Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, and Vietnam to the east. It is famous for having the historic Angkor Wat—the biggest religious structure in the world and one of the several temples built within the province of Siem Reap.
Siem Reap Overview
Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province located in northwestern Cambodia. Known for a myriad of temples scattered throughout the vast area of Angkor, Siem Reap attracts a significant number of tourists from different countries any time of the year.
Exploring Cambodia is not only about temples and pagodas. The country’s rich culture, humble people, and diverse cuisine are some of the highlights worth noting. The laid-back environment in the country makes it a perfect destination for those who love the outdoors. Go further afield and the rustic rural atmosphere will leave you a sensation of feeling humbled.
If you’re a brown-complexioned, typical Asian-looking guy like me, many Cambodians will assume that you are a fellow national. It was a relief on my part because I achieved my goal of blending in with the crowd. Almost all Cambodians that I met on the road had a similar pattern of starting their conversation with me by speaking in vernacular first and will then be amazed when I speak no Khmer in return. They would likely say, “We look same-same!”
The de facto currency in Cambodia is US Dollars. Although they have their own monetary unit, that is Cambodian Riel, all of the establishments accept both dollars and Riel. US $1 is equivalent to 4,000 Riel. If you are expecting a small odd change from the store, you will be given a value in Riel. Cash registers of stores also display the amount in both currencies. It would be easier for you to count your money. Oh, they don’t have coins by the way!
Withdrawing cash is not an issue in the city. Banks such as SBC and Canadia Bank have ATMs dispersed at tourist areas. If your card has international capabilities (i.e. with Cirrus, Mastercard or Visa logo on the back), you can get cash from these machines. Credit cards are widely accepted in Siem Reap as well.
Going to Siem Reap
Siem Reap International Airport is the aviation hub that serves multiple airlines from across Asia. In the Philippines, Cebu Pacific is the only carrier that offers direct flights to Siem Reap.
Being bordered by Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand makes Cambodia easily accessible overland. Should you be left with the choice of not flying directly to Siem Reap, you can book to alternate routes like the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, Thailand’s Bangkok, or Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, and then travel by bus or boat to Siem Reap. Mekong Express is one of the bus lines offering bus travel to Siem Reap.
From outside Siem Reap’s airport, you can hire a tuk-tuk to town for US $5. Independent travelers prefer the moto as it is cheaper at US $3. Take note that rates vary depending on the location of your guesthouse or hotel so make sure that you both agree with the price beforehand.
In Siem Reap, most of the families own a motorcycle. While taxicabs and tourist buses are preferred by those who can afford, other visitors are commonly seen at the back of remork-moto, also known as tuk-tuk, or at carriage-less motorcyles known as moto. Independent travelers who have enough leeway on them rent a bicycle for the day at a cheaper price.
Vehicles in Cambodia drive on the right side of the highway. Regardless of this traffic rule, many drivers overtake and even counterflow, so be wary of your path and always be vigilant.
Standard rate of tuk-tuk in town is US $2 for shorter distances that is good for 3 people. Moto can be negotiated to US $1 but it may change depending on the location of your accommodation. Bicycles can be rented for US $1 a day.
Essentially, temple-hopping is the top-rated and a must-do activity in Siem Reap. Apart from the breathtaking view of the colossal Angkor Wat, never miss to see the enigmatic faces of Bayon and the enormous trees swallowing Ta Prohm.
Angkor Pass is required to enter the temples in Angkor Archaeological Site. This ticket can be purchased at the ticket booth located on the way to Angkor Wat. Tickets are available at US $20 for 1-day pass, US $40 for 3-day pass, and US $60 for 1-week pass. The last two ticket types need not be used on consecutive days. The 3-day pass is valid for one week while 1-week pass is valid for one month. Always bring your Angkor Pass with you as security personnel guarding the temple gates look for this upon entry.
The one-day tuk-tuk rates of Victory Guesthouse for temple tours are:
- US $12 for Small Circuit (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm, Takeo, Banteay Kdei and more small temples around the area)
- US $15 for Big Circuit (Preah Khan, Neak Pean, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup and more small temples around the area)
- US $10 for Roluos Group (Lolei, Preah Ko, Bakong)
- US $10 for Tonlé Sap Lake (boat ticket excluded)
- US $20 for Banteay Srei temple (including Big Circle)
- US $25 for Kbal Spean, Banteay Srei temple, and Landmine Museum)
- US $30 for Beng Melea and Roluos Group
- US $10 to West Baray
Car rental rates are:
- US $25 for Small Circuit
- US $30 for Big Circuit
- US $35 for Banteay Srei temple and Big Circuit
When at the temples, kids and young adults will approach you to sell souvenirs and cheap books. If you are not really interested of buying, just politely say “Atey” (Khmer for No) and they will pull back. They can be so annoying especially when you are at the peak of exhaustion, but a kinder way of turning down their offer won’t hurt their feelings.
If in any case you get templed out on the first few days of your visit, you can divert your attention to other attractions such as Cambodia Landmine Museum, Tonlé Sap Lake, or Phnom Kulen National Park. These attractions, however, are distant from town and would need you to charter a vehicle to go there. Admission fees for these attractions are not included in the Angkor Temple Pass.
Where to Stay
Siem Reap is home to numerous accommodations ranging from cheap guesthouses to luxurious hotels. Majority of the guesthouses are near the center of the city, if not in it. They are in proximity to night hangouts like Pub Street, or trade establishments such as Night Market or Old Market.
A little off Siem Reap’s heart is Victory Guesthouse located at almost the intersection of Sivatha Street and Airport Road. They have affordable room rates that start at US $8 inclusive of breakfast and tuk-tuk pick-up.
The expensive hotels are mostly found along Airport Road and are far from the center of the town. Staying at these posh hotels would damage your budget as one-way tuktuk ride to downtown normally costs US $3. Ree Hotel is a 4-star hotel approximately 3 kilometers from town. The luxury hotel both has swimming pool and spa that are perfect for relaxation after a full-day walking tour around Angkor. As a budget-going-to-cheapskate traveler, I normally don’t spend much on accommodation when I travel. My stay at Ree Hotel was an exception because it was a part of my birthday treat to myself.
Known for its wide selection of food, Cambodian cuisine are all over Siem Reap. Many restaurants in Night Market area serve authentic Khmer dishes. Eating won’t be a problem in this place.
Restaurants like Cambodian Traditional Chef and Golden Coconut are some of the food establishments in town. Meals usually start at US $2.50. For buffet fanatics, better head out to Lucky Shabu House at the 3rd floor of Lucky Mall, Siem Reap’s biggest shopping center. Their buffet with shabu-shabu only costs US $6.5 valid for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Leftover fee of US $1 applies.
Thinking of a hangout to cap off the day? Pub Street is there for you. Check out Temple Club or Angkor What for your daily dose of beer. Draft Angkor Beer costs US $1 in these clubs; nearby establishments like Easy Speaking offer two draft beers for US $1.
For souvenirs, local handicrafts and sundries, Night Market is the right place to go to. There are many items to choose from: T-shirts, fridge magnets, wood carvings, scarves, shawls, and other textile products. Just don’t be shy to haggle.
What should you bring home as souvenirs? Ideally, traditional Khmer scarf or krama should be on your list. I was able to bargain one krama at a stall in Night Market for only US $3. As for the pashmina shawl, I was able to get it at US $4 per piece. Just be realistic with your haggling. The saleslady gave in to my deals because I intended to buy many items from her. That’s why she also sold me five good quality T-shirts at US $3 each.
For food products like Banana Chips, Yam Chips, coffee, and spices, go to the Old Market.
Included in this Siem Reap travel guide is a sample 4-day itinerary with side trip to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
- 10:50 PM – Departure from Manila
- 12:20 AM (Vietnam Time) – Arrival in Ho Chi Minh
- 1:30 AM – Check-in at Phan Anh Hostel in District 1
- 7:00 AM – ETD Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
- 8:30 PM – ETA Siem Reap, Cambodia
- 9:00 PM – Check-in at Victory Guesthouse
- 7 AM – Breakfast
- 8 AM – 2 PM – Bike to Angkor and around Siem Reap town
- 2:30 PM – Check-in at Ree Hotel
- 2 PM – 5 PM – Rest
- 6 PM – 6:20 PM – Buffet at Lucky Shabu House
- 7 PM onwards – Night Market
- 6 AM – 7 AM – Buffet breakfast at Ree Hotel
- 8 AM – 12 PM – Banteay Srei temple
- 1 PM – 5 PM – Big Circuit tour
- 6 PM – ETA Ree Hotel
- 8 PM onwards – Dinner, Old Market, Temple Club, Easy Speaking
- 6 AM – 7 AM – Buffet breakfast at Ree Hotel
- 7:30 AM – Check-out of Ree Hotel, leave things
- 8 AM – 10 AM – Angkor Wat
- 10 AM – 12 NN – Ta Prohm
- 12 NN – 1 PM – Lunch outside Ta Prohm
- 1 PM – 5 PM – Angkor Thom (Bayon, Baphuon, etc)
- 5 PM – 6 PM – Last-minute shopping
- 7 PM – 8 PM – Shower at Ree Hotel, pick-up things
- 8 PM – Moto to airport
- 10:30 PM – ETD Siem Reap
The total amount I spent on my 4-day solo trip to Siem Reap was PHP 14,926.34, excluding airfare. You can download the Excel file of my expense breakdown here.