Erected in the 9th century, Angkor Wat has seen a lot over the years. The world’s largest religious monument, the structure has had a Buddhist, Hindu and cult following.
It’s had addition after addition added until the 15th century, stretching 400 km2 across the center of Cambodia. The funny thing is, if you didn’t know it was there you probably wouldn’t be able to find it amongst the country’s forests.
More than anything the monument has survived the test of time, the Khmer Rouge that tried to destroy all of Cambodia’s cultured past and even mother nature who still tries to rip through the architectural wonder today with its mighty roots.
We spent about an hour and a half just walking around the main temple in Angkor Wat. It really felt like a trip back in time. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Angkor Archeological Park is home to all the temples that make up Angkor Wat. Today the UNESCO World Heritage site that had been ignored for so long is getting the attention it rightfully deserves. Tourists from all around the world visit the site each year to see its crumbling religious structures.
Seeing how massive Angkor Wat is, makes the detail even more incredible. Here are wall carvings of Khmer soldiers in the main temple. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
I visited in May 2011 and was in shock of the size of the place. The guesthouse I stayed at set up a tuk tuk to pick my partner and I up at 4:30 a.m. We hired the tuk tuk for half a day for only $20, a bargain considering he drove us around for six hours that day and my partner and I split the price.
Ric and our tuk tuk driver inside the Park. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Entrance into the Park costs $20 per person for one day, but multiple-day passes are discounted. Though most the guidebooks and blogs I read recommend visiting for at least three days, I decided to just try one day and see how I felt. Inevitably I would have liked to have seen more, but like castles in Scotland, I was starting to get a bit temple-weary at this point in our trip around Southeast Asia.
The sun warming the walls of Angkor Wat’s main temple. We walked around here just after sunrise. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Our tuk tuk driver had a schedule of temples for us to visit that day, but also considered ones we point out in a tourist book I bought there for $5. We visited Angkor Wat for sunrise, which was worth the early wake up. Besides being an amazing building, a pond in front mirrors the image of the sun rising behind it. We visited Bayon (the temple with many faces on it), Ta Prohm (the most photographed temple for trees growing through it) and about five more temples that day. The three mentioned are probably the most well-known, but there is so much more to be discovered in this park.
I had seen so many photographs of this spot in Ta Prohm over the years. It was hard to get the photo I wanted of it though, because now there is a massive platform in front of it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Luckily, there are plenty more gorgeous spots to photograph here. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
It’s ironic that the lure of Ta Prohm is actually the thing that is destroying it. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Not much of the park that I visited was cut off to visitors at the time. A lot of it was being restored while I was there, which was great to see. I have to say my favorite temple is Bayon. It was such an amazing structure and fun to walk around. Everywhere I looked a stone face was smiling back at me. Visitors will spot quite a few monkeys hanging around this area of the Park, which are cute, but still wild so treat them as such.
Bayon was definitely my favorite temple to visit. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
No matter how lost you get in Bayon, someone is always watching you. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
People were restoring a lot of the ruins in Angkor Wat while I was there. Here is a wall near elephant terrace pieced together. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
We saw so many monkeys on the drive from Angkor Wat to Bayon. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
There are plenty of places to buy food and water. A strip of food carts operate by the main temple. Each cart is named after a celebrity like Lady Gaga or Angelina Jolie.
There are plenty of spots in the Park to buy souvenirs. Cambodia is very poor, but I met more children and people who were selling goods rather than just begging around Angkor Wat. I bought a few bracelets from children and books from land mine victims in Siem Reap. I would really recommend this as a way to give back to a place with such beautiful people and land who have suffered so much.
A child runs through the pillars of Angkor Wat. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
People interested in visiting Angkor Wat should base themselves in Siem Reap. The busy Cambodian town is located about a 20-minute drive from Angkor Wat. All you hear about in the town is Angkor Wat, but make sure to take a few days to just enjoy Siem Reap. It’s a gorgeous city with markets, cafes and great restaurants.
I wouldn’t bother arranging anything until arriving in Angkor Wat. You’ll most likely get scooped up by a guesthouse at the bus station anyway. They’re really good in organizing tours and very friendly. Make sure to haggle though and always be aware that scams do happen.
Angkor Wat is a magnificent place to visit and it’s an incredibly cheap trip in terms of travel around the world. Have you ever visited the Park? What was your experience like and what are your tips for those who have never been?
Scams just come with Southeast Asian travel. In fact, two of the most common scams in general happen immediately after leaving the airport usually, over-priced taxis and taxis selling a particular hotel.
But don’t let scams stop or ruin your trip. Some of the scams you hear about don’t even exist and a lot don’t happen very often. The truth is that most scams only set Western travelers back a few dollars and a few actually make for a good story.
Nonetheless, it’s not a subject that should ever be taken lightly. Travelers should always make themselves aware of possible scams so they’re prepared to handle the situation if it happens. Rather than preparing you for scams I’ve heard of, but never seen in action, here are four I’ve run into and the best way I found to tackle them.
Made up services
I’ve written about my adoration for the Philippines on several occasions. Part of the reason why I like the country so much is, because it’s off the tourist trail, a bit rugged and untouched. But with untouched also comes undeveloped tourist services. This is a great thing for intrepid travelers, but something that allows for a lot of scams.
Twice I’ve seen random people actually write down a price on a piece of cardboard, expecting an arriving crowd of tourist to start dishing out cash. Once was for a fight that was actually free, but a random guy started telling everyone it costs 20php. Next was for a ferry service, which just needed to be negotiated for a more reasonable price. Both these experiences added a lot of character to my journey
What I did:
Basically I just said no. With the fight it just seemed ridiculous. It literally looked like a guy straight off the street jumped into an old collection box. Unfortunately, all the Filipinos at the arena started to get in on it too and urged us to pay. Okay, when have you ever been to a sporting event where fans were actually forcing other fans to pay?
In the case of the over-priced ferry service, well I have Lonely Planet to thank for that. In Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, LP authors wrote about this exact scam in the exact place it happened to me. They wrote to only accept a certain rate. So that’s what I and a band of five or six travelers did. In the end, the cargo boat took our offer.
The moral of this story is to ask around, read up on the area, stand your ground and don’t be foolish.
Recommended accommodation by taxi drivers
Taxi drivers are honestly the biggest scammers EVER. Not all drivers are caniving, but in pretty much every corner of the world a taxi driver has and will take advantage of tourists in more ways than one.
After a day of driving from 4,000 Islands in Laos to Siem Reap, Ric, my boyfriend and I arrived at the bus junction in our destination city exhausted. On the bus journey there we met a woman who owned a hostel and arranged to stay with her. That may or may not have been a scam of its own, but we promised to go with her anyway.
Then we arrived at the bus junction to dozens of determined drivers. We tried our hardest to stick with our girl. We came so close too. She stuck us on a tuk tuk, instructed him to go to the place that was mapped out on her business card. However, as the tuk tuk drove away from her, the guy in the cart with us started talking about some place different. “It has a pool” he said. “Close to town,” he told us. We kept saying no, but we really didn’t have any choice.
What I did:
We were exhausted and knew nothing of the town. So Ric just yelled, “Take us wherever, but we’re not paying for this ride.”
We didn’t pay and luckily the guest house they delivered us to was amazing and cheap. It even had a great pool.
The moral of this story is that when drivers recommend accommodation, it’s not because they’re being nice. It’s because they’re receiving commission. If you have reservations already booked, talk with the driver about where it is and what their price for the ride is prior to getting into the car. That said, sometimes it is literally impossible to get out of this situation, but hey, it might work out for the best.
Tuk Tuks in Thailand
Our tuk tuk in Bangkok brought us to a tailor en route to our destination. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
This is probably the most-talked-about scam in Southeast Asia. There’s a reason why so many tuk tuks are just hanging out rather than driving people places in Bangkok. They are a guaranteed scam. That said, this scam is actually an experience.
I read and heard about the tuk tuk scam long before I arrived in Thailand. Passengers board a tuk tuk giving the driver their destination. Driver says sure. Halfway through the drive, during which he’s absolutely lovely and personable, he says, “I know a really great shop where you can buy one-of-a-kind Thai gifts.” Enthusiastic traveler thinks, “Amazing, take me there now.”
However good or whatever this shop turns out to be, the driver only took his or her passengers there, because he’s getting a commission.
What I did:
Since I knew this, but wanted to go for a tuk tuk ride just once in Bangkok, I planned to board one when I had nowhere to be. My boyfriend, a friend and I were straight with the driver and said, “We know you’re going to take us wherever, this is all we’re willing to pay to get to our final destination and we most likely won’t buy anything from wherever you take us.” He asked us to just look around the tailors he would take us, so we promised to do so.
Great ride, great conversation, then we arrive at said tailors. The salesmen inside were all over Ric. “You buy suit? We have nice suits. You like this suit?” My friend and I just laughed and looked around on our own. One saleman astray spotted us and started asking us to buy ties for our boyfriends back home. I said mine is right there, so I don’t need to.
He looked at my friend and asked her. Before she could answer I said, “That’s her boyfriend too. We share him.” It either really offended them or they just realized we were wasting their time, but either way they kicked us out of the store and we actually made it home sooner than expected.
SE Asian travelers, you’ve been warned about tuk tuks yet again. Basically, expect a detour if you ride one. Enjoy it instead of getting annoyed.
Price inflation in general
Money, money, money. That is the entire reason why any of these scams even exist. That’s why the most basic of SE Asian scams is adding a few or a lot of dollars onto the real price of a service or item.
To be blunt, haggle on everything in SE Asia. This means clothes, food, massages, but especially all forms of transportation. Travelers should never accept the first price a driver gives them unless they’ve read that’s the going rate or it was set up by someone trusted.
This isn’t just for private travel either. I’ve been charged twice the locals on public buses before.
We boarded the car and gave the driver our destination. He didn’t turn his meter on, so I asked him to do so. He said, “No it will be a lot cheaper if I just give you a general price.” I replied, “Nah, I want the meter on.” He priced the ride at 500baht, which I knew was absurd considering our taxi from the airport to the city was less than that.
What I did:
So I did what any logical person would do and yelled, “Phaeng mark mark.” He looked at me and said, “Nooo! Took mark mark!” A Thai phrase I learned at that moment, which means “too cheap”. We went on like this until he started to bargain with me. I got him down to 150baht and actually had him laughing by the end of the ride.
I have to reiterate how important it is to haggle in SE Asia. It’s necessary and actually quite fun. Other than that, look at what the locals are paying, always ask taxi driver to run their meter and negotiate before entering a cab. If the driver won’t budge, there are a million other cabs around to choose from most of the time. One of them will.
This year has been a spectacular one. Let’s have a look back on what I did in 2011.
My year actually started with an end. On January 26, Australia Day, I said farewell to the massive country I had called my home for most of 2010. My final days in Australia were spent mainly in Melbourne, where my boyfriend Ric and I lived in a tiny apartment on Chapel Street.
It was really hard to say goodbye to such an amazing country. It was even harder to close one of the best travel experiences of my life, the work holiday visa. I met so many amazing people in Australia, but the best of them all was the hardest to say goodbye to on that last day in the country.
Ric and I bid each other farewell as I headed off to the Philippines and he stayed in Melbourne.
Hello Southeast Asia! I never thought or planned on visiting this part of the world, but after hearing how amazing it was from travelers in Australia, I just had to. The Philippines was my first stop, Donsol in particular. I visited for whaleshark season and after three tries I actually got to see one of the big fellas.
From Donsol, I headed to Cebu City where I spent some time with a friend of a friend’s family. After seeing such kindness from total strangers, I was moved to extend my visa to the Philippines by one more month. One month just wasn’t enough.
It’s a good thing I did as my next stop in the country, Malapascua, was just too hard to leave. I visited the tiny island planning to stay three days. I ended up, not only staying six weeks, but also earning my divemaster certification.
Only the most special boy in the world. Ric spent about 12 days in paradise with me as I finished up my training. Later, we kicked off our travels together in Hong Kong.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in this massive city. I thought of it as China, but people would say it’s not really China. At first glance I was just in shock over how many apartment buildings were in the city.
I really loved the place and I especially loved sharing it with my new travel partner. We visited the Big Buddha, went on a bus tour of the city, road the Peak Tram and ate lots of dim sum. It’s an expensive place to visit, so I’m hoping to go back one day with more money.
We headed to the mother of all backpacker destinations, Bangkok, in late March. There we met up with my friend Julia who flew all the way out to travel with us for a few weeks. Bangkok is the most pleasant surprise I’ve ever had traveling. I expected it to be this seedy town with nothing but ping pong shows and heavy drinking to offer.
But it’s so much more.
For starters, it’s an international city with amazing museums, restaurants, malls and more. But for backpackers, it’s something much more. I’ve never seen so many travelers bobbing around happily as I did on Khaosan Road. It made me wish I planned a few more nights in the city, but no worries, we would end up coming back three more times.
From Bangkok, we visited Ko Samet and Ko Chang, where Julia and I became deathly ill for ten days. I think it was bad eggs, but hey, I lost about 20 lbs, so silver lining. We said goodbye to Julia then spent probably more time than we should have in Lonely Beach.
We left the island to meet Ric’s mom and brother in Pattaya. It was my first time meeting them, so I was quite nervous. But they are amazing and we had a great time. There we celebrated Songkran and made a visa run to Cambodia. However, Pattaya is probably a place I’ll never return. It’s pretty much what I expected of Bangkok originally.
After another sad goodbye, Ric and I kept on traveling Thailand. This time we headed south visiting Koh Tao. We mainly relaxed here as we were gearing up for the famous Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan on April 18. We spent the next day recuperating on Koh Tao, then continued traveling south to Koh Samui.
On our visit to the over-commercialized island, we rented motorbikes, swam under waterfalls and visited Ang Thong Marine Park, the real inspiration for “The Beach”.
After Ko Phi Phi we had to leave Thailand as our visas ran out.
First stop in Laos was Vang Vieng for its famous tubing. We spent a week in the tiny town on the river and never actually completed the tube route on the Nam Song River. But we had loads of fun, drank lots of buckets and watched an absurd amount of Family Guy.
After Vang Vieng we needed a serious detox, so we spent another week in 4,000 Islands. In this quiet area of Laos, we spent a lot of time lounging, but also did quite a bit of exploring. We rented bikes and visited the largest waterfall in southeast Asia. I also got to see Irrawaddy dolphins. I saw them alone as Ric broke his bike and was too defeated to walk any further.
The trip from Laos to Cambodia involved two intense bus journeys. It took an entire day, but we finally reached Siem Reap in mid-May. The biggest attraction here is Angkor Wat, which is stunning, but I actually really enjoyed the town itself. We spent about a week there watching football and drinking cheap beer.
It was time to fly our tan selves to the US of A, my homeland and Ric’s dream destination. It was Ric’s first time visiting the States, so the trip home was a really special one for me.
We landed in California, where I surprised a friend. There we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Laguna Beach to Hermossa Beach. We also visited Hollywood and ended up on the set of our favorite show, Entourage.
No one from the east coast knew I was in the country at that point, except my Uncle. I had been secretly planning a trip home with him since October, so I could surprise my dad for his birthday. Everything went as planned. We spent one day hiding out at my Aunt and Uncles, that night my dad opened their garage door to see Ric and I standing there with ribbons around our necks.
But we didn’t sit still for too long. After about a week, we were on the road again. We drove from NJ to Alabama for a wedding in which Ric was best man. On the road trip I showed Ric around Washington D.C. and made a lot of fast food stops. He couldn’t get enough of America’s burgers and sandwiches.
It was my first time visiting Alabama and it was good to see the southern comfort side of the States. We spent most of our week there playing on a lake located behind the house we were staying at. We jet skied, tubed, kayaked, even jumped off a ridiculously high bridge. That really hurt.
The wedding was beautiful, the party was wild. We left Alabama extremely hungover en route to St. Augustine, Florida, where I showed Ric around my first real travel destination.
The rest of my time in the States was spent in NJ and Philadelphia. Erin, a friend I made studying abroad in London came out to visit, Ric climbed the Rocky steps and we celebrated the Fourth of July at the Jersey shore. But the highlight of my trip home was welcoming my gorgeous nephew Jake into the world. I love my life and all the traveling it entails, but it means missing out on some really spectacular occasions at home. I’m just happy I didn’t have to miss this one.
Add another farewell to my 2011 of goodbyes, as Ric and I left the States to go back down under, this time for a work-holiday visa in New Zealand.
We arrived in snowy Queenstown in July, but didn’t stay for long. We spent two days driving up to Blenheim where Ric already had a job sorted. Then a real twist came when I had to go back home for an emergency. I came back to New Zealand two weeks later and we were on the road again, this time only a short journey to Wellington.
After quite a hectic first half of the year, Ric and I were exhausted and broke. So we made a home in Wellington, got proper jobs, worked loads and saved up for our next adventure, the South Island in 2012.
We’ve been in Wellington for four months now and I’ve grown quite attached to the small city. We held back a lot during our time here as we were saving, but we still managed to accomplish quite a bit.
Ric and I are huge animal lovers. In fact, Ric has been called a dog whisperer on more than one occasion by people all over the world. We never miss an opportunity to pet an animal in SE Asia and there were plenty of them
We made so many friends in Asia, most of which were animals. Here are a few of our furry and some not so furry friends.
This crazy fella came charging at me on the beach in Malapascua. He then proceeded to roll in the sand and run circles around me as I walked the beach. Eventually he ran out of energy and let me pet him. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
A batch of puppies were born just before we arrived at the house in Pattaya. They were quite timid, but would play with Ric’s mom. She named one “Tiny Turner” pronounced “teeny”.
The biggest golden retriever I’ve ever met, we played with him for hours during a pub quiz in Pattaya. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Look at the hair. Obviously we named this lady Farrah Fawcett. She helped Ric through a banking crisis on the phone at Chaweng Beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Doppler! Our very first pup. We visited him every day while in Malapascua. He lived at a barbecue hut behind Exotic Resort. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Gobblin Dog. He wouldn’t let Ric leave Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Bangkok. Good thing he was cute. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
I named this guy Chewy, well, cause he chewed EVERYTHING. He was only just a pup and so sweet. Only wish he would have stayed out the trash. Photo by Richard Hackey
Look at the face on him! Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
It’s not always pretty running into street dogs. Some of them are looked after, but most are not and need serious attention. I felt so bad for this guy, he was shaking on Koh Phangan during the Full Moon Party. Someone even painted him. Poor guy. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
This pair was having a ball at Angkor Wat. Just running around playing through the monument. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
We fed this guy at a restaurant in Malapascua and he was our best friend for the rest of the night. I think he’s apart of the Ristorante Angelina crew, a dozens dogs that hangout around the restaurant and howl at the moon. Photo by Richard Hackey.
Now this relationship is true love. The little monkey was tied up to someone’s bike at Lonely Beach on Koh Chang. It was night and everyone was drunk and probably scaring him. He jumped onto Ric and wouldn’t let go. Ric loved him to pieces. It was so sad when we had to leave, the little guy wouldn’t let go. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
“Monkey,” I screamed from our motorbike in Malapascua, Philippines. There are no monkeys in Malapscua, so he must have been someone’s pet. But he was having a blast, running around a house by the beach. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
I hate to pick favorites, but this pig was definitely mine. We ran into him while in 4,000 Islands in Laos. Usually pigs don’t like to be touched, but he was pulling as far as his rope could go to get to me. I scratched behind his right ear and he just collapsed. I did it a few times while we stayed there. He had spots on him, so I called him Leopard Pig. Photo by Richard Hackey
This guy was massive by the time we left. Probably being raised for food, but I don’t like to think of it. Anyway, he lived just outside the resort I lived on in Malapascua. We all knew him and probably also heard him oinking in the wee-hours of the morning. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
This flying fish flew onto my dive boat off Donsol in the Philippines. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Everyone seems to own a rooster in the Philippines. They either use them for food or fighting. This one was about to fight near Donsol. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Basically thrown at us on Walking Street in Pattaya, I’m still not sure what this animal is. He looks like a sloth of sorts. UPDATE: This animal is a slow loris. Many thanks to Waegook Tom for clearing that up.
This tiny caged squirrel was someone’s pet in Bangkok, Thailand. I don’t think he liked being in there. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
It’s hard not to run into elephants while touring Thailand. If you want to ride them, make sure you go through a good place, because some of them treat the elephants terribly. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Last but certainly not least is our bulldog Ruddiger. Flown in all the way from England to travel with us, the little guy has braved shaky bus rides, rough seas and drunken backpackers. Good dog. Photo by Bobbi Lee Hitchon
Attracting visitors from all over the world to what is basically a city in itself, Angkor Wat is located just outside of Siem Reap in Cambodia. Staying out of the debates over how much time one would need at this monument or the best time of day to see it, here is just one photo of the great place in all its glory.
This photo was taken just after 6 a.m. on a weekday in May 2011. We arrived about 30 minutes prior to sunset and the best seats in the the house were already almost filled. Here you can see dawn breaking over Angkor Wat and the scene’s reflection in a small pond to the left of the front of it.
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