Monday, September 17, 2012

Cambodia April 2012 - Exploring Angkor Archaeological Park And Siem Reap

***This post is part 10 of a full trip report. The index can be found here*** 

As with most people, when I first started doing research for this trip, I didn't realize just how many temples there actually were in the area surrounding Siem Reap. I only knew of Angkor Wat, of course, and a couple of other famous sites like Ta Prohm and Bayon, and thought that was pretty much all there was to see. Boy was I wrong. There are literally hundreds of ruins within an area stretching out hundreds of miles from Angkor Wat, all in varying stages of decay or restoration.

Because I was traveling solo, I was a little more wary of exploring the entire Angkor Archaeological Park on my own, so I decided to hire a personal guide for the three full days that I would be there. Luckily, my housemate had been to Cambodia years earlier and recommended his guide, Nicky (or Yem in Khmer). Email correspondence setting up the itinerary was quick and easy, and I thought the $185 rate (excluding entrance fees) he charged was reasonable enough. He also seemed fairly proficient in English, which was very important since I tend to ask a lot of questions.

Typically, almost all visitors to Angkor Archaeological Park will do the Little Circuit, which includes the most famous sites like Angkor Thom, Ta Keo, Ta Prohm, and of course, Angkor Wat. For those with more time, the Big Circuit encompasses temples that are a little more obscure and farther away. However, some of these temples are definitely worth a visit, especially because they don't attract the massive crowds seen on the Little Circuit. And for those who are a bit more adventurous, the outlying temples 20-50 miles beyond the immediate Angkor area boasts some of the most unique and stunning ruins, in my opinion.

I'll go ahead and list the temples/sites I visited on each of the three days, and then describe in detail some of the more interesting events along the way.

Day 1:  Angkor Thom + Big Circuit + Banteay Srey
  • Angkor Thom (Bayon, Baphuon, Phimeanakas, Terrace of the Elephants, Terrace of the Leper King)
  • Preah Khan
  • Ta Som
  • Banteay Srey (outlying temple 23 miles north of Angkor area)
  • East Mebon
  • Pre Rup

Day 2:  Beng Mealea + Kompong Phluk
  • Beng Mealea (outlying temple 45 miles east of Siem Reap)
  • Kompong Phluk (floating village)

Day 3:  Angkor Wat + Little Circuit
  • Angkor Wat (sunrise and afternoon)
  • Ta Prohm
  • Ta Nei
  • Ta Keo
  • Banteay Kdei

The first day actually turned out to be the longest and most strenuous, which, in hindsight, was probably a good plan. By the third day, I was pretty worn out by all the walking in the intense heat. The best advice I can give is to start the day as early as you can. Not only will you avoid some of the harshest daytime sunlight, but arriving at 6:00 or 7:00 am also affords you the opportunity to bypass the massive crowds of tourists that descend on the ruins later in the morning. Unfortunately, we arrived a little late at Angkor Thom on the first day, and Bayon was absolutely packed to the brim. It was even difficult to walk along the pathways at times because of the congestion. Still, it was quite amazing to see the famous stone faces that adorn just about every facet of the temple.


Friday, September 7, 2012

24,490 Priority Club Points For A Four-Night Stay

One of the most useful tips for earning bonus Priority Club points is that their promotions are stackable - and Priority Club seems to always have a ton of promotions running concurrently. In addition, while some of these promotions appear to be targeted towards certain members, anyone can register for them. And that brings me to my stay last month at the Holiday Inn Express in Lompoc, CA. Lompoc is a fairly small city, and the only two major hotels nearby are the Embassy Suites and the Holiday Inn Express. I decided to go with the latter since I'm much more active with Priority Club than with Hilton HHonors.

After booking the stay, my first course of action was to go to the Priority Club Insider website, which is an awesome resource for all things Priority Club. From there, I registered for every promotion I could find that hadn't yet expired. Here are the offers I registered for:

  • Up to 20,000 points: Earn 1,000 points per night, up to 20,000 points total. This was Priority Club's worldwide summer promotion (already expired on 9/3/2012).
  • Stay 3 nights earn 5,000 points: Stay 3 nights during the promotion period and earn 5,000 points. There are also other versions of this promotion, including stay 7 nights earn 10,000 points, and stay 15 nights earn 15,000 points. Be aware that you can only register for one of these, so choose wisely (expires 9/30/2012).
  • Next stay bonus: Earn 3,000 points on your next stay (within 90 days of registering).
  • Next stay bonus: Earn 1,500 points on your next stay (within 90 days of registering).
  • Welcome back bonus: Earn 1,500 points on your next stay (within 90 days of registering).
  • Anniversary bonus offer: Earn 1,000 points for every stay during the promotion period (within 90 days of registering).
  • Elite member next stay bonus: Earn 3,000 points on your next stay (within 90 days of registering). There may be another elite member next stay bonus that can be stacked with this one as well. It is also for 3,000 points on your next stay (within 90 days of registering).
  • Weekend stay bonus: Earn 5,000 points on your next weekend stay (Friday and Saturday, or Saturday and Sunday).

Of course, not every promotion you register for will be a success. Out of all the offers above, I had about two thirds of them post to my account after completing my stay, which is not bad at all! In total, I earned 24,490 Priority Club points for my four-night stay, which is enough for a free night at many of the IHG Hotels worldwide. The best advice is to keep checking the Priority Club Insider website for new promotions, then stack on as many as you can!