The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Siem Reap, Cambodia
A UNESCO World Heritage site, Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious monument. It’s one of the few places you definitely need to check off your bucket list. I hope first-time traveler’s will find this guide useful in planning their trip.
WHEN TO GO
There are only two season in Cambodia, that’s wet and dry. May to October is wet season, while November to April is dry season.
It’s best to avoid March-May as these are the hottest months, whereas September to October aren’t ideal either, as these are the wettest months. The coolest and driest time of the year is November to February, but it’s also the most popular which means that prices tend to spike.
If you’re looking for a good balance of weather and crowds, June-August is probably the best time to go. It’s cooler and less dusty because of the rain. The lanscape is more green, the temple moats are filled, and there are fewer tourists. It helps that the rain is more predictable too – early in the afternoon and again at night.
HOW TO GET THERE
Once you arrive at the Siem Reap International Airport (REP), the best way to get around is by tuk tuk. You can arrange one with your hotel or hail one from the airport. Since we booked ahead, it only cost us USD 5. It will probably be pricier to hire one on the spot.
HOW LONG TO STAY
Siem Reap is all about the Angkor temples. If you’re not out to see every single one, a 3-day Angkor pass is enough.
HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING
Cambodia is inexpensive, even by Southeast Asian standards. You can enjoy a meal at a fancy restaurant for USD 10 or have a mug of ice cold draft beer for 50 cents.
You’ll find that a daily budget of USD100 is more than enough to cover accomodation, food and drinks, some shopping, transportation and even your Angkor Pass. If you’re thrifty, it’s even possible to spend as little as USD50 a day.
Conveniently, USD is accepted everywhere in Cambodia. In fact, the only time you’ll see the Cambodian Riel is when you’re given small change.
WHERE TO STAY: Soria Moria Boutique Hotel
Conveniently located along Wat Bo Road, Soria Moria is a Norwegian-owned boutique hotel that’s just a few minutes from the chaotic Pub Street. It’s the perfect place for a quieter more relaxed atmosphere, close to many delicious, untouristy restaurants.
HOW TO GET AROUND
Unless you rent a bicycle or car, tuk tuk will be your primary means of transportation in Siem Reap. It’s best if you arrange trips through your hotel as much as possible. Though harmless, many tuk tuk drivers will be aggressive in getting you to hire them.
WHERE TO GO
It’s important to note, that Angkor Wat is just one of many temples scattered in a large area. To visit them, you’ll need to buy an Angkor pass which is available for the prices below:
One day – USD 37
Three days – USD 62
Seven days – USD 72
If you want to see all the temples, it’s best to get the one week past. But if you want to visit just the major temples, then the three day pass will suffice. I’ve listed the four most notable temples, that are enough to still leave you with a fulfilling Angkor experience.
1. Ta Phrom
Home to giant roots reclaiming the ruins, Ta Phrom is where Tomb Raider was actually filmed. These massive roots enveloping the temples are a spectacular sight. Definitely a must-see.
Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs
2. Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple
The largest temple in the complex, Angkor Thom is the second most visited temple after Angkor Wat. At the center of Angkor Thom is Bayon Temple, which is home to massive, carved stone heads.
Suggested Length of Visit: 4-5 hrs
3. Angkor Wat
The jewel of the Angkor complex and also the largest Hindu temple complex in the world, Angkor Wat is a massive structure surrounded on all sides by a moat. How they managed to build this in the 12th century is unbelievable.
Suggested Length of Visit: 3-4 hrs
4. Bantaey Srei
About an hour away from the main temple complex by tuk tuk, Bantaey Srei is one of the smaller, but most unique temples. It’s the only temple made from pink sandstone and boasts the best, most intricate temple carvings of all. I paid USD 22 and left at 6:30 AM to go there, but it was definitely worth the visit.
5. Landmine Museum
Along the way to Bantaey Srei is the landmine museum. It tells the story of landmines in Cambodia and their sobering impact on the country’s past, present and future.
Suggested Length of Visit: 1-1 1/2 hrs / Admission: USD 5
WHERE TO EAT
1. Pub Street
Pub Street is the heart of Siem Reap. The neon-lit network of streets and alleys is teeming with restaurants, bars and clubs. It might feel a little touristy, and can get pretty loud and boisturous, but it’s a great place to grab a few beers.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, many restaurants offer Phnom Pleung or “Cambodian BBQ”. For USD 13, you can get an exotic set meal consisting of kangaroo, crocodile, snake, beef, and shrimp.
Expect to Pay: USD 8 per person with drinks
2. Soria Moria Boutique Hotel (Wednesdays)
On Wednesdays, every item on Soria Moria’s tapas menu and bar list can be had for just one US dollar. It’s very popular, so I suggest going there early for dinner.
Expect to Pay: USD 5 per person with drinks
A TripAdvisor awardee, Viroth’s is a beautiful restaurant that’s perfect for quiet, candlelit dinners. It serves terrific Cambodian food, but is still relatively inexpensive.
Expect to Pay: USD 12 per person with drinks
4. The Square 24 St.
Another TripAdvisor awardee and local favourite, Square 24 St. is a beautifully decorated restaurant where you can get a five-course meal amounting to just USD 18. It’s a nice alternative to the loud scene on Pub Street.
Expect to Pay: USD 11 per person with drinks
WHERE TO BUY GIFTS & SOUVENIRS
1. Old Market
Old Market is one of the best places to buy souveniers in Siem Reap! There are various wares like dried fruit, spices, shirts, silver, scarves and more.
2. Night Market
Not far from the Old Market is the Night market, which is slightly more upscale without any food items. Here you can find modern nicknacks, Cambodian folk art, jewelry and even fake Beats by Dr. Dre stuff that may have fallen off the back of a tuk tuk.
1. Check for Discount Passes
It’s best to check for sites that offer special deals on tours and activities. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself, so it’s definitely worth a look.
2. Get Travel Insurance
You never know what can happen. It’s one of those things you hope you never have to use. But if you do wind up needing it, you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.
Now, a 3-day food trip to Hong Kong might not call for insurance, but if you plan on doing active things like bungee jumping, kayaking, or even going on a bike tour, then travel insurance is definitely a must.
I do hope that you find this post useful. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below.
Original article and photos from Will Fly for Food.