Siem Reap and Phnomp Phenh are the two main cities in Cambodia where Phnom Phenh is the Capital. We only visited Siem Reap. The minute we explore the city I fell in love with it instantly because of its lively night markets, welcoming locals and tourist friendly nature. And that was before we visited Angkor Wat. I was worry they won’t have things that I need there but they have absolutely everything and language wasn’t even an issue.
Because tourist industry is probably their main industry, communication was not a problem. It is so easy to rent car, tuktuk and the city is a pint size and compact you can explore it with ease.
To Do in Siem Reap:
1. Visit the market and city centre
The city centre in Siem Reap is a giant cluster of markets including Old Market, Pub Street, The Alley Lane and Night Market. The Market opens from the afternoon all the way to dusk. You can get everything you need here. For shopping and food this is the place for it. At night there are lively strip of bars and pubs lighting up the streets in Pub Street.
2. Explore Angkor Thom and Angkor Archaeological Park:
Angkor Thom is the area where all of the most famous and biggest temples of Siem Reap are at. We visited a number of them but not all of the temples in Angkor Thom. Below are the most recommended and also the ones we visited. You can buy few day passes if you are planning to explore slowly. We visited these 8 temples in a day from dusk till dawn, it was tiring but we didn’t feel tired until we reach the hotel, it was fun. It is at least 2km from one temple to another – some are really far so you have to book a day accommodation for this. We take the tuktuk for $25 for temple tour starting before sunrise. In the end our driver offered his service till the end of the day (to Pub Street and back from the hotel) and ends up being $30. We had a soft-spoken and gentle tuktuk driver, Ousa. Below are some of the top temples to Visit in Angkor Thom:
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the biggest, most magnificent temple in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat was discovered by a French explorer looking for butterfly and to his surprise, he just found a lost city. We rent an English speaking guide for $20 and we think that it’s totally worth it. Seeing it and learning its history made it twice more breathtaking. Angkor Wat was built by King Suryavarman II by 300,000 people and 6000 elephants for 30 years. King Suryavarman II is often referred as the King of the Barbarian due to his strong small stature, his bare body filled with tattoos and mid length shorts he’d always worn. Angkor Wat was designed as the gate to heaven and build for astrological purpose as well. Within it there is a point in which it is the centre of the universe.
- Come during sunrise (be there by 5.30). Some has said that sunset is amazing too. If you come during sunrise, don’t sit around at the outside, the best view is from the inside.
- You can ride the air balloon here.
2. Banteay Srei
This is the temple within Angkor Thom that is build for the ladies. This temple is not big but it has the most detailed and beautiful carvings and a unique pink/orange colour limestone.
3. Ta Promph
This temple is most known for being Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider shooting location. And it is a shooting location for a reason, it is one of the best and breathtaking temple I’ve seen. I personally love this one the most (Beside Angkot Wat). There is something unique about this temple that others don’t offer. It could be because of the luscious green-sens from the moss, there are loads of giant tree roots poking everywhere that makes you feel like you are in a different civilization. The iconic giant tree roots that erupted from the roof is especially an amazing sight.
4. Pre Rup
Large temple with many ruins.
4. Preah Khan
5. Terrace of the Elephant
This temple we didn’t explore and just view it from the exterior from our Tuktuk. There are a lot of temples to explore.
Bayon is another must visit temple. The stupa has been carved and arranged to Buddha faces. Bayon was built under the command of the last king of Cambodia who is a Buddhist. While the last great King passed the concubines were all massacred as to follow the tradition. The next in line is the Nephew of the King. Due to all the traumatizing violent he had witness he turns Angkor Wat to be a Buddhist temple as a way to repel the sin of the Kingdom. Thus there are many Buddha statues build in Angkor Wat which then destroyed by the Khmer Rouge leaving only a single Buddha remains. Bayon is one of the legacies left behind by the Buddhist King. People of Cambodia disapprove of the change of religion and gradually left the great Angkor Thom precinct. Cambodia was once a great majestic Kingdom and will remain a country very rich in culture and history treasures.
7. Phnom Bahkeng
The last temple we visited is Phnom Bahkeng, the temple on top of the hill (Phnom means hill in Khmer language). Khmer is pronounced Kah’may that translates to hand is what Cambodian people refer themselves as, the Hand People. It was quite a good climb to reach the top of Phnom Bahkeng. This spot is most popular for the sunset and people lines up to get up here. To avoid the queue you need to come at least 1-2 hours before the actual sunset.
3. Go to far away Temples, Beng Malea
Beng Malea is a far-away temple that we visited the next day. Couple this with a visit to Koh Ker. Unlike Angkor Thom, this temple is far from touristy. The temple was not as restored but it is very large and maze-like. The natural state of it makes us feel like we are in Indiana Jones movie. I highly recommend a visit to Beng Malea and Koh Ker for a different experience.
4. Look at the Mayan Pyramid Koh Ker
You can visit this on the way to Beng Malea. Koh Ker is a Mayan temple in pyramid shaped. You can climb to the top but keep in mind that the heat was really intense. As it is so far out of the town (about 2 hours drive away), you can barely see any tourist here. We basically have this amazing pyramid for ourself and another couple of tourist to explore.
5. Visit the Floating Village of Tonle Sap
You can see people living over water at Tople Sap Lake. This place is on the way from Koh Ker trip, recommended to visit at the end of your trip for the sunset.
6. Refresh yourself at Phnom Kulen
Phnom Kulen is a waterfall where you can go for a swim. The entry to Phnom Kulen closes at 12 but you can stay till later. It is about an hour drive from downtown.
7. Enjoy Local Performance at Apsara Theatre
Apsara is traditional Cambodian dance. They run nightly show with dinner. This is quite popular for tourist to watch the show and learn about Cambodian art.
8. Visit the National Museum
The National Museum is popular destination to learn more about Cambodia History.
9. Visit the Silk Farm
Visit the silk farm to learn the silk farming culture and buy bargain silk product.
All of the below except for Rom Chong Angkor Restaurant are around Pub Street.
1. Red Piano
Come here to be ‘Angelina Jolie’ for the night .We had disappointing food here but this is the bar Angelina Jolie visited while in Cambodia. There is a cocktail specially made for her that has become their signature cocktail.
2. Madame Butterfly
Madame Butterfly is a fancy restaurant our tuktuk always passed on the way to our hotel. Madame Butterfly serves Cambodian food in very pretty and magical garden setting. We decided to give it a try one night and love it. This place is perfect for a dinner date.
3. Kaya Café
I’ve been longing to try some Cambodian dessert and found Kaya Café. Kaya Café is a spa centre and has some dessert package. If these are what Authentic Cambodian dessert taste like then I’m not a fan of them. If you have any recommendation place for Cambodian dessert I’d love to hear them!
Amok is actually a name of Cambodian dish which is a type of mild curry served in coconut shell. This restaurant bears the same name and we had the best meal here. We ordered the introduction to Cambodia degustation. It was served in bamboo and banana leave. It looks amazing with taste that matches.
5. Cambodian BBQ
Cambodian BBQ is a must try. We tried one that is just across the road from Amok. They use unique pot that has space for soup underneath and grill on top. It is a steamboat and grill in one, genius.
6. Rom Chong Angkor Restaurant
A restaurant we stop by while touring the temples in Angkor Thom. They serve typical Cambodian food like curry and amok.
the easiest and most economical mode of transport in Cambodia is Tuktuk. Tuktuk is everywhere, at every corner and they line the street. Each tuktuk ride cost $2-$3 depending on your bargaining skill.
We ask our Tuktuk driver for ‘anyone he know’ that provide this service. You’d be surprised at how wide a Tuktuk driver’s network is. After a bargain battle we get quoted for more or less USD100 to Koh Ker (2 hours drive from downtown). That felt so expensive to me.
Hotel also offers this service. Actually it is so quick and easy from hotel. Cambodia hotel service is top-notch and you can book all you need from the hotel. Hotel price was $120 and not bargain-able.
If you stay around the Market (highly recommended) Old Market, Pub Street, The Alley Lane and Night Market can be explored by foot. These are the place to get food and Tuktuk.
Cambodia is a shopping Paradise. Buy cheap silk, sarong, souvenirs and my favourite is the loose patterned pants for $3! I shopped everything at the markets.
La Residence Blanc D’Angkor
For $44 the room was so awesome it looks like it would’ve worth $200 a night elsewhere. You can only get this kind of price here!
When to go
The good thing is like most Asian Countries, there is no extreme weather, only wet (May-September) and dry (October – April) in Cambodia. It is generally hot and humid with temperature averaging at 25°C to 30°C making it suitable for visit all year around.
- Bargain for everything from tuktuk, car rental to shopping.
- Always prepare your accommodation contact number. If you have difficulties directing, ask the tuktuk driver to call and talk to them in Cambodian. Tuktuk drivers are willing to make phone calls for you.
- Bring USD with you, Cambodian money is almost useless and you get to pay more if you use Cambodian money. Cambodian money changer exists to scam tourist.
- Be prepared that cambodian loves to ask for tips. At the custom where our passport get stamped for arrival we get asked for $10 tips, what was that?
- Prepare small change like USD 1 notes, there are a lot of people asking for tips for various unnecessary services like after helping you take a picture. That will cost $2. A lot of temple guards do this; ignore them completely if you don’t want to give tips. They often ask for tips for just giving a piece of information. Kids can be the worst; we were forcefully asked by group of kids a whopping $20 for showing us a dead end at Bang Malea.
Cambodian clearly are blessed with natural flair in art as perfectly illustrated by this young lady