Siem Reap | 14 Compelling Reasons To Visit
Welcome to Siem Reap!
Welcome to Siem Reap or should we say welcome to Temple town!
Indeed, if you are searching for Angkor Wat, then you will realise that all your results will point out to Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Even if Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers discovered Angkor in the 19th century it is today a busy city and the departure town to visit the magnificent temples.
Usually, a short stop over for people travelling around Cambodia, Siem Reap has actually so much to offer! How many times have we heard guests regretting to leave this magical town too soon…?
Located just a few minutes away from the Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap will be your home for some days. This joyful and lively city has a real unique vibe that you will not find anywhere else in Asia. Not only will it be your departure point to visit the 8th World Wonder, you will be able to enjoy many other beautiful spots such as the Tonle Sap (the biggest unsalted lake in Asia) or the Kulen mountain… After a day of visit, you’ll enjoy the great sunset on the top of Phnom Krom, or you’ll be attending a cooking class, wondering along the river, listening and dancing in the famous Pub Street where the music will keep you awake until late at night!
Not convinced yet? Let us give you 14 reasons why you should not miss to stay longer in Siem Reap!
Siem Reap Is Temple Town
Inevitably, the first reason you will be coming to Siem Reap is to visit the Angkor Temples. Hence is famous nickname: Temple Town.
With more than 1000 temples stretching over 400 square kilometres in the middle of a forested area, you’ll wander between the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire. Dating from the 9th to the 15th centuries, only some survived the years and the sacking during the Khmer Rouge times.
If you want to explore more than Angkor Wat you can be your own archaeologist in Siem Reap.
Our recommendation is to spend minimum two days in the temples. On the first day, join the so-called “Small Tour”. You will be going to the most famous monuments: Angkor Wat, Ankgor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Their names probably don’t mean anything for you, but you have seen all of them already, for example Angkor Wat on the Cambodian flag (by the way, did you know that the Cambodian flag is the only flag in the world representing a religious monument?), or you vibrated with Angelina Jolie running around Ta Phrom in the movie Tomb Rider…
Then the second day, we recommend you head outside town to a temple called Bantey Srei or Woman’s temple. This temple is definitely a must see! It is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. No Wonder why it is praised today as a “precious gem”, or the “jewel of Khmer. On the way back, you would stop for something different: Kbal Spean, the sculpted river. Five cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small Linga carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed. Just a unique sightseeing!
With his infrastructure completely enhanced, you can now cycle around the temples on a safe cycling path on the verge of the forest. An amazing experience to feel the spiritual atmosphere and quietness of the area.
For your information, the Angkor Archaeological Park entrance fees are as follow:
1-day ticket – $37 USD
3-day ticket (valid for 1 week) – $62 USD
7-day ticket (valid for 1 month)- $72 USD
But … Siem Reap Is Not Only The Temples
For many people, Siem Reap has just the temples to offer. But this is not true! Siem Reap has many places and attractions to offer for who is willing to stay longer! Let us give you some examples…
Have you ever heard about the Tonle Sap? This lake, made of unsalted water, is the biggest lake in Asia!
After a nice tuk tuk drive in the country side, you’ll get to the shore of the lake where you’ll embark on a small boat for a beautiful ride along stilt houses. If you head there in the afternoon, the sunset view is incredible, giving the water a nice orange-gold color…
Talking about fascinating sunsets… how about heading to West Baray? At the time, the Angkor complex was once a big city with an impressive irrigation system allowing multiple crops of rice each year.
To achieve this, the villagers required a vast holding tank for water that fed irrigation canals in dry times: the West Baray.
Today, the Baray still provides water to all the surrounding villages but it is also a great spot where Cambodian go and relax with their family. Lots of food stalls offer grilled chicken or fish skewers that you can enjoy while relaxing in a hammock.
The West Baray is the closest to a beach that you can get in Siem Reap and yes swimming there is possible! Definitely a place we recommend for a nice walk, a boat ride to the temple, the West Mebon, built in its centre on an artificial island, or to admire one of the most beautiful sunset close to Siem Reap…
Ever dreamt of climbing up a sacred mountain? Then head to Kulen mountain, just 30km from town. The highest of the three sacred mountains (Phnom Bok and Phnom Krom) located in the area, features a beautiful pagoda where you can see a big sleeping Buddha, and as a highlight: two great waterfalls. The first is between 4 and 5 metres high and 20 to 25 metres wide while the second waterfall is 15 to 20 metres high and 10 to 15 metres wide. The latter pours into a larger area of water which is popular to visit and swim in. Locals believe that swimming in Kulen waterfall pool is bringing you luck, so don’t forget your swim suit!
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track moment, hop on a moto-dop (aka moto taxi) at the bottom of the pagoda and enjoy a ride for 12km on small dusty roads and you’ll be rewarded with a life-size replica of a stone elephant (a full 4m long and 3m tall) and smaller statues of lions, a frog and a cow. You have arrived at Sra Domrei, an impressive site with giant stone animals or guardians of the mountain.
Fancy walking between hundreds of butterflies? Well, did you know that Cambodia was the home of many endemic butterflies? To discover them, visit the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC) which is an interactive butterfly exhibit located 25 km north of Siem Reap. The centre consists of a netted tropical garden with thousands of free-flying butterflies, all of which are native species to Cambodia. The enclosure is South East Asia’s largest butterfly exhibit and provides residents and tourists with an interactive and visual environment to learn about butterflies and support local communities.
Siem Reap is Cultural
The history of Cambodia left deep-rooted traditions still anchored in the daily life. In order to better understand them, artists have built shows relating the traditional Khmer life. Two directly come to mind: the Phare circus and the Apsara Dance show.
What a performance! More than just a circus, Phare performers use theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The young circus artists will astonish you with their energy, emotion, enthusiasm and talent.
Apsara theatre gives you the opportunity to enjoy a unique and traditional dance show. The Apsara dance is the national dance of Cambodia. You’ll get to experience the Praying Mantis Dance, the Peacock of Pailin Dance, the Bokator Fighting Preparation ceremony and other special performances which you won’t see anywhere else in town. Usually combined as diner show, you will at the same time enjoy a delicious menu which also features traditional Cambodian cuisine.
Museum wise, there are only a few museums in Siem Reap. The main one being the Angkor National Museum which relates the history of the Angkor temples and exhibit most of the original statues or lintels found (The other majority being exhibit in Phnom Penh in the National Museum). A second must visit is the Cambodian Landmine Museum. As you know, Cambodia has been infested by landmine during the Khmer Rouge times. This museum explains that dark chapter of the country but is also a message of hope. Indeed, The Landmine Museum was founded by ex-child soldier Aki Ra as a way to tell the world about the horrors landmines had inflicted. After the war, he returned to the different places where he had installed mines himself and clear them out. He then founded an NGO specializing in demining. He so cleared out most of Cambodia. He too, founded a schools for children victims of mines so that they are cared for, housed, fed, educated and given a future they would otherwise never have had.
Siem Reap is Fun
If Siem Reap is known as Temple town, it is also famous for its endless nights! Gather in the centre of the city in Pub Street!
Full of bars and restaurant, all lined up selling cheap beer and reasonable food, then around 8 or 9pm all start playing loud music… let the party start! Get in the mood and you would even end up dancing in the street directly! Memorable souvenirs ahead for sure!
Looking for more adventurous experiences? We have you covered too! Ride a quad in the countryside or discover the zipline experience in the forest, many opportunities exist in Siem Reap to keep you busy!
Siem Reap is Great For Shopping
Ahhh shopping! Well, even if Siem Reap does not have (yet) any commercial centre, except for a small shopping area named The Heritage Walk where you’ll find the biggest western style clothing shop called Zando, you’ll find almost everything you need in the different local markets!
Cherry on the cake, visiting them bring you in the centre of the real Cambodian life! Head to Psar Leu, the biggest market a little out of town. From the vegetable, meat or flower stalls to the impressive sewers creating beautiful dresses using traditional and colourful fabrics, all in an exceedingly small spot, or passing by the gold shops, you will be surprised by the richness of the place!
To get the experience to its fullest, head to the markets at dawn with fresh vegetables, meats, and various foods on display! They are then all bustling with life!
In the evening, head to the different night markets. The atmosphere is different than in the daytime markets, but as cheerful! You’ll be welcomed by all shop keepers with a “Buy Something Madame? Buy Something Sir?” to which you’ll just reply with a nice smile or by a friendly “Ort te Orkun” meaning No thanks.
Mainly selling souvenirs related products, you can also find little gems that are not to be found on all stalls, so double check before declining their invitation to get something from them!
Whether you are heading to the local markets daily or at night for souvenirs, there is one rule you should never forget: always bargain! Discuss with the sellers until you find the best acceptable price for both of you.
Last but not least, if you are carving for Western products, don’t worry, some big supermarkets have settled in town and offer an impressive choice of Western products but be ready to pay the price!
Siem Reap is Value For Money
From luxury treats to 0.50$ beer, there is something for all budgets in Siem Reap.
Whether you are looking for a 5 stars resort, a small boutique hotel or a cheap bed in a dorm, you can find it. And this is also true for food! From delicious 0.75 cents street food to fine cuisine, both are available here!
Whatever option you go for, all the money you will spend here will be worth every penny as the experience will be unique!
Siem Reap is Easy To Get To
All the roads lead to Siem Reap! Or almost all …
If you want to get to Siem Reap you have several modes of transport options to choose from: including bus, plane, boat, taxi and mini-bus.
Depending on where you are traveling from one of the above options will be best. Obviously, the plane will be the most expensive one but will make you save a lot of time.
The bus and the mini-van remain the most popular options. Different companies offer their services allowing you to travel very easily from or to Siem Reap. From some destinations in Cambodia, you will even be able to get on a night bus which would leave you the whole day free to visit or relax!
The boat is also a nice option! You can reach Siem Reap by boat from either Battambang or Phnom Penh. Both are only running during or after the rainy season when the water level is high enough (between July and March). These rides are an adventure on their own! The operating boats are small, not very comfortable and long – foresee between 6 and 8 hours to get to Siem Reap.
BUT… these rides are a great local experience combined by great sights of local Cambodian life around the lake when crossing all the floating villages.
Siem Reap Has Cheap Transport
When talking about getting around Siem Reap, again different options are available: tuk tuk, PassApp, Grab, electrical bike or bicycles.
Tuk Tuk remains the most traditional way to go around. Usually around town a ride would cost you 2USD, but that will also depend on your negotiation skills!
For PassApp or Grab, download the application on your phone and book your ride. The price is fixed and set as soon as you book. This is an extremely easy way to go around for short rides.
Electrical bikes: as it is not allowed for tourist to rent a motorbike in Siem Reap (even if many shops will offer you deals!), the electrical bike is the best option to be independent and go around freely. Different charging stations are at your disposal, even in the temples, so this is a genuinely nice and ecological way to wander around.
Last but not least: the bicycle! Very often bikes will be provided by your hotel for free or against a short rental fee. As for the electrical bike, the bicycle is the perfect way to be independent and go around freely.
Siem Reap is Spa Heaven
With more than 100 spas, yes Siem Reap is definitely a spa heaven!
Whether you are willing to enjoy some foot massage to relax your legs after a long day climbing up and down the temples, or whether you are looking to plunge yourself with a pure relaxing massage in a luxury spa, you will find your dream spa.
One of the specialities to definitely try on is the body scrub! For 60 minutes or more, you will be relaxing while your entire body will be washed with natural products like, coffee or mango seeds for example. You will get out of there relaxed with a super soft skin!
Pub Street area is full of little spas offering 1$ (yes, 1$!) foot massages. Do not be fooled by the price, some of these places are real gems with professional masseurs.
Last but not least, if you fancy a different spa experience, why not put your feet in a tank full of small hungry fishes? For a couple of dollars, you will get a nice fish pedicure, with hundreds of small fishes fighting to eat your dry skin… Not to try if you are ticklish!
Siem Reap is Gay Friendly
Siem Reap is one of the most gay friendly cities in Asia. Proof is every year Siem Reap host the Cambodia Pride Week! During a couple of days, many events and activities are organized all around town.
Compared to other cities, Siem Reap does not have a defined gay neighbourhood. Instead, the main gay hangouts and hotels are spaced out in and around the city centre.
If some hotels also cater solely to LGBTQ travellers, you’ll see that most hotels, bars, and restaurants are gay friendly, and nobody would ever give you a look down.
Drag shows are also famous in town! Two bars offer them currently and we recommend you attend one for a nice party out!
Find all information on gay friendly places and activities here (Note – the entire page is under review and will be completely revamped soon):
Siem Reap is Tour City
We talked a lot about what Siem Reap had to offer as attractions, but what about the city itself?
Well, you should expect a lot too! Go for a walk along the river and enjoy all the food stalls selling all different kinds of local specialities, join locals exercising in the late afternoon in the garden in front of the Royal Palace, stop by the serene Proum Brea pagoda, the most beautiful pagoda of Siem Reap, for a relaxing moment or sit down on a terrace facing the Old Market, Psar Chaa, to enjoy watching the local villagers who come every day to town to sell all their crops, meat and fish, all that in the middle of the souvenirs shops…
If you still have the strength, walk to the National Museum to better understand the history of the city and its temples.
Note that at the time of writing, major road works are ongoing in Siem Reap, the city will be completely rethought with wider sidewalks and wider roads, all incorporating cycling tracks. (Expected end of the work by the summer 2021). This will be a great improvement for all to wander into town safely!
Siem Reap Is Food Fusion
If you are a real Epicurean, then you will not be disappointed in Siem Reap! With more than 400 registered restaurants, you will always find something to tickle your taste buds!
Do you fancy Khmer food or Western food? Well just pick one and you will find a matching place!
If you go for Khmer food, as this is also part of the trip, you will have a lot of choice!
Try the fried noodles in the street, sitting on a small plastic chair along the river, head to a Khmer barbecue where you will have the possibility to try the authentic Koo Laeng Phnom which translates into “the cow climbing the mountain” due to the form of the barbecue and how the meat is displayed on top of it when cooked; or go for the more traditional dishes such as amok, usually served with fish, which is a kind of curry, or try the beef lok-lak, a very typical Khmer recipe that was invented at the time of the French occupancy to please the French while giving the beef an Asian twist with soya sauce. Do not miss out any of these experiences!
Nowadays, more restaurants also offer fusion food with delicious preparation inspired by a mix of Khmer and Western food. Also, a must try!
Carving for something sweet? Well, there are not a lot of Khmer desserts… but it does not mean that the one they have are not simply delicious! Try the sticky rice with mango, the rice is cooked in sugar and coconut milk and serve with fresh mango or the banana flambées with passion fruit…. Mmmhhh so good!
And if you are keen on bringing these recipes home, then why not learning how to prepare these delicious dishes? Register for one of the numerous cooking classes available! You will usually be preparing different tasteful starters, mains, and desserts that you will be enjoying afterwards! We therefore recommend booking a class around lunch or dinner time so you would kill two birds with one stone 😉
Siem Reap is Safe
Yes, Siem Reap is a safe town! I have lived and worked in Siem Reap for a long time now and I can confirm that Siem Reap is probably the safest destination in Cambodia. You can walk around everywhere without any issue; people will always welcome you with the legendary Khmer smile!
At night, the city is also very safe. It being so busy all the time makes you feel safe for sure!
However, our recommendation is to always be careful if you are heading back, alone, late to your hotel.
Simply just do not do in Siem Reap what you would not do at home, and nothing will happen to you!
Siem Reap is Simply Worth Visiting
Yes, Siem Reap is worth visiting because it is simply unique!
When arriving in this town you can immediately feel the special vibes it has… Does it come from the spiritualty emerging from the numerous pagodas, from the peaceful energy emerging from the temples, from the magical Khmer smiles you will get all along, from the delicious food you can find,… or maybe a bit of all?
In any case, whatever the reason, many people could not resist its attraction and simply never left temple town…
What about you? Will you also fall in love with Siem Reap?
Frequently Asked Questions About Siem Reap
You will find dozens of answers to any question about Siem Reap and Cambodia. It is nice to be prepared, however the best solution is to visit. If you feel a bit unsure you can always use our meet and greet service in Siem Reap
Is Siem Reap And Cambodia Safe?
If you mean are you likely to get mugged, the chances are slim. Not zero. Take simple precautions like not wearing expensive jewelry into a market, spas, or bars. If you are invited to somewhere special then you can dress up to the nines but ensure you have arranged transport to your hotel. But generally, it is not recommended to take expensive items to any country you are visiting. Flashing cash is never a good idea; anywhere. Not only is it vulgar it make you a target for the less scrupulous.
Are you likely to catch a weird disease, once again the answer is no. However, even if you suffer a minor cut attend to it immediately. Siem Reap has some good hospitals and doctors. In rural Cambodia you are less likely to recover the standard of treatment you would expect in your home country.
Does Siem Reap Have Internet?
Siem Reap like the rest of the world has internet. But do not be expecting to stream 4k movies. You will pay for decent internet. You will get what you pay for. You will see adverts for mobile internet at $5 for 2 weeks or so. It is not great. If you are going to need stable broadband ask your hotel. Generally speaking, the better the hotel, the better the internet. You might want to invest in a good hotel. If you are paying $10 per night do not expect to be live streaming video.
What Are The Medical Facilities and Hospitals Like?
Ensure you have adequate accident and health insurance, before arriving. Many serious accidents will require you to be moved to Thailand. Saying that, the medical services are getting better. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have many good hospitals.
If you need a certain medication, take the usual precautions. Carry enough for you holiday plus 1 week in 2 separate bags. Or have your partner or friend carry a set for you. Personally, I have 1 set in my case, one in my hand luggage and 3-4 days on my person.
No matter how minor an accident is, take immediate action.
What is the Currency Of Cambodia?
Cambodia’s national currency is the riel and the de facto currency is the USD. However, in places like Siem Reap and Cambodia other currencies can be used or exchanged easily. We have a whole section on the Cambodian currency.
What Currency Should I Use in Cambodia?
The questions should not be what currency can I use in Cambodia rather than what denomination? The general rule of thumb is the smallest USD demonization and the largest riel denomination.
With 4,000 riel to the dollar, you can end up with a barrowload of local currency. On the other had trying to change a $50 or $100 bill can be a problem. The other precautions are ensuring the dollar bills are not defaced or torn nor should they have anything written on them. Pristine condition. Although any Riel currency you have can feel that it will disintegrate in a small breeze.
Can You Get A Visa On Arrival?
Most tourists can obtain a Cambodian Visa On Arrival. If you are unsure stop asking questions in forums, ask your local Cambodian embassy or consulate. Apply for it at the embassy.
Many of the online applications are a pain in the rear.
Can I extend My Visa?
Some Cambodian visas can be extended, and some cannot. We could write and entire encyclopedia about visas for Cambodia and it would be out of date tomorrow, or yesterday! Decide how long you want to be in Siem Reap or touring Cambodia and apply for the best suited visa before you arrive.
If you want to extend a stay to more than 30 days it is fairly simple. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are choc a bloc of visa agents who can make extension arrangements.
Ask at your hotel. They will have arrangements with people.
Can I Use My Credit Card in Siem Reap?
Yes and no. Your hotel and larger malls “might” accept credit cards. If you are in the market or rural Cambodia it is going to have to be cash. Prepay your hotel and tours by card if possible, or at least confirm they will be happy to accept card payments.
Once in Siem Reap most tours will be cash.
Does Siem Reap Have Banks and ATM’s?
Yes. And handily, most of them are in the same street with a plethora of ATM’s. We have always found that the services they offer are surprisingly good. However, it can be slow. Patience is the name of the game.
If you open a bank account in Siem Reap it can be several days before the account is actually open and you receive a card.
Can I transfer Cash To Siem Reap?
If you get into difficulty the best solution is Western Union. Many of the international transfer agencies have not yet recognized Cambodia as a safe or profitable place to set up their business – for whatever reason. Cyclebodia via its hotel the Siem Reap Sapphire can help you.
However, it takes time. Ensure you give as much notice as you can. Leaving unpaid bills in Cambodia is not a good idea.
What Is Immigration Control Like?
Bureaucratic but friendly. You will have to queue a couple of times at Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports. Ensure you have small denominations and pictures.
At land borders you might need to part with some tea money. Smile and keep smiling.
What is Airport Customs Like at Siem Reap?
We think the word you would use is relaxed. None of us have ever been stopped.
Once you have completed immigration your bags will be waiting for you and it is a 20 meter stroll, and you are outside. However, we suggest that you do not bring anything untoward into the country as it will either involve a large fine and/or jail time. Neither will be pleasant.
As a by the by, the airport taxis are great value. Assuming your hotel is not picking you up. Just have the hotel phone number handy so the taxi people can call reception. The price is generally less than $10. However, they might charge for the number of people and bags.
How Much Is A Tuk Tuk?
Tuk Tuks are a great way to navigate Siem Reap and are the best way to visit Angkor Wat. A short journey about town is $2 give or take. And do not become involved is arguments that locals get them cheaper. A full day with a driver is between $10 and $20. They may charge differently depending on how many people they are carrying.
If you have to negotiate – keep smiling!
How Much Should I Tip?
Tipping might not be the done thing for many people. However, your server, hotel cleaner or Tuk Tuk driver will appreciate your kindness enormously. Leave any Cambodian Riel and a USD dollar.
Many skilled and happy people will be earning less than $5 per day – so and extra dollar or 2 is of huge benefit to them. And when you leave your hotel you can leave behind any items that are not worth their weight in your luggage.
Some people will buy a bike and at the end of their Cambodian holiday leave it to a local charity or family.
Are There Any Golf Courses in Cambodia?
There are not many; however, some of them are exceptional. The only one we have tested so far is Angkor Golf Resort in Siem Reap. It is not cheap, but it is awesome.
Can I find Indian/Thai/American Food? Is this many questions?
Yes, yes and yes! There is a large Indian community, and the restaurants are fabulous and great value. Thailand being next door means that there are a couple of fabulous Thai eateries. And if burgers are your thing you will find some delicious burgers in Siem Reap. There is a wide range of other nationalities represented. From our Scottish fayre to happy pizzas.
Though some of the Cambodian fusion food is truly awesome as is the vegetarian offerings.
Does Siem Reap Have A Cinema?
Siem Reap has a cinema if you can find nothing better to do. It is primarily aimed at locals. However, it does have a coffee shop and bakery that is exceptionally good.
Are Drugs Legal In Cambodia?
If you are thinking about taking class A drugs think again. Or even better still, avoid Cambodia. Dealing in drugs is dangerous – extremely dangerous. You will be offered drugs and the best solution is to walk away.
Entrapment is a very real danger.
Can I Hire A Car At Siem Reap Airport?
There are car hire firms at the airport from which you can hire a car. However, you might want to consider hiring a driver with a car. Whatever you choose, ensure that there is proper insurance. If in doubt walk away – as jail is the option with a large fine.
It is undoubted that you will be held responsible for any accident. That is how it is.