It’s everywhere in Cambodia. On the money, the flag, the tourism posters. The first thing anyone in Cambodia asks you is, “Have you been?” In a nation that has struggled so much, that has suffered more than most — and more recently — and is still desperately trying to recover, there is no greater point of pride than the memory of when the Khmers were the masters of a vast empire.
Angkor Wat. It’s a must-see.
The temples are in Siem Reap, the good-time tourist town that centers around the foreigners who come to visit. Solo tourists are often worried about meeting people when they travel, but travel in Siem Reap is definitely not a problem. Angkor Wat and Siem Reap is pretty safe if you’re not silly about things. There are tons of great guesthouses starting at around $6 a night that include clean rooms, free wifi, and a good place to meet people. Some Siem Reap hostels and guesthouses even feature pools or gardens and most serve pretty inexpensive food.
How to get there
If you only have a short time to spend at Angkor Wat, it’s best to get out to the temples as early as possible. Tuk-tuks generally cost about $10-15 for the day to travel Angkor, Siem Reap — which isn’t so bad if you’re sharing but can be a little pricey for a solo traveler. However, it’s more comfortable to than a moto and much less expensive than a private car. Walking isn’t really an option. Lots of people do rent bikes but you should be in really good shape if you’re going to do this. Admission to Angkor Wat temples is also expensive at $20 per person for one day, $40 for a three-day pass, and $60 for a week. Crazy. Also, don’t eat the food in the compounds unless you’re really desperate. It’s overpriced and pretty bad: typical for tourist places.
The Angkor Wat temples are beautiful and anyone visiting can buy guides describing them in all the detail a traveler could desire. Going alone is wonderful because there is no pressure to move at someone else’s pace. Unlike a museum, the temples are totally open. Visitors can walk around them, inside them, even climb on top of them. Without outside pressure, a solo traveler can spend as much time playing Indiana Jones (which was actually filmed at Angkor Wat) as he wants and then skip through the less interesting parts. There is also less room for embarrassment when you’re sweating up a storm and you get templed-out and just can’t do it anymore! The temples really are remarkable but Cambodia is hot and walking around the vast structures can be exhausting to say the least. Eventually, you’re going to want to go back to town.
Back in town
Evenings in Siem Reap are a blast. Everyone has rested after a long day of temple hunting and is ready to go out and enjoy themselves, which makes it easy to meet people. During a waxing/mani/pedi session that came to $11 I met two American girls my age who were visiting Cambodia in-between overseas teaching gigs. They were a blast and we went to Viva for dinner and margaritas.
The food was delicious, the margaritas cheap and a bit weak, and we had a great time. After dinner we headed to the Blue Pumpkin’s sleek air-conditioned lounge for dessert.
The next day, while stopping for a drink at The Warehouse (as a DMB fan, I felt obligated), I met two more American chicks who were thrilled to have someone else to talk to. We had a great time and after drinks we headed to the Red Piano for dinner. The food at the Red Piano is good and the ambiance and view from the balcony makes it definitely worth a visit. After the Red Piano we headed to Angkor What?, a pretty well-known backpacker bar. We met some English guys (but no Indiana Jones) and had a great time talking and drinking before we finally turned in.
Siem Reap is one of those towns where it’s easy to be a solo traveler. Full of tourists, there are hundreds of guesthouses, bars, and restaurants to meet people. At the same time, the majesty and solemnity of Angkor Wat is perhaps best enjoyed alone. A solo traveler can have all of the time she needs to reflect on the beauty of an empire and still socialize the night away. Sometimes, towns centered around backpackers are just what the travel doctor ordered.