In continuation to the previous post about Cambodia : Phnom Penh, here’s what we thought about Siem Reap based on our experience from our trip to Cambodia.
Siem Reap city is located in the north-western region of Cambodia. It is currently the main tourist attraction of Cambodia because of its geographical location closest to the famous Temples of Angkor or better known as Angkor Wat. The Temple Complex is located north to this city center.
The proximity of the Angkor ruins has made Siem Reap to be a booming city in the recent years and it was visited by thousands of tourists every year that are mainly attracted by the ancient temples. They have built large luxury hotels and cheap backpacker hotels popped up like mushrooms after a rainy day. Tourism has definitely became a lucrative industry for the city.
The city itself is not very big and does not have much to offer apart from the temples. It was not a very developed town, so don’t hope to see any high rise buildings or a modern-looking air-conditioned shopping centre, forget Starbucks or McDonalds. We stayed there for 3 days / 2 nights. Day 1 was dedicated to explore the surrounding areas and it was sufficient to familiarize ourselves with the important places such as the Old Market and Pub Street. And we allocated another full-day to visiting the Temples.
Sivatha Boulevard & The Old French Quarter
Sivatha Boulevard is the main street of Siem Reap and it is part of the old French quarter. It’s a nice area to walk around and where you can find some old colonial buildings that are still intact.
This area was known for its luxury accommodations, the famous Angkor restaurant, shops and fashion boutiques.
It is the traditional market of Siem Reap that houses food and local products mainly visited by the locals.
It is located in the heart of the city on 2 Thnou Street. Usually open daily from 7.00am to 8.00pm.
As the name suggests, it is the street of the pubs in Siem Reap. Pub Street is the center of the city’s nightlife, with bars/pubs for backpackers, discos and restaurants serving international food along the entire street.
At night is when the street comes alive. It would be filled with tourists, especially the young crowd, wanting to eat, drink and just want to have a good night out. The entire stretch is very striking with many coloured lights around it and at night when they come on, it looks amazing.
We would say that prices of things here are somewhat exorbitant for Cambodia standards. As we’ve mentioned that the city makes most profit from the tourism industry, especially with tonnes of visitors from the west, they assume that Westerners are rich to visit Cambodia, which is somewhat inaccurate. The currency they transact are either in US Dollar (USD$) or Cambodian Riel (ree-yell) for small change.
And of course, one of the main things to do in Siem Reap would be Angkor Wat (Angkor Temples). The Angkor complex is huge. In the visitor center you will find tickets for 1 Day, 3 Days and 7 Days. Prices are USD$37 for 1 day, USD$62 for 3 days and USD$72 for 7 days (2019 prices). There are different routes depending on the weather and the days you wish to visit them.
Most of the Temples are open from 7.30am to 5.30pm. But, Angkor Wat and Srah Srang opens from 5am for those who want to watch the sunrise. Phnom Bakheng and Pre Rup are open until 7.00pm for those who wish to watch the sunset.
We had time for only one day visit and decided to wake up very early to see the sunrise from Angkor Wat, which was BREATHTAKING. To get there we hired our favorite tuk-tuk driver (he brought us to the hotel the first day from the bus station, he was very friendly and we agreed with him that we would call him every time we needed transportation).
The temples are a little far from the city. It is about 7km away from the town centre. Most people prefer to go by bicycle and others ride the tuk-tuks, taxi or chartered buses. We dropped the idea of riding bicycles because it’ll be a whole day of riding, plus the return trip back to the town centre…huh, ain’t nobody got time for that!
Once you arrive at the temple complex, the first thing you have to do is go to the visitor center to buy the tickets. Although when we got there at at 5.00am, there were a lot of people queuing already. To travel from one temple to the other, you’ll need a form of transportation because most of the temples are quite far apart and you don’t want to waste time walking, especially when you have limited time. Usually the tuk-tuk charges would be pre-negotiated with the driver at the beginning of the day, or if you could have the driver booked a day in advance like we did.
Inside of the complex:
Once you have the Temple Visit tickets, you can now enter the complex. Just so you know, they do take a picture of you to print on your ticket, so it is definitely non-transferable -haha! The first temple we visited in the morning was the all famous: Angkor Wat. I can’t describe in words of the peace we felt in that place. Although there were already hundreds of tourists, everyone was waiting for the sunrise in a neat silence. We got goosebumps when we saw the sun coming up and as the place gets brighter, we could feel the atmosphere of its former inhabitants.
The ambiance was beyond words as we observed that morning where some visitors brought coffee flasks to enjoy a warm drink in the misty cool morning, some brought books to read and some went to sit in a quiet corner to meditate.
There were a row of stalls serving breakfast in front of the temple, which was convenient if you’d like to grab a bite, but we didn’t really like the idea as it was too commercialized. They ‘pollute’ the grounds with rubbish and waste water from food preparations flowed into a natural pond in front of the grounds. We thought that these grounds should be treated as sacred as its still a temple, ancient ruins and it should be preserved just the way it is.
Once the sunrise is over, we head inside the temple to explore it as much as possible. In Angkor Wat, we spent about 3 hours. After we finished Angkor Wat, we went to our tuk-tuk driver that waited outside the exit gate to go to the next temple, Ta Prohm. This temple is smaller but was just as amazing and here we spent another couple hours. Ta Prohm was the one famous for the Tomb Raider movie starring Angelina Jolie.
Next, we went to Angkor Thom. Inside, there were several temples so we spend the rest of the day exploring them as much as possible.
At about 4.00pm, we were totally exhausted but with it was definitely worth the effort for the experience. The feeling we got from the whole visit couldn’t be expressed in words.
Siem Reap is a small town, but it houses the wonderful Temples of Angkor. The peaceful morning just before sunrise would definitely be worth waiting or paying for. The tourist accommodation was in abundance when we visited the town, so you will always find one that fits your budget. Don’t miss visiting Pub Street and enjoy the real Cambodian food!