What to do in Siem Reap Cambodia
Siem Reap is famous for mainly one thing and one thing only. Angkor Wat. The nearly 2000 year old temples has become world famous and has a storm of enthusiastic visitors entering the gates of the temple each year.
We arrived in Siem Reap late at night in the middle of the week and we really didn’t expect to so much other than Angkor Wat. We were not impressed as we got of the bus that had taken us from Phnom Penh and stepped out into the muddy bus station in town. Like anywhere else in Asia the street sellers like TukTuk drivers, hotel vendors and others are trying to get you to follow them to get your money. In Siem Reap they can be quite persistent but nice. The town is bigger than Kep or Kampot that we visited before in Cambodia. But it is more vibrant than Sihanoukville.
So we headed out for accommodation and found a 10 USD hotel room in one of the backpacker hostels in Siem Reap.
The next morning we were ready for adventure. Our plans where to go by motorbike around town to look for a cheaper hotel room and maybe have time to see Angkor Wat all in one day.
As we got ready I headed down to the receptionist to hire a motorbike. But to our biggest surprise, Siem Reap is the only place we have heard of where it’s illegal to rent motorbike to tourists. Read all about that here.
Although there are little chance you will get hold of a motorbike (maybe if you ask around a little but be prepared to bribe the police if they stop you) there are a few options of transportation to get around in and around town.
The TukTuk drivers are the winners of the “no motorbike” deal and they are heavily used in Siem Reap. A dollar or two can get you around town for some leisure in-town sightseeing and for 15 USD you can get a full day tour to most temples.
If you would like to get around on your own there are e-bikes, electrical run bicycles, for rent for 5 USD/ day and bicycles or mountain bikes for 1 USD /day. They are available at most hotels, guesthouses, hostels and many restaurants. The temples are located a bit far from town, so if you have a busy schedule it might not be the best idea to get trekking by foot to the Angkor temples. Although sightseeing in town is ideal by foot.
Siem Reap is a tourist town which survives because of tourism. Therefor there are numerous options of accommodation to choose from. Some say Siem Reap is expensive but it really depends on your preference of standard.
If you want a nice, decent, relatively luxurious room with pool or roof terrace, you might need to pay 20 USD/ night or more. If you are looking for somewhere to hang your hat you can easily rent a room for 7-8 USD/night. These are all mostly clean and reasonable hotels and guesthouses so there is no need to be alarmed. They are still worth the money. If you want cheaper than 7 USD you need to look outside of the city as far as the Siem Reap airport or such. Or use your bargaining skills.
Sights & attractions
So, let’s get down to the really interesting stuff. What to do in Siem Reap Cambodia.
Our first impression was turned to the better after we figured out that there are lots of things to do in Siem Reap. Ok, so you have Angkor Wat to start of with. That is a good starting point. But what many people don’t know is that there are many temples. Not just one.
What you see in movies and all the pictures is not always Angkor Wat. The funny shaped towers usually pictured in the sunset are. But the famous tree that grows on the temple and the ruins, they are whet the locals call ” The jungle Temple”. Like the one you have seen in Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones.
So to break it down we have listed some of the things we have done and some that there are to do in and around town. We thought we had a daytour ahead of us visiting the temples. But as it turned out there are many. And we mean MANY.
First of all you have Angkor Wat. The famous temple. The famous pillars and its courtyard is perfect for photos and memories. The many levels gives you a nice overview of the landscape.
A ten minutes ride from there you have Angkor Thom which is bigger than Angkor Wat and more interesting figures and architecture (in our opinion)
In the same court yard there is a temple called Bayon temple. A lovely Bayon style temple with a pyramid shape. Just outside of this temple is an enormous buddha statue where nuns and their orphans bless locals with braided yarn bracelets. Tourists are appreciated too. They need a donation of your choice but the visit here is one you will never forget.
The Elephant terrace is part of the wall surrounding the Angkor Thom and Bayon temple. The terrace got its name because of the many elephants carved to look like they are carrying the wall. They are a bit faded but there are still many remaining elephants on the wall. There is also a famous four headed horse statue.
A few minutes, one kilometer approximately, walk from there you have Ta Promh, or “the jungle temple”, which is the most visited after Angkor Wat. This is where you get the sight of moss covered ruins, trees growing on top of, and over the temples. A few minutes trek from Ta Promh into the mini jungle is the small “Four faced buddha temple“. Guides will take you there if you don’t like heading in there by yourself. This is one our favourite temples because it feels deserted and not many tourists come here. It is a small tower with a head on top with four faces on top of it with a high wall stretching in both directions from the tower.
Preah Khan is a smaller complex just behind Bayon with calm atmosphere surrounded by lush forest.
These are just some of the temples around Angkor Wat. There are many more smaller temples scattered around the area that are worth visiting. The TukTuk drivers usually stops on the way if you ask them or they will let you know in advance if there are any highlights on the way.
Tickets and opening hours to Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples
Tickets to Angkor Wat: One day ticket costs 20 USD. The ticket is valid for all the temples in the area. There are also three day passes for 40 USD and seven day passes for 60 USD available that you can use during a period of two weeks. The passes gives you access to all temples with one pass per person. We spread out our Angkor exploring over three days since there are many temples and you will be exhausted trying to fit them all in on one day only. But it is possible.
Opening hours Angkor Wat: The temples usually opens at dusk. Around 5.30 and closes at 17.00 depending on season.
Siem Reap silk farm
There are many attractions outside of Siem Reap town that you can do while you are getting cultivated in Siem Reap. Siem Reap silk farm offers you an insight of Cambodian silk making. You will be taken through the steps of silk making from larva to finished product.
Angkor butterfly garden
A couple of kilometers from town is the butterfly centre. A nice break from the temple exploration and many stop here on the way home from a day out at the Angkors. The centre is built up so that you can see the full circle of a butterfly from pupae to finished butterfly. see them close at hand at the butterfly farm section and in the gardens. Admission is 4 USD for adults.
Revenue generated by tourist admissions provides support for and conservation projects.
Fly a helicopter
Many hotels and guesthouses sell tickets for flying helicopter over Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. The ride can be yours from 90 USD per person.
Ok, so you might think that spending full days at the Angkor temples would be enough. And they might just be. But if you are spending a few days in Siem Reap it is a really nice way to spend a couple of hours.
The town has a few pagodas and temples in the city center and many come here to stroll around, to sit on a bench and enjoy some quietness and birdsong or having a coffee.
Wat Damnak and Wat Bo are the closest Wats to the centre and have the real park atmosphere to them.
If you are a party animal then you might want to join the rest of the crew on Pub street. One of the most popular streets in town which is lit up and marked by gigantic neon signs. You can’t miss it. Most popular restaurants and bars are on or near pub street. The best street food vendors are not far behind either. On Pub street you can also find restaurants that serve alligator meat and fried snake.
For being such a “small” town. Siem Reap has many markets and they are quite big. There is the night market, the original night market, the old market and the local arts market.
Most of these markets sell the same things in a different setting, but strolling through them all is still nice. Especially after sunset when all locals come out to eat and hang out. The local arts market sell all Cambodian and local produced artifacts and souvenirs.
When the sun starts to set and the climate gets a bit more comfortable, most food vendors appears with their food carts. Strolling along the streets along the river and around the markets is an activity in itself. Fried noodles with egg and vegetables, banana pancakes, fresh juices, corn flour icecreams are just some of the deliciousness on offer. Fried noodles with vegetable (no egg) can be yours for 1 USD and it is extremely similar to those in the restaurants. In the restaurants you would pay around 4 USD for the same dish. And you’ll get a big portion too from the food cats. This is one of our favourite evening activities. Just take your time stroll around the food vendors. Here is where you’ll get to see authentic Cambodean hospitality.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Praised as a Cambodean Cirque du Soleil the Phare circus is one of the most loved eventing attractions in Siem Reap. The admission is 15 USD per person and they promise you an unforgettable experience with contortion artists, fire shows and more. Unfortunately we did not have any time left to go see the circus. But we have heard that it is a magical place.
It has become very popular to visit some of the floating villages around Tonle Sap lake. The villages are built on stilts or are mainly on boats. We planned to go there at first. But then we did some researched and found out that these villages are mainly tourist traps. You crowd with bus loads of tourists that wants go go out to see the villages. You pay 10 USD to get to the boat that will take yo there and then there is an additional fee of 20 USD to go with the boat to the village. But the villagers rarely see the money. They rely on income from fishing, markets and selling souvenirs.
But floating villages or a fun day out at Angkor Wat. If you are in Siem Reap or planning to head in that direction you are up for some busy days of fun times. Because in Siem Reap there are lots of it.