Siem Reap is a little town in the northwest corner of Cambodia, and if it weren’t for its close proximity to the incredible temple complex of Angkor Wat, it would probably be just another town no one has ever heard of. Fortunately for the locals, thousands of people come to Cambodia every year to see the ruin, and thus, Siem Reap is firmly entrenched on the Tourist Map in Southeast Asia. To support the tourist boom, Siem Reap is packed with guesthouses, hotels, and hostels, restaurants, cafes, and bars. The Old Market provides ample opportunity to use your finely-tuned bargaining skills, Bar Street provides ample opportunity to rehydrate after a long day in the Cambodian sun, and the temple ruins provide ample opportunity to fill up your camera’s memory cards.
Buses run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and there are several daily flights in and out of Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport. If you’re traveling to/from Thailand, there are overland options, but all sources recommend finding a cheap flight on Air Asia or something comparable to avoid the long, bumpy ride.
Things to do in Siem Reap
- Visit the temples of Angkor Wat- after all, this is what you’re here for, so get into it. The temple complex is HUGE, and will take multiple days to cover (2-4, depending on how much time you spend at each temple). You’ll have the option of hiring a local guide to explain the history of the ruins- a worthwhile expense, if even for a day at the main temple. Honestly, you’ll be on ‘Temple Overload’ by the end of it all, but if you’re going all the way to Siem Reap, you might as well do it right.
- Sunrise/sunset at the complex- both are worthwhile, though sunrise is a little harder to manage considering how early you have to get up to make it to the temples by sunrise. Again, if you’re going all the way to Siem Reap, just suck it up and make it happen.
- Stroll through the Old Market- full of knock offs, cheap souvenirs, and fake Angkor relics, the Old Market is a fun way to spend an evening after a long day at the temple complex.
- Check out the Angkor National Museum- a good way to get a better understanding of the temple complex’s history, this museum is worth a visit.
- Hang out on Bar Street- if it happens in Siem Reap, it usually happens along the aptly-named Bar Street. Find a perch on an outdoor terrace, order an ice cold Angkor Beer, and watch the world go by.
- Visit the Crocodile Farm- if you want to see a massive feeding frenzy involving giant reptiles, this out-of-place crocodile farm is just the spot.
- Visit the Central Market- yet another market to test your skills of negotiation, the Central Market has great food stalls and plenty of other stuff to keep you occupied for awhile.
- Visit the Land-mine Museum- Laos has long been one of the most densely land-mined countries in the world, and its residents have continued to pay the price with their limbs and their lives. This museum is dedicated to honoring victims of land-mines, as well as raising awareness and funds for land-mine removal in the region.
- When setting up your temple visits, hire the same tuktuk/motorbike driver for all days you will be going to the complex. You will save some money, and these guys know the best itineraries for multi-day visits.
- Hiring a local guide is definitely worthwhile, even if you’re not a history buff. Otherwise, you’re sure to find yourself getting Temple Fatigue early on from having no idea what you’re looking at.
- If you do hire a guide, make sure that they have the proper credentials and identification (All guides are required to be registered with the parks governing body), and, most importantly, that you can understand them...
- The Angkor Thom Temple Complex is HUGE- the highlights are Angkor Wat (the main temple), Bayoun (54 towers and 216 stone faces), Baphoun (one of the largest structures in Angkor), and Ta Prohm (The Jungle Temple- it is still overrun by the jungle, with trees and roots covering much of the temple).
- Bring lots of water, and use lots of sun cream. It can be HOT out at the temple complex, and prices inside the gates are highly inflated.
- Many guesthouses will let you order your breakfast the night before you head to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat and then have it ready for you prior to your departure the next morning. Easier for you, easier for them.
- Don’t cut it too close when heading to Angkor Wat for sunrise- the last thing you want to do is get out of bed that early, only to be 5 minutes late and have missed the sunrise. Not good.