The magnificent temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. This is Banteay Srei temple

Siem Reap, Cambodia – Backpacking Guide

Visited by over a million tourists a year, Siem Reap sees the bulk of Cambodia’s international travellers. Most people visit the city for one reason – Angkor Wat. The world’s largest religious site has been 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.

But there is so much more to Siem Reap than this one temple. There are countless other wats and pagodas but to be honest, you’re likely to feel an element of temple fatigue if you focus on seeing them all. Thankfully, the city is home to super friendly people, fantastic eateries of all stripes and a vast array of lively bars.

If you’re visiting Cambodia’s Temple City, this guide to Siem Reap will tell you everything you need to know, from the best digs to the top things to do.  

This guide has been written using our own experiences and with the help of our ever-growing community of backpackers in Southeast Asia. We’ve also used the advice of expats and local experts living in the city. As a team, we’ve visited Siem Reap several times over the 15 years. Each time we spent an extended period in the city – basing ourselves there as we explored the wonders Siem Reap Province has to offer!


Siem Reap, Cambodia – Backpacking Guide for Travellers

Siem Reap Map & Resources

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Best Time to Visit Siem Reap

Siem Reap is a good city to visit any time of year. However, like the weather in the rest of Cambodia, the hot season (March-May), can be stifling and you’ll find yourself desperately craving A/C! And during the wet season (June-October) you may find plans scuppered by the odd torrential downpour. 

The advantage of travelling during the wet season is lower prices and fewer tourists – so, if you have time to afford a couple of changes of plan, the rainy season offers a great way to save some riel! 

Wat Bo Temple Siem Reap
If you’re travelling during the cool season, make the most of that breeze!

November-February is the coolest time to visit the city and there is generally a nice breeze near Siem Reap River and in less built-up areas – this brings an element of relief because even in the cool season, expect temperatures to bust 30ºc during the day! 


Where to Stay in Siem Reap

There is a huge choice of accommodation in Siem Reap, every other building seems to be a guesthouse or hotel! You get a lot for your money in Cambodia and Siem Reap is no exception. 

  • Pub Street – If you’re looking for a *slightly* toned-down Khao San Road, you’ve found it. Pub Street is Cambodia’s answer to Bangkok’s backpacker hub. Bars and clubs line the streets, local and western food can be found in abundance and you’ll be able to buy all the fried scorpions you want! Be warned, a stay on Pub Street won’t be quiet but it’s sure to be memorable (assuming you don’t overdo it during happy hour)! 
  • Wat Bo and Wat Damnak – Across the river, just a 15-minute walk from the infamous Pub Street, Wat Bo and Wat Damnak serve as a quieter way to experience Siem Reap. Both areas are named after the temples that dominate the surroundings. Accommodation is well priced and you can expect a peaceful night’s sleep. 
  • Old French Quarter and Taphul Village – Sitting alongside each other, the Old French Quarter and Taphul Village are characterised by beautiful architecture and a relaxed atmosphere. Within easy walking distance of the city’s attractions, as well as a range of restaurants and bars, this is where to go if you want a dash of luxury without the price tag!  
Siem Reap Old French Quarter
The Old French Quarter is an ideal spot for first-time visitors!

📶 Looking to Stay Connected?

Getting a local Cambodian SIM is the cheapest way to stay connected on the road. It’s much cheaper than opting for an international SIM or eSIM package. Keep your eyes peeled when walking around Siem Reap. You’ll see official stores as well as small vendors selling tourist SIM cards with good data packages. On our most recent trip to Cambodia, we paid $15USD for 30GB of data that lasted 30 days with Cellcard and generally had good coverage throughout the country.

Accommodation in Siem Reap

We’ve spent hours researching the best hostels in Siem Reap. This shortlist, put together using our own experience and recommendations from our backpacking community includes some real gems! 

Mad Monkey Hostel was voted the best party hostel in Siem Reap by our readers. A great social atmosphere, helpful staff and a dandy location – just a short walk to Pub Street – it’s the perfect backpacker’s hideout and the number-one place in town if you want to party! 

Mad Monkey Hostel, Bangkok.
If you’ve visited Mad Monkey before, you’ll know what to expect!

The Lub d Hostel chain started in Bangkok, Thailand, which is where we first encountered them. The hostel is top quality with superb cleanliness, comfort, modern dorm rooms, relaxing common areas, a bar and restaurant, clean bright bathrooms, power showers, a swimming pool (of course) and fantastic attention to detail across the whole hostel.

Onederz Hostel, close to Pub Street, is the perfect place to unwind after a few days exploring Angkor Wat. With three swimming pools, two bars and plenty of places to hang out, Onederz offers something for everyone. And, if you’re getting up early for sunrise over Angkor Wat, they’ll put on a special sunrise breakfast at 4:00-4:30 AM!

Siem Reap Pub Hostel is a clean, friendly option within walking distance of Siem Reap’s famous Pub Street and has a great social vibe where travellers like to meet and mingle. Complete with a swimming pool, bar, restaurant, pool table, dorm beds or privates this hostel is a favourite amongst backpackers.

If you’re looking for somewhere unique, The Twizt – Lifestyle Hostel, will fit the bill. With jazzed-up 1950s styling, it’s easy to lose yourself in the decor for days. If you can distract yourself from the whacky architecture, head to the roof to experience the highest swimming pool Siem Reap has to offer! 

Twizt Hostel Siem Reap
The Twizt is great choice for backpackers looking for comfort.

If hostels don’t fit the bill for you, consider a stay at the Hotel Somadevi Angkor Resort & Spa. Found in the Old French Quarter, this premium offering delivers everything you could want from your stay in Siem Reap. The cool spacious rooms, unbelievable swimming pool (with hot tub!) and on-site spa will leave you wishing you’d booked another few nights!

And for a touch of opulence, it’s hard to beat Raffles d’Angkor on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. It doesn’t get much more magnificent than this beautiful hotel from the world-renowned luxury chain. A stay here will leave you wanting for nothing (except maybe to move in permanently)! 

And if none of these are your jam, check out our extensive guide on where to stay in Siem Reap. It includes a neighbourhood breakdown plus a range of premium and luxury options. No one will find themselves still wondering where to stay once they’ve read this!


Things to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia

1. Visit Angkor Wat

The main reason tourists and backpackers 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 one, three or seven-day pass. We recommend getting the three or seven-day pass. Unless you’re really strapped for time, the one-day pass just isn’t enough to make the most of this epic site! 

Angkor Wat Sunrise, Cambodia
It is a must-do for a reason!
  • 1-Day – approx. $37USD
  • 3-Day – approx. $62USD (valid for 10 days)
  • 7-Day – approx. $72USD (valid for 1 month)

Many people visit Angkor Wat in the early morning, with the site opening at 5 am to allow visitors to watch the sun rise over the temples. Be warned though, you’ll watch the sunrise with hundreds of other people too! 

It is recommended to hire 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! Hiring a tuk-tuk for the day costs around $13-15USD and you will find many drivers lingering outside hostels in the centre of the city. You can often arrange a tuk-tuk directly with your hostel too but this may cost a few dollars more. 

👉 Read our full guide to Angkor Wat

In front of Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the most popular attraction in Cambodia.

2. Walk the Walls of Angkor Thom

While Angkor Wat Temples are visited by almost every tourist who sets foot in Siem Reap, the lesser-known 12km walk along the splendid walls of Angkor Thom is a little-known attraction. It’s a circular route that’s steeped in art and history and a must-do for any culture vultures. Take plenty of water and a hat – it gets super hot! 

👉 Read more about taking the Angkor Thom Trail!

Motoring through Angkor Thom past the Terrace of the Leper King.
Motoring by the wall of Angkor Thom.

3. Visit a Floating Village

Visiting a floating village on the amazing Tonlé Sap Lake used to be one of the best experiences you could have in Siem Reap. But as tourism to the country has grown, these trips have gone downhill. 

The closest village, Chong Kneas, has a terrible reputation for travel scams and unethical tourism; think child beggars and monkeys in cages. Kompong Phluk is another popular village to visit, but that’s not recommended as the money spent on tours here does not benefit the local villagers in any way. It’s a voyeuristic experience we do not recommend. 

But some options won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth. The village of Kompong Khleang offers a more authentic, ethical experience. The boat services are owned by the villages, so your tourist dollars directly benefit the local community. While it’s more difficult to reach than the closer villages, your experience will be much more genuine and rewarding. 

👉 Read more here about Siem Reap’s Floating Villages.

Floating village views
Experience one of the many floating villages on a day trip from Siem Reap.

4. Phare Circus 

One of the most interesting evenings you can have in Siem Reap is at the Phare, The Cambodian Circus. An inspiring social enterprise and entertaining theatrical performance, all profits go to supporting free education and social programs for disadvantaged youths of Cambodia.

The performance is culturally interesting as live actors tell stories of Cambodia through dance, music and theatre. The performers are all graduates from the school Phare Ponleu Selpak. Founded in 2013, it’s a professional arts training centre and NGO based in Battambang, Cambodia.

5. Siem Reap Night Market 

Right next to Pub Street, this is a popular market for travellers to grab a bargain, pick up souvenirs and, of course, grab some great local food. Yeah, it’s got the same tourist trash as other markets in Southeast Asia but look a little deeper and you’ll find some real gems.

6. Visit Trav Kot Reservoir

Trav Kot is a lake and ecotourism community located 30km outside Siem Reap. The area is picturesque with beautiful views of Phnom Kulen and the Phnom Bok mountain range. A great way to explore the lake (which is often nicknamed ‘Lotus Lake’) is by kayak.

water buffalo near kayak in lake Trav Kot Cambodia
Trav Kot offers visitors the chance to see rural Siem Reap.

👉 Book a half-day Trav Kot Kayak Trip here.

7. Party It Up on Pub Street

If you’re here to party, there is one place in Siem Reap to do it – Pub Street! Don’t miss the famous Angkor What? Bar, where you’ll find draft beer for under a dollar and a free t-shirt if you buy enough buckets… 

If you’re looking for a more sophisticated evening, head to The Local – Brewpub for a delicious selection of unique homemade craft beers and excellent food!

Or, if you’re in the mood for it, visit one of the many-foot spas lined up along Pub Street. Gimmicky? Yes. But having your feet nibbled by a bunch of small fish is an interesting way to spend half an hour nonetheless! 

Pub Street Siem Reap
The gaudy road that is… Pub Street.

8. Visit Siem Reap’s Museums 

You could spend days exploring Siem Reap’s amazing collection of museums but if you’re short on time, here are some of our favourites:

  • Cambodia Landmine Museum – Located 25km outside the city, this harrowing museum educates visitors about the scourge of landmines in Cambodia. 
  • War Museum Cambodia – Featuring rusting wrecks of tanks, guns, artillery and even a Russian fighter jet, this museum chronicles years of fighting in Cambodia. Veterans and witnesses of the war offer free guided tours, retelling their experiences as they show you around. 
  • Angkor National Museum – Charting the ancient history of Cambodia, you can spend hours wandering through this museum’s eight exhibition halls. The information is dense, so make sure you’re well-caffeinated and not hungover when you visit! 
  • Apopo Visitor Centre – A unique spot where you can learn how rats are trained to detect landmines in Cambodia and around the world! 
  • Angkor Wat In Miniature – While you won’t need long here, it’s an interesting spot to spend an hour or so. Whether you want to pretend you’re a giant or get a bird’s eye view of Angkor Wat without the expense of a helicopter tour, you can do so here! 
Angkor National Musuem Siem Reap
The National Museum of Angkor is a must-visit!

9. Take a Yoga Class at Peace Café

Take a break from Cambodian history and make your way to Peace Café for a yoga class. Set back in a quiet courtyard, Peace Café pours its profits back into the local community and supports NGOs working in Cambodia. They also offer vegetarian cooking classes which allow visitors to make spring rolls, tofu amok and papaya salad. 

Peace Cafe Siem Reap
If you’re after veggie cuisine, don’t miss Peace Café.

10. Watch an Aspara Dance Show

Aspara is a traditional Cambodian dance involving intricate hand movements. You’ll see dance and dinner packages advertised all over the city. If you want a high-end experience, many of the classiest hotels in Siem Reap offer packages, as do the Aspara Theatre and Restaurant. Most hostels will also be able to recommend more budget-friendly shows too!

11. Take a Ride on the Angkor Eye

For something a little different in Siem Reap, head to the Angkor Eye for excellent 360º views of the city – on a clear day you can even spot Angkor Wat! This is the largest Ferris wheel in Cambodia, towering 85 metres over Siem Reap. For a particularly pretty ride, go in the evening to see the city lit up below! 

12. Take a Cooking Class at Lily’s Secret Garden

This isn’t just another follow-along cooking class. Start out with a trip to the local market to pick up your ingredients and learn about the history of each from a knowledgeable chef, before heading to a local house to prepare your meal! Morning and afternoon classes are available, with a different menu for each. This is the number one rated cooking class in Siem Reap! 

Cooking-class-Lilys-Secret-Garden-Siem-Reap-Cambodia
If temples ain’t your thing you can always try a cooking class!

👉 Book your cooking class at Lily’s Secret Garden now


Food and Drink in Siem Reap

Thanks to the sheer number of tourists frequenting Siem Reap, the city’s gastronomic scene is fantastically diverse. From street food stalls serving Khmer favourites to good quality pizza and burger restaurants, you can find almost anything you fancy. There’s a great selection of vegetarian and vegan options too! 

Pub Street is crammed with bars and restaurants serving a range of meals. Red Piano and Temple Bar are famous for their longevity, both having been operating for more than 20 years! Red Piano even claim to be Angelina Jolie’s favourite bar in Siem Reap – reportedly she visited when filming Tomb Raider in 2000! Except to find decent Cambodian dishes as well as a range of Western meals for good prices. 

Red Piano Pub Street
Red Piano is said to be Angelina Jolie’s favourite haunt!

Banlle Vegetarian Restaurant isn’t the cheapest place to eat in Siem Reap but it’s certainly not the most expensive either. With high-quality vegetarian and vegan meals, it’s a spot that keeps customers coming back during their stay in the city! 

For more vegetarian and vegan options, Peace Café is a great choice. It’s around 20 minutes from Pub Street and set in a quiet courtyard where you can relax and unwind. They serve delicious Khmer classics, western dishes and a range of baked goods!

Close to Pub Street, you’ll find Khmer Kitchen. With two locations, both within a few minutes walk of each other, this Cambodian enterprise has become a firm favourite with travellers thanks to well-priced and tasty Khmer cuisine! 

Food in Khmer Kitchen Siem Reap
Khmer Kitchen serve up local fare for cheap!

Getting Around Siem Reap

Travelling around Siem Reap is easy. The city is small, so getting around the tourist centre is as simple as walking. If you’re going to any of the attractions further afield, you won’t struggle to find a ride. Tuk-tuks line the streets constantly trying to tempt you into their vehicles. 

If, for some reason, you can’t find a tuk-tuk, use Grab or PassApp, two of our favourite backpacking apps, to order one right to where you are! Pricing is set in the app too, removing the need for you to haggle over a couple of dollars! Be aware, you’ll need a Cambodian phone number to set up PassApp. 

Taphul Village area SIEM REAP
Tuk tuk is the best way to get around the city centre.

Cycling is also common around Siem Reap but to be honest, I’d recommend avoiding it in the centre. While the city is calm compared to other Southeast Asian favourites like Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok, road safety still leaves a lot to be desired! 


How to Get to Siem Reap

From Phnom Penh:

Buses leave from Phnom Penh at regular intervals all day. They can easily be arranged by your hostel or guesthouse. The journey takes 5-7 hours depending on traffic and costs between $7-20USD, depending on the company and type of bus you choose. Night buses are available too but they tend to arrive in the very early hours. A tuk-tuk from the bus station to the centre of the city costs $3-5USD. 

You can also get a boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. It’s more expensive at around $35USD per person and takes around 6 hours. The views from the boat are exceptional but it can be quite exposed, so pack plenty of suncream and a good waterproof if you’re travelling in rainy season! 

Monks crossing the road in Phnom Penh Cambodia
Phnom Penh has good connections to Siem Reap.

From Battambang:

Buses to Siem Reap leave from Battambang regularly. The journey takes 3-5 hours and costs approx. $12USD. You can arrange bus tickets with your hostel. This generally includes pickup from your accommodation. 

For a longer but much more scenic journey, consider taking the boat from Battambang to Siem Reap. Taking 6-9 hours and costing approx. $30USD, this journey isn’t for the faint of heart. Think hard seats, high temperatures, a loud, temperamental engine and waterways so tight you’ll get the odd branch to the face… but in return for a bit of discomfort you’ll get a cracking travel story! 

Slow boat from Siem Reap to Battambang, Cambodia
The boat offers great views of the floating villages en route.

From Thailand:

Buses leave from Bangkok regularly. The journey takes 8-12 hours and costs approx. $35USD. The bus will stop before the border between Thailand and Cambodia – you’ll need to walk across the border and you may find a different bus waiting for you on the other side. Beware, you’re likely to have some ‘helpful’ locals offer to sort out the ‘complicated and difficult’ visa for you for a small fee. The visa is very straightforward, so don’t worry about it. Save the money and do it yourself. 

By Plane: 

If you’re flying into the city, it’s worth noting that the old Siem Reap airport closed in 2023. Angkor International Airport took its place but is located 50km outside the city. The journey takes around an hour depending on traffic, with a taxi costing approx $25USD.

Angkor International Airport
Angkor International is now the only airport close to the city.

👉 More information about how to get from Angkor International to Siem Reap


Where to Go Next:

Sihanoukville – Honestly, you won’t want to spend too much time in the once-favourite backpacker beach town of Sihanoukville. Instead, use it as a launch point for Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem

Phnom Penh – Cambodia’s hectic capital city and by far the largest population centre in the country, Phnom Penh can take some adjusting to. But get past the craziness and you’ll find a city full of gritty charm waiting to be unlocked! 

Battambang – Much like Siem Reap but less visited by travellers, Battambang offers a diverse range of temples, a harrowing history of the Khmer Rouge and the fantastic spectacle of the bat cave, where every evening seven million bats fly out in search of food – sit back with a cold beer and enjoy the show!


Contributors:

South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…

🙏 Charlotte Greenwood | @travelswithchar
🙏 Staff
| Noni Tree Hostel
🙏 Jay Adventure |
Adventure Travel Co.
🙏 Andre |
Triple A Adventures

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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