Siem Reap – city of temples 💙 (and smiles)
How much time to spend here? Up to 5 days. No less than 3 days.
Where to stay? Nowadays there is a huge variety of options. I personally prefer doing my bookings on booking.com as their variety of choices is splendid and no guest house/hotel owner will dare mess with them by cheating you.
- Backpackers like staying at garden village as its packed with young travelers offering them a village within the city. I advise you to check out a great hostel named Lub-d ('Sleep well' in Thai language). It has a beautiful concept of being a hostel & hotel combination offering fancy facilities, entertaining activities and great service. I stayed in their Phuket hostel for 10 days and enjoyed every second of it.
- For those who prefer comfort, the luxurious hotels are located on road 6 from the city center to the airport. The beautiful posh Shinta Mani is located near Pub street.
You can find accommodation ranging from $7 a night without A/C to Aman Sara hotel for $1000 a night. A huge variety of rooms is available within the city. $50-$70 a night will fix you a very nice stay during the high season.
Click on the following link to find best accommodation options in Siem Reap:
What's there to see? Oh, quite a lot! and it's fascinating
A must one day tour to Angkor Wat temples, Cambodian pride! So famous they were given a place of honor on the kingdom's own flag.
I highly recommend hiring a tuk tuk driver for a full day. He will pick you up from your hotel, drop you off at each temple and pick you up again with fresh cold drinks. Much more fun 😊 for a descent price of $20 for such service.
Entrance to the temples requires purchasing a ticket, which is available on the main road to the temples. You can opt for a one day tour $37, three days tour $65 or a week tour $70. I think one day tour is sufficient.
A must visit is to the three main temples: Angkor Wat (City of temples), Bayon (The smiling faces) and Ta Prhom (Trees temple). You can tour some other temples, but MUST NOT miss these ones. They are UNIQUE! Even if you visit Cambodia for one day only, on a James Bond mission or something, this is a MUST!
On the road to the temples you will see troops of macaque monkeys, mainly on the road to Bayon temple. You can stop there to feed them with whatever they like just be very careful as they can bite (Tourists are the only ones to think monkeys are cute). Interesting thing is they were brought to the temples by villagers some many years back, reproduced and dominated the jungles.
A must one day tour to The Floating Village. You must hire (not an option) a tuk-tuk driver for a full day for $ 20. Make sure he takes you to Kampong Phluk as there is another floating village of Khmer Vietnamese and you don't want to find yourselves there, trust me. A ticket will cost you $20. My advice is to pay the boat driver some extra dollars to have him let you drive the boat yourselves.
Once you cross the village they'll drop you off on a floating restaurant. It's up to you whether to eat there or not. Better wait with the food till you complete sailing on small canoes for $3 a person. My dear mother reaches any place I live on earth so she joined & enjoyed as well.
A must – local Markets
The Old Market (Psar Chas) is found near Pub street. You will find a variety of garments, exotic food, gold, bags, traditional scarves (Krama), all in descent price, yet do bargain. I liked going there with cute srey-La, the only Khmer lady I used to live with. Here is a photo of her choosing meat portion after it has been lying there all day with no temp. control infested with flies. This girl knew to cook (my brain) and delicious food! I was addicted to her cuteness.
The bigger & most popular market, less known to tourists, is Psar Leu (High market), located on road 6 to Phnom Penh, approx. 3 KM from Pub Street. Authentic, worth a visit.
Must visit: If you stay in the city on the weekend, take a tuk-tuk on Sunday evening to Hok Sap ('Sixty', the road's name). It's a local fair not having many tourists visiting it. Divided into two roads, one is full of food stalls, while the other is filled with fashion, cosmetics and toys. At the end of the food lane you will find a local amusement park. It's fantastic, very authentic with not many tourists having the privilege experiencing it.
Optional: Visiting Baray lake, a water reservoir built in the era of the Khmer empire designated to flow water to the temples. Free of charge (what a relief). You can reach it with a tuk tuk to West Baray which is a cool place. East Baray is more complicated to reach. Best is to release the driver and to call him once you wish to get back. You can also invite him to sit down with you, if you feel like having some local company. I sometimes tend to do so when feeling lonely as it helps me interact with local people and in return they sometimes invite me to join their friends or family. It will cost around $15 round trip city and back. If you let the driver go and he comes back to pick you up give him $20 total.
You will relax there for a couple of hours lying in your hammock ($5 per place having some hammocks and a mat) having local food cooked on the spot. During the rainy season it's great swimming there, while during the dry season the lake turns into a huge dough. If you are into experiencing the local cuisine, order some fried bugs and beers from the ladies carrying baskets of fruits / insects. The silk worm grubs are the best, Peanut butter flavor! If you're not into eating bugs, settle for exotic fruits with Dragon fruit being my favorite. You can swim in the lake; worse thing you'll encounter is a water snake but not more than that. Most popular dish: Sach Moan Bai Cha (Fried rice with chicken).
My mother visited the place as well, entertained by Amum, my lovely girl (and some other men apparently) back then. She liked my mother much more than she liked me.
Optional: Kullen mountain.
It's a beautiful place, yet quite far and difficult reaching it. You must hire a car driver to get there. It will cost you around $30 per day for such service, exclusive of entrance ticket which costs additional $20 per person. It really is a stunning place. You can sit there in a hut and order local food. The waterfall is fantastic.
Optional: Some of the tourists visit Banteay Srey (Citadel of women) temple. It's far so a tuk-tuk per day will cost you $30. You will come across a pinkish temple in the heart of the jungle. If you do visit, make a trip to Kbal Spean (Bridge head) as well, an ancient site with a wildlife sanctuary (some birds and maybe a mammal) with a nice waterfall a mile distance. I wouldn't recommend the pleasure, as it's too far and tiring but for those who are fixed on temples, you will enjoy the place.
Optional: Volunteer centers. If you are required to pay a fee for a couple of hours / days volunteer, it is a tourist trap exploiting your desire for 'likes' and some kids. As a NGO manager I recruited volunteers for a minimum of six months only, otherwise it hurts the kids having foreign people & curriculum changing on a daily basis. If you wish volunteering and not just take photos of you being a super hero for social media, go volunteer for six months minimum.
Siem Reap offers one of the best night life experiences in South East Asia.
Pubstreet is a must! Here you will find loads of backpackers partying 365 nights a year at Angkor What and Temple Bar. $1.25 for a draft and $5 for a pitcher full of beer. Getting tipsy and having fun.
Girls – Be aware of local guys waiting for you to get drunk to get you laid. If you're into a one night stand with a Khmer guy, well, you can go for it; If you're not into such an adventure then be warned. Most important, don't be naive. I restate the rule: If a local guy is touching you, even slightly, something is morally wrong with him. Must use condoms, Must use condoms, must use condoms!!!
Guys – Not every Khmer lady is dreaming of you banging her for some money. Colonization era is over so treat them with respect and stop wearing those sweaty horrible singlets. Many Khmer ladies are smart, modern and independent wishing to have a good time on their own choice. On the streets you will find some working girls interested in sleeping with tourists to bring some food on the table. Gay sex tourism is also common in the city.
'Temple' is Siem Reap's most prominent brand nowadays. It started as a small guesthouse in the late 90s initiated by two brothers being tuk-tuk drivers. With the increasing flow of tourists they smartly labeled the street as "Pub Street" turning it into a mega luring nightlife attraction with their restaurant & club perfectly positioned in it. Nowadays the label dominates a large percent of the city nightlife with several clubs, guesthouse & restaurants. My dear Srey La's favorite place for partying
Sok San – With dozens of bars & restaurants Sok San slowly turned to be the second Pub Street. To reach it, walk out from Pub street (on the opposite exit from Temple Bar), cross Sivatha road and enter the lane left of the convenient store where you enter X-BAR. There it begins.
If you fancy old-school Western South East Asian partying style visit Mikey's place. It has some pool tables with all of the city's retired bar girls dominating the scene and you can play your own songs on Youtube feeling a DJ. On my first days in the city I was fixed on becoming a pool expert playing for cash/beer with the girls. They mostly emptied my wallet but I got free drinks here and there. I have a soft spot for Mikey's as it was my first Asian nightlife experience as a foreign rookie in Asia back in the days.
You will find a variety of small pubs and the renewed Temple version of the legendary Hip Hop club. You will see there gorgeous Khmer ladies who will not pay you any attention and will even ignore you if you try speaking with them. Why? There are plenty of local wealthy young good looking guys nowadays to entertain them, or Chinese / South Korean spendthrift tourists with looks and personality they are more fond of. Many local girls are intimidated by the western massive hairy animal like built and prefer to stick to their own.
You will meet working girls as well who are looking to earn some dime to support their families, many of them having a baby raised by the grandmother (runaway dads rarely exist in these families). Be cool, act polite, smile and enjoy yourselves. These girls are humane and nice to speak with even if not banging them. Be careful of Lady boys as the city is filled with them. It is relatively easy to spot them in Cambodia, while in Thailand they are masters of disguise. Still plenty of men have fallen including me while I was a junior (It actually feels the same when you're drunk).
My advice is to stay away from lady boys, aka thieves community. They can turn violent from 0-100 in seconds.
Outside each club you will find a local restaurant or food stall with red plastic chairs (trademark) offering local food. Most of it you will neither recognize, nor understand what to do with, but most probably you'll be too drunk to care. It's another great reason to invite a local lady to join & teach you.
Here are some great photos with dear friends from Hip Hop club before it got burned (unknown number of casualties, including a death of a foreigner); Lisa, the first Khmer lady to intoxicate me & Ratha, Tom, Borei and her funny sister. Tom visited the kingdom as a young tourist and fell in love with it so hard he actually shifted his life from Germany and is currently working in the kingdom. Such a talented great guy.
In Khmer pub street you will find dozens of beer gardens where you can sit, order local food and even a local girl to sit and dine with you. It's fun only if you are joined by local people, otherwise you get bored and the non-English speaking lady sitting with you will just eat small birds and wait for the nightmare to be over with.
For those who travel in groups I recommend partying in one of the KTV'S (Karoke centers) with Platinum being my favorite. It's a highly popular Asian leisure copied worldwide. You rent a room, order tons of beers and inviting a local girl to sit & sing with you (You can choose from a variety of girls working there). Don't assume the girl will automatically follow you to your hotel room, because not all of them sleep for money as many tourist believe. Some are intimidated from the Western rude guys who rough them up in bed. You can choose between Khmer songs to Western songs, romantic mostly. Don't try to sing Michael Jackson, it doesn't sound the same.
A must: The city offers a wonderful circus show of Phare circus. It began as a French initiative destined to enrich villagers with performing arts. It plays every night with tickets available at the circus itself or at the various tourist agencies around the city. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Don't miss!
Where to go from here? To Phnom Penh.
How? By Sleeper bus or daily mini bus.
Where to find them? Booking a $10 ticket in one of the tourist agencies. Be advised traffic accidents do occur from time to time with lethal injuries as to the drivers' fatigue and the roads' condition. It's a calculated risk.
Most important…. Have fun!