“While in Southeast Asia one must pay an obligatory visit to Siem Reap.” I was told this by countless people. When I started doing research I repeatedly ran into “there are too many tourists,” “it is unbearably hot,” and “this and that are the right ways of visiting the sites.” I’m no guru, but let me give you the rundown on how we did Siem Reap and loved it.
One of the most frequent questions we encountered was about the amount of time needed to see both Siem Reap and all of Angkor (not to be confused with Angkor Wat, which is JUST the main temple). Our total visit was 3 nights (late flight) and 2 days. If you’re a temple aficionado, you’re going to need some time to explore, so I would recommend 3 days. If you don’t want to be overdosed from temple watching, 1 full day to see Angkor Wat (the main complex), Ta Phrom (where Tomb Raider was filmed), and Angkor Thom, will suffice. We did this, and it was perfect. However, there are other temples further away from the city that locals recommended several times, especially Banteay Srei, a small temple that due to its unique stone turns pink with the sun.
In regards to accommodation, there are plenty of affordable places to stay, including some amazing 5 star hotels. I had heard of different locations to stay at, and decided on Sarai Resort & Spa. What a beautiful hotel. It’s a carefully decorated with very comfortable rooms and a gorgeous pool to cool off after a heavy morning of site watching. Contrary to a lot of hotels located in the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap, this hotel is only a 5 minute tuk-tuk from the city center in a very calm part of town.
Siem Reap offers an incredible West and East fusion of entertainment and cuisine. There are several streets in the city that have a high concentration of restaurants and bars, three of which stand out: Pub Street (very touristy and commercial), The Alley (a bit more laid back), and Sok San Road (busy with new developments). Explore by walking around these areas, especially at night. These places will stay open until very late and are super entertaining. Even if you don’t physically enter a bar, there are mobile bars all over the streets with extremely cheap drink prices. You’ll also encounter various markets and small shops that will cater to everybody.
Eat & Drink
One of the things that I loved about Siem Reap is its bohemian up and coming artsy atmosphere. Sure, there’s a fair share of super commercial and touristy places, but this boho scene is definitely prevalent. Check out the many coffee shops that the city offers. We went to Sister Srey Café, right on the river and with a very relaxed vibe.
I have to admit, we liked the hotel so much and the heat was very aggressive, that had lunch a few times at the hotel. However, for a great local dish called Fish Amok, head to Kuriosity Kafe I know, the name doesn’t win any fans, but the food is great and the happy hour deals will definitely have you staying longer.
One of the best dinners we had on our trip was at L’Annexe restaurant. Set in the front garden of a French colonial house, this restaurant delivers on both the culinary and ambiance experience. Definitely a must!
Visiting Angkor The “Right” Way
I did significant research on how to visit Angkor the “right” way. From the time of the day, to which temples to see, to how to avoid the crowds, let me tell you something, most of these don’t matter.
We hired a guide, which in retrospect, was expensive and not worthwhile. Hire a taxi or a tuk-tuk to simply drive you around. When visiting Angkor Wat, the main complex, make sure you arrive before the sunrise. Do not immediately follow the crowds that are eager to cross the moat surrounding the complex. Wait across the moat as the sun goes up. After an hour or so, cross the moat and visit the complex by walking its premises. Another hour inside the complex will suffice. From there, head to Ta Prom and Angkor Thom. That’s it. If you want to visit more temples head out for sunset that same day, or take another day to visit further ones. Believe me, no matter how many tourists (you cannot avoid them), these archaeological sites are magnificent. Enjoy!