Luckily, prior to our departure from Bangkok to Siem Reap we decided to do some research about the journey, as we were considering taking the budget option of the third class train. As we were researching the journey, we stumbled across many reports and travel blogs of scams that took place whilst making this trip, no fewer than five scams set up to trick travellers into overpriced travel, overpriced entry visas (more than double the $20 they were supposed to be!), overpriced bus tickets the other side of the border and the list goes on and on! We decided to go for the option of the train as it cost us £1 as opposed to about £18 on a bus, no brainer! Besides we thought it would be a good way to experience local travel.
The train was scheduled to leave at 5:55am, so we had a proper early one that morning! We caught a tuk-tuk (cheap local method of transport, basically a moped pulling a carriage for two along with it - good fun) from our guest house to the train station at around 5:15am, in good time to sort out purchasing the tickets and getting a bite to eat. The train station was absolutely rammed considering it was half five in the morning! We sorted the tickets and set off down the platform to board the train (a very old fashioned train may I add, very similar to those that were seen during evacuations in World War Two where everyone hangs out the windows!) and, as the station was, the train was heaving! It was beginning to look like we were not going to get a seat together on this cramped and congested train, which we were not looking forward too, as it was a six hour plus journey! However, after walking the full length of the train's many carriages, we managed to secure the very last double seats right at the end! Winner! The journey was OK, you get what you pay for I suppose, but it was not very comfortable and it was proper windy as all the huge windows were all fully open and not able to close, therefore meaning you have wind constantly blowing forcefully in your face! (not the ideal situation to catch a few winks!) As hoped though, it was a good way to experience local travel with local people and there was some interesting views along the way, we witnessed a lot of the damage that the recent bad floods have caused, some areas were quite shocking.
We arrived at our destination at about 12:30am, we knew, thanks to our research of the journey, that we would have to get a tuk-tuk to the border as it was about 8km away from the station. We also knew we were only supposed to pay 80 Thai Baht (this is the equivalent to just under £2) maximum for this journey, another one of the scams people were fooled by was this tuk-tuk ride being massively overpriced! We were approached by a tuk-tuk driver before we had even started getting our luggage together, yes he actually came onto the train and touted for business! Oh well, at least we didn't have to go looking I suppose! After much bartering and us blagging the chap that we had made this journey many times before, we managed to secure a price of 60 Baht for the ride, result! So far so good, we had not been had by any of the scams. Then on the tuk-tuk journey to the crossing, sure enough as described in the travel blogs, just before we reached the border the tuk-tuk took a swift right turn and pulled up at some back street office where some very shifty looking men were trying to tell you this is where you obtain your visa and the price is $42! We told the guys we had already obtained an e-visa over the internet (we hadn't but we knew this would be the easiest way to stop them hassling us).
We continued on to the border and before we had even stepped foot off the tuk-tuk we were approached by a man who arranged taxis that would take us to our guest house on the other side - we had decided to go for the taxi option as it was only slightly more expensive than the bus and with the taxi we would get dropped straight to our guest house (or at least we thought, and were told we would be!) as opposed to being dropped off at a bus station and not having a scooby where we were. We arranged a price of $12 each for a shared taxi, which is not bad at all considering it was a 2 to 3 hour journey depending on traffic and that the bus tickets were $9. We were advised by the taxi organiser to withdraw all our money that we needed for our time in Cambodia as there were hardly any cash machines in Siem Reap that worked and to change our money from Thai Baht into Cambodian Riel on the other side of the border, we thought this seemed OK as we had not read anything about a scam of this sort and there was loads and loads of other travellers withdrawing money. The only thing that seemed a bit dicey was that on two occasions, Cambodian men were telling us how much we would need for the six days we had planned in Siem Reap, and it was a lot more than we had worked out we would need. We then made our way through the border crossing and obtained our visa for the legitimate price of $20, the cheeky immigration guys even asked for an extra $1 each for no reason at all! We just said no and continued on our way. Now on Cambodian turf we re-joined our taxi organiser and caught a free bus to the terminal where our taxi awaited us. We arrived at the bus terminal and this is where everybody was exchanging their money. Unfortunately, this is the only scam we were fooled by, the reason the guys trick you in to taking your money out in Thai baht, and also why the cheeky bleeders try to convince yo to take as much money out as possible, is so that you then exchange your money at this place which gives a ridiculously low exchange rate! We lost out on about £30, which as frustrating as it was, when we worked out how much we could potentially have had lost if we fell for every scam we came across, it could have been £200 plus! Once we had changed our money we were told we had to wait for the other two seats in the taxi to be filled, unless we paid another $12 and then we could have the taxi to ourselves and leave straight away. We decided to hold and see if the seats would be filled any time soon. We waited about an hour and still no takers, we decided to pay the extra money and leave, as it was now after three o'clock and we were shattered. We made sure the guy who organised the taxi and the taxi driver himself knew the guest house we were heading to and that the taxi driver would drop us all the way there. On the journey, I was quite surprised at how poor the country looked, I knew it was supposed to be a deprived country but was not expecting it to be as bad as it was. After about three hours I knew we must have been getting near, but couldn't really ask as it was not as easy as just saying 'how long now mate?' as he spoke next to no English. However, the little English he could speak we discovered when he fed us some line about how his company does not let him take us all the way to this particular guest house, but that he would drop us off at a tuk-tuk driver who would take us the rest of the way free of charge, very shifty we thought. So, the taxi driver took us down some quiet, deserted little side road and pulls up to a group of about eight tuk-tuk drivers, no sooner had our bags touched the floor, than the taxi driver had driven off and left us with all these shady looking guys and, as far as we were concerned, in the middle of nowhere! The tuk-tuk drivers started telling us how much we needed to pay to get to our guest house saying that it was very far away. We were very annoyed at the situation we had been put in by the taxi driver and knew very well that these guys all knew each other and that this was just another scam! So we just went and sat in one of the tuk-tuks and said 'we are not paying anything! can you take us to our guest house, speak to the taxi driver because he is the one that owes you money!' Much to our delight and surprise the tuk-tuk driver jumped in and we were on our way. We were then disgusted that no more than 100 metres down the road the tuk-tuk pulls up outside our guest house! There was no reason at all that the taxi driver couldn't have driven the extra 30 second journey down the road and there was no way the price the tuk-tuk drivers were trying to charge us was justified! Absolutely scandalous! Annoyed as we were and quite fed up with this country that we had not yet even settled into yet, at least we never paid any more money.
The Guest house we were staying at was a lovely family run place, with great food, nice rooms and very friendly and helpful staff, Cambodia was not looking all bad after all! We had decided to come and stay in Siem Reap mainly to go and visit the temples of Angkor, the huge, very very very very old and impressive temples, we had been told by a few travellers we had met previously that they were amazing. We decided to get a three day pass to see the temples, as we were told by many it would be ludicrous to try and squeeze visiting all of them in one day! Where we were staying was situated about 12km from the temples so we had to decide on a method of transport to visit them. There were three options; firstly, a tour-guided bus trip costing $56 (far too expensive for us budget traveller folk!); secondly, you could hire a tuk-tuk for the day costing $12 (still too expensive!) and thirdly, you could hire bicycles from the guest house for $2 a day! Why not? we thought, nice cheap option and we get a bit of exercise in in the process! Little did we know by the time the day was out we would have bicycled at least 60km in the blistering heat, on a bike that was probably put together in the 40's! The saddle was solid as a rock! Complete agony when we got home! :) On the plus side it was a nice way to see the local setting and how the locals went about their days. To say Sarah was a bit wobbly on the bike would be an understatement! At one point, just before we approached the temples I pointed out a monkey by the side of the path, Sarah then tried to pull over but as her bike had no brakes she just mounted the grass and nearly crashed straight into a monkey! She missed it by inches I kid you not! Hilarious! The temples that we went to see on our first day were very impressive, massive and had very intricate detail throughout, fascinating - considering that most were constructed in the 11th century and earlier. Check out some of the photos. Like I said by the time we got home we were shattered! We said to ourselves before making the 12km journey back from the temples that we would get a nice ice cold beer upon reaching our guest house, and the thought of this was what got us through the gruelling journey back! :) When we arrived, staggered off the bikes and collected our well deserved beers I can honestly say it was the nicest beer I have ever consumed! Ahhhh! Sarah necked hers so quickly, she had the hiccups for the rest of the night! :) The following day, we opted for the tuk-tuk option. Much more of a pleasant and easy ride, also allowing more time too look at the temples. By the time the day was out we had seen many many temples and as interested we were, we were all fully templed out and could'nt afford the tuk-tuk the next day anyway, so we decided to make that our last day at Angkor.
We planned to spend our last few days in Siem Riep enjoying the sunshine and chilling out, so as lovely as our guest house was we chose to move on to another place that had a swimming pool. We arrived at our new guest house and were shown to our room by the owners, it was a classic case of the room looked nothing like it did on the pictures on the internet! The room was unclean, damp, very smelly and the swimming pool water was dirty! We were not happy to stay in this place, especially as the main reason we had moved was to chill out at a nice pool. So, we went and had a chat with the owner and made some story up of how we thought his guest house was nearer to the main town and as we had friends staying there it was crucial we were nearer, we said this as we did not have the heart to tell him the establishment he was running was wack! We agreed on paying for just the price of half a nights stay as we had reserved three nights over the internet. Back on another tuk-tuk we were, and on to the next place, which was actually situated in the main town, this was better as there were many cheap shops, restaurants and bars here. The next place we planned to stay at was much nicer, the rooms were clean and tidy (which is the main thing we look for really when choosing somewhere to stay, since the previous incident we decided not to book other the internet again, but to go and view rooms for ourselves before reserving a room to stay) and although the pool was probably the smallest pool I have ever seen in my life it was good enough for us as it was clean.
The main town, which was called the old market was a great place. A road a couple of miles long, lined with endless shops, stalls, restaurants and bars. We had some lovely meals here and most of them, which were all generous portions were all for less than a quid each! We also had a cracking night out, a road just off the main drag called 'pub street' was a right lively place, had a great buzz to it and sold nice local beer for about 20p a pint, which enabled us to have a good night for pennys! :)
On our last day, we had to check out of our hotel by twelve and we were not catching our bus to Vietnam until seven in the evening, so we left our bags at reception and just had a wander around the old market for the day. Whilst walking around the old market you would be continuously hassled by tuk-tuk drivers touting for business, there was one guy that was trying to get our custom and as we said our usual 'no thanks' in unison (the amount you say this on a daily basis is unbelievable!) he was asking us if we would just go and look in some various shops, the guy had an agreement with the shops that if he brought potential customers to them he would get a commission on the basis of a stamped card for the amount of people he brought. The tuk-tuk journey would cost nothing and as we had no money to spend and plenty of time to spare we thought why not. We ended up going into three very plush and expensive shops that sold things such as silk carpets, artwork and carved souvenirs. He asked us to spend at least ten minutes in each shop, it was quite amusing really as we pretended to be genuinely interested in purchasing some of these things we could never afford. It helped the tuk-tuk driver towards earning a bit of money, which was hard to come by in his highly competitive line of work, so this was our good deed for the day. After visiting three shops for the man, after initially agreeing to only one, the driver offered to take and give us a free tour off the killing fields, this was where millions of men, women and children were exterminated by the communist regime of Cambodia and some of the human remains were still visible in the huge dumping holes they used. Unfortunately, we had to decline as it was only an hour now untill we had to catch our bus and we still had to get dinner. We are going to try and visit though on our way back through Cambodia on the way to Thailand, as we have spoken to some people who have been since and they all said it was very interesting.
Despite our negative start to Cambodia, with all the scams and what not, it turned out we thoroughly enjoyed our time spent there; the weather was lovely, the people were spot on, great food and an all round nice country.