The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Siem Reap, Cambodia

The First-Timer’s Travel Guide to Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are three things I remember most about our trip to Siem Reap.

The first of course is Angkor Wat. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s the biggest religious monument in the world and probably the reason why you’re visiting Siem Reap in the first place. The second is the cheap beer. For just 50 cents a mug, you can get hammered for less than what you’d pay for ONE beer in the west! In a place as hot and humid as Cambodia, a cold mug of draft beer is a godsend.

And the third thing I remember most about Siem Reap? The happy pizza. If you’ve never heard of it or are wondering why I’m even talking about pizza in Cambodia, then you need to keep reading this guide. You’ll be “extra happy” that you did. 😆

GUIDE TABLE OF CONTENTS

  1. When to Go
  2. How to Get There
  3. How Long to Stay
  4. How Much Money to Bring
  5. Where to Stay
  6. Where to Go
  1. Where to Eat
  2. Where to Buy Gifts & Souvenirs
  3. Travel Tips
  4. How to Get Around
  5. For Filipinos

WHEN TO GO

Cambodia has two seasons — wet and dry. The wet season is from May to October while the dry season is from November to April.

March-May are the hottest months with an average temperature of around 84°F (29°C). Avoid these months because the heat and dust can be oppressive. September or October aren’t ideal either because those are the wettest months. Flash flooding is a frequent occurence, making travel difficult. November to February is the most popular time to go because it’s the coolest and driest time of the year. However, it’s also the most crowded. We went in December and the crowds at times were unbearable. Prices tend to spike at this time as well.

For a good balance of weather and number of tourists, June-August is said to be the most ideal. The rain keeps things cooler and less dusty, the landscape is more green, the temple moats are filled, and there are fewer tourists. Rainy season isn’t in full swing yet, with the rain coming in it seems at a scheduled time daily — early in the afternoon and again at night.

HOW TO GET THERE

Travelers will be arriving at Siem Reap International Airport (REP). From there, you can take a tuk tuk or taxi to your hotel. A tuk tuk costs USD 6 to get you to Siem reap’s city center while a taxi will charge about USD 7 for a sedan and USD 10 for a van.

HOW LONG TO STAY

Siem Reap is all about the Angkor temples. If you’re not out to see every single temple, then the 3-day Angkor pass should be enough. Unlike beach towns, Siem Reap isn’t really conducive to R&R so I’d say 3-4 nights is ideal.

HOW MUCH MONEY TO BRING

Cambodia is inexpensive, even by Southeast Asian standards. It’s one of the cheapest countries we’ve visited. You can enjoy a meal at a fancy restaurant for USD 10. Ice cold draft beer can be had for just 50 cents a mug.

You can live like royalty there with a budget of USD 100 per day. This includes accommodations, food and drinks, shopping, transportation, and your Angkor pass. It’s so economical that couples can do well with as little as USD 50 each per day. If you’re a solo budget traveler staying in a hostel, then you can probably get by with around USD 30 a day.

Conveniently, USD is the de facto currency in Cambodia. It’s accepted everywhere. The only time you’ll ever see Cambodian Riel is when it’s given to you as small change from USD transactions.

WHERE TO STAY: Soria Moria Boutique Hotel

Soria Moria is a Norwegian-owned boutique hotel that’s conveniently located along Wat Bo Road, just a few minutes walk from chaotic Pub Street. Pub Street gets pretty loud and rowdy at night so if you prefer a quieter, more relaxed atmosphere, then Soria Moria is perfect. It’s also close to many delicious, un-touristy restaurants.
Soria Moria Boutique Hotel

Our air-conditioned room was an oasis in the sweltering heat of Siem Reap. For about USD 40 a night through Booking.com, you can get this big standard twin room with cable TV, wi-fi, breakfast, and free airport pickup. Standard single rooms are available for less than USD 30 a night. You can make a reservation through Booking.com or Agoda so be sure to check both sites to find the best deal. Alternatively, you can look for accommodations on AirBnB as well. If you’re new to the site, then you can get USD 22 free travel credit via THIS LINK.
Soria Moria Boutique Hotel

Approximate Room Rate: USD 40 per night (as of April 2017)

WHERE TO GO

Tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor temples. For first-time visitors, it’s important to understand that there isn’t just one temple. The most famous one — Angkor Wat — is just one of many temples scattered in a large area. To visit them, you’ll need to buy an Angkor pass. Prices are as follows:

One day – USD 37
Three days – USD 62
Seven days – USD 72

If you want to see all the temples, then I suggest getting the one week pass. But if you want to visit just the major temples, then the three day pass will suffice. I’ve listed the four most notable temples below. Visiting just those four will still leave you with a fulfilling Angkor experience. Please note that multiple day passes must be used on consecutive days — ie the week-long pass will be valid for one week from the date of purchase.

TIP: You may want to buy your pass at 5 PM the day before you intend to use it. You’ll be allowed free entry into the park to watch the sunset from Phnom Bakheng Temple. Check out my post on the Angkor Archaeological Park in Siem Reap for more pictures and information.

1. Ta Phrom

Home to giant roots reclaiming the ruins, Ta Phrom is where Tomb Raider was actually filmed. These massive roots enveloping the temples was a spectacular sight. Definitely a must-see.
Ta Phrom

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs

2. Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple

The largest temple in the complex, Angkor Thom is the second most visited temple after Angkor Wat. Covering an area of 9 sq km, at the center of Angkor Thom is Bayon Temple, which is home to these massive, carved stone heads.
Angkor Thom & Bayon Temple

Suggested Length of Visit: 4-5 hrs
Picture by David Sim [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Angkor Wat

The jewel of the Angkor complex. The largest Hindu temple complex in the world, Angkor Wat is a massive structure surrounded on all sides by a moat. How they managed to build this in the 12th century is mind-blowing. I visited Angkor Wat twice — once during the day and another early in the morning to get my sunrise shot.
Angkor Wat

Suggested Length of Visit: 3-4 hrs

4. Bantaey Srei

Around an hour away by tuk tuk from the main temple complex, Bantaey Srei is one of the smaller temples but also one of the most unique. The only temple made from pink sandstone, it boasts the best, most intricate temple carvings of all. I made arrangements with our hotel and paid USD 22 roundtrip. You may be able to get this for less if you negotiated outside of your hotel. It takes about an hour to get there so we left bright and early at 6:30 AM. It’s definitely worth a visit.
Bantaey Srei

Suggested Length of Visit: 2-3 hrs

5. Landmine Museum

The landmine museum is along the way to Bantaey Srei so it’s a frequent stop on the return trip back to town. It tells the story of landmines in Cambodia and their sobering impact on the country’s past, present, and future. Entrance to the museum is USD 5.

Check out my post on the Landmine Museum in Siem Reap for more pictures and information.
Landmine Museum

Suggested Length of Visit: 30 mins-1 hr / Admission: USD 5




WHERE TO EAT

1. Pub Street

A neon-lit network of streets and alleys teeming with restaurants, bars, and clubs, Pub Street is the heart of Siem Reap. It’s where all the action is so it can get pretty loud and boisterous. Many of the restaurants here feel touristy and a little “same same”, but it’s a great place to hang out and enjoy a few beers.
Pub Street, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Many restaurants in and around Pub Street offer Phnom Pleung, or “Cambodian BBQ.” Similar to Korean BBQ, you have a small burner on your table where you cook the meat yourself. Ren and I are adventurous eaters so we opted for the most exotic set meal consisting of kangaroo, crocodile, snake, beef, and shrimp, all for just USD 13. Most of the proteins were pretty tough but we enjoyed the experience nonetheless. It was fun.

Check out my post on Phnom Pleung or Cambodian BBQ for more pictures and information.
Cambodian BBQ

Expect to Pay: Around USD 8 per person with drinks

2. Soria Moria Boutique Hotel (Wednesdays)

Lucky for us, Soria Moria offers Dollar Wednesdays where every item on their tapas menu and bar list can be had for just one US dollar. I suggest going early for dinner because it’s very popular. We had the bruschetta among a few other things.
Soria Moria Boutique Hotel

Swedish meatballs
Soria Moria Boutique Hotel

Expect to Pay: Around USD 5 per person with drinks

3. Viroth’s

A TripAdvisor awardee, Viroth’s is a beautiful restaurant that’s perfect for quiet, candlelit dinners. It’s just a stone’s throw away from Soria Moria along Wat Bo Road. Despite its elegant ambiance and terrific Cambodian food, it’s still relatively inexpensive, with dinner for two amounting to just USD 20. If you prefer a quieter atmosphere away from the chaos that is Pub Street, then Viroth’s is for you.

Check out my post on Viroth’s in Siem Reap for more pictures and information.
Viroth's

Expect to Pay: Around USD 12 per person with drinks

4. The Square 24 St.

Like Viroth’s, the Square 24 St. is another beautifully decorated restaurant just minutes from Soria Moria. We shared the “Passionately Khmer” set menu which is a five-course meal amounting to just USD 18. The Square 24 St. is also a TripAdvisor awardee and a local favorite. It’s a refreshing alternative to the loud, touristy atmosphere of Pub Street.

Check out my post on The Square 24 St. in Siem Reap for more pictures and information.
The Square 24 St.

Expect to Pay: Around USD 11 per person with drinks

5. Happy Herb Pizza

If you haven’t already heard, Cambodia is known for this phenomenon called “happy pizza”. It’s basically a pizza dusted with a special herb – cannabis. Yes, you read that right. Cannabis. Despite the ordinary pizza, that extraordinary ingredient made us eat here twice. 😆

A word of caution. Though these are legal establishments, marijuana is technically illegal in Cambodia so it’s best to be discrete. In fact, I heard that they don’t lace every pizza with cannabis. You have to ask them to make yours “extra happy” to get the good stuff. You’re welcome.

Check out my post on Cambodian Happy Pizza for more happy.
Happy Herb Pizza

Expect to Pay: Around USD 5 per person with drinks

WHERE TO BUY GIFTS & SOUVENIRS

1. Psah Chah (Old Market)

With various wares like dried packaged fruit, spices, shirts, silver, scarves, and so on, the Old Market is undoubtedly the best place to buy souvenirs in Siem Reap. Check out all these awesome spices!
Old Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Old Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia

2. Night Market

Located a few short blocks from the Old Market, the Night Market is similar though slightly more upscale and without any food items. Here you’ll find more modern nicknacks, Cambodian folk art, jewelry, even fake Beats by Dr. Dre stuff that may have fallen off the back of a tuk tuk.
Night Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Night Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia

TRAVEL TIPS

1. Check for Discount Passes

I recently discovered Klook and have been using them to find discounts on activities and services. They offer deals in multiple cities throughout Asia including Siem Reap. If you’re looking for deals on tours and activities, then you can search through this list of Siem Reap attractions on Klook. You’ll often find interesting activities that you wouldn’t normally think of yourself so it’s definitely worth a look.

2. Get Travel Insurance

To be honest, it was only recently when we started buying travel insurance. Back when we traveled just once or twice a year, it felt like an added expense, one we didn’t need. But now that we travel more, I understand how important it is to have it. Fact is, you never know what can happen. It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you do wind up needing it, then you’ll be thanking the gods that you had it. Or cursing them if you didn’t.

Though I do find it more necessary now, it’s still up to you if you think you need it. A 3-day food trip to Hong Kong may not really call for insurance but if you plan on doing more active things like bungee jumping, kayaking, or even going on a city bike tour, then I’d say get it. In Siem Reap, I think it’s a good idea. Some of those temple steps are steep and uneven and not exactly accident-proof.

We buy travel insurance from World Nomads because every long-term traveler I know recommends it. From the sound of it, they’re the best in the industry by a mile. Not only do they provide a high coverage limit for medical expenses (up to USD 5 million with the Standard package), they also cover things like trip delays, missed flight connections, theft/loss of passport and luggage, etc. Follow this link to learn more and get a free travel insurance quote from World Nomads. It’s super quick and easy.

3. Bring the Right Power Adapter

Cambodia has Type A, Type C, or Type G electrical outlets so be sure to bring the right power adapters for your devices. Electrical voltage is 230V and the standard frequency is 50Hz.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Tuk tuk. Unless you rent a bicycle (about USD 5 per day) or hire a car, then a tuk tuk will be your primary means of transportation in Siem Reap. The breeze from the ride feels a lot like air-conditioning after a hot, exhausting day exploring temples. You can either arrange for a tuk tuk through your hotel or do it on your own. We did everything through our hotel though the latter may be cheaper. Please find approximate tuk tuk costs below:

Angkor Wat (sunrise or sunset, just one temple) – USD 5
Angkor circuit (several temples) – USD 15
Guided Angkor circuit – USD 25
Bantaey Srei – USD 22
Airport transfer (one-way) – USD 6

For Filipinos

Regarding visas, Filipinos don’t need tourist visas to visit Cambodia for stays no longer than 21 days.

HOW TO GET CHEAP AIRLINE TICKETS

Ever since I scored my first piso fare from Cebu Pacific, I’ve been hopelessly addicted to cheap airline tickets. These piso fare tickets are limited and sell fast, so you have to be quick. To give yourself an advantage, I suggest liking their Facebook page and following them on Twitter to quickly find out about these seat sales. If you check off “Get notifications” on Facebook, then you’ll receive instant alerts every time they post something new.

As far as I know, only Cebu Pacific has direct flights from Manila to Seam Reap. As of this writing, they have four flights a week — on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday — departing Manila at 7:35 PM and arriving in Siem Reap at 9:30 PM.

Have fun!

I’m not an expert on Siem Reap but I do hope that you find this post useful. I’m only sharing some of the things that I learned from our trip. If you have any suggestions or simply want to share your own experiences, then please feel free to do so in the comments section below. You’re welcome to join our Facebook Travel Group as well. We’d love to hear from you.

Thanks for stopping by and enjoy your time playing tomb raider at Angkor Archaeological Park!

OUR GEAR

These are some of the things we brought with us to Siem Reap. As you can tell, I document a lot of content for this blog so most of the things I bring are photo and video equipment. 😆 If you’d like to see what other gear we use, then you can check out our “What’s in Our Backpack?” post. (NOTE: The following links are Amazon affiliate links.)

Disclosure

Some of the links in this guide are affiliate links, meaning we’ll get a small commission if you make a purchase at NO extra cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves and firmly believe in. We really appreciate your support as this helps us make more of these free travel guides. Thank you!

JB Macatulad

JB Macatulad

JB is one half of Will Fly for Food and its chief itinerary maker.  He's the one to blame for all the crappy photos and verbal diarrhea on this blog.  Don't listen to him.
JB Macatulad


There are 3 comments for this article
  1. Japheth Joy Catubig Pasculado at 9:50 am

    Hi, I would like to ask if the price that you posted for the tuktuk is a per person price? Or is it for the whole trip regardless of the number of persons?

    We are planning to visit Siem Reap on the first week of November. Will the weather condition be ideal by then?

    Anyway, your post is really helpful and I appreciate it a lot. Thank you.

  2. JB Macatulad at 12:44 pm

    Hi Japheth, it’s per tuk tuk. There were just 2 of us though so I’m not sure if they’ll charge additional for more passengers. I think maybe they will. November should be a good time to go. Peak season is just starting so it shouldn’t be as crowded yet. Hope that helps and enjoy your trip. 🙂

  3. Husnara (passportsandprams) at 1:45 pm

    Great overview of Siem Reap and travel tips. I would also recommend dinner at Le Meridien, they do a buffet dinner with a great choice of international and Kmer foods, its good value too for a 5 star hotel and right in the heart of Siem Reap. I also loved pub street and the mexican food was great!!

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