Planning your trip to Siem Reap
Siem Reap in Cambodia is about experiencing the ancient temples that surround the city. It’s the perfect getaway if you’re looking to soak in the history of an ancient civilization while not foraying too far from the tourist trail.
Things to Do
- Tour the temples: This is what you came for! You can easily spend more than a week just touring all the different temples around Siem Reap. After spending 2 days touring temples, it starts to feel a bit repetitive and the heat starts taking it’s toll on you. We recommend booking a 2 day tour ahead of time. More on this below.
- The Phare Circus: Phare is an acrobatic circus with a social mission. It supports an NGO providing K-12 education for local youth. The graduates of this school perform at Phare. It’s money well spent and we highly recommend it! Pro-tip: Spend the extra to get seats with the air-coolers; Phare will hold tickets for will-call/pick-up. They have a cafe where you can enjoy a drink or dinner before your show
- Enjoy the food: There’s plenty of local as well as international food available to enjoy. You can take a local food tour with an expat (it’s a bit pricey!) or enjoy all sorts of international cuisine. Some of our favorite hangouts were Mamma shop (small Italian joint on a residential street), the Hive (great coffee shop). The Kandal village neighborhood where both these shops are is excellent – somewhat low key, just a few steps away from the main tourist filled downtown.
- Shopping (yes, there is plenty!): Local Khmer silk is known far and wide. An excellent boutique to check out is Louise Loubatieres (namesake after it’s owner). Louise is French-Vietnamese and clearly passionate about her boutique. She offers to ship all over the world as well!
Siem Reap (REP) is accessible by air from major cities in South East Asia including Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and others. There are also many bus services from Phnom Penh. Most hotels offer fairly reasonable pick-up and drop-off services to/from the airport. We paid $15 one-way for a car arranged by our hotel.
Cambodia offers a visa on arrival for all nationalities as long as you arrive by air to Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanouk airports. Remember to carry a photo for the visa (dimensions 2″x2″), otherwise you’ll incur an extra charge upon arrival. The visa on arrival process is usually pretty fast and takes about 15-20 minutes at most. You may also get an e-visa ahead of time but it’s usually not worth the trouble unless you’re crossing the border by land.
Where to Stay
The great thing about Cambodia is how far your money goes. There are many luxury hotels in town including The Park Hyatt, Sofitel, and Le Meridien. Most of them are fairly affordable regardless of season.
We ended up getting a great deal using SPG points and stayed at the Le Meridien Angkor. The hotel is located just a few kilometers from the main part of town. A $3 tuk-tuk ride can get you to the town center within 10 minutes. SPG offers free night redemptions starting at 3,666 starpoints which is a great value for money. Alternatively, rooms are also available starting close to $100+. The hotel also has a full service spa and gym. We highly recommend getting a massage (they’re great value for money) and partaking in the happy hour at the bar (2-for-1 cocktails at $3 are hard to beat)!
Other hotels: The Park Hyatt is the newest and one of the most expensive hotel in town. Sofitel is located right next to the Le Meridien and seemed more grandiose from the exterior
Other Information and Logistics
Cambodian People are very welcoming and we found them to be very honest as well. We felt fairly safe within Siem Reap even late at night.
Currency: The US Dollar is widely accepted by everyone from tuk-tuk drivers to 5 star hotels. We recommend carrying cash as ATMs can be somewhat limited
Cell phone coverage: Data networks are not the fastest or most reliable. If coming from the US, T-mobile provides free (2G) data in Cambodia and 140+ other countries. Most hotels offer decent Wi-Fi so that should help you stay connected
Visiting the Temples
Disclaimer: This is by no means an exhaustive guide to all the temples around Siam Reap. Just a brief synopsis of our 2 days there.
Booking a tour: We highly recommend booking a tour with a private driver and air conditioned car since it’s fairly affordable. We used Angor Guide Sam’s tour company and paid $155 for 2 days. They do sell out so we highly recommend booking at least a week in advance. Sam is open to customizing destinations as long as they fit within the allotted time. You’ll need to buy temple visit passes in addition to the tour fee – they are available as 1 day ($37), 3 day ($62) and 7 day ($72). Your tour guide can help you procure these from the main entrance.
More about the individual temples:
Angkor Wat: This is the main temple and the most well-known one. It’s a must-see for everyone. We’d recommend starting here and going in early in the morning (to beat both the crowds and the heat). Some tour guides even offer a sunrise tour. Getting to the top of the main temple does require climbing a long flight of rickety steps but we’d still recommend a visit even if you’re not an avid step climber
Ta Prohm: Most well known for the scenes from the movie Tomb Raider. Ta Prohm is a temple devoted to Hindu Lord Brahma. We highly recommend it since it has some massive ancient trees with giant roots that make for great pictures. This is what happens when nature reclaims it’s land!
Bayon: The buddhist temple with the stone faces! This temple stands out for it’s unique architecture – innumerable stone faces carved out in the various facades. Definitely very different than the other temples and we recommend it as a stop.
Banteay Srei: Dedicated to Hindu Lord Shiva. This one is a bit of a trek from the others (40-45 mins) but it offers a great chance to take in the country-side and see the locals in action. Known for the pink stone used in it’s construction. Not a whole lot of interior space in this one aka not much shade!