Siem Reap, Cambodia

We came to Siem Reap with one thing in mind – to see Angkor Wat and the surrounding temple. We made the decision to only spend 2 nights in Siem Reap and to then move on to explore other areas in Cambodia. Of course there are many wonderful things to see in Siem Reap but we primarily focused on the temples.

Here is my experience and my tips for visiting Siem Reap.

Arriving in Siem Reap:
The visa on arrival process is explained in another post. Please check it out!

There is no ATM in the arrivals hall but there is a money exchange counter and you can take money out from your Visa or MasterCard similar to an ATM (with fees of course).

Outside you can purchase a taxi from the official taxi stand (just to the left of the exit). Standard fee from the airport to anywhere in the city in $7.
If you want a cheaper taxi you will have to walk a few kilometers down the road away from the airport, likely this will only cost $1-4, but we decided to just take the taxi directly from the airport for the convenience.

Hotel:
Home Sweet Home
Our hotel was lovely. Glenn found it on the discount website Agoda (we have had amazing luck with this site and get great discounts).
We had a private ensuite double room with air conditioning for $10 per night.

Each floor has a lovely communal balcony and in front of the hotel is the garden restaurant.

When we arrived to check in we were each given a nice cold iced tea and a cold towel. Such a lovely welcome!

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This hotel had great, reliable wifi in both the public areas and in the rooms (though the signal is a bit stronger on the balconies and restaurant area). Our room also had a TV, the signal was not perfect as the TV was old but it had many channels, including a few movie channels.

Angkor Temples:
Even though on the map the temples do not look too far from the city center, you absolutely cannot walk, it is too far. There are several ways to visit the temples though.
1. you can book a private car and driver – perk = air conditioning
– approximately $30 for the day
2. you can book a private tuk tuk and driver
– $10 per person for the day starting at sunrise (+$5 if you also want to stay for sunset)
3. you can rent a bicycle for $1per day
– note this is a nice cheap option but remember that the temples are pretty far from the city and far apart. If you choose to go on bicycle you will not see nearly as many temples in one day as the other two options.

We chose to book a tuk tuk as it is the most traditional way of seeing the temples. Our hotel arranged this for us.
Our driver picked us up at our hotel at 5am (before the sun is up).

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Here we are later in the day.

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First stop is the ticket office. There are 3 types of tickets available:
1-day for $20 pp
3-day for $40 pp
1-week for $60 pp
*you can pay in US dollars or Cambodian
You will stand in a long line with all of the other sleepy tourists but don’t worry, they are very efficient and the line moves quickly.
When it is your turn, first they take your photo, then you pay, then they hand you your ticket/pass printed with your picture on it! Such a great system.
Keep this pass in a safe but accessible place because you will have to show it at the entrance to every temple.

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Angkor Wat:
Angkor Wat temple is the shining jewel of the Angkor temples and this is where your tour will start. I highly recommend getting up early for sunrise over the temple. Yes you will have to leave your hotel at 5am but the view is simply breathtaking.

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You will not be alone, these are the crows that will join you for sunrise.

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Don’t worry though, there is plenty of space for everyone and the crowds will not affect your amazing photos.

Once the sun is up (at 7:30) Angkor Wat is open and you are free to explore and enjoy. Here is a taste of what you will see.

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Just along the edge of the temple several vendors have sprung up so you can easily get your morning cup of coffee or some breakfast with beautiful views of the temple.
There are also toilets available (some free, some for a small fee). Remember to bring your own toilet paper as it likely is not provided.

Ta Prohm:
Ta Prohm Temple is a common second stop for tours of the Angkor Temples and is probably the most well known temple other than Angkor Wat. It is sometimes referred to as the Jungle temple or the Tomb Raider temple (as scenes from the Tomb Raider movie were filmed here). It can be recognized by the large trees that have grown into the remains of the temple.

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Bayon:
Bayon Temple is also known as the Temple of Faces because of the many faces carved throughout the temple complex.

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Other Angkor Temples:
There are so many temples at Angkor that there is no way you can see them all in one day. There is also no way to easily keep track of the temples and their names. This may be a bit easier if you go with a certified guide (prices from $40 according to what we heard), but we had only a tuk tuk driver who spoke limited English. We do know that he took us to the major temples but we don’t know all of the names.
For us this was ok. Angkor is so overwhelming that on a first trip you just wonder at everything you see and take pictures. Your brain just can’t absorb everything at once.
I plan to read a bit more on this area and time period when I return home and maybe go back for a second, more informed visit.

Here are some pictures of some of the other temples you will visit:

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Exploring Siem Reap:
For souvenirs your best bet is to visit the night market, open every day from 4pm to midnight.

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For food and bars, head across the river to Pub Street.

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Food in Siem Reap:
Street Food:
The first thing we ate when we started exploring the main area of the city (Pub Street) was from a food cart. We just went over for a look but 2 other tourists were waiting and highly recommended the food saying that they have eaten one every day from the same cart.

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Basically it was a sort of cake made from rice flour (we think), filled with sautéed green onions and then fried. It then has some sort of thin sauce poured on it but we could not understand what it was.
This snack was delicious and we definitely recommend it if you see this cart.

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The Soup Dragon:
Our first night we went to dinner at a restaurant called The Soup Dragon. It looked great from the street and I remembered reading about it in our Lonely Planet book so we decided to give it a try.

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The food was excellent and so was the view, we ate on the second floor terrace overlooking Pub Street – a perfect spot for people watching.

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We decided to order one of the ‘pancake’ that was recommended by lonely planet.

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Our waitress had to explain to us how to eat it.

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First take a leaf of lettuce. Fill it with bits of the pancake and filling. Dip in the delicious mystery sauce (we never figured out what it was). Eat.

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Here I am eating so gracefully. I would not say this dish is easy to eat but it is delicious!

We also ordered a fried noodle which was equally delicious.

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Juice from street vendor:
After dinner our first night we bought a juice from one of the street carts. Glenn remembered these tasting amazing on his last trip to Siem Reap and he was right!
Into a blender went fresh passion fruit, water, some unknown clear liquid (maybe simple syrup but I do not know) and lastly a bit of condensed milk and out came magic! So good and only $1. I recommend buying one every day!

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Dinner at the hotel:
On our second night we decided to just eat at our hotel because we were tired from our day at the temples and the menu looked great.
Glenn ordered a burger because he needed some meat after so many vegetarian meals over the last month and a half.

I ordered something called Vegetarian Coconut AMOK. I had no idea what it was but it sounded intriguing and I decided to go for it. It paid off! Such an amazing meal. It was various types of shredded cabbage and bit of red bell pepper and a few other vegetables in a yellow curry coconut sauce, served in a coconut with rice on the side. I will definitely order that again!

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I later learned that AMOK is the national dish of Cambodia and something you MUST try when you visit. You will not be sorry.

Breakfast:
Breakfast was not included in our hotel booking but it is offered by the hotel. Our first morning we just ate some food we brought with us because we left so early to visit the temples.

Our second morning i decided to get breakfast to go from our hotel to take on the bus. Fruit and yogurt for $1. Wow so amazing. I got so much more than I ever expected! Banana, papaya, pineapple, passion fruit and watermelon with a wonderful yoghurt on top. So delicious.

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