- 1 Siem Reap, Cambodia – A Traveling Soul’s Paradise
- 2 What to see in Siem Reap Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia – A Traveling Soul’s Paradise
There’s not that many places in the world that could make you travel back in time and witness the wonders of culture, nature and history all at the same time. Siem Reap is one of those places.
I’ve been to Siem Reap twice now, and I still find myself wanting to go back. Although a fairly small province, it has everything any kind of traveler would look for. It’s been able to preserve its culture and tradition while allowing modern comforts to settle in – trendy hostels with the paddy fields as the backdrop. The currency used in Siem Reap is the US dollar which is convenient for most travelers. Getting around the city is also easy – Tuk Tuks can be seen along every corner, bike and motorcycle rentals as well. The locals are some of the friendliest and most accommodating people in the world, always smiling and eager to help.
Most important of all, the sights of Siem Reap are so breathtaking and the selection of activities you can do is so vast that you’ll have a hard time deciding which ones to see and do first. Hopefully, this guide will help you make that decision.
What to see in Siem Reap Cambodia
#1: Angkor Archaeological Park
The picture-perfect scenery on postcards, the beautiful sunsets shown in travel magazines and websites – everyone who travels to Siem Reap does so to see Angkor Wat. But what often gets left out is that Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in Angkor Archaeological Park that are just as picturesque.
Admission fees for the park are relatively cheap and so worth it. It costs $20 for a 1-day pass, $40 for a 3-day pass and $60 for a 7-day pass. Transportation and tour around the Park can often be arranged through the accommodation you’re staying in and, if not, the Park itself offers tour guides. It’s also important to keep in mind that all the temples you’re about to see are deemed holy and sacred by the Cambodian people, so be mindful of the clothes you’re going to wear. Some temples – the top tier of Angkor Wat, for example – do not allow visitors wearing shorts and sleeveless tops to enter.
Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat truly is the epitome of splendor. There is no postcard or photograph in the world that can do it justice, so believe me when I tell you that waking up at 5 a.m. is so totally worth it.
Angkor Thom is a temple complex that is also a must-see. The Bayon Temple, with its huge stone faces, is one of my favorite temples. Walking among its ruins leaves you in awe with the wonders of the hands of man. The other temples in the complex – Baphuon and The Elephant Terrace, to name a few – are just as impressive. Book your day tour here.
From Angkor Thom, you can choose to take either of two routes – the Little Circuit and the Big Circuit. We chose to take the Little Circuit because we wanted to see the famous Ta Prohm. Famous for being one of the locations in Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm always sees a big number of tourists. Don’t be discouraged by it though; the magnificent sight of trees intertwining with the stone ruins and large doorways makes walking in the crowd worth it. It’s a perfect combination of nature and man-made creation.
If you have more time to spare or if you purchased a 3 or 7-day pass, be sure to check out the temples that are further away from Angkor Wat and central Siem Reap. One such temple is Banteay Srei, also known as the Pink Temple. This is also one of my favorites. The drive is quite long but relaxing, with a wonderful view of the countryside. It’s rather small compared to the other temples, but what make it stand out are the gorgeous and intricate carvings all over the temple. Everything was so detailed and well-preserved that it’s mind-boggling how man was able to achieve such artistic beauty.
If Ta Prohm is too crowded for you and you’re a path-less-traveled kind of person, then Beng Mealea is the perfect place for you. I personally feel it can rival the beauty of Ta Prohm. Unlike the popular temples, Beng Mealea is practically a ruin left in the hands of the jungle, which adds to its stunning mystery.
For those determined to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience in one of the world’s most beautiful places and are willing to shell out the money to do so, there is a hot air balloon tour inside the Angkor Park. Viewing the sunrise while on a hot air balloon? That’s got to be on anyone’s bucket list.
#2: Phnom Kulen National Park
Another lesser known destination for tourists, Phnom Kulen is a long drive from Siem Reap but the few people who do make time for it have never regretted it. It’s a relatively easy hike through the jungle to the waterfall where you can swim and have a small picnic. It’s definitely a nice change from the temple-hopping in Angkor Park. I found the entire experience fun and refreshing.
#3: Tonle Sap Lake
It’s not the prettiest lake in the world, sure, but you don’t go there to see ‘pretty’. You go there to immerse yourself in the Cambodian culture. We were able to book a tour around the lake to see the houses on stilts. The tour was very informative and it gave us an interesting idea of how the floating villages work with the ever-changing water levels. It’s a nice way to see the locals and their lifestyle up close and personal. There are also tours that allow you to have lunch at one of the stilted houses.
#4: Pub Street
After a whole day of culture, history, and nature, Pub Street is the place to chill out, let loose and just have a good time. Lined with quaint and artsy stalls as well as hip restaurants and eateries, it’s where people go to mingle with fellow travelers and share a beer or two. You can also find a lot of shops here that sell a wide array of things from Alibaba pants to local souvenirs to bring home to your loved ones. There are also establishments that offer some really good massage and fish spa – an absolute luxury after a day of walking and exploring.
What to wear in Siem Reap, Cambodia
For first-time travelers to Siem Reap, or to any new place for that matter, the questions that always come to mind first are where to stay or what to do. It’s when the packing begins that they think about the clothes they should wear and what other necessities to bring.
Siem Reap isn’t a place of fancy or elegance. It’s a place of nature and mystery. And in order to enjoy it, you have to go prepared and well-suited.
The hot weather in Siem Reap usually compels its visitors to wear tank tops, dresses and shorts. We were no exception. However, we knew that some temples in Angkor Park wouldn’t let visitors in if they did not meet the dress code. We solved this dilemma by wearing a malong and bringing a scarf instead. We used the malong to cover up when wearing shorts and we used the scarves to conceal our shoulders. It was the most convenient option for us especially since both were made of pretty light material.
Read about the uses of a Malong Here : 13 ways to use a malong while Traveling
Most of the activities in Siem Reap will be outdoors. Touring the temples alone will mean an entire day of walking. That said, make sure to wear comfortable shoes, preferably sneakers or trainers like Sanuk, Keds or Skechers. Trekking sandals or any comfy sandals with straps on them are also good. A lot of the steps on the temples are very steep and narrow so you need to wear footwear that won’t keep falling off.
What to bring in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The sun’s almost always out the entire day so make sure to bring a sun hat to keep your head cool and a pair of sunglasses for your eyes.
#4: Other necessities
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of bringing sunblock and a bottle of water especially when touring Angkor Park. The weather can reach extremely high temperatures and the heat can be intense so the absence of sunblock and water can very well lead to dehydration. A fan can also be useful in keeping yourself cool.
And of course, you can’t go to one of the world’s most historical places without bringing a camera. I suggest you put your camera (or your smartphone) in a sturdy case. I dropped my phone twice while I was in Angkor Wat and I’m pretty sure it would’ve broke had it not been for my hardcase.
For Next Time
For those who are looking for more adventurous things to do, Flight of the Gibbon is a zip line canopy tour of Angkor Park. It’s the first of its kind in Cambodia and has been getting rave reviews from its customers. There are also dozens of quad tours in the city center that offers half-day or whole-day countryside and temple tours. I haven’t tried these yet, but based on what I’ve heard from those who have, these are definitely a must-try.
So is Siem Reap a perfect destination for tourists? History buffs? Adventure lovers? Culture enthusiasts? Yes, yes, yes and yes. No one goes to Siem Reap and leaves it feeling unfulfilled and unchanged. When you experience firsthand everything Siem Reap has to offer to the traveling soul, there’s no other option than to feel the desire to go back.
Ready to go to Cambodia? Read What I wish I knew Before I went to Cambodia