Siem Reap is quite a small town, although plenty of options for accommodation and restaurants. Whilst exploring Siem Reap you notice the vibe here is laid back, and a lot quieter and friendlier than in the Capital Phnom Penh. The village-like scape of the streets with markets, the river winding through and temples and jungle surrounding make Siem Reap, unlike any other destination.
The mood among visitors is relaxed, with people making there way to and from the Angkor Wat temples, roaming the markets or resting and enjoying the many delightful meals that can be found in the centre. Tuk tuks line both sides of the street, and weave and bustle around cars, tourists, locals, and walking vendors.
How to get to Siem Reap
There is a small airport at Siem Reap (Siem Reap International Airport) servicing only a small selection of destinations (China, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea and the Philippines). The airport is only a short distance from the town centre, and it is easy and cheapest to arrange a tuk-tuk, although there are taxis just outside the airport. Unfortunately, flight costs to and from Siem Reap are on the more expensive side.
Look out for visa scams at the Poipet border if coming from Thailand
Travelling by bus to Siem Reap is a really popular, and cheaper option compared with flying in. Buses leave many destinations in Thailand and usually use the border crossing at Poipet. This border town is dusty, and scams are very common, although the immigration process and offices are fairly well organised and easy to get through (although there is sometimes a lineup of travellers).
Scam at Poipet (Bangkok to Siem Reap Route)
The main scam coming from Thailand, on the Thailand side, is stopping the bus before it arrives at the border, processing traveller's visas at a cafe and overcharging them. Then dropping the travellers off at the border where the travellers still need to line up and get their passports processed (not saving any time for travellers but over changing them often double the visa costs).
This scam I have witnessed both times I have been to Cambodia, and when I declined the visa in the cafe the man organising the scam started yelling quite loud. It was embarrassing the first time, as other travellers had accepted to be overcharged at the cafe, although I had previously read about this scam online so I knew that what they were telling me was not true and that I would be fine to process and pay for my visa at the border in the immigration office. You can also catch a bus from a few destinations in Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City) and Laos (Pakse and Don Det).
There are many accommodation options for exploring Siem Reap, and depending on your preferences you can easily find US$2 dorm beds in fun and friendly hostels, to guesthouses charging US$15-$40 private rooms with ensuites, all the way to large high end hotels with beauty spas, pools and buffet breakfasts ranging from US$80-450 a night.
Siem Reap certainly caters to all travellers and budgets due to the high number of travellers that come to Cambodia especially to visit the Angkor World Heritage Park, as well as backpackers passing through the country from either Thailand, Laos or Vietnam.
Even in the cheaper hostels, you can expect a clean room, usually with communal computers for use, travel booking services as well as very inexpensive laundry facilities.
Siem Reap – A great town to bicycle around and explore
Siem Reap is a small town and in my opinion, and the best way to explore Siem Reap and the surrounding areas is by bicycle. There are so many places you can hire a bike, just walk along any street in town and you'll see them. They don't look like much but these old-style Asian bikes are perfect for making your way around the town's streets.
Expect to pay around US$1 for the day, and remember to check the tires are not flat and ride a few meters to make sure it rides smoothly. Alternatively, you can hire a tuk-tuk, much the same as you would a taxi, and it is common that you can barter up to 2-3km trips for as little as .50c (half a dollar).
Where is Angkor Wat?
The Angkor Archaeological Park is approximately 8km from Siem Reap town. I found the best and easiest way to get there, and around the temples was to hire a tuk-tuk and driver for around $10-$12 dollars for the whole day. You can decide what time they pick you up from your accommodation and what time you want to go home.
Entrance to the complex costs US$20 per day (you can buy a three-day pass for US$60, although there is no point as you pay the same if you pay as you go and you might find only one or two days is plenty, and you can not receive a refund). You can read more about my experience and see photos in my Angkor Wat post.
Angkor Wat Museum in Siem Reap
If you find yourself around the town centre during the day, the Angkor National Museum is worth a look if time and budget allow. The entrance cost is US$12 per person (compared with museums in Phnom Penh that charge US$2, a backpacker budget might prefer to leave the museum visits until Phnom Penh).
This museum has information about the Angkor Wat Temples (might be a good idea to go before you visit the temples to allow for a greater understanding of what temple you exploring), as well as old clothes and many statues of buddhas.
There are also many small temples around the town of Siem Reap, although if you visit these after you visit the Angkor Wat temples you will be less impressed. These temples are fairly modern and unless you are walking or bicycling past they will most likely, and understandably, be overlooked.
Markets and Shopping
In the centre of town lies the Central Market (which is open during the day, full of food, clothes, artwork, and everything else), where it is possible to buy yoga-style pants, lightweight cotton pants and maxi skirts and dresses for as little as US$2 each. I am in love with the clothes that I bought from the Central Market and have worn them very regularly while travelling due their comfort, lightweight and hippy style vibe they create when wearing them.
Close to the Central Market, just over the bridge, is a peaceful and more orderly, trendy night market. Most of the shops here are closed during the day but are alive at night with souvenir shops, wood crafts, clothing, jewellery, as well as many hairdressers, fish spas, nail and beauty shops.
Bars and the ‘backpacker' area
Pub Street is the area to go to if your looking to enjoy a few drinks, to walk around the concentration of restaurants around Pub Street and The Alley looking for dinner after exploring the temples all day. Siem Reaps has so many restaurants, you will have no trouble finding whatever cuisine you are looking for, be it budget, street foods, Indian, Vegetarian, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Khmer, Western, Italian and even more.
If you're looking for food or other household supplies, there is a large supermarket on Sivutha Blvd, called Lucky Mall. Here you can find almost any type of imported product that you're looking for. A tuk-tuk driver can take you from town for about $1 (or it's a short walk if you have a map and have got your bearings).
Other activities to do
Other activities that are available to do in Siem Reap (although more costly compared to similar activities and courses in that Phnom Penh, and surrounding countries like Thailand and Vietnam) are cooking classes, yoga lessons and meditation classes. Most hotels and hostels will be able to inform you of the different courses available.
While it is true that many tourists come to Siem Reap for the purpose of visiting the Angkor Wat temples and the main museums and tours and then are soon to leave again, Siem Reap is also a destination where backpackers stay for an extended stay due to the inexpensive and well-maintained hostels, a wide range of inexpensive meals and all round relaxed vibe.
Lake Tonle Sap Tour
Lake Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and is part of the Mekong river. Due to the monsoon season water levels in this lake can vary a lot. To adjust for these water levels locals have created floating villages. I can recommend taking a day trip to the explore the floating villages as this is something rather unique.