Top 10 Things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia

[Update:  Want the newest stuff?  Of course you do!  Check out our updated Top 10 Things to do in Siem Reap post from May 2015 that includes a professionally edited 2 minute video by clicking here. ]

1.  Angkor Wat

Like this list would start with anything else!  Usually the only thing people know about Cambodia and certainly the only reason people venture north to Siem Reap is to see this amazing wonder of the world.  And you know what?  It’s worth it!

Granted, that is a much easier statement to make if you fly in on Air Asia for $60 from Kuala Lumpur (my recommendation) than if you take the hellacious 10 hour bus ride from Bangkok (not my recommendation), but regardless of how you get there, you’ll be blown away.

I could yarn on and on about Angkor Wat, but they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll just give you two suggestions and then let the rest speak for itself.

First, definitely get up to go at sunrise.  Yes, its 4:30 am and yes that sounds crazy, but it really does make the experience that much better.

Even if the sunrise itself isn’t so great (like the day we went), being at such a sacred and majestic place that early in the morning is magical.

My second suggestion is to not dilly dally outside of the temple after the sunrise occurs.  Before you know it, the temples will be overrun with large (and noisy) Korean and Japanese tour groups, even at this early of an hour.

Sneak in to the temple right after sunrise, before the rest get mobilized, and you’ll have this amazing place all to yourself.  Those 15 quiet and peaceful minutes I had alone in the temple were hands down the best part of the trip.

2.  Rent a driver for the day

This is usually done by people who are going to see Angkor Wat, but it deserves its own special mention because you aren’t just having a person drive you around, you’re having an experience.

Our driver, Bunthy, was one of the nicest, most genuine human beings you could ever meet, and as he was ferrying us around between the ruins, we not only learned a TON about Angkor Wat itself, but also amazing information about Cambodia, it’s history, it’s current political state, Bunthy’s family, the state of education in Cambodia, a normal lifestyle for a Cambodian person, and any other question I could think to fire off to him.

This interaction is the one major advantage to renting a car for the day (prices usually start at $30, but we talked him down to $25 and then ended up giving him a $5 tip anyway!) rather than a tuk-tuk.

You’ll have plenty of opportunities for renting a tuk-tuk around town, and its definitely something you should experience, but for the day trip around Angkor Wat, you won’t be able to converse or learn near as much from your driver, seeing as you’ll be sitting in the back of a noisy, motorbike drawn carriage.

And if you go in summer, as I did, the A/C alone is worth the extra $7.

Get in touch with my good buddy Bunthy and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!  Call or WhatsApp (855)-12-972-469 or even shoot him an email at bunthyme.bm@gmail.com.

3.  Eat a frog

I’m no stranger to eating weird foods, but usually its not as enjoyable as it is comedic.  Eating a frog is completely different; it’s delicious!

And not in a “it’s delicious for a really weird food” type way, but in a legitimate “I’d love to have 3 frogs for dinner two times a week” type way.  As cliche as it sounds, it tastes like chicken, just juicier and more flavorful.

For $1?  Looks like I’ll be flying in the staff from Khmer Family Restaurant to cater my next party.  Frogs for everyone!

4.  Get a fish massage

While the idea originally started on Khao San Road in Bangkok, it has quickly moved across the border and found a foothold in Siem Reap as well.  And, believe it or not, it’s even cheaper here!

$1 will buy you 15 minutes and a free beer, so when you ask me why you should put your feet in a tank full of goldfish, my answer would be “why not?”  And if you really need a reason, just believe the men when they tell you your dead skin is feeding the gold fish.  It’ll placate the animal love in all of us!

 

5.  Eat dinner in a bathtub

Madam Beergarden Under Construction (yes, that’s its real name) is as famous for its awesome food as it is for its crazy décor, and that’s saying something!

While dining on some of the best and cheapest eats in Siem Reap you can “lounge” in a sawed in half bathtub, among other interesting objects that dot the beergarden.

Whether you come for the food or the atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed!

6.  Indulge Yourself on Pub Street

One of the good things about Pub Street and the surrounding areai is that most bars 50 cent draft beers for happy hour.  An even better thing:  Happy Hour lasts “all day” or “from open to close”, depending on which sign you choose to read!

So no matter what time you decide to prowl Pub Street, a 50 cent draft is never far away.  I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than relaxing a street side pub and having a few drafts for less than $2!

Angkor What is the bar that started it all, but really, you can’t go wrong with any of them (I mentioned beer was 50 cents, right)?  Here’s a list and map of most of them.  And just in case you get lost, the town has now erected a neon flashing sign to point all foreigners in the right direction!

7.  Haggle in the markets

Handbags, t-shirts, bathing suits, or live chickens…whatever your fancy, the street markets of Siem Reap have it all.  And while the prices are already low by our standards, it’s fun to engage in a little friendly bargaining!

My typical starting point is half of their first asking price.  Just remember, these people could use the extra dollar much more than you, so have fun with it, but don’t push too hard.

8.  Stay at a boutique hostel

As more and more tourists flock to Angkor Wat, so do the big hotel chains;  there is even a Park Hyatt scheduled to open next year!

But with Cambodia being the 3rd most corrupt country in Asia and the gap between the rich and the poor seismic, why not do a small part in giving back by staying at a locally run guesthouse or boutique hostel?  Not only will you get a more authentic experience, but the service will be second to none and the price you’ll pay will probably be half of what you’d pay at a Western-run hotel.  It’s a win-win for everyone!

There are plenty in the area, but if you want a recommendation, head to the Golden Mango.  Sony and his staff are some of the nicest people in the world, the building and pool are really nice, and the free breakfast is both tasty and filling.

9.  Ride in a tuk-tuk

There is no more authentic Southeast Asian experience than riding in a tuk-tuk, an open air wagon pulled by a motorbike that serves as a taxi.  For traveling through town, where the roads are congested and lanes are just a suggestion, a tuk-tuk will be just as fast as a regular taxi and easily half the price.

Plus, you’ll get to enjoy all the sites, sounds, and smells that make Siem Reap Siem Reap.  And if you’re lucky, you may even witness a fistfight (see 0:33 of video below).

10.  Eat a traditional Cambodian meal

Cambodian food certainly doesn’t get the publicity that it’s neighbors do but its delicious in its own right.  Some people may even prefer it to Thai food as the flavor is more subdued and its certainly less spicy.

Two of the most popular traditional dishes are amok and lok lak.  Amok is fish covered in crushed peanuts, coconut milk, and egg, that is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, whereas lok lak is a marinated beef stir fry served with special Cambodian seasoning.  Both come with rice, as does most every dish in Cambodia.

There is no better place to try these dishes, and much more, than at Khmer Kitchen, a Cambodian-run restaurant right off of Pub Street that is as cheap as it is delicious.  Additionally, you’ll get a pretty good rendition of either one of these dishes at the stalls that line the area around Angkor Wat.

Final Word(s)

While Angkor Wat gets most of the publicity, and justifiably so, there are still many really cool and authentic things to do in Siem Reap.  So if you find yourself venturing to northern Cambodia to see this amazing Wonder of the World make sure to try out some of my top 10 to make your trip even that much better!

If you’ve been to Siem Reap, what suggestions do you have?  Are there things I’ve left out?  I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

And don’t forget to check out our updated list (with a much better, professionally edited video) of the top 10 things to do in Siem Reap.

The Free Flight Primer, Part Seven: Booking Your Award Ticket

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.   

I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.

I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Booking Your Award

You’ve picked your destination, found out what airlines fly there, checked availability of flights, and earned your points.  Now you’re on the homestretch.  The only thing left to do is book your award and pack your suitcase (which I promise won’t be part 8).

Step 1:  Determine Whether You Can Book Online

For all airlines, if you are flying “metal”, which means that you are using that airline’s miles and only flying on that airline (for example, you are using AA miles to book flights and flying ONLY on AA and no partner airlines), then you can book online.  And while each airline’s booking system is set up a little different, they are for the most part, pretty straight forward.  You sign in to your account, search for availability, and click on the tickets.  Then you’ll be taken to a screen that shows how many points you have, how many it costs, and what the total out of pocket cost you have to pay is for fees and taxes.  After you enter all your personal details and payment details, you are finished.

The problem comes when you are using an airline’s miles but flying on partner airlines (using AA miles but flying Iberia, BA, etc.).  Unfortunately, most airlines DO NOT let you book most partners online and you’ll be required to call in and book.

To make it easy for you, I’ve created a chart that breaks down what you can and cannot do online for the five most popular airlines that people in the States have miles with.  I’ve also included how much the fee is to book by phone, the phone number to call if you can’t book your ticket online, and if there is a short notice booking fee.  Some airlines charge a fee if the date of booking a ticket is within a certain amount of days of your departure (completely lame if you ask me).  I’ve also linked below to their page of rules regarding award travel if you want to read more about it (thrilling stuff, let me tell you!).

United Rules

AA Rules

US Airways Rules

Delta Rules

BA Rules

Case Study:  Rob will be using AA miles but flying on Iberia, meaning he will have to call AA to book the travel.

Step 2:  Call and Book Your Ticket

If you can’t book online, then you need to call and book your ticket.  It doesn’t sound too complicated, and it isn’t usually, but there are a few tips that might help you.

Always have your itinerary figured out before you call:  Use the skills you learned in Parts 3, 4, and 5 to find flight availability.  Write down all the information for the itinerary you want or keep the window open on your computer when you call.  Don’t assume the rep on the other line will find you the right or best flight.  Don’t waste all your hard work by failing to be prepared and then finding out later you are on a different flight from the one you originally wanted.

Ask to have the phone fee waived:  Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t.  I always just mention that I couldn’t book the ticket online because they don’t allow you to book partners online or else I would have.  If you sound knowledgeable and prepared, making the job easier for the rep, there will be a better chance you get the fee waived.  Of course, being nice helps as well.  Hey, it never hurts to ask.

Ask to put the ticket on hold:  If you have any doubts at all (about the dates, about the flight numbers, about the passenger names) then ask to put the ticket on hold and get everything in order.  This guarantees you have the tickets if you want them but doesn’t lock you in to anything at the moment.  Each airline has different rules, but AA will hold your ticket for 5 days.  Just remember to call back before the hold is up and actually book your tickets or they will be released and you’ll be out of luck.  Also, remember to write down your tracking number somewhere safe and save yourself a lot of headaches later.

After booking your ticket, you should be all set, which brings us to an end of the Free Flight Primer.  I hope that you’ve found the information easy to understand and valuable.  Based on your comments and emails, I’d consider it a success.  If you have any other questions, suggestions for future video tutorials and guides or if the Free Flight Primer has helped you book an award ticket, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

 

The Free Flight Primer, Part Six: Getting Your Miles

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.   

I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.

I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Getting Your Miles

Parts 1-5 have focused on picking a destination and finding availability to that destination.  Now, it’s time to shift our focus and actually begin getting you the miles you need to fly for free.  If you’ve been following the Free Flight Primer and already have a stockpile of miles, great!  But for most newbies, building up your miles balance is a crucial step.  Let’s jump right in.

Step 1:  Determine How Many Miles You Need

You did this back in Part 1, so I’ll just recap it quickly.  If you want to re-read the full version, go here and scroll down to Step 3.  The best place to start is milez.biz, which will give you the amount of points needed to fly to your destination across almost all airlines.  Consider the following:

What airlines did you find availability on in Parts 3-5?  

How many people are flying?

What cabin class do you want to fly?

Case Study:  Remember Rob, our case study?  He’s looking to fly from New York to Rome in late September.  We found good award availability with OneWorld for the dates he wants, he is flying with his wife, and they are looking to fly economy.  By looking at milez.biz or at the AA award chart we know that it will cost him 60k roundtrip per person, so he needs 120k AA miles.

Step 2:  Determine What Credit Cards Will Get You Your Miles

Credit card signups are far and away the best way to earn miles quickly.  There are other ways to pad your balance (which we will discuss later) but to get your free flights, you’ll need to apply for a credit card or two (or three, or four…).  So now the question becomes which one?

If you are completely new to the game, I’d recommend you read my Tips For Picking the Right Card page, which gives you a simplified, general overview of what to look for in a credit card.  On top of those considerations, we now must also look at our specific scenario and what airlines we are looking to fly.

Two basic recommendations:

1.  If you are looking to fly OneWorld, by far the best sign up bonus available is the  Citi/AAdvantage cards.

2.  If you are looking to fly Star Alliance, there are a few Chase cards that make sense for you.  Since Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to United, the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold [No longer available], and Chase Ink Plus are all good options.

In addition, the Chase United Explorer card is another good option.

Case Study:  Rob is flying OneWorld, so he needs 120k AA miles.  He already has 38k in his AA account, meaning that an extra 100k would put him over the 120k mark we need for him to fly to Europe and back.

Step 3:  Apply for the card(s) and start making the minimum spend.

After getting approved for the card, every card has some requirement to meet before you get the miles in your account.  For some cards, this is simply “after first purchase” meaning that you can buy one thing, no matter what, and you’ll get the miles.

For other cards, you must spend a certain amount in a certain time frame (i.e. $2,500 in 3 months).  IF YOU DON’T HIT THE MINIMUM SPEND, YOU WON’T GET THE MILES.  Always, always make sure you can hit the minimum spend.

Since you have already found the flights you want, the sooner you make the minimum spend, the sooner the miles post to your account.  The sooner the miles post to your account, the sooner you can use them to book your flight.

See the pattern?  The sooner, the better.  Every day you wait is another day that the flights you wanted could be snatched up, so while I don’t advocate going out and spending just to spend, if your travel is coming up fairly soon, then I’d suggest making the spend as quickly as you feasibly, and responsibly, can.

Morals of the story:

1.  Plan ahead if possible.  It is going to be very difficult to go from 0 miles in March to booking a 100k worth of flights for travel in May.  Not impossible, but difficult.  Even if you do make the minimum spend and your  miles post quickly, the award space that close to the travel date will most likely be gone.

2.  If you do find yourself in the above situation and are under the gun to get miles, be flexible with your dates.  Something may not be open on the Saturday that you want to leave, but it might be available on Tuesday.  Make sure to check all options.

Case study:  Rob’s wife applied for both the Citi/AA Visa and Citi/AA Amex using the two browser trick (now dead).  She was instantly approved for both.  She has met the minimum spend on the Visa and is now working on the minimum spend on the AmEx.

Step 4 (if necessary):  Transfer the Points

For some cards, the miles you earn will go directly to your account with that airline (for example, the Citi/AAdvantage card earns you American Airlines miles).  For other cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred. you’ll need to transfer your Ultimate Rewards points to the airline of your choosing (such as United).  This can be done online and if you are transferring Chase or American Express points, the transfers are instant (the only exception to this is if you are transferring AmEx to ANA, in which case it usually takes 48 hours).  If you a transferring Starwoods points, be aware that they can take anywhere from a few days to two weeks.

Case study:  Rob and his wife will not need to transfer points, since they are earning AA miles using the Citi/AAdvantage cards and will also be redeeming AA miles for their tickets.

Step 5:  Earn Miles Through Ways Other Than Sign Up Bonuses

While signup bonuses will give you the bulk of your points, you can also pad your mileage balances in a variety of other methods.  This is especially helpful when a signup bonus leaves you a few thousand points shy of the amount you need for an award ticket.  For example, let’s say you sign up for the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the 50k signup bonus but you need 60k for your roundtrip ticket to Europe.  If you are smart, you could end up with these 10k just by meeting your minimum spend.

Shopping Portals

The easiest way is to use shopping portals.  I document why you should use them in this post and then show you how to use my personal favorite, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall, here.  To highlight our above example, if you went through the Chase UR Mall and spent $350 at Groupon, which was running a 30 points/$1 promotion, you’d already have your extra 10k.

I’ve harped on it continuously in other posts, but if you aren’t using shopping portals than you should start considering it, at least for the online purchases you already make.

“Regular” Spending

Each card, in addition to a sign up bonus, will offer some sort of mileage earning for using it.  For most cards, it is 1 point/$1 spent, although some offer special bonus categories where they’ll give you 2 points/$1 or even 5 points/$1 spent.  For the Chase Sapphire, you’ll get 2x points on travel and dining, meaning that if you used it only these two categories to make your minimum spend of $3,000, you’d end up with an additional 6k points above your sign up bonus.

If you only have one card, it makes sense to use it in lieu of cash as much as possible.  You’ll be earning miles and not paying anything extra.  If you have more than one card, start being cognizant of which cards give bonuses in what categories and tailor your usage accordingly.

Case study:  After the sign up bonus, Rob will have enough AA miles to make his trip.  The AA cards only offer 1/$1 for all categories, so after meeting the minimum spend, he’ll have an extra 5k AA miles in his arsenal.

Step 6:  Sign up for Award Wallet to Track Your Points

The more involved you get in this game, the more confusing it can get to remember what points you have with what airlines.  Why not use a free product that does all hard work for you?  Award Wallet will store your account balances for all types of airlines and hotels (except AA, which has blocked Award Wallet) and will update automatically once you set it up.  I can’t think of a single good reason not to use it, and recommend it to everyone I know.

Next up, Part 7:  Booking Your Award Ticket

 

 

The Free Flight Primer, Part Five: Using Award Nexus to Find Award Availability

The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.  We’ll start at the very beginning of the process and work our way through every step, from picking a destination all the way up to booking the ticket.  In between we’ll talk about tips for figuring out how many miles are needed for a certain flight, how to earn those miles, how to find seat availability, and much more.  I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.  It will be broken in to multiple sections and multiple posts, which will make it easier to read and easier to use as a reference at a later date.  I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.

Part 1: Intro and Taking Inventory of Your Points 

Part 2:  Determining Airline Routes to Your Destination

Part 3:  Finding OneWorld Award Availability

Part 4:  Finding Star Alliance Award Availability

Using Award Nexus to Find Award Availability

Award Nexus is one of a few paid subscriptions tools (KVS and Expert Flyer are the other two main ones) that many frequent flyers will use to search for award availability.  For most people, using the tools I showed you in Parts 3 and 4 are enough (and they are free).  However, if you plan on earning a good amount of miles and redeeming them fairly often, it might make sense to look in to paying the small fee for one of these sites.  While it does the same thing as the airline’s websites, it allows you to search ALOT quicker and ALOT more efficiently, as you’ll be able to see both OneWorld and Star Alliance flights at the same time, and compare and contrast them on the same screen.

While I’ve dabbled a little bit with the other two, and found them useful, I use Award Nexus most often.  Best of all, it is free for a certain amount of searches and your points can be replenished, so if you aren’t using it heavily, you’ll never have to pay.

The video below shows you exactly what you have to do to use Award Nexus.  I’ve also provided some written instructions, and as always, if you have any questions or thoughts, feel free to comment below.

 

 Step 1:  Sign up for an Award Nexus Account

In order to sign up for an Award Nexus account you  must be a member of Flyertalk.  If you are not already a member of Flyertalk, you probably should be anyway, so go there first to sign up.  You’ll then have to enter your exact Flyertalk handle (screename) in the box and your email.  Your Award Nexus account may not be active right away (I can’t remember the steps that occur) but if it isn’t, it should be shortly.

Step 2:  Find Awards Now

There are a lot of tools to dabble around with on Award Nexus, so when you get a chance, have a look around.  For searching availability, click on “Find Awards Now”.

Step 3:  Enter Your Information

Most of it is straightforward except for the boxes that you have to check.  Whichever box you check determines which airline’s search function Award Nexus uses.  To understand which ones you should choose, you can click on “Help & Info” and then the “tips” link.  For Star Alliance, I have found that CO (which is Continental) and ANA work the best.  However, don’t check both, as this will just give you duplicate results but cost you more points.  For OneWorld, I only use QF (Qantas).

Step 4:  Tailor the Results to Your Liking

Other than saving tons of time, Award Nexus is also great for allowing you to tailor the results exactly how you want.  If you only want to see Star Alliance flights, then unclick QF box and it takes away all the Qantas (OneWorld) flights.  If you want to sort the flights by departure time, click on the Depart heading and it resorts it.  Want to see the results in a calendar view, then click on any of the numerous tabs at the top of the page.  I usually like to use list or list (detailed) but anything is fine.

Step 5:  Write Down All Your Details

If you find a flight you like, click on it and it will bring up a box with all the flight details, including total time, layover time, cities in and out of, etc.  Remember, you can’t book on Award Nexus, it is only for searching, so write down all the details of the flight you like and call up the airline you have points with to book your ticket.

 

Get out of the Stone Age and Start Using Shopping Portals (with Evreward video tutorial)

 

stone age evolution

A few months ago, I was just like you;  hesitant to use shopping portals for miles and points.

I thought it would be difficult, take up too much time, blah blah blah.

I’m making big points off credit card signups anyway, so how can a shopping portal even be worth my time?  I mean, why would we need the wheel when we could walk?

What a caveman mentality!

The truth is, outside of credit card signup bonuses, using shopping portals is the second best way to accrue miles and points and to do it in chunks.

And that’s what we want, chunks.  Nice, big chunks of points with minimum effort.

The turning point for me?  Christmas, 2011.

My siblings decided they wanted to buy my parents a hot air balloon ride.  Would I want to chip in?

Having just received an email from Groupon, which was offering a WHOPPING 30 Chase UR Points per $1 spent, you bet I wanted in.

I signed in to the Chase Ultimate Rewards mall, redirected to Groupon’s site, and bought a $300 hot air balloon ride for my folks.

Just like that, I was 9,000 points richer.  I was officially a convert!

Ok, ok, ok, you’re convinced that big points can be had, but it must be time consuming to find deals, right?

WRONG!

Evreward.com Makes it Easy

Enter Evreward.com, an amazing little site that shows you exactly how many points you’ll get per $1 spent at each merchant and for each reward programs online portal.

Since not all reward programs are created equal, I use Evreward.com every time I decide I’m going to purchase something online.

When buying flowers, Teleflora may offer 10 points/$1 if you use Chase’s Ultimate Rewards mall but 20/$1 if you use United’s online mall.

You better bet I’m going through United and doubling up on the points!  $50 worth of flowers is giving me 1,000 United miles, as opposed to only 500 Chase points.

Thanks Evreward!

Below, I’ve made a short 3 minute video that explains how to use Evreward.com to search for the best deals.

I won’t say it’s so easy a caveman could do it, but…it’s pretty easy.  From this time forward, may your shopping be full of miles and points!

Once you know how to use Evreward, don’t forget to watch the video tutorial on how to use my favorite online shopping portal, the Chase Ultimate Rewards Mall.

Do you use Evreward or do you have another secret weapon?  What’s the best deal you’ve ever got from an online shopping portal?  Comment below!

(photo courtesy of iandexter)

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