Siem Reap is synonymous to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, but this little town in Cambodia has its own personality of its own. Granted, some roads are not developed, and you could see a great cultural divide from rich to poor, it is worth finding out and seeing the place for yourself. If you love history and seeing ancient temples then this place is for you.
Hostel – Hostel costs can vary wildly from $1 (this means just a mat on the ground with a mosquito net to cover you with), to around $5-8 for normal dorm rooms. A private room can go for around $20 upwards.
Hotels- There are numerous hotels that you can pick from, budget hotels can range from the $25 up range, and the more expensive ones can range from $100 up, which has a pool in the compound.
Food – There are numerous choices around Siem Reap – from local delicacies to Western comfort food. You can also get a “happy” pizza if you are adventurous enough to try it. You can get cheap banana pancakes for aroud $2, but generally a meal should not cost you more than $5 a dish.
Transportation – You can easily get around Siem Reap on tuk tuks. If you plan to rent one for the day, it is around $25 to tour the Angkor Wat compound. If you just need a place to get from A to B, expect to pay around $2. If you need to get from one place to another within Cambodia or neighboring countries like Thailand, Laos or Vietnam, mini buses or deluxe sleeper buses are your best bet.
- Most hostels and guesthouses offer free or cheap bike rentals that you can use. While this is a cheaper mode of transportation to Angkor Wat, this is not advised! It is very hot and humid in Siem Reap, and the roads are quite dusty. You won’t get to cover much area on a bike anyway, so do yourself a favor and rent a tuk tuk instead.
- Note that while Cambodia has their own currency (the Cambodian Riel), the US Dollar is the preferred currency (to protect against inflation) and you can see most of the prices in restaurants, hotels, or tourist attractions in USD. There’s no need to change from USD to your local currency, otherwise you’d get stuck with money you won’t be able to use much anyway. However, some establishments give you change in riel if it is below the $1 mark, which can be a nice souvenir from your trip.
- You will encounter kids who are begging for money, exclaiming: “one dollar, one dollar.” Cambodia is a very poor country so most kids leave school to hustle. If you must give something to them, give them food.
- Map your course before you go – there are a lot of temples in the area so go online and search which ones you’d like to see.
Top things to see and do in Siem Reap:
- Angkor Wat – A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the complex costs $20 to get a day pass, but if you’re planning to stay longer, best to invest on a multi day pass ($40 for three days, $60 for 7 days), all payable in dollars at the gate before you get in the compound. The best time to go is before sunrise, as most visitors wait for the sunrise to go up at Angkor Wat. If you are planning to climb up the temple, the shoulders and the knees have to be covered: no shorts or tank tops, otherwise you may be stuck at the bottom, waiting for your friends to come down. You can still climb up some of the ancient stairs in the compound, but take extra care as they don’t have any railings. You can get a guide outside if you need more information on the buildings, but they do go fast and can be pretty expensive.
- Angkor Thom – Bigger than the Angkor Wat compound, the highlight of this is Bayon – which has four heads on every pillar it has, quite eerie and amazingly detailed. There is also Ta Prohm – famous for being a location for the Tomb Raider film. Here you’ll see trees that seem to pop out of the ancient ruins, and Baphuon – a temple that has collapsed, and has been rebuilt stone by stone.
- Pub Street – the nightlife capital of Siem Reap. The best pubs and clubs can be found here, the most famous one being Angkor What? Here, you can get a dinner while watching an Apsara dance, and also shop for local wares and clothes while you’re at it. This is also your best bet to get the famous fish spas – where you dip your feet in the water and the fish will slowly nibble on your dead skin. Great to experience and definitely worth a try.