Siem Reap is the most visited city in Cambodia aside from its capital city, Phnom Penh. It houses hundreds of century-old temples made out of strong spiritual devotion of its people. When you heard about Cambodia or Siem Reap, visiting Angkor Wat will probably first come to your mind but in reality the place has so much things to offer. For most travelers, spending few days in Siem Reap could be a highlight of their Southeast Asia trip.
So here’s a first timer’s guide in Siem Reap that you can read on.
Things To Know Before Going:
- Cambodia has two seasons- wet and dry season. The dry season is from November-April while wet season is from May-November. Going during the dry season could give you a very hot weather and some of the tourist attractions could not be on their best state like Floating Villages and Kbal Spean due to limited water flow. Going during wet season on the other hand, can be inconvenient due to flashfloods. It is said that the best time to go in Cambodia is from November- February since it’s the driest and coolest month of the year.
Most money transactions around Cambodia are being done using USD (US Dollar). So if you are coming to Cambodia make sure that you exchange your money to USD and not KHR (Cambodian Riel). They only use KHR for small transactions on the streets or when providing small amount of change. Rate would be 1 USD is equivalent to about 4,100 KHR.
Widely used mode of transportation around the province is tuktuk. Price range of transport fare varies depending on the place you are heading to. If you wish to take a day tour around the city, tuktuks are the most convenient and cheapest way of transport. A day tour can cost you 10USD- 30 USD depending on your desired itinerary. One tuktuk can fit up to four people.
Cambodians are very fluent in speaking English so if you wish to have and hire a tour guide around the Angkor temples, language wouldn’t be an issue. Aside from English language, they actually have Cambodian tour guides who can speak Mandarin, Japanese, Spanish, Korean and many more fluently! Wow!
Where to Stay?
We stayed in Villa Sweet Central Angkor owned by Japanese Yuki and Jumpei. They offer accommodations for a very affordable price. Their place is a small villa with a swimming pool at the center. Since it is located within Siem Reap Central area, it is very convenient for us to go around the Siem Reap center. They have free airport pick-up, nice tuktuk drivers and even let us stay beyond our 12 noon check out time since our flight is still in the evening. We only paid 22.49 USD or more than 1,100 PHP per night for 4 pax. The room is air-conditioned with two queen beds, private toilet, mini ref and toiletries.
Accommodation: Villa Sweet Central Angkor
Address: Rose Apple Rd. Siem Reap Center, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Facebook: Villa Sweet Central Angkor
What To Do In Siem Reap?
1. Visit Angkor Temples
There a many temples to visit in Siem Reap aside from the most famous of all which is Angkor Wat. In order for you to enter these temples you need to avail their Angkor pass. The ticket price varies depending on how many days you will visit the temples.
1 day- 37 USD
3 days- 62 USD
7 days- 72 USD
On our case we availed the 3-day pass to suffice our temple itinerary. I wrote a more detailed blog regarding the temples to visit in Siem Reap and here’s the link.
Small circuit temple tour
This tour includes visiting the temples inside Angkor Archeological Park located on what they called “small circuit” which is usually being started by dropping by to the most known temple, Angkor Wat. Here’s the list of the temple included on this circuit:
- Angkor Wat- The most visited Angkor temple and declared as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. It is said to be the largest religious site in the world.
- Angkor Thom- It is actually a complex within Angkor Archeological Park that has 20-meter gates with four faces.
- Bayon Temple- It is a temple known for its four-faced towers. The tower’s faces are said to be the face of King Jayavarman VII.
- Ta Keo- It is a temple mountain that has 5 temples on the uppermost part of step pyramid.
- Ta Prohm- It is one of the most popular temple aside from Angkor Wat due to its appearance in the famed movie of Angelina Jolie, Tomb Raider.
- Banteay Kdei- It means “Citadel of Chambers” and said to be a smaller version of Ta Prohm.
Big circuit temple tour
Unlike small circuit tour, temples included on this tour are situated farther from each other taking a longer route to reach the next one. Here’s the list of the temple we visited for this tour:
- Preah Khan- It has huge trees that grows out of the ruins and walls carved with Garudas.
- Neak Pean- It is an island temple originally designed to be a “hospital”.
- East Mebon- It is a temple that stands in the middle od now dry reservoir.
- Pre Rup- Cambodian’s believed that this temple was used for funeral ceremonies.
2. Party at Pub Street
It is a long stretch of streets where restaurants, bars, fish spas, massage places and fried ice cream stalls flock. It becomes alive during late afternoon until late night and stands as the center of night life in Siem Reap.
3. Learn Khmer History by Visiting Angkor National Museum
Angkor National Museum exhibits the glorious ancient Khmer Kingdoms. The museum is divided to series of galleries such as 1,000 Buddha Images, Khmer Civilization and galleries that showcases the origin of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. It is a good place for people who loves history. Entrance fee is 12 USD.
4. See the War Relics in War Museum
This War museum highlights the ruthless Khmer Rouge and the recent civil war in Cambodia. The museum exhibits unique collection of old weapons, vehicles, landmines and equipments which were used in nearly three decades of the country’s civil war.
5. Watch Sunset in Phnom Krom
Don’t miss watching the famous Cambodia sunset which is more beautiful to witness on a less crowded area. Phnom Krom is a temple located on the top of a hill 10 km southwest of Siem Reap center so a little trek is required to reach it. You will see a view of Chong Kneas floating village from above as you walk towards the hilltop. It is a popular place for sunset viewing as you can witness it over a flooded plain during the wet season or over a rice fields in dry season.
6. Take a Look on Banteay Srei
It is a revitalizing temple to see far from Angkor Archeological Park. Banteay Srei which means “Citadel of Beauty”, is located about 30 km away from Siem Reap center. The temple’s walls and structures are meticulously carved made of pink sandstones.
7. Taste Khmer Cuisines
Cuisines found in Cambodia are usually being compared to those found in neighboring country of Thailand and Vietnam but it is simply delicious once tried. There are a lot of food choices on each restaurants making someone hard to decide which of which to get. My most recommended dish to try are pineapple fried rice, loklak and amok.
I wrote a more detailed blog for dishes to try in Siem Reap, if you wish to read it here’s the link.
8. Visit a Floating Village in Tonle Sap Lake
It can be a refreshing scene to experience once you get tired of all the temple hopping that you did. The village highlights stilt houses that seems to float in water during wet season. It is a floating community that has their own school, hospital and even restaurants. There are four floating villages that you can visit namely: Chong Kneas, Mechrey, Kampong Phluk and Kampong Khleang. One boat ride can cost 18-20 USD depending on which village you will visit.
9. Buy Souvenirs in Night Market
There are series of night markets that can be found in Siem Reap area. Those night markets sell goods, clothes, home decor, slogan t-shirts, sculptures, textile and many more. You are in need of your haggling skills to get reasonable discounts and spend less on your shopping here. The vendors would even initiate the haggling first and ask for how much you can pay but make sure you weigh things out first before haggling too much since vendors are in need as well of an income.
10. Appreciate and Buy Khmer Art
What I notice about Cambodia is their love for art. Almost anywhere you go, you will get a chance to see sculptures and paintings being sold. Even on the corners of the Angkor temples you will see artists expressing themselves through drawing and painting. You will see a lot of them as well on the streets of the night markets and you can’t take yourself from admiring these art pieces.
11. Trek to Kbal Spean with 1000 lingas
Kbal Spean, located in west of Kulen Mountains, is a riverbed with series of stone rock carvings and sandstones. It is commonly known as “The river of a Thousand Lingas”. You need to trek about 1.5 km uphill within Phnom Kulen National Park to reach it. The site showcases a small waterfall-like view where water flows over the carved sculptures. Since we came during dry season, there’s no flowing water on the site but visiting Kbal Spean during dry season is a good way of experiencing the beauty of the country’s mountain area. You need an Angkor pass to get into this site. We didn’t get a guide and just follow the signs along the way. A mountain trek would be a good adventure especially on a foreign land.