Even though I didn’t get near enough sleep my first night in Cambodia and even though that night was followed by a relentless 27 hours traveling trip, once I was awaken, I have braced myself, got dressed and stepped outside to explore Siem Reap. Rain had stopped with first morning light and I was too excited to get my first feel of Asia on my own. Two Dragons guesthouse had several free brochures available on the desk right by the reception so I’ve helped myself. The larger one was called Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide and there were two issues of this one available – one from February 2009 and the latest one from June 2009. Aside from Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guides, there was also a smaller, pocket sized guide called O&A Out and About Pocket Guide to Cambodia, Siem Reap Edition.
I found both of these publications extremely helpful and would recommend every visitor to Cambodia pick one of each up. They are free and widely distributed throughout touristy establishments. Your guesthouse/hotel is likely to have them at the reception and if not, you will find them in restaurants or information centers.
Granted, both Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide and O&A Out and About Pocket Guide to Cambodia are 90% advertising, however the rest is a whole pile of useful info. I have particularly come to like the map of Siem Reap that is provided at the beginning of the Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide. It’s an illustration that leaves out everything you don’t need, keeping the map simple which makes the town easy to navigate even for first time visitors. I was a first time visitor that day myself, never been to Siem Reap or anywhere in Cambodia for that matter before and the map in Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide has been all I need to get my way around town.
O&A Out and About Pocket Guide to Cambodia also has a map of Siem Reap. Theirs offers more of a bird’s eye perspective of the town and is split into two parts. It focuses less on listing hotels and restaurants and more on listing pagodas, gardens, museums, malls, etc. Both guides are very useful for everyone who wishes to explore Siem Reap on their own, not through the advice of Tuk Tuk drivers which is always, and strictly biased.
Explore Siem Reap on Your Own, Ignore Tuk Tuk Drivers
Tuk Tuk drivers will prey on unsavvy tourists and act like they are your best friends who will serve you with free advice. Whatever it is you may be in need of, they will hook you up with it. Trick is, they will only and solely hook you up with whoever pays them the highest commission. They will always try to advise you against going where you are heading and for going elsewhere and will have millions of arguments at the ready to present and back up their “whys”. In the end of the day, they are only looking for a kick back from establishments for each customer they deliver. This commission system is deeply embedded in the way Cabodia works. Whether you see it or not, changes nothing on the fact that it’s always working and is always present. Don’t become a victim of it. Pick up your free copies of Siem Reap Angkor Visitors Guide and Out & About Pocket Guide to Cambodia and go where your heart leads you, not where Tuk Tuk driver gets the highest kick back for you.
I was dead tired after a long flight and when I eventually made it to my terminal destination and put all of my luggage down at Two Dragons guesthouse, but instead going straight to sleep, I sat on the bed reading the brochure about the guesthouse and life in Siem Reap and elsewhere in Cambodia. Part of the reason was that I felt so tired, all I could summon was to sit on the bed and grab at something to read that was close by. I needed to gather enough strength to actually get up, take my clothes off, brush my teeth and get some sleep. It seemed like too much hassle and my body was refusing to go through it just yet. I was rather excited at the same time. I was in Cambodia. This was my first night in the country so far away. My sub consciousness was dictating me that I should find something better than sleep. Sleep is for home.
As the minutes were passing by, the rain was relentlessly pounding the world outside and I have gone through everything in the brochure and had nothing more to read. I gathered all the strength I had left and started to go through steps needed to get ready for sleep. Bottle of water was provided, which I used to brush my teeth with. I knew Cambodian tap water was not safe for drinking, but what’s worse, it was not even safe to brush ones teeth with. Having to rinse your freshly brushed teeth with bottled water and use it to wash excess toothpaste from your brush made brushing a major pain. But it is what it is. I was in Cambodia where tap water is not safe. That’s the end of it.
I hit the sack as soon as I was done with necessary cleaning and undressing. It took me a while to fall asleep and I had no idea what time it was. The cell phone I brought with me was dead so I couldn’t use it to check time and the only other option was to start up the laptop and change timezone settings to Cambodia to get a sense of current hour, but I couldn’t be bothered. It was pitch dark outside, the sound of heavy rain was overbearing, temperature outside was high despite it being night so I lay on the bed naked and covered with light blanket that was provided.
Once I have fallen asleep, I started having very vivid dreams. I no longer remember what I was dreaming about, but I do remember it felt as though I slept forever. So many dreams. I realized in my sleep that I had no watch to refer to in order to check what time it was so I stirred suddenly believing it’s probably late evening the following day. I knew I was tired when I went to bed and after so many dreams I felt like I slept too long. I got up to find out that it was still pitch dark outside. I walked downstairs to the restaurant area, looked at the watch there and found out it was only 6am the same morning. I have only slept for a few hours. I don’t know why I had such hard time sleeping, but each night thereafter I would get up early in the morning regardless of when I would go to bed. I did not get a single night of continuous, long sleep. Don’t know what the deal was.
This first night in Cambodia set a standard of nights with not very good sleep for me. I had hoped that once I’ve moved to a different guesthouse, sleep pattern would improve. From the beginning I thought it may have had something to do with time shift my body went through, but it hasn’t changed after 6 nights after which time I would expect the body to get adopted. Maybe my room was above some geo pathogenic zone that kept me from getting decent sleep. I’m only staying at Two Dragons for a week. We’ll see what happens after I’ve moved.
This is my personal review of Two Dragons guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia. It reflects my personal impressions and experiences after staying in Two Dragons for a week. All the positives and negatives, all the pluses and minuses in this review are presented without bias and without misleading.
Why I Chose Two Dragons Guesthouse
Prior to leaving for Cambodia I have contacted several guesthouses, homestays and low scale hotels in Siem Reap about their availability and pricing. I specifically wanted to know which establishments offer special pricing for long term stay (both week long and month long) since I was planning on staying in Cambodia for a while. In my email enquiry I have mentioned that I was interested in a single bed room with en suite shower (preferably with hot water).
In addition I also wanted to know if the establishment offers free pick up from Siam Reap airport, whether wireless internet is included in price and whether they had laundry facility on site that’s available to guests.
Two Dragons was the fastest to respond. Before I was done contacting all of the guesthouses I wanted to contact, I had a reply from Gordon – owner and manager of Two Dragons Guesthouse. That was a big positive and this first impression made major impact. I have not heard from most other guesthouses till following morning. There were a few that took several days to respond – I did not deal with those at all.
After impressive first impression from Two Dragons Guesthouse and elimination of most other guesthouses because of cut and paste responses or not answering any or all of my questions, I was left with three of my favorites. The reason I eventually opted for Two Dragons was that it was owned by an expat, a westerner who’s lived in Cambodia for many years plus I liked the approach Gordon is taking on his website – he’s addressing right audiences in the right way. He’s not too formal and says it the way backpackers would want to hear it. According to Two Dragons official website – twodragons-asia.com, they do not B.S. and provide truthful information based on what is best for the tourist, not on who offers them the biggest kickback.
On their website, Two Dragons management also claims that they have English speaking, reliable Tuk Tuk drivers who unlike many other Tuk Tuk drivers in Cambodia, can be trusted. All this information was presented in a very inviting way setting Two Dragons safely apart from competition. Given that a tourist is most vulnerable during initial hours of his/her stay and subsequently rather lost and confused for the following few days, staying at Two Dragons seemed like the best starting point.
Two Dragons Review – First Impressions
So far so good. I re-contacted Gordon two days prior to leaving Canada to make sure everything is in place and driver will be waiting for me when I arrive in Siem Reap. As before, the response was prompt and affirming, leaving no doubt that Two Dragons has reservations taken care of with no room for mishaps. This feeling of everything being in place made it all easier on me, since I knew my arrival in Cambodia will be proceeded by more than 24 hours on the airplanes and at the airports and by the time I get to Cambodia all work out and tired, it will be late night there. I’d be an easy prey for vulture like scam artists who operate at international airports of third world countries.
As promised, driver waited for me at Siem Reap airport, delivered me to the guesthouse without hassle and guesthouse staff took care of the rest. I got the room and was left alone to get some sleep after long flight. The very beginnings during which a tourist is most vulnerable were taken care of wholesomely by Two Dragons. There were no screw ups in the beginning while I was extremely cranky and in desperate need of some sleep.
The Room Review
I was given the room #15. Something is telling me that this is the shittiest room in entire Two Dragons guesthouse. During the day, when girls who work at the guesthouse clean other rooms and doors are open, I could see inside that each other room was nicer than mine. Maybe I arrived when this one was the only one available, and while I don’t have any major issues with the room, I’d say that anyone looking to stay in Two Dragons who is not dead tired when they arrive, asks the staff to show them each of the available rooms and choose one they like the best prior to unpacking.
The room I was in was small in size, but that’s all you need. It had two beds on each side of the wall, small coffee table, tiny little TV set on a stand, nice looking imitation wardrobe made of bamboo, a chair made of bamboo, a ceiling fan and an air-conditioning unit (all rooms at Two Dragons are air conditioned). The room also had en suite washroom with sink, heated shower and toilet bowl.
Two Dragons proudly claim that their room are the cleanest in Siem Reap (or something like that). I have never had any issues with non cleanliness so even if that may be an exaggerate statement, you won’t be seeing chunks of dust under your bed or spider webs on the ceiling. First night I slept on one of the beds that stank, so I spent the rest of my stay on second bed in the room which was better.
I have never watched TV. I don’t watch TV at home and as a matter of fact, I have not been on the tube, other than by watching my DVDs in years. Two Dragons website claims that they have over 80 international channels that you can watch. It’s quite possible, though the TV set in my room was no bigger than 14 inches, which is really tiny.
Two Dragons Bullshitting of Patrons
While Two Dragons do offer daily room cleaning services (not all guesthouses do), which is a positive thing, I didn’t like the fact that they pull the same trick at their patrons as many other similar establishments. To bullshit you into not getting your towel changed daily, Two Dragons will pull the well approved trick about being environmentally friendly at you. This is the most jokeable and most cynical part of their business. On one hand they claim that at Two Dragons they strive to protect the environment and as such they would ask you not to request having the towel changed daily, yet on another you won’t find anything about Two Dragons that would back up the statement that they do care about the environment. If they really cared, they would use eco friendly (energy saving) bulbs everywhere throughout their establishment. If they cared they would not be giving bottled water to each of their patrons, instead they would provide a dispenser of sorts. If they cared about the environment, they would use bio degradable cleaning solutions. But they don’t. At Two Dragons they just want to save up on each customer so they make you feel guilty about the environment while true intention is to spend as little on you as possible. That’s all. I hate bullshitters.
Two Dragons Staff Review
All staff members I have had an encounter with during my week long stay at Two Dragons were extremely nice and friendly. Room cleaning is done while you are gone and is done properly. I have always found my bed done up, sheets were probably changed a few times during my stay, garbage was emptied daily, fresh bottle of drinking water left in the room every day and my personal stuff never seemed touched. I left my money and IDs on the table while I was gone and always found it there.
There is allegedly a safe available for use by the guests, but there was some major headache attached to using it so I never did. I thought of shoving my extra money in it, but I didn’t have any pouch to put it in so I’d have to hand them a pile of bills which seemed less tricky than burying it in the bag among dirty laundry.
Two Dragons Restaurant Review
I have only eaten in the restaurant here once. The reason – overpriced. Food was OK. It was nothing spectacular, but not bad either. However it was way more expensive than other restaurants hence not worth it. There were several restaurants nearby – literally just seconds away where I would go to eat. I’d pay half the money and get twice the food. It just didn’t make any sense eating at Two Dragons.
The restaurant is also located by the entrance to the guesthouse so when a new guest comes, you get to listen to a lot of commotion while you’re trying to eat. As a guest, you are however provided with complimentary tea and coffee that you can help yourself on the upper floor where the guest rooms are, right outside small balcony. I don’t drink coffee so I can’t comment on that, but the tea was Lipton Yellow Tea in separate bags that you dip in hot water from a dispenser. It was provided for free, so no complaints and I did help myself on a couple of occasions.
Two Dragons Location Review
Location of Two Dragons completely blows. It’s too far away from anything interesting in Siem Reap, but most of all it’s on an unpaved road so during rainy season, you get to plough through mud to get to and from the guesthouse. It truly sucked because I bought a bicycle to move around and most of town was fine – at worst a little puddle here and there. But the alley leading to Two Dragons was always covered in mud.
One of the things Gordon points out all the time is that he will offer a no B.S. advice to his guests and will tell them what is worth checking out, what is not, where to go to do this, where to go to get that – and all of it with interests of the visitor in mind, not his own. It sounds nice on paper, but is it really so?
I had two questions of Gordon after I first met him – I wanted to know about renting or buying a bicycle and I wanted to know about buying a SIM card for my GSM cell phone. In both cases I got advice that didn’t fit the description of giving advice that most beneficial to the guest.
First I wanted to know how much their bike rentals were and where I should go if I decided to buy one instead of renting. I was told they rent bikes out for $2 per day. Most guesthouses rent bikes out for $1 but was not my concern. Gordon is the boss, he can set his prices any way he wants. Some of his guests ate in Two Dragons restaurant, I didn’t see the point and went to the one around the corner where meals are half the price and you get a three course meal with desert for less than one dish at Two Dragons. If people are fine paying for Two Dragons food, it’s their own business. And the same goes for bicycles and laundry service. Gordon charges $2 per day for bike rental and $2 to wash 1 kg of laundry. Shed right next to Two Dragons does 1kg of laundry for $1 and two sheds down you can rent a bicycle for $1 per day. I would take this 30 second walk just on principle, however many people are fine paying Two Dragon’s prices and that’s their own business.
After answering my question about how much they were renting bikes for, Gordon mentioned that I could buy a bike instead of renting form them if I wanted to stay for a while and ride while I’m here. He gave me valuable advice that cheapo bikes sell for $30, better ones for $50, however there are no quality mountain bikes available for sale in Cambodia. Only pieces of junk from China and overused second hand rejects form Japan. But whether I was going to buy or rent, I would still end up riding the same piece of junk, so it would make no difference. That’s what I was told and 80% of it was true which is a decent ratio for free advice.
The following day I wanted to go take a look at what bikes are available for sale, so I asked Gordon where the stores were. He insisted that I take a Tuk Tuk ride there. I told him I was fine walking as I like walking, it allows me to see the town and besides – I’ve been walking everywhere so fat and given Two Dragon’s location, I had opposite ends of town covered so wherever bike stores could be, I could definitely do it. However Gordon insisted that I take Tuk Tuk because it’s too far.
I really didn’t see where possibly it could be that I could not walk there, but eventually I broke down and agreed to taking Tuk Tuk. Needless to say – it was not far at all, which made it look as though despite what he claims, Gordon truly wants to get some business to his Tuk Tuk drivers for carrying his sign on the back of their trailers and for being his on call drivers. So this all blabber about only advising tourists what is best for them is questionable. He does give you advice, but it always involves taking one of his drivers to go there and do that. Afterall, expecting that there would be a business owner who would not think of kick backs when giving advice to a tourist who is looking to spend money on something is foolish.
My second question on Gordon was where to go to buy a SIM card for my phone. Again, I was told that tourists can buy a tourist SIM card which is only valid for a week and costs $12. To stay true to his intentions to hook his Tuk Tuk drivers with earnings (or maybe he keeps part of their net earnings – which would explain why he is so strung for everyone going everywhere and doing everything via his “approved” Tuk Tuk drivers), he added that a better option is to ask one of the Tuk Tuk drivers to buy me a regular SIM card, put it under their name and give them few extra bucks for doing that for me.
Good thing was I didn’t let him get me a Tuk Tuk driver to take care of it for me, like it was with the bicycle fiasco. This time around I said I was gonna think if I want a SIM card at all and went to do my own research myself. As it turns out, you can buy regular SIM card without problems. I bought one for $3 which comes with $4 worth of within network calls (charged at $.06 a minute) and $2 worth of cross country calls (charged at $.09 per minute). These minutes must be used within a month or else they expire and the card must be recharged within following two months or else the number expires. You do not need a Tuk Tuk driver to get yourself a SIM card for a GSM phone in Cambodia. And this is the first cell phone company I enquired with (Metfone). There are 9 of them in the country. Once again, I was forced to doubt real intentions behind Gordon’s vehement attempts to make sure he hooks up his Tuk Tuk drivers with income. The claims that at Two Dragons they don’t B.S. and don’t advice anything for kick backs are truly questionable.
Two Dragons Free Internet Review
This was my biggest pet peeve of all. Given the nature of my work, it is absolutely essential for me to have internet access. Two Dragons comes with a promise of free WiFi wireless internet. The only catch is, that it sucks like no other. Most of the time the internet doesn’t work. It’s either completely down or not down, but nothing loads and times out. On an important day I was trying to submit one article to a website. I started at 7pm and by midnight it was still not sent. I had to put it off till the following day and even that took a good chunk out of my day just to submit one silly article. WiFi internet you get at Two Dragons is simply awful. If you regularly update your website or need to keep up with friends on line and choose to stay at Two Dragons… oh boy! You’re in for an unpleasant surprise. Even as I’m writing this review, I can see that WiFi is again down and there is no knowing when it comes back up. It’s the most frustrating feeling ever. I spoke with several people who stay in other guesthouses, none have this type of issues with internet.
I did not come to Cambodia expecting to get high speed internet similar to what we have in Canada. But internet that doesn’t work at all is B.S. – as owner of Two Dragons would say. This alone would be a good enough reason on its own for me to seek different accommodation arrangements.
Internet is yet another reason to believe that despite what they claim, the Two Dragons management does B.S. their patrons. In a booklet provided in guestrooms, it is stated that there is not enough bandwidth allocated for Cambodia hence internet is often slow and unreliable. This fact is used to force people into limited use of the internet, restricting it to email checking and no videos, no webmail chatting or anything similar. The guests are reminded that they will be cut off should they burn any more bandwidth than what the management of Two Dragons likes.
I can imagine that this scare mongering works well given what Siem Reap is all about – most tourists to make it here only stay for a day or two and spend them exploring Angkor Wat temples. If it were not for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap would be nothing with no tourists making it here. Still, since tourists come here with particular purpose and leave once this purpose is fulfilled, they will have little chance experiencing real Cambodia and what it has to offer. And if such tourist chooses to stay at Two Dragons, they will believe what they are told. Most tourists who stayed at Two Dragons have probably left Cambodia believing internet truly is slow and unreliable and there’s little bandwidth for this country so checking YouTube videos or chatting over Skype with webcam feature on will kill entire system. But after you have explored real Cambodia for a bit and tear yourself away from Two Dragon B.S., you will get to see that it’s nothing like it’s presented to you there.
You can go for nice supper at Khmer Family Restaurant on Pub Street, Siem Reap – WiFi internet is provided to their patrons for free. It’s fast, reliable, always works and always flies. You have no problem playing video, no problem engaging in any internet activity you are used to and no one will mind, because they simply did not cheap out on crappy internet they provide to their clients.
You will get exactly the same at Temple Club. Lightning fast internet with no restrictions. Another awesome option is to go to the Common Ground Cafe where internet is also fast and reliable. All you need to do is to order a drink with them, and get a password for security enabled wireless internet. And you’re on. You can come any day, any time of day and it will always fly, and no restrictions will be imposed upon you. Two Dragons simply like to B.S. their client with lots of B.S. and unfortunately, since most clients don’t stay in Siem Reap for too long, this B.S. goes unnoticed.
Few Random Negatives
There is this buzzing noise that seems to be omnipresent throughout most of Two Dragons. It sounds as if there was a big transformer somewhere within the walls that makes buzzing noise and while most of the day it’s negligable, it was awfully loud on my second night at this guesthouse. It was deafening. I was working on the computer, trying to get something submitted on the internet, but connection here is ridiculous and this noise was just buzzing and buzzing until my head felt like it was going to explode. I was trying to locate it, but it seemed like it’s spread throughout the building. I walked out on the hallway and it was there too. It was everywhere. Since it was past midnight and everyone was asleep, I didn’t know what to do about it, so I just suffered through it. It eased down the following days again, even though it was still remotely present.
The drain in my bathroom did not drain very well. bathroom is extremely small and houses both toilet, sink and shower. You basically spray all over the toilet bowl as you take shower and need to move the toilet paper out in order not to get it wet during showering so you can use it afterwards. The excess water from showering didn’t drain very well so as you are taking your shower, the level keeps rising with hair and soap dirt floating in it.
Two Dragons Review – Conclusion
Discount for Long Term Stay Possible
Responsive with Pre Sale Enquiries (very strong positive)
Rooms have Air-conditioning and En Suite Washrooms
Non Smoking Rooms (smokers can smoke on the balcony)
Clean Rooms Attended to Daily
Daily Free Bottle of Water
Credit Card Payments Possible
More Expensive than Equally Good or Better Guesthouses
Too Much B.S. Pretending to be Help (worst kind of B.S. – very strong negative)
As far as rooms themselves are concerned, I think Two Dragons would satisfy most visitors to Siem Reap. Everything else is a downer. The owner doesn’t care about repeat customers and will do anything to rip you off as much as humanly possible on your first stay. Most visitors to Siem Reap will not pay Cambodia another visit so he’s fine with ripping you off. If you’re a smart traveller and find out how things work for yourself, without asking Gordon for advice, you will avoid getting ripped off. If you make a vital mistake and do ask for advice, you will be taken advantage of. You could just ask a simple question, Gordon will immediately get one of the girls who work at Two Dragons to call a Tuk Tuk driver claiming you need him for everything you do and even though you insist on not calling, the girl will already be on the phone making arrangements in a language you don’t understand, ultimately forcing you to feel obliged to accept the arrangements made. One former American lawyer, a 61 year old expat who now lives in Phnom Penh had a misfortune of staying at Two Dragons and Gordon made such forcible arrangements for him which resulted in the guy overpaying $20 for a taxi ride.
Even though rooms are clean and attended to daily, I would not recommend Two Dragons to anyone. Value for money is not quite there – you can find better and less expensive accommodation that’s also at much more attractive location so Two Dragons really make little sense. But the owner is the main problem. The only way to not get ripped off is to never ask for anything and never use any of their services other than accommodation. You will feel like you are not welcomed, you will feel like they consider you an unworthy guest (that’s the way I felt, because I went to eat at restaurants that were not overpriced and have not fallen for any of Gordon’s rip off attempts) so while every other guest will be talked to and greeted nicely, you will be either ignored or just dealt with quickly. But it will save you from getting ripped off.
Despite this unspoken tension, I kept to my promise and remained at Two Dragon guesthouse for a week. As soon as my time was up, I darted off and will not consider ever staying there again. In addition – the more people I meet who stayed there, the more stories of having been ripped off come up. As the time went by, I stayed at over a dozen of guesthouses, some as cheap as $3 a night, yet Two Dragons still ranks as the worst place I have stayed at in Cambodia.
Tuk Tuks represent the primary means of transportation for tourists visiting Cambodia. A Tuk Tuk is supposed to be a three wheeler, but the Cambodian version of it is a semi-enclosed trailer that’s rigged behind a motorcycle – often a moped. Tuk Tuk riding is inexpensive and widely available all over the place. It will likely be the most used, if not solely used means of transportation for vast majority of tourists visiting Cambodia.
I have made a reservation to stay at Two Dragons for a week after arrival to Cambodia and part of the deal was to provide free transport for me from the airport to the guesthouse. Most guesthouses and low to mid range hotels will offer free transport from the airport and this transport is basically always provided by Tuk Tuks. Unless you are staying in a high end hotel with rooms ranging in three digit numbers per night, in which case you will get a ride in a taxi (aka an actual car).
While Tuk Tuks are omnipresent, Taxis are virtually invisible in Cambodia. After a few weeks of living here I have not seen one, but I know they do exist. Upscale establishment offer taxi transportation for their patrons, but as average tourist, you will not see a single one.
My First Ride in Tuk Tuk
After I have gone through Cambodian immigration and got my Visa on Arrival I walked out of the Siem Reap International Airport and straight into the hands of vulture like locals. It was puring cats and dogs outside and it was dark so Tuk Tuk drivers were all over every tourist who stepped outside with offers to take care of their transport. I opened the door and got swarmed by money hungry Cambodians who are on an endless mission to squeeze as much out of every tourist as possible. People of Cambodia are impoverished so there are hardly any hard feelings, but as a savvy traveller who knows the drill, I respectfully ignored every single one of them. I did imagine ranks of unsavvy tourists walking out behind me – all vulnerable and lost in a new country. Many have surely fall victims to the schemes of these Tuk Tuk drivers who know every single trick which works on a tourist and utilize it without remorse.
I knew I had my ride arranged so for me it was only a question of ploughing through the crowds of money hungry locals and watching out for a paerson standing out there somewhere holding a sign with my name. He was all the way in the back and up to the last minute I had people breathing down my neck to get me take a ride with them. Not only would they want to overcharge a tourist for a ride to town, but they’d also want to take the tourist to a guesthouse or a hotel which pays them the highest commission (if you ask a Tuk Tuk driver to get you to the best place, they will only and solely take you to the place that pays them the most in commission fees for each paying customer. Never otherwise).
Riding Tuk Tuk in the Rain
Once I have tracked down the Tuk Tuk driver holding a sign with my name, I told him I was Mark and he ran to get his Tuk Tuk and park it by the side of the road where I was standing as it was still under the roof. Sky was truly pissing that rain down without any shame. My driver put on the helmet and a raincoat, hopped on his moped and pulled over by me. I sat inside the trailer which is not fully enclosed so the seat was partially wet and rain was pounding me from both sides, I sat my main bag on the wetter seat opposite of me and held my camera bag on my lap. We took off and rode through the dark. I was actually a lucky one being within that semi-enclosed trailed. Even though I still got rained on from the sides, I just thought of poor driver who was riding that Tuk Tuk unprotected, facing the rain form the seat of his motorcycle.
The ride from the airport to the guesthouse wasn’t long. About 10 minutes or so, suggesting that the airport is not far from Siem Reap at all. Tuk Tuks don’t ride too fast. It’s a bloody moped that can go at max maybe 40 or 50 km/h plus it has a trailer to haul so I doubt the speed was any higher than that.
By the time we made it to the Two Dragons Guesthouse, it was already past 11pm local time. The guesthouse was quiet, but I was expected. A girl who was waiting for me at the reception took me to my room and turned on the air-conditioning as it was hot. I must have looked tired as hell (and I was) because she said no more. She just looked at me and left to leave me alone so I can get some rest. There was always tomorrow to go through formalities.
Even though pick up from the airport was to be provided for free by Two Dragons guesthouse as I have made a reservation to stay at the establishment for a week, I gave my Tuk Tuk driver a mighty tip of $1. It may sound like a laughable amount to pay to someone for hassle of sitting on a motorcycle in heavy rain to drive my fat ass to a guesthouse, but it is not so in Cambodia. Mighty $1 bill can take care of one local family for a day.
My first Tuk Tuk ride and an initiation to Cambodia with proper down pour of rain was successfully concluded. Let the adventure begin.
There are way too many confusing records all across the internet regarding the immigration and the visa on arrival process in Cambodia. I have done my thorough research on the subject and quite frankly, I didn’t know what the truth exactly is. Now that I have gone through Cambodian immigration and have applied and received visa on arrival, I know exactly how it works. At least how it work in Siem Reap as that’s the only point of entry in Cambodia I have used so far.
To sum it up in a few word – the entire immigration process and visa on arrival situation in Siem Reap is well streamlined, painless, fast and with no bribery involved or needed. There are people who claim that immigration officials ask for more than normal $20 for tourist or $25 for business visa and unless you pay up, you’re gonna get held up. Even more often than that you would find claims that applying for visa on arrival is a major pain and one should apply for e-visa instead. This must have been a long time ago, or those people simply exaggerate big time. This is what it looks like at Siem Reap International Airport as of August 2009:
The plane from abroad lands in Cambodia, people disembark and enter main airport hall where there is a long counter that goes around entire one side of the wall behind which several Cambodian immigration officers are seated. There’s about a dozen of them. You get sent to the one on far left who asks what kind of visa you would like. If you want tourist visa, you get asked to pay $20. If you’d like business visa, it’s $25. You hand the guy your passport with one 4 x 6 cm photograph of yourself and that basically concludes the process of applying for visa on arrival in Cambodia. You will get your passport back with visa in it within a couple of minutes.
Difference Between Tourist or Business Visa to Cambodia
I have asked for business visa because you can renew those indefinitely. Tourist visa can only be renewed once. Both are only valid for 30 days, but if you happen to fall in love with Cambodia and you have applied for tourist visa on arrival, then after 30 you will have to extend the validity of your visa which can only be done once for additional 30 days. After that you’d have to physically leave Cambodia and go through entire process of applying for visa on arrival again. Business visa on the other hand can be extended over and over and over and then some. Costs $5 more, but well worth it. BTW – no questions asked about why business visa. I was just told it’s $25 for business visa and that was it.
Once you have paid for your visa, you get moved up to the last guy behind the counter (on the far right) where you wait for your passport to come back to you with visa of your choice affixed within. The whole process only takes a few minutes. That first immigration officer takes your passport, passport photo, cash and filled up immigration forms you will be handed on an airplane and passes it on to the guy next to him. Each of them does their part and the last one gets your passport with valid visa in it, calls your name so you can get your passport and this is it. You are free to enter Cambodia. You have just been given visa on arrival and it didn’t involve bribery, it didn’t involve slow processing, it didn’t involve anything otherwise fishy. It’s a smooth, well streamlined process that makes your start in the country hassle free.
It is worth a mention that the plane from Seoul, South Korea in which I have arrived landed in Siem Reap at 10.30pm. It was a night hour and it was pouring outside. You’d think that given late hour and miserable weather no one would want to run the immigration shift at the airport, but based on my experience, immigration and visa on arrival processing is taken seriously by authorities in Siem Reap to benefit the tourist to the maximum possible extent. If other points of entry are any different, I’m sure they will soon follow suit. Tourism is becoming one of major sources of revenue for Cambodia and efforts to make the stay for every tourist as enjoyable as possible from the very first minute are becoming obvious on every step.
I was fully aware of the fact that I’d arriving in Cambodia during rainy season. It didn’t put me off one bit, afterall I each season has something different, something unique to offer that can only be experienced in that particular season. But the main reason I was headed for Cambodia in the rainy season was that it was the right time for me to go. It just so happened that September fell within the rainy season and knowing I would stay for a while would allow me to experience this country during both rainy season and dry season.
While rainy season in Cambodia extends from June to October, I have done my homework prior to leaving Canada and checked out the rainfall (precipitation) stats and damn – historically the month of September gets pounded by more rain than any other month of the year in Cambodia. I’ve traced down some expats who have been living in Cambodia for a few years on the internet and asked them about rainy season and September and sure enough, I had it confirmed by being told that it rains every day. Rains every day? Boy… that’s a whole lotta rain!
It still bothered me not. I have not lived in any country during rainy season so I saw this as an amazing opportunity to experience this natural phenomenon first hand. Afterall, locals have been going through rainy season every years for centuries and they’ve dealt with it fine, so why would I have any issue with a bit of rain, albeit it was gonna be more than just a bit. But when speaking of living in extreme weather conditions – I come from Alberta, Canada where winters last for 8 months each year and temperatures get below -40 Degrees Celsius. If I could live through that for years, rainy season can’t possibly irk me off.
Cambodia is located very close to the equator so temperatures are tropical year round. I was told by one of the expats that the coldest it ever gets here is 20 Degrees Celsius in winter. That’s what summer looks like in Canada. This simply meant that I had to make sure I have decent sandals to take with me as I would not get to wear any actual shoes, it would also mean that I should bring light, summer clothing and take it easy on long sleeve shirts and long pants. Rainy season or not, winter or summer, a visitor to Cambodia will be wearing summer clothes unless they want to walk around drenched in their own sweat.
Causes of Rainy Season in Cambodia
Extended research on rainy season in Cambodia provided answers to why monsoons repeat with such solid timing each year. To cut down on all the technical jargon and sum it up in a few simple sentences, the casues of the rainy season in Cambodia are:
Air pressure over central Asia drops in Summer. This drop in air pressure draws moisture that otherwise gathers above the seas over land. Cambodia is right in the way so the clouds full of moisture settle above the country for good few months – from June to September
As air pressure over central Asia rises with coming of colder months and winter, this pressure then pushes these rain cloud back above the seas and keeps them there. That’s why during the rest of the year Cambodia experienced dry season with very little rainfall
So it’s all in the air pressure. When the air pressure drops (that’s what happens in warmer time of year) it attracts moist clouds from above the seas. When the air pressure rises (happens in colder months of the year), the clouds get pushed away. That’s the whole magic behind clockwork like monsoon cycles Cambodia gets exposed to each year. It is commonly known and referred to as the rainy season.
Arriving in Siem Ream Amidst Rainy Season
I was rather encouraged seeing how sunny and cloudless the weather was in South Korea. Knowing that South Korea is an adjacent part of the same continent on which Cambodia is located, it gave me hopes that perhaps I would find the same sunny weather in Siem Ream when I arrive. I hopped on a plane in Seoul, tired from previous long flight I nodded off and when I woke up shortly before landing, I noticed rain drops landing on that small circular window I had right next to me (yes, I scored the window seat). All my hopes for sunny weather were gone.
As we have landed in Siem Reap, it became even more obvious that it’s not just raining in Cambodia, it’s pouring like there’s no tomorrow. Our scheduled arrival time in Siem Reap was at 10.20pm and we got there on time. It was dark outside and rain was just gushing right down. Siem Reap international airport (REP) does not have those fancy movable walkways that connect directly to the door of the aircraft. We had to walk out of the plane and board the bus that was waiting outside. There were locals with umbrellas waiting to assist us with boarding without getting too wet which was fine and did the job, it simply showed me that I was foolish when I made associations between weather in South Korea and weather in Cambodia. The two are on the same continent, but are 5 hours away by plane from each other and are in different tropical zones. Rainy Season in Cambodia is for real and arrives as expected every year. No exceptions. I have expected it and here I was – I have made it to Cambodia. Woo hoo!