If you have to go backpacking around Southeast Asia, a trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia is a MUST-GO. The city is a: food haven, temple run paradise, watering hole, club and pub central, chillax spot, melting pot of lovely people, tourist-friendly and everything else in between. It’s rustic and relaxed. It’s the perfect mix of just a little bit of modern Western influence and traditional Khmer Culture.
Siem Reap should be on everyone’s travel bucket list, if not for the magnificent temples of the Angkor Archeological Park, which is a UNESCO heritage site, but for the magnificent experience of immersing yourself in the different sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the city and its people.
Here are some helpful how-to’s and where-to-go’s that will make your trip easier. For those who haven’t quite decided to visit, these might speed up your decision-making process.
If you’re coming from the Philippines, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines have regular flights to Siem Reap from NAIA 3 in Metro Manila. So far, Cebu Pacific is the most affordable. Travel time is about 3 hours.
Where to stay?
While there are a lot of affordable hostels and even 5-star hotels in Siem Reap, Golden Butterfly Villas is high up on the list for several reasons:
- Location – The hotel is about 2 blocks away from Pub Street and the Old Market at the end of Artisan St. along Sivatha Boulevard. Everything is within walking distance. For those who don’t want to walk, a TukTuk ride only costs about $1-2 (good for 4 people max). You can ask the hotel front desk to call you one.
- Affordability – A triple sharing room is about $20 while a double sharing is $18 per night for an air-conditioned room with hot and cold shower, toiletries, unlimited bottled water and towels. The beds are super comfy too!
- Guest Freebies – Once you check-in, you get: welcome drinks (the most heavenly and refreshing fresh lemon juice), welcome snacks (sticky rice with jackfruit, banana chips and salted nuts), cold towels, a FREE 1-hour body massage, a picnic (cakes and pastries) for your trip to the temples, unlimited coffee and tea and unlimited bananas (really small and sweet). Mind you – the welcome drink, snacks and cold towels is ready for you every time you return to the hotel. After a hot day of trekking, walking and climbing temples, this special welcome is the icing on the cake.
- Airport Transfer – The hotel will also arrange for complimentary pick-up at the Siem Reap airport upon arrival. You can also ask for a car/van service going back to the airport upon check-out for a fee.
- Customer Service – It was the hospitality and courtesy of the staff that really amazed me. They were very friendly, kind and very helpful in giving directions. At the beginning and end of the day, they made sure to greet us and ask about how we were and if we needed anything. They even arranged the tours for us, called the drivers and tour guides, gave us maps, guidebooks and everything we needed to make our trip perfect. For them, I would gladly go back. As they say in Cambodia, “Or Kun!”
When it rains, HUMID.
Wear comfortable clothes but dress modestly.
What to do?
Amidst the quaint city alleys, French-colonial structures, Chinese-inspired shophouses and rice paddies, Siem Reap is the backpacker’s gateway to the millennium-old ruins that represents the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Angkor Wat and the dozens of temple ruins that litter the Angkor Archeological Park, are as magnificent and awe-inspiring as the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. In short, it’s one of those things that you MUST DO.
While the temples are just buzzing with curious tourists, you can still capture the mystery and wonder of the ancient temples of Angkor. In fact, this item deserves a whole separate blog post, Temple Running in Cambodia.
Eat. Eat. Eat.
Siem Reap is a food-lover’s paradise. Consider your trip to Siem Reap a total failure if you don’t experience the street food and other cuisines that make the city a food-lover’s paradise.
From obscure alleyways to busy street corners, you should not miss out on the chance to sample the amazing array of cuisines that range from local Cambodian dishes to Western dining options. For the ultimate street food adventure, sample the many offerings in the Old Market and Pub Street Areas. The choices are endless! Check out some good eats at this blog post, Food Trip Chronicles: Eating My Way Through Siem Reap.
Shop at the Old Market
A visit to Phsar Chas, which is Khmer for Old Market, is an important part of any Cambodian travel experience. A semi-covered area with small shops and stalls, the Old Market is Siem Reap’s most popular traditional market that caters to both visitors and locals. It offers a varied selection of souvenirs and food.
If it’s too hot to go market-shopping during the daytime, you can opt to visit the multitude of Night Markets around the city, off Sivatha Boulevard. Haggling at the local market is a true cultural shopping experience.
Have a Drink (Or Two… or More) at Pub Street
With beer at 50 cents for a mug of Angkor Draft and a low of 35 cents a mug during Happy Hour (Triangle Bar and Restaurant), there’s no excuse not to go drinking with friends or even by your lonesome.Trust me, after a long day of Temple Running, an ice cold draft is just what you need.
For non-alcoholics, I highly recommend the fresh Lime or Lemon juice. It’s the perfect combination of tart, sweet and super refreshing!
Pub Street is just teeming with bars and restaurants for your enjoyment. A personal fave is the cheeky Angkor What?, a huge bar with graffiti, neon paint and black light. The beer is $4 per pitcher and the music is great – some rock, rnb, hiphop with none of those trashy pop tunes. For the hardcore partygoers, Temple Club right across the street is the place for you with live DJ’s every weekend.
Get a Roadside Foot Reflex Massage
I’ve had ritzy massage treatments, sessions with a blind masseuse and even an authentic Thai massage in Bangkok, but nothing beats the roadside Foot Massage in Siem Reap.
For $3, you get a 30 minute foot and back massage, with Free wifi and a can of local Angkor Beer! I am not kidding you. Plus, you get to see lots of people passing by.
Joyride By Tuktuk
The main mode of transportation in Siem Reap, the Tuktuk costs around $1 for short distances and $6 for a tour around the city’s attractions. Visit Golden Palace, Royal Gardens, Temple and Killing Fields around Siem Reap with a quiet drive along the riverside. While very similar in concept to the local tricycle (motorcycle and sidecar) in the Philippines, the TukTuk is a bit different because the 4 seater passenger car is located behind the motorcycle. It’s actually very comfortable especially during the late afternoon when the harsh sun lets up and the weather is a bit cooler.
After trekking around the temples of Angkor, wrap up your cultural expedition with a trip to the Artisans d’ Angkor workshop for a firsthand look at Khmer arts and crafts techniques. Get a free guided tour where master artisans (who are also deaf and mute) show you what goes on behind stone and wood carving, lacquering, silver plating and silk painting. The finished products are sold in the artisan showroom. As much as I wanted to take home some wood and stone figurines, the items were a bit too pricey for my budget not to mention too heavy for my backpack. Also, the artisans specializing in sandstone carving at the workshop are also sent over to the Archeological Park to help with the temple restorations.
Senteurs d’ Angkor
If you are a lover of all things bath and body pampering-related, you will definitely love Senteurs d’ Angkor. Visitors get to see the process of producing natural, handmade soaps made from coconut oil, moisturizing creams, balms, candles etc. While I wasn’t able to visit the actual workshop, I went gaga at their outlet store near the riverside market. I bought a set of soaps made from Lemongrass, Green Tea, Lotus and local Cambodian flower – Frangipani. Smells so heavenly that I can’t wait for bath time wohoo!!!
Hopefully this little guide of ours was helpful to you. That’s about it for this Little Guide of Siem Reap. If you wanna add some more stuff, feel free to write it down in the comment section.
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