Motorbikes, cars, and trucks whizzed past me on the dusty roads as I sat in my Cambodian tuktuk on the way to Mad Monkey Hostel. It was hot and sticky but the breeze kept me cool and my excitement at being in Cambodia distracted from the heat. I had dreamed of visiting the famous Angkor temples for years, and now I finally had my opportunity to play Tomb Raider and explore Cambodia’s most well-known city: Siem Reap. It would be a short visit, but I planned to make the most of it, and I did. So based on my experience, here is the best of Siem Reap in 3 days.
Travellers can arrive to Siem Reap from bus or plane. Many travellers come overland from other spots in Cambodia (ie: Phnom Penh) or from Bangkok. Be warned though if you are coming from Bangkok; many travellers indicate that border control is quite corrupt and happy to empty a little extra out of your pockets.
Flying is also an option, and Siem Reap airport is only about 7km from the city centre. Both tuktuks and taxis can be arranged just outside the airport. It’s easy, safe, and much cheaper than arranging a transfer ahead of time. If you are looking to fly into Cambodia, check Skyscanner to find cheap flights.
Siem Reap is a bit of an odd city, and part of me thinks it wouldn’t exist if not for the tourism of the Angkor temples. The city is full of restaurants, hotels, and hostels all of which are within walking distance. However many attractions, such as the Angkor Temples, are located well out of the city centre meaning you will need to hire a car, tuktuk, or if you are feeling particularly adventurous and invincible against the heat, a pedal bike.
What to See and Do
Siem Reap is a relatively small city, but there’s a variety of things to see and do. Here’s what I recommend for Siem Reap in 3 days.
Let’s be honest, this is why you come to Siem Reap. The incredible historic temples that look like they belong in another world are on every traveller’s must see list.
There are three ticket options: 1 day, 3 day, and 7 day. Do yourself a favour and spend the money on the three day. There is more to these temples than Angkor Wat. They are spread out across a fairly large area, and you will want to explore them. Nine temples in one day is too much, especially if you start out early for sunrise. Your best bet is to break it down into two days, the second day of which you visit Angkor Wat for sunrise (get there early though, it’s busy!)
Note: Please make sure to dress appropriately! These are temples, they are sacred.
Explore the Local Floating Villages
One of the most popular things to do in Siem Reap is go on a half day trip to see a traditional floating village. There are a few in the area, and which one you go to depends on what you are looking for.
If you are short on time head to Kompong Phluk; boat rides are short but it is an authentic experience. If you have all day head to the further out Kompong Khleang; the quietest and prettiest of the local floating villages.
Of course there is one more: Chong Kneas. If you are genuinely interested in learning about, seeing, and exploring a traditional floating village- avoid. However if you are up for a bit of a party, head to Mad Monkey Hostel Siem Reap and join the ‘Cultural Booze Cruise’. Twenty Five USD gets you a seat on the boat through the area where you can drink beer to your hearts content and swim out in the bay.
The War Museum
Siem Reap is home to Cambodia’s only war museum. However take aside any ideas you have, because this one is different. The entire museum is outdoors; massive military tanks, planes, helicopters, and leftover land mines, guns, and bullets are all on display here. However the highlights aren’t the slowly rusting and fragmented weapons, but rather the tours guides themselves. Tours of the Cambodian War Museum are run by ex-soldiers; men who themselves fought in the war against the Khmer Rouge. It’s an interesting perspective, and one that no guide book will ever be able to provide.
Recommended time: 1.5-2 hours.
Party on Pub Street
After a day of exploring it’s time to sit back, grab a few drinks and (if your feet aren’t numb from exploring the temples all day) dance. If you are looking to party in Siem Reap the place to go is Pub Street. Lined with restaurants and bars it’s where most people choose to spend their evening, plus since it’s closed to traffic at 5pm, it’s one of the ‘safer’ places to drink and wander.
PHARE Cambodian Circus
Cambodia is not a wealthy country, and many of it’s people grow up in poor conditions. PHARE is a social organization that takes some of these underprivileged children and teaches them dance, art, music, and theatre to give them a future in a way that will help encourage others and give back to the community. There are a range of different shows showcasing traditional Cambodian stories, and there is a performance every night. It’s one of the biggest highlights in Siem Reap so be sure to book your ticket in advance.
Get a Massage
Massages are pretty cheap in Siem Reap so if you need to relax, or some foot pampering after a day exploring temples, it’s easy to find a massage for as little as $2USD. If you are feeling up for something new, be sure to try one of the fish massages. Massage parlours can be found throughout town; both cheap and fancy options. If you are on a budget though check around the night market area for the best prices.
Shop at the Angkor Night Market
Night market are a staple in Southeast Asian countries, and Siem Reap’s night market is no exception. From silly shirts to knock off sunglasses. Hand made bags and scarves to touristy knicknacks, there’s plenty to buy here. Don’t be afraid to barter- but be friendly about it! One traveller had the merchandise snatched out of his hand and the woman in charge turned her back on him because he offended her.
If You Have More Time
The big highlight of Siem Reap is, of course, the temples. But if you aren’t big into temples or decide to stick around a little longer, there’s still plenty to do.
Cooking classes are a popular option here, as are art classes- especially pottery. If you fancy trying your hand at mixology, why not take a Khmer cocktail class.
There are also a few other museums and attractions in the area including the Angkor National Museum, the McDermott Photo Gallery, Silk farms, the Cambodian Cultural Village, and the Cambodian Landmine Museum.
Know Before You Go
While there is a Cambodian currency, you will be charged in American dollars. Don’t worry, it’s always what the bank machines distribute.
Rumour has it that ANZ bank machines have been spitting out fake money. To be safe, avoid these machines.
Orphanages are abundant in Cambodia, and you may be inclined to stop and volunteer here but professionals urge you not to. Many of these so called orphanages are complete scams, and by ‘volunteering’ you are often doing more harm than good. To learn more check out Think Child Safe.
Three days in Siem Reap is short, but you can do a lot in that time. It’s an awesome city and a definite must for any visitor to Cambodia!
A Note on Travel Insurance in Cambodia
Please, do NOT travel without travel insurance! I’ve had to rely on mine twice before (once for damaged luggage, once because I developed a lung infection while traveling). While the cost may seem annoying and better spent elsewhere, trust me when I say you’ll be sorry if you don’t have it. For just a couple bucks a day, you can save yourself a whole lot of stress and money. I like to recommend SafetyWing for travel medical insurance. With prices starting at $37 for 4 weeks, they are one of the most affordable options I’ve found. Learn more about the importance of travel insurance here.