A travel guide to Siem Reap
How to make the most of Siem Reap in a day.
Cambodia is one of those countries that’s unforgettable. I happened to visit on a side trip to Thailand not knowing very much about it, but was completely taken aback at the incredible kindness displayed towards my friends and I, as well as the stunning raw beauty of the land. From the friendly people that helped translate for us throughout the entire border crossing process to the taxi driver that couldn’t speak English so he called his uncle to ask us if we needed any help finding a hotel or food, this country was one surprise after another. To this day it still remains one of my favorite countries and although it’s far, it offers one of the most affordable and authentic travel experiences you can find. Though there are many places to see here, Siem Reap is not only one of Cambodia’s most visited cities but also offers some of best attractions in the world. Here’s a sample itinerary for the day to get you started!
4 am: While waking up at 4 am probably sounds horrendous, I promise you in no other city is this more worth it than in Siem Reap! Everyone comes to Siem Reap to watch the sunrise over the stunning Angkor Wat so if you want to get there in time and have a good viewing spot, waking up at 4 am is a must. If watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat isn’t on your bucket list yet it needs to be! There’s just no way to describe watching the sun rise up over one of humanities oldest and most impressive structures with hundreds of other people. Trust me, there’s no better way to start the day!
6-10am: After watching one of the best sunrises of your life, it’s time to start exploring! Angkor Wat is even bigger than it looks and there’s actually multiple famous temples scattered throughout the area that you won’t want to miss. After exploring the giant Angkor Wat complex, head to one of my personal favorite temples: The Bayon. This is one of the most impressive structures, artistically that you can find. If you look closely, faces have been intricately carved all over the temple’s structure. Other notable temples and sights to see in the area include: East Mebon, Elephant Terrace, and Ta Prohm. The latter not only being one of the most beautiful and unlike any other with giant trees and jungle growing over it but also because it was one of the main filming locations for Tomb Raider!
-Make sure to purchase an Angkor Pass ($20) to allow access to all of Angkor’s famous temples.
-While it is possible to see many of the temples by foot, it is best to arrange transportation with your hotel or hostel to allow easy travel (and air conditioning!) to all of the further temples.
-Don’t forget to cover up! Most of the temples require that your shoulders and knees be covered to enter. Consider purchasing “elephant pants” before you go as they’re lightweight, cheap, and are found all over Southeast Asia.
10 am-1 pm: After waking up early and sightseeing, you’re probably exhausted and hungry so head back to your hotel for a couple of hours to get lunch and relax. I highly recommend the Gloria Angkor Hotel. Here, $30 not only gets you a night’s stay at this beautiful hotel, but also breakfast, daily refreshments, a pool, massages in your room, free tuk-tuk rides every night to wherever you want, and an immensely helpful staff that will make any arrangements necessary to help you with your stay in Cambodia. So relax or catch up on some sleep, you still have a full day ahead of you!
1-5 pm: While Siem Reap is known for its ancient significance, you’ll discover that this city offers many other kinds of experiences as well. Touristy, modern, historical, cultural, Siem Reap has something to suite everyone’s taste. If you want to get to know the area, take a tuk-tuk ride through the bustling city center. You’ll be amazed at your driver’s precision as he zigzags between hundreds of other tuk-tuk’s and motorbikes and the unique beauty of the city which is surprisingly reminiscent of Europe in many ways. Or if you’d like to start the fun early, head to Pub Street to meet up with other travelers and get one of Southeast Asia’s popular “fish pedicures.” If your looking to see a different side to Cambodia, pay a visit to one of the floating villages on Tonlé Sap Lake. Last but not least, though incredibly sad, if you would like to learn more about the genocide that completely devastated the country only thirty years ago and had a huge effect on its population, Wat Thmey will not only educate you but also further your respect for the people of Cambodia.
5-7 pm: It’s now time to experience one of the best things about Cambodia: the food! Siem Reap is one of the most underrated food destinations of Asia in my opinion. With unique dishes, affordable prices, and amazing local as well as gourmet restaurants, this city is a foodies dream! For a beautiful atmosphere and traditional Cambodian food and dance, check out The Apsara Terrace. Apsara is a traditional form of dance that originated in Cambodia during the Angkorian era and with ornate costumes and careful movements, this dance makes for one of the country’s most interesting cultural displays. If you’d like to try one of Siem Reap’s fusion restaurants, try Le Malraux, a mixture of Cambodian and French food that’s impeccable! Be sure to try one of Cambodia’s most famous dishes, fish amok, served with coconut milk, curry, and rice.
7 pm-: Although it’s been a long day, the fun is just beginning! If you haven’t checked out Pub Street yet, now’s the time. Filled with endless shop stalls, bars, and exotic dishes (like snake and tarantula!) this market makes other markets of Southeast Asia look tame! You can easily spend hours here admiring all of the beautiful crafts, conversing with friendly locals, and partying the night away. Alternatively, if you would like to see one of Siem Reap’s biggest tourist attractions (after Angkor Wat of course), head over to Phare: The Cambodian Circus in time for their eight o’ clock showing. While admittedly a circus doesn’t sound like the coolest thing to do abroad, this circus is unlike any other! A mixture of circus acts, story telling, and traditional Cambodian arts and folk tales make it one of Siem Reap’s best entertainment shows. To top it all off, the cast is made up of former refugees and all of the proceeds go towards training fellow refugees in the arts so your money is going towards a good cause. Afterwards, stay a little late and meet the show’s performers!
While one day may seem like a short amount of time, in Siem Reap it’s more than enough to see some of the world’s most impressive structures, experience a one of a kind culture, and have some fun. It’s a surprising city and one that you won’t want to miss on your travels!