Category Archives: Cambodia

Part 8: The Children of Cambodia

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top

If you go to Siem Reap, you’ll read about the children you’ll see around the temples hawking their wares and begging for a buck. But nothing quite prepares you for their insistence.

The children swarmed around us, offering anything from 10 postcards for a dollar to scarves to other random trinkets. When we said no thank you, they insisted on counting all 10 postcards in front of us, as if we didn’t believe them. We kept walking, and they kept walking with us. They were adorable, but also heartrending.

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The Boyfriend was quite popular with the ladies…

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The cutest moment happened on our second day, visiting some out of the way temples known as the Roluos Group. The lack of tourists meant the children had a captive audience. One of the girls noticed the cheap barrette in my hair, so I offered it to her. Suddenly, all the girls were begging for their own. Sadly, I only had one more and gladly handed it over. It was amazing to see how happy a simple hair clip made them. And they were more than happy to pose for pictures.

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Part 7: View From the Top

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages

After our visit to Kampong Khleang, our driver took us to see another temple on the way back to Siem Reap.  The temple did not make much of an impact – I can’t even remember what it was called – but the view from the top certainly did. A twenty minute hike up the mountain gave us stunning views of another floating village on the banks of Tonle Sap Lake.

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Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!

There are a number of floating villages near Siem Reap located on the Tonle Sap Lake. Most tourists opt to visit Chong Khneas, the closest floating village to Siem Reap. In fact, that’s where our driver was going to take us when I said “floating village” until I showed him the map and pointed to Kampong Khleang. He told me it would cost extra and I nodded. I had done my research and Kampong Khleang was supposed to be worth the trip.

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My research paid off. When we got there, there were barely any tourist boats on the water. The floating village was huge and we really had the lake to ourselves (plus our boat driver), allowing us to really appreciate what the lives of the local villagers are like.

It was an amazing experience. It’s hard to describe how different the floating village is from the lives we’re used to, hard to imagine that people actually live in the rickety huts perched precariously above the water on stilts. Hopefully, the pictures will do it justice.

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Our trusty boat… and by trusty I mean the motor made some rather odd noises that did not sound quite right. But we managed to make it safely across the lake and back so no complaints!

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Most people go to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples, as well they should. But the Kampong Khleang floating village was an amazing experience and having the lake all to ourselves made it all the more amazing. If you travel across the globe to see the Angkor temples, take an extra day to squeeze in Kampong Khleang. It is worth it.

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Part 5: Trees Galore!

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon

The temples at Angkor Wat are awesome, but so are the trees. The unruly trees were one of my favorite things — overgrown roots scrambling over buildings and ruins. It is amazing the way nature perseveres undeterred by manmade objects.

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The most famous trees in the Angkor complex are found at Ta Prom — famous for one thing – Angonlina Jolie filmed a scene from Tomb Raiders there. Its famous trees are a photographer’s dream. The gazillions of tourists sneaking into my photos are not…

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Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat

After breakfast, we headed to the ancient city of Angkor Thom. As we entered the city’s gate, I fell in love with the statues and their expressive faces.

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As we approached Bayon, our driver stopped so I could take pictures of these guys. My opinion of these ostensibly cute creatures will change drastically as our trip continued, but that is a story for another blog post

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Bayon is perhaps the second most famous temple in the Angkor complex. Located in the ancient city of Angkor Thom, Bayon was built in the late 12th or early 13th century and is famous for it many, massive faces jutting out from the temple towers.

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This is supposed to be a famous picture. If you stand in exactly the right spot you can capture two Buddha noses touching. Not sure I do it justice, but it seems like an obligatory tourist thing, so here you go:

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Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go

For many, seeing Angkor Wat is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. And so, I wanted to make sure we did it right.

I did a lot of research on the best way to see Angkor Wat: Bicycle, tuk-tuk (a motorcycle pulling a carriage), or a personal driver in an air-conditioned Camry. Bicycle was obviously the cheapest and tuk-tuk seemed kind of adventurous, but in the end, my Western sensibilities prevailed and I had the hotel hire a driver and guide for $35 apiece for our for first day in Angkor Wat

And boy, am I glad I did. The guide was nice but not essential. He helped us navigate the sprawling complex that is the Angkor temples and provided us with historical information we never would have known. But the driver… the driver was a lifesaver.

When we woke up at 4:30 a.m. (yes, 4:30 a.m.) it was a balmy 70 degrees outside, but in three short hours the sun was up and hot. The air-conditioned car with a fresh supply of ice-cold bottled water was amazing. Best decision EVER.

You can probably find a driver for cheaper, but having the hotel do it was easier than reading a gazillion reviews on Trip Advisor. Besides, by American standards, $35 for a private driver is a steal.

Waking up at 4:30 a.m. was not as painful as it sounds. It was only 4:30 p.m. in New York, and our bodies were still more or less on eastern standard time. And there is something special about seeing one of the most famous structures in the world appear under the dawn’s early light. I highly recommend it.

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After I snapped a couple hundred pictures (probably not an exaggeration), we ventured into Angkor Wat itself. And while The Boyfriend listened to our guide explain the history of the massive temple, I snapped away.

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The carvings are extremely intricate and impressive. I wish I could tell you what they all mean, but like I said, I was doing more snapping than listening.

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The complex is huge, and the best way to appreciate its hugeness is to walk around the entire grounds from top to bottom as exhausting as it is.

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We meandered about as we waited for the entrance to the third and final level to open at 7:45 a.m.

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After that, it was time to start climbing. As tiring as it was to scrambled up these modern makeshift steps, imagine was it was like for the people of old to climb up the incredibly steep stone steps built into the temple structure.

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The views from the top of Angkor Wat were incredible.

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By then, it was 8:30 a.m. already and we had been up for a good four hours. We were hot and hungry and asked the guide to drive us back to hotel for a quick breakfast. Walking back through the front of Angkor Wat there were a few more fascinating sights along the way:

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Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go (AKA SFO – REP)

Part 1: When you wake up at 3 am for a 6 am flight…

We had a three hour layover in San Francisco and I was excited to see the Asiana lounge. I’m sorry to say I was a little disappointed. The lounge was very small with an outdated decor. There were few comfortable seats in the business class room so I slipped into the first class lounge and no one batted an eye.

On the plus side, the first class lounge had a couch (remember, I was going on four hours of sleep), had decent wireless and an endless supply of free diet cokes.

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Business class lounge

Asiana’s business class product more than made up for the lackluster lounge: Comfortable lie-flat seats laid out to maximize space and privacy. There was plenty of space, movie options, and of course diet coke on demand.

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Asiana even gives you comfy slippers!

Due to our short layover in Seoul, I only had five minutes to check out the Asiana lounge at ICN airport, grab a free drink and snap a photo. My cursory impression was very favorable. Too bad I didn’t get to enjoy more than five minutes.

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Finally, the last leg of our flight: From Seoul to Siem Reap. At this point, I was thoroughly exhausted and could barely keep track of what day it was. Asiana’s business class from ICN – REP is more comparable to domestic first class in the United States — not the lie-flat seats that we had on the SFO-ICN leg. Even without lie-flat seats, I was so tired, I managed to sleep for a majority of the flight.

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And finally, at 11:00 p.m. local Siem Reap time, we arrived in Cambodia. As we disembarked, the first thing we noticed was how steamy and tropical the weather felt. We were clearly a long way from New York’s freezing temperatures. The Le Meridian offered free air port pick-up and I was awfully glad I had made arrangements to take advantage of it before the trip. Our driver was waiting for us outside, and the long journey to Asia was finally over.

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When you wake up at 3 AM for a 6 AM flight…

Our big trip to Asia started with about 1 hour of sleep. That was okay because we had 25 hours of plane time ahead of us and not much to do but watch movies, check the airplane map and sleep.

Check-in at JFK was relatively painless. There were no lines, but it took 20 minutes to convince United to check our luggage all the way through to Cambodia. After security, we were off to the lounge, which, to my surprise, was open at four a.m. in the morning.

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But the best part of our flight leg to San Francisco was United’s new transcontinental business class seats. Domestic business class seats are usually nice, but not meant for heavy duty sleeping. And by the time we boarded the plane, I desperately needed some heavy duty nap time. Luckily, United’s new transcontinental business class seats are comparable to international business class, complete with a full array of media options, lie-flat seats, outlets for our many gadgets, comfortable blankets, etc.

This was just what I needed. Somewhere between New York and Colorado, I managed to sleep for three hours.

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How Much Does It Cost to Travel the World In Style?

Excellent question.

According to Kayak, a comparable trip from New York City to Siem Reap would cost $2951 and a comparable trip from Hong Kong back to New York City would cost somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a person. On the conservative side, our flights to Asia and back would cost $12,000 for two people in business class not even counting our intra-Asia flights. This is what we paid:

New York – Siem Reap, Cambodia (via San Francisco and Seoul)

120,000 miles and $57.60 in fees
The miles were earned by signing up for the Chase Ink Bold credit card (60,000 miles) and a combination of stray United miles and Chase points in both my account and The Boyfriend’s. We had to pay a $200 change fee to alter our plans to include Cambodia but I’m pretty sure The Boyfriend’s Amex Platinum will pick up the tab on that so it is not listed.

Cambodia – Bangkok

$368
We paid out of pocket for economy seats on this hour-long flight. There are, to my knolwedge, only three airlines that fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok nonstop: Bangkok Airways (the most expensive), AirAsia, and Cambodia Angkor Air (a turboprop plane). The turboprop scared us so we are flying AirAsia.

Bangkok – Hong Kong

15,000 avios + $103.56
Using the 20 percent bonus transfer from American Express, I saved a few Amex points on the transfer to British Airways. These are economy seats since it didn’t seem worthwhile to spend an extra 15,000 miles for a two and a half hour flight.

Hong Kong – New York (via Vancouver)

140,000 avios and $320.52 in fees
I had earned 50,000 from the British Airways credit card (plus the $95 annual fee) and The Boyfriend had earned a heaping pile of Amex points though his work credit cards. I used a 35 percent Amex bonus to transfer the necessary points to my British Airways account to meet the 70,000 per person price.

Total for two business class tickets from New York to Cambodia, two business class tickets from Hong Kong to New York and two tickets for two intra-Asia flights in economy:

120,000 miles + $57.60
$368
15,000 miles + $103.56
140,000 miles + $320.52
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275,000 miles + 849.68

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Change of Plans…

After weeks of trying to squeeze in a side trip to Angkor Wat from Bangkok, we reached a decision point. Either give up on visiting one of the most impressive religious sites in the world or bite the bullet and change the trip. It simply didn’t make sense to go from Bangkok to Siem Reap to Hong Kong because of the limited number of flights out of Siem Reap. So we bit the bullet.

We added two days to our trip and will now be flying from New York City to San Francisco (United), to Seoul (Asiana) to Siem Reap (Asiana). It is a long trip but it will all be in business class and we were able to squeeze the entire trip to Cambodia into a single award for a mere 60,000 United miles per person and a total of $57.60 in fees. Since I do not have status with United we had to pay a $200 change fee ($100 per person) but I put the charge on The Boyfriend’s Platinum Amex (after designating United as his airline of choice) and am hoping Amex will pick up the tab.

Our new trip to Asia:

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Our entire trip from start to finish:

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We plan to spend two days in Angkor Wat, which people say is not enough but it will have to do. We will hop a short hour-long flight to Bangkok, spend four days in Thailand and then off to Hong Kong.

We are two weeks away and I am psyched!

 

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