Siem Reap, Cambodia – Backpacking Guide

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

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. 

Read our full guide to backpacking in Cambodia here!

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! It’s true to say that you will definitely get a lot for your money everywhere that you travel in Cambodia, and Siem Reap is no exception! 

Siem Reap Backpackers Hostels – Top 5

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! Check out our list of the best hostels in Siem Reap or check out the following top 5 picks…

1. Mad Monkey Hostel

Voted the best party hostel in Siem Reap by our readers. A great social atmosphere, well equipped, helpful staff and a dandy location; just a short walk to Pub Street. The perfect backpacker’s hideout and the number one place in town if you want to party! 

Backpackers messing around in the pool at Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap
Backpackers messing around in the pool at Mad Monkey Hostel, Siem Reap.

2. The Hideout

Recommended by a member of our Facebook community, The Hideout gets super good reviews all around. Maybe it has something to do with the free beer every night from 8-9pm, or the swimming pool, or the fact that it costs $6 USD per night for a bed in a 6-bed dorm! Expect 5-star facilities at backpacker prices.

3. Siem Reap Pub Hostel

The clue is in the name! This clean and friendly hostel is located walking distance from 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.

4. Lub d Hostel

The Lub d chain of hostels 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, swimming pool (of course) and just fantastic attention to detail across the whole hostel. A dorm bed here costs $8 USD. They also have a great on-site travel agency, Adventure Travel Co. which is a Cambodian youth-run initiative organising great eco-friendly local tours in Siem Reap. (More details below)

Lub d Hostel, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Staff and guests at Lub d Hostel, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

5. Funky Flashpacker Hostel

An orgy of fluorescence, neon lights sleek surfaces, pool shenanigans and hip-hoppity music. Cheap food, cheap booze and plenty of drinks promotions to keep you poolside. Atrocious and sublime for the 20-something backpacker!

Great places to stay in Siem Reap for couples and families…

1. Rosy Guesthouse

A South East Asia Backpacker favourite, we first discovered Rosy Guesthouse over five years ago and have been back to visit a few times. A lovely, clean friendly guesthouse with bright rooms and spacious relaxing balconies, overlooking Siem Reap River. Relax on the terrace with a beer and watch the world go by.

2. Golden Gecko Villa

Recommended by a member of our community as a place to have a giggle with the friendly staff, this slightly more upmarket accommodation, complete with a swimming pool gets superb reviews, mainly for the level of service offered by the two Aussie owners, Paul and Keith. Perfect for couples or if you’re wanting to treat yourself to a more relaxing environment and not bad value for money at $20 US/night.

3. Golden Temple Villa

If you’re looking for something more upmarket, this beautiful and traditional villa located in the Old Market area might be your cup of tea. Very accommodating and suspiciously friendly staff. The villa even offers a complimentary massage to guests! Go on, treat yourself!

Find more accommodation in Siem Reap here.

Things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia

1. MUST 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, 3-day pass or the 7-day pass.

Angkor Wat Temples at Sunrise.
Crowds at Angkor Wat Temples at Sunrise – The Number One reason that backpackers visit Siem Reap!

The prices changed in February 2017 and now the cost is:

  • 1-Day $37 USD
  • 3-Day $62 USD (valid for 10 days)
  • 7-Day $72 USD (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 get a tuk-tuk or moto driver, especially if you only have a shorter pass as the Angkor area is vast, so plan a route before you set off! For a full guide on visiting Angkor Wat see here.

2. Walk the walls of Angkor Thom

While Angkor Wat Temples are visited by almost every tourist who sets foot in Siem Reap, the hidden 12km wall 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 here.

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

3. Visit the Floating Villages

The amazing Tonlé Sap Lake lies just outside of Siem reap and is the largest freshwater lake in Asia. The size of the lake change drastically between the dry season and rainy season in Cambodia. Due to the ever-changing nature of the lake, local people have learnt to adapt and have built their homes right on the water, in stilted houses (up to size metres high) or floating raft houses that literally move with the tides.

Life on the floating village, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Day to day life on the floating village, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Several of the floating village of the Tonle Sap Lake can be reached on a day tour from Siem Reap. However, depending on which floating village that you decide to visit, your experience will be very different. For example, the closest village, Chong Kneas, has a terrible reputation for travel scams and unethical tourism; think crocodile farms and monkeys in cages. Kompong Phluk is another popular village to visit, that’s not recommended as the money spent on tours here does not benefit the local villagers in any way. 

A much better option for those wanting to visit the floating villages are the villages of Kompong Khleang (actually the largest villages on the lake) and the smaller, little-visited, Mechrey Floating Village. (Click the links for recommended ethical tour companies.) At these two villages, the local boat services are owned by the village, so your tourist dollar directly benefits the local community. While they are both more difficult to reach than the closer villages, your experience here will be much more genuine and rewarding. Read more here about Siem Reap’s Floating Villages.

Mey Chrey floating village Siem Reap Cambodia.
Mechrey floating village, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

3. Siem Reap’s Museums

The War Museum in Siem Reap town is worth a visit as is the Landmine Museum in Banteay Srei District. Set up as an attempt to educate locals and tourists about the dangers of landmines, this tiny museum gives a real insight into the recent tragedy of Cambodian life. Most of the guides are either orphans due to landmine accidents, or have been disabled by them. The museum is 30km from Siem Reap located in the Bantey Srei District.

4. Phare Circus

One of the most interesting evenings you can have in Siem Reap is at the Phare Circus, an inspiring social enterprise and entertaining theatrical performance. All profits generated by ticket sales go to supporting free education and social programs for disadvantaged youths of Cambodia.

The performance is culturally very interesting as live actors tell stories of Cambodia through dance, music and theatre. The artists 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. Over 1200 students are currently being trained here and their successes are changing their lives and the lives of local communities.

A night at Phare Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia.
A night at Phare Circus, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

5. Siem Reap Old Market and the 

Right next to Pub Street, this is a popular market for travellers to grab a bargain and pick up souvenirs and trinkets galore. It’s a little different to other Southeast Asian markets as you won’t find the usual touristy trash. A popular spa treatment popping up all over southeast Asia is the ‘fish massage’. Walk along Pub Street or head to the Central Market and you’ll know just what we mean…

6. Visit Trav Kot Reservoir

Trav Kot is a lake and eco-tourism community located 30km outside of Sim Reap. The area is very picturesque with beautiful views of Phnom Kulen and the Phnom Bok mountain range. A great wat to explore the lake (which is often nicknamed ‘Lotus Lake’) is by kayak. Adventure Travel Co. have a half day Trav Kot Kayak Trip for $25 US which you can book on this website.

Person kayaking on beautiful Trav Kot Lake, Cambodia
Kayaking on the beautiful Trav Kot Lake, Siem Reap, Cambodia.

7. Party the night away on Pub Street

Don’t miss 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. If you’re looking for a more sophisticated evening, head to Siem Reap Brewpub for a delicious selection of unique homemade craft beers and excellent food!

Getting to Siem Reap

FROM PHNOM PENH:

Bus: Buses leave from the early hours until 3 pm 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.

FROM ELSEWHERE:

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 (and some would say sleaziest) beach town in Cambodia, Sihanoukville is often the next onwards step for those backpackers who like to party.

Phnom Penh: Grab a bus (run daily from the early hours) back up to the capital Phnom Penh.

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