French Experience from China to Vietnam, Angkor Wat and Siem Reap on Chinese New Year

by French Experience
(Lebanon)

I arrived in Cambodia from Vietnam for Chinese new year 2011, taking advantage of the holidays in my work place in Hong Kong. Decided to do everything in a "young" and cheap way I took the adventure.


I first came from Guangzhou to Nanning, by train.

Beware for the return in Chinese New Year there was no train available at least for foreigners which are more or less required to stay in soft bed or hard bed class, and you can only buy return ticket in the city where you are in China so you can not project return train travel for sure until you arrived.

At Nanning since it was first day of Chinese New Year, there was no bus the morning to go to Vietnam Border, like it should have been. (3 in the morning). Therefore I had to stay in the bus station half day, going the afternoon only direction border (Ping Xian). Meeting another couple of European, we decided to be together and arrived in Ping Xiang in the night.

Fortunately, the border was opened until 8 PM and it was 7 PM when we arrived. We walked through this very interesting path, feeling the pressure of the past and the 300,000 chinese solders who died around.

There was a nice french building colonial style near the demarcation line. Finally after a very formal stop chinese side leaving China and a very poor stop vietnam side with rats entering Vietnam, it was already very late 9 PM or 10 PM when we arrived in the other side.

We were a group of 10 people around, and there was no more bus again or transportation to go to Hanoi Capital City of Vietnam. Because of Chinese new Year! There is indeed a small hotel but everybody was trying to find a transportation way. Finally as a group we booked a bus. It was 2 cars which arrived and drove drunk, very dangerously, and left us in Hanoi around midnight or more.

I have not really seen anything from Hanoi, it was as cold as any Hong Kong Travel, but from what I felt (a nice building in the middle of a lake and french colonial style building like the Opera House, and nobody speaking French! I felt it was not worth the visit.

During the night I did not sleep and went to airport to catch first plane from Vietnam Airlines to do the 2,700 kms in 2 hours and $50USD.

I arrived in Ho Chi Minh where the weather was so different from Hong Kong and very hot tropical. The next move was to find the bus to Cambodia (Phnom Penh). After some difficulties I found a street where many bus companies are located, and as the taxi driver was trying obviously to overcharged I told him that in the night I would shout to his ancesters that he is a stealer which as expected made him decrease his price of 10 x...(Chinese new Year is Ancestor Festivity in Vietnam)....

I Finally took the bus at 1 PM (last possibility since the border Vietnam Cambodia closes at 8 PM and reopens the morning at 6 or 7 AM). The border Custom / Police House in Vietnam is very concrete simple building when the same in Cambodia looks like a Thai style Temple very nice.

Also at the border in Cambodia there are many casinos...Anyway I arrived 5 hours later in Phnom Penh, had the chance to visit some temples as it was stil day time, had as a male to diplomatically refuse sexual free services from another very old male cambodian monk !... in the Temple..., and took the bus around Mid night to arrive in Siem Reap at 4 AM.

Since it was still Chinese new Year this trip was awful. To Fulfil the bus, the company sold extra seats, so some poor travelers were sitting in small plastic cubes in the alley of the bus where people normally walk through. So the bus was 1/3 more filled then it should have been. This was maximum capacity.

All Bus always stop 1/2 hour to make passengers eat in business arrangement with poor restaurants. Like before bus transportation I enjoyed this local food, also very cheap maybe $2USD meal and drink (Each bus trip Ho Chi Minh / Phnom Penh / Siem Reap was 6USD!).

This dinner was really in the jungle with mosquitoes everywhere (I bought some repulsive and took the vaccination against Japanese Encephalitis 3 or 4 weeks before as required - I bought the Chinese version very cheap and efficient and not the American version awfully expensive and that you need to do again after 1 or 2 years).

I arrived in Siem Reap at 4 AM. I had booked a hostel on the phone but when I arrived they had no more rooms. The place was nice looking even it was cheap, so I decided following my tuk tuk suggestions to stay awake and go to Angkor Wat for the Sunrise, which happen around 6 AM.

Of course we arrived before the sunrise, in the jungle, but the moon was very shiny, and the landscape was illuminated nicely.

Since I did not sleep in Hanoi airport and in Siem Reap arrival I was tired, even with the nice Cambodian Coffee which has a taste of cherries! I was explained that there was a small tour and the Other Angkor Wat tours. Since my time was limited I had to choose the small tour which I believe is taken by most of the tourist so far I have seen from pictures after through internet.

Frankly for me, the small tour was more then enough. People do not realize how much you walk. I walked nearly always, being picked up by the same tuk tuk from the entry of one place and collected at the exit of the place to go to another place a few hundred meters aways. It is a very nice experience and since it was still early morning they were only a few hundred people in the places. At lunch times they were thousands of people. Mostly asian people from Korea and Japan I guess.

As I did not really knew a lot about Angkor Wat History excepted that it was nice and a must to see, I really discovered a lot. I did not expected to feel so afraid taking the steps high to down from some temples. I thought I would really kill myself and even if I am not shy at all I had to rely on my most inside will not to abandon and die on these high steps...it was incredible and dangerous.

I had the same feeling of desperation in a very deep visit of a pyramid in Egypt. I think you also need to be full of energy and I was empty with not sleeping for two nights....

All places have their own specifications and are nice to see and are different but at the end of the small tour at 2 pm I was fed up with old rocks, the tuk tuk insisted to show me a big pool used also by the Kings and I returned back to Siem Reap which is not far away to take already the bus back to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

To answer more specifically about Tourism and Destruction of Angkor Wat, I do not think Tourism and hordes of tourists can destroy Angkor Wat. Did tourism kill the Pyramids of Egypt? NO.

These monuments of rocks are insensible to human activities. I think it is a chance for Cambodia to attract visitors. It is still a very poor country. I believed with shopping (in return night market in Phnom Penh, no more temples visits!) and with trips 2x 1000 km and with food and with fish bath eating my feet, and with Angkor Wat and Tuk Tuk visit I only spent maybe $100/$150USD maximum which is absolutely nothing (the hostel was supposed to be also very cheap $10USD which I did not pay).

That experience is worth so more. So I think even if it was extremely short Angkor Wat brings you a lot and could cost you nearly nothing if you are lucky. Of course I Recommend not to do like I did so short way of tourism (I had some times limit) and probably Angkor Wat deserve more time then I did as a crazy French bird, probably 3 days to make it good.

People are extremely smiling and welcoming and even if they are poor (tuk tuk driver told me he was orphan), they are very nice people. I hope one day I can do again this trip as a family trip - maybe less Indiana Jones style - to show these splendors of the past to the family.

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Reply from Travel-Budget-Asia.com


What a wonderful read. It's nice to see Angkor Wat through other people's eyes.

Thank you for your story. I'm sure many others will love it because there is some good advice in there for people planning on making their own trip to 'Vietnam, Angkor Wat, and Siem Reap During The Chinese New Year'

Please come back anytime and share anything you'd like. Reading your post took me back to when I last made that trip for the first time. I'll never be the same again.

Cheers,

Philip

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