Siem Reap is Cambodia’s main hub of tourism, visited by around one million travellers per year and for one good reason. Angkor Wat; the world’s largest religious building dubbed as the most magnificent piece of architecture ever built by man. Heralded as the ‘Eighth Wonder’ of the world it is a must visit site for all backpackers to Cambodia.
And when you’re all templed out, you can explore the actual town of Siem Reap, a lovely place in its own right with friendly people, some great restaurants and lively bars. Sample local delicious dishes such as ‘Fish Amok’ ‘Beef Lok Lak,’ then wander down the aptly named ‘Pub Street’ and have a drink at any one of the lively bars like the popular Angkor What? Bar.
Places to Stay
There is a huge choice here, every other building seems to be a guesthouse or hotel! It’s true to say that you will definitely get a lot for your money in Cambodia, and Siem Reap is no exception. The majority of the backpacker hostels can be found near the famous ‘Pub Street’ and lining the river. However, wherever you stay will never be far from the hustle and bustle, with one dollar rickshaws available for the lazy ones amongst us! Here are some of our favourites:
- Oasis Capsules: An excellently located bright and cheerful new hostel with modern capsule style beds and all the amenities a backpacker could ask for. Beds from $6 USD.
- Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap: Great atmosphere, well equipped, helpful staff and a dandy location; just a short walk to Pub Street. The perfect backpacker’s hideout.
- Siem Reap Hostel, Siem Reap: Ideal for the extrovert or the recluse, a lovely hostel that gazes out over the Wat Dam Nak Temple.
- Funky Flashpacker Hostel, Siem Reap: An orgy of flouresence, neon lights sleek surfaces, pool shennaigans and hip-hoppety music. Atrocious and sublime.
- Golden Temple Villa, Siem Reap: Beautiful and traditional villa located in the Old Market area. Very accommodating and suspiciously friendly staff. Even offers a complimentary massage.
Things to Do
- Explore the temples of Angkor Wat: The main reason tourists and backpackers alike flock to this city is to visit one of the most famous and important archaeological sites in southeast Asia. As a result, whatever time of day you go, you will not be alone! You will need to buy a pass to get into the Angkor area. These can be bought en-route to the temples and your driver will stop for you. There are three choices, the 1-day pass ($20), 3-day pass ($40) or the 7-day pass ($60). The most magical time of day to visit is morning, with the site opening at 5am to allow visitors to watch the sun rise over the temples. It is recommended to get a tuk tuk or moto driver, especially if you only have a shorter pass. The Angkor area is vast, so plan a route before you set off. You can also tour the temples by Jeep- check it out now!
- Visit a village on stilts: Kampong Phluk Floating Village can be reached by tuk tuk from Siem Reap and provides a real insight into traditional lake-life. It takes just an hour to get there, and can cost you anywhere up from $7 depending on how good you are at haggling. Remember you’ll need to negotiate a boat ride when you get there. Beware, don’t get scammed into buying hundreds of exercise books for the local school…they’ll always need more than you can give them.
- The Landmine Museum: Set up as an attempt to educate locals and tourists about the dangers of landmines, this tiny museum gives a real insight into Cambodian life. Most of the guides are either orphans due to landmine accidents, or have been disabled by them. It’s only 6km from Siem Reap, so should cost around $3 in a tuk tuk.
- Let fish massage your feet: A popular spa treatment popping up all over southeast Asia is the ‘fish massage’. Walk along Pub Street and you’ll know just what we mean… it’s a tickly experience, to say the least.
- Visit Cambodian Children’s House of Peace (Santepheap Orphanage): This orphanage puts on a traditional Khmer dance show every Sunday night from 7pm, to build awareness of their house. It’s totally free and there are snacks in the interval, but contributions are encouraged as this is the way they raise funds for the charity. It’s totally free and there are snacks in the interval, but contributions are encouraged as this is the way they raise funds for the charity. You can also volunteer at the orphanage if you’ve got more time on your hands, all you need is to be fluent in English.
- Throw a Grenade: For all those of you with a little steam to let off, visit the Shooting Range and get the chance to shout a machine gun or lob a grenade. It’ll cost you a pretty penny ($30+ for a round or $30 for a grenade) but for all those wannabe action men, it’s worth it.
- Shop in the Center Market: Grab a bargain here, where you can pick up souvenirs and trinkets galore. It’s a little different to other Southeast Asian markets as you won’t find many of the goods sold here in Thailand also.
- Party the night away: at the famous Angkor What? Bar on Pub Street! Stick to the 50 cent draft Angkor beer or get a free t-shirt if you buy three buckets… need we say more.
FROM PHNOM PENH:
Bus: Buses leave from the early hours until 3pm for about $10 and can be easily arranged by your guesthouse (who may charge a $1-2 fee). There is also a night bus if you prefer not to waste a day. However, be warned that buses stop at a tiny bus station in what seems to be the middle of nowhere, so it’ll cost you an extra $3 tuk tuk far to reach the centre.
Boat: A boat to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh is a popular way to make the journey. A little bit pricey at around $35, this leisurely mode of transport will take around 6 hours but will give you the chance to get a taste of lake-life and even do a spot of sunbathing…unless it rains! Pack a waterproof.
Fly: If you’re coming from another country, then the flashpackers amongst may want to get a cheap flight with AirAsia or Bangkok Air straight to Siem Reap, saving you all the hassle of the notoriously bad border. If you book in advance, you’ll save loads.
Bus: Regular buses leave daily from Bangkok, costing around $10 and taking anywhere from three to five hours to reach the border. Beware of being dropped off at a nearby restaurant, who’s ‘helpful’ staff will offer to arrange your VISA for a small fee… don’t do it! It’ll be cheaper at the border.
Shared car: If you’re travelling from Bangkok then this can be easier and often more comfortable than getting the public bus, but will cost a little more. Find some travel buddies and then a four-seater can cost $25-$45, and only takes 2-3 hours.
Where to go next?
- Sihanoukville: The largest beach town in Cambodia, Sihanoukville is often the next onwards step for those backpackers who like to party.
- Thailand: Head over the Poipet border and back to Bangkok. From here you could fly onwards to explore other southeast Asian countries or perhaps just head down to the party island of Koh Phangan for a full moon party.
- Phnom Penh: Grab a bus (run daily from the early hours) back up to Phnom Penh where you wile away the hours in the Foreign Correspondents club.