experiences and street vendors. You’ll find yourself surrounded by $2 massages, $.50 Happy Hour drinks, Happy pizza, friendly locals and you’ll wonder if you’ve died and went to Budget Friendly Travel Heaven.

You’ll also be wondering if it’s worth going down south from Siem Reap, but for just $12 (5-6 hr bus ride to Phnom Penh), you down another $1 Mango shake and get on!

B. Phnom Penh

Bussing from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, you’re bound to make a pit stop in Phnom Penh (whether you wanted to or not). So we decided to break up our 12 journey to Sihanoukville and stop in PP for a night. I was lucky to find yet another cultural performance (they are becoming my favorite thing these days) by Cambodian Living Arts.  And for just $15/pp we were able to see a very colorful, lively and very photogenic performance. Check it out below.

Cambodian Living Arts is on a path of rebirth and growth after the unthinkable events that took place under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975-1979. Of the two million dead, were 90% of Cambodia’s musicians, artists, dancers and singers who were executed, starved or overworked. Despite such a tremendous hardship period, Cambodia art forms are alive and you too can witness the intricate dances and movements of such talented young people at this performance in Phnom Penh. Click here for more information.

C. Sihanoukville

Sihanoukville (or Kompong Som) became on our radar, when we decided to cross into Vietnam by land, instead of flying (Cambodian airline monopoly taxes heavily those leaving the country by plane). Nervously, we’ve decided to go down to the Vietnamese Immigration Office in Sihanoukville and roll the dice on the next 2 weeks of our vacation. Fortunately, the gods of travel were on our side, and after submitting an application with our passport picture and $40/pp, we were able to collect our visas the next day. Happy as a pig in @#$, we went back to our awesome guesthouse (Sunday Guesthouse), where the pool was sick.

Sihanoukville is located on the shore and has a plethora of various beaches for partiers, backpackers, families, the good, bad and the ugly (just kidding.) We found ourselves at Serendipity Beach, which was quiet, full of empty lounge chairs, quiet restaurants and beautiful sunsets.

 

Lots of travelers opt to go on to an island of Koh Rong, which is famous for its bio-luminescent plankton. Even though seeing these colorful critters was on my list, sometimes you just can’t do it all and you must leave something to come back to Cambodia for.

During one evening, we walked what seemed like for days towards Otres Beach, where a friend of ours from Korea was staying and drinking Cambodian Craft Beer. If you know me and my husband by now, we are huge craft beer enthusiasts and one of us (not me) a true connoisseur. We were off to find the pot at the end of the rainbow and after walking over scary mountains and not very well lit roads and beaches, we found a local pimped out car to take us another 2km (we were pressed for time). Alas, we arrived and all was well in the world, especially when you have a beer in your hand!


And there you have it – 3 stops in Cambodia, which we did in about a week in February of 2017. This was my first time to this amazing country and I’m sure it won’t be my last, because:

  • I have to witness  the bio-luminescent plankton of Koh Rong
  • I have to get my lips on Khmer dish of Amok again!
  • Stretching your dollar in this country is just sooo easy.

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12 comments

  1. Ah the nightmare of tourist traps. Although I really want to see Angkor Watt, photographing isn’t interesting anymore due to the sheer amount of pictures already taken. I think you did a great job in photographing the tourists, they’re a much more interesting subject by this point. The detail shots of the temple are nice though.

    • Emre, I agree that it’s hard to photograph the Eiffel Tower, Angkor Watt or the Golden Gate bridge, but I think thats the fun and challenging part of doing photography – is capturing the same place/sight from a different perspective or with a unique twist on things. It’s not always possible, but that’s what helps some photogs stand out.

    • The fried frog was sooo good! Much tastier than chicken and with the right amount of salt/pepper/spices it was one of my favorite treats in Cambodia.

  2. That’s a LOOOOOTTTTTTTT of tourists! I love your photos together.

    I smiled with your “Budget Friendly Travel Heaven”. The live performances look very interesting. Glad to read that it is on the process of rebirth.

  3. As always, I love the photos and all the moments you’ve captured. What I particularly liked was that there was so much more writing in this one! You have really spun a lovely little story about your experiences getting templed-out. I would have thought getting up at 5am would be enough too. I can’t imagine being comfortable watching the sunrise with all those other tourists!

  4. love your photos!! The Living Arts performance looks great, I think I’d really enjoy watching that, so bright and colourful!! We visited Angkor Wat at sunrise about 5 years ago, we didn’t have to buy tickets in advance and it wasn’t that busy – I guess it just shows how many more tourists are travelling to Cambodia these days! Looks like you had a great trip and thanks for all the great recommendations we are hoping to get back to Cambodia in the next 12 months.

  5. Gorgeous photos. I found the temples of Angkor Wat did look similar but there were some standouts. The one with all of the faces. The ones with the tree roots growing in and out and all around. Plus the main one. Really it was still all so wondrous wasn’t it?

    • The Temple with all the faces definitely gets some figuring out, how to climb and maneuver all the way to the top in order to get them up close and personal. I met a friendly Cambodian student/guide who was kind enough to show me around, in exchange for a small donation of course.

  6. You really crammed a lot into one week! I spent a week alone in Siem Reap in 2015. It’s a shame that the prices have gone up for the Angkor Wat Archaeological Park. Your photos are stunning, and actually, I thought the picture of you guys in the water tank was really cool! I also saw a Cambodian theater performance while in Siem Reap. It was called, Phare, and it was put on by the Cambodian Circus. Looks like you also had a great experience!

    • Yes, I could definitely spend a longer amount of time in Cambodia, we were just eager to come back to Vietnam, since we loved it so much last year.

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