Adoration 4 Adventure’s local guide for visitors to Siem Reap, Cambodia by A4A guest writer, Sam Walker.
Local guide posts provide recommendations for destinations from locals who are currently living or have lived in that particular place. Including information on the top places to eat, drink, stay and how to get around with an emphasis on saving money.
Overview of Siem Reap
Siem Reap, affectionately known as Temple Town, is the third largest city in Cambodia. Located in the country’s north-west, it is home to many ancient temples, including Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world.
It is a town built on tourism and as cities go, it is pretty small – more like a country town. Despite the temples and the tourists Siem Reap province is one of the poorest in the country. English is widely spoken within the tourist areas but not in rural areas. Khmer people are genuinely warm and friendly and their beautiful smiles greet you everywhere you go.
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Top 5 places to visit
5. 60 Road
By day, 60 Road is where you go to get your temple tickets. By night, it comes alive, heaving with locals attending the market, food stalls and sideshow fun that sprout up as the sun goes down. From about 5.30pm you will find the road packed with vendors selling clothes and shoes; pop-up restaurants and a range of local foods. A variety of fun fair attractions including a rickety-looking Ferris wheel, dodgem cars and other games are great for the more adventurous.
This is not a tourist spot. In fact, it is possible you won’t see any westerners if you visit. It’s a very popular local hangout. Try and find a local to take you and the experience will be even better. 60 Road is about three or four kilometres north-east of the city centre and it’s open every night.
4. Visit the countryside
One of my favourite things to do in Siem Reap is to get out of town and into the countryside. The best way to do this is to hire a tuk tuk and ask the driver to take you in to the country for a few hours or a day. If you have a good driver he will come up with some lovely places for you to visit. Depending on the season you could see rice being planted or harvested, meet locals weaving baskets or making local treats. You could hire a bike and do this yourself but will probably get more value going with a tuk tuk driver. The price will vary depending how far you go.
3. War Museum/Landmine Museum
Cambodia’s recent history is tragic, brutal and raw. While many tourists don’t want to dwell on the war and its effects, these two locations help understand the tragedy that has passed and those still taking place. Each costs about US$5 to enter. You get a free guide at the war museum, where the guide’s story is often as interesting as the war information. The Landmine Museum is further out of town on the way to Banteay Srey temple but well worth a look and supports a good cause – the removal of landmines.
2. Phare, the Cambodian Circus
Phare, is by far, one of the best attractions in Cambodia. Contemporary, vibrant and energetic, it is leading the way in Cambodian arts. It’s also one of the nation’s most successful social enterprises. No animals feature in this circus. Just talented young artists telling the stories of their country, their families and their history through drama, acrobatics, music and dance. They perform eight different shows, all with a different theme and story. Tickets start from $18. For more information visit pharecircus.org.
1. Angkor Wat and the Angkor Archaeological Park
Siem Reap’s number one tourist attraction, Angkor Wat, dates back 900 years. This is not somewhere you come to visit for half an hour and move on. The site is huge and the history fascinating. If you can afford it, it is worth getting a guide.
Many people don’t realise Angkor Wat is just one of hundreds of ancient temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, all offering something different. You will need a temple pass to visit them. They are US$20 for one day, $40 for three days and $60 for seven days. The cost of a tuk tuk will vary depending on which temples you see and how far away they are. You must wear appropriate clothes – knees and shoulders covered.
Eating and drinking
Siem Reap has hundreds of restaurants featuring flavours from around the world. You can eat Khmer, English, German, Thai, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Indian, French, vegetarian and more.
If you are on a tight budget, try a local breakfast of rice porridge for about 75 cents or the popular bai sat cherook – rice and pork for about USD $1. You will find these breakfast restaurants on most streets outside of the tourist centre. Similarly, you can get rice dishes for about US$1.50 at local restaurants for lunch and dinner. Western meals average between US$3.50 and US$8.
Fish amok and lok lak are the two most famous local dishes. Lok lak is a beef dish. You won’t find these dishes at most of the cheap, local restaurants. Noir Mart and Coffee, next to Naga Guesthouse has great coffee at good prices.
Public transport in Siem Reap is predominantly tuk tuk or moto-dop. Tuk tuks typically cost US$1.50 to US$2.00 for up to about two kilometres. Moto-dops are a motorbike taxi. They are cheaper than tuk tuks and you jump on the back of them and they’ll take you wherever you need to go. There are also plenty of places to hire bicycles if you want to do some exploring on your own. Siem Reap is flat and easy to get around.
There is apparently a metred taxi in Siem Reap but I can’t see much point in using it when tuk tuks are so readily available, affordable and easy to get around in. If you are going further afield several bus companies and mini buses operate from Siem Reap to other cities at reasonable prices. Most guesthouses can book these for you.
Siem Reap has an abundance of accommodation aimed at all budget levels. You can find most of them on the popular booking sites.
Many people want to stay close to Pub Street and the Old Market in the town centre. Pub Street is very touristy with pubs, clubs and restaurants along with tourist shops and boutiques. We prefer being east of the river around Wat Bo Road, which is less touristy but still an easy walk to town. The Wat Damnak area is also popular.
Please note, many places will offer you free pick-up from bus stations or the airport. Often, the tuk tuk drivers are not paid for these pick-ups, based on the expectation you will book tours with them. If you are not going to book tours with them, then please consider paying them or giving them a tip. Fuel is not cheap and their wages are very low.
Hi! I’m Sam, the Journo from Journo and the Joker. In April 2015 we packed up our beach life in Australia and moved to land-locked Siem Reap, Cambodia for a year, where we devoted most of our time to various volunteering pursuits, cheap food and drink and exploring this lovely country.
For more information on Siem Reap, including recommendations on where to find the best burgers in town, check out Sam’s blog – Journo and the Joker. Follow Sam at http://journoandthejoker.com/, on Facebook and Instagram.
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All photos in this article (except the feature image and vertical pin) are the property of A4A guest writer, Sam Walker.
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