Once a rustic village, the quiet, serene town of Siem Reap offers more than just a dark past. Tuk-tuks and motorcycles weave in and out, while passing travellers embrace the French colonial and Chinese architecture that still dots much of this landscape. A trip to Cambodia is never complete without a visit to the majestic Angkor Wat complex, hiding secret structures at every turn, telling a tale of hope once spurned.
Groupon’s Pick: Top 5 Must Do
Just west of Angkor Wat, a touring company allows you to ride on a hot air balloon. The balloon takes you across the ruins, allowing an aerial appreciation for the majestic temples. A great alternative during high season when the temples are packed with tourists and you want to avoid the crowd. Prices start from USD 35.
With Siem Reaps rich history, a trip to the museum is well worth it as it provides an added insight into the country’s rich Khmer culture and war-torn past. Some of the better museums include Angkor National Museum and the Land Mine Museum.
Military Shooting Range
Some 40-minutes from Siem Reap near Banteay Srei lies a shooting range supervised by retired soldiers. If you have always wanted to pick up an AK-47 or even throw a live hand grenade, this might be the safest option. While prices are not cheap (starts at USD 1 for a single bullet) it is certainly a rare opportunity and well worth it.
Cambodia’s war-torn past may pull on your heart-strings so take some time to source out local NGOs in Siem Reap and volunteer some of your time or even money. Some reputable organisations include ACODO (Assisting Cambodian Orphans and the Disabled Organization) and COFCO (Cambodian Orphan Family Centre Organisation).
Always haggle! Haggling is expected in the region, so remember to negotiate for a good price.
Various shops and amenities abound in Siem Reap. Some popular shopping hunts include the Old Market Area or the newer Central Market (Phsar Kandal). There you can find great deals on silvers, handicrafts, silk and other knick-knacks that make great souvenirs.
Groupon’s Pick: Top 5 Must See
The UNESCO heritage site is the primary attraction for tourists in the region. The Khmer people constructed this temple in the 12th century and is considered one of the finest monuments in the world due to the intricate carvings and balanced architecture.
When visiting temples, do take note to dress appropriately. Wear long pants or long skirts and shirts that cover the shoulders. It is a sign of respect for the people who patron the place for religious purposes.
The giant stone faces on the towers of Bayon temple in Angkor Thom makes it one of the most recognisable temples in Siem Reap. There is also Baphuon temple which supposedly represents Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Hinduism. Other sights in Angkor Thom include the Elephant Terrace, the Terrace of the Leper King, the Five Entrace Gates and Phnom Bakheng which is Angkor’s first temple-mountain.
Angkor National Museum
If you would like a better understanding of the areas' archaeological wonders, take a trip to the Angkor National Museum. The Golden Era of the Khmer Kingdom is presented there and incorporates the use of state-of-the-art multimedia technology that covers Khmer history, civilization and cultural heritage. These can be viewed in eight different galleries.
Cambodian Cultural Village
Here you can see miniatures of all the famous historical buildings and structures in Cambodia. With 11 different villages that represent different cultural heritage, local customs and characteristics of 19 races, it gives one insight into the live culture of Cambodians. In each village, tourists will be able to enjoy wood houses, carvings and traditional performances.
Psah Chas (Old Market)
A good place to purchase souvenirs, but an even better hunt for local food, this is a good place to start if you want to experience Cambodian cuisine.
Groupon’s Pick: Top 5 Must Eat
There are lots of good food and bar hunts within the city. Take some time to walk about and look for places that have local patronage or are generally packed.
Steamed Curried Fish (Amok Trey)
Cambodia’s national dish, this is a definite must try. It uses kroeung, a mixture of herbs and spices that make the base for many khmer cuisine. The fish is slathered generously with kroeung and coconut milk then wrapped in banana leaves and steamed.
Reminiscent of our own kuey teow soup or Vietnamese pho, this noodle dish is a popular breakfast in Cambodia. Flat rice noodles are topped with fried minced garlic, chopped cilantro, scallions and Chinese celery, then filled with a full bodied broth simmered with pork bones and dried squid. It is usually topped with meat like minced pork, poached shrimp and assorted offal.
Bamboo Rice Cake (Kralan)
This dense and heavy ‘cake’ akin to Malaysia’s lemang is made up of rice, beans or peas, grated coconut and coconut milk. The mixture is stuffed into a bamboo stick and slowly roasted over a fire. If you are in the area, visit Thma Krae village in the Kratie province for one of the best kralan across Cambodia.
Cambodian Sour Soup (Samlar Machu)
A sour and tangy soup that is sure to jolt one’s taste buds. The sour flavour comes mainly from the use of tamarind, aided by tangy fruits like tomatoes and pineapple.
Pumpkin-coconut Custard (Sankhya Lapov)
This popular dessert is made up of pumpkin filled with coconut custard. The pumpkin-custard concoction is steam-baked until the custard is set and pumpkin flesh soft, leaving a delicious marriage of delicate pumpkin and full-flavoured custard.
Prior to arrival, check with your hotel if airport transfer is already included in your holiday package. Most hotels in Siem Reap offer a free airport pick-up if you book in advance.
Prepaid Taxis are easily available through prepaid booths right outside the terminal for USD 7. Prepaid tuk-tuks are also available for slightly less.
Travelling by bus has become increasingly popular among backpackers or those touring South East Asia. One can get into Siem reap from Pakse and Don Det in Laos (up to USD 30), Bangkok (from THB 300) or Ho Chi Minh (around USD 15). One can also arrive in Siem Reap from other popular destinations in Cambodia with prices ranging from USD 3 – 5.
The city centre in Siem Reap is quite flat and walking or bicycling would be quite pleasant. Sight-seeing on foot or bicycle allows you to take your time and appreciate the sights and sounds of the city. Most hotels will lend you bicycles for a nominal charge of USD 1 – 3 if not for free.
There are many people without license offering rides on motodops. Always be wary of shady characters or deals.
Motodops, motorbike taxis with a driver are a plenty. If you’re travelling on your own, or just seeking the thrill of door-less transportation, you can hop onto one that suits your fancy. A trip around the city should only cost USD 0.50. Agree on a fixed price before hopping on one to avoid getting ripped off.
There is also the option of riding in a tuk-tuk. A trip within Siem Reap would cost around USD 1. Again, it is prudent to agree on a price before getting into a tuk-tuk.
Siem Reap plays host to a tropical wet and dry climate year round.
The best time to visit Siem Reap would be between January to March. The weather is dry and pleasant without being too hot. Temperatures range between 20°C to 35°C.
The hottest months are in April through May with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 35°C. This would be an ideal time to visit the Angkor temples as it is generally quieter around this time.
- Wetter months starts from June all the way to December. However, don’t let this discourage you from visiting, as it means the weather is cooler and the vegetations are lush. This period is not as packed with tourists as most other months so if you’re not one for crowds, this would be a great time to visit Siem Reap. Temperatures at this time ranges from 20°C to 32°C.
Practical Tips & Information
When making plans for accommodation, avoid booking through ‘tour agencies’ that act as hotel receptionists. You will be in for a nasty surprise when you get to the hotel and find that you have paid almost double the published rates. Opt instead to book in person. That way you can view your accommodations and even haggle for a lower price.
- Be wary of pick-pockets at all times. Avoid leaving wallets or valuables in pockets, and if carrying a backpack put it to the front of your body. Scams are also aplenty in the city centre, especially those touting sympathy using children or a charity organisation as a front. If you are looking to do some charity work there, do look into some reputable organisations where you can volunteer your time and get into the gritty of social welfare in Siem Reap.