Siem Reap, Cambodia. Not exactly a textbook honeymoon destination for most couples… But, as you may know from reading my blog, Dan & I went to Cambodia as part of our honeymoon and we stayed in Siem Reap – the gateway to the world famous Angkor temples! We loved Siem Reap, and we would recommend it to other honeymooners (although maybe not those who are not adventurous).
For those unfamiliar, Siem Reap is the capital in of the Siem Reap providence in Cambodia, which is located in the Northwestern part of Cambodia. Yes, Cambodia – its totally safe these days. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s most modern city and a lot of ex-pats call Siem Reap home. Since Siem Reap has a lot of tourist money (relative to other parts of Cambodia), the city is comparatively well-kept and offers a decent amount of Western amenities. Surprised?
We stayed 4 nights in Siem Reap – split between visiting the town of Siem Reap and the Angkor temples. I thought we stayed a good amount of time; we did not feel rushed and I felt like we saw everything that we wanted to see. I do wish I had had a bit more time to shop and explore Pub Street, though!
WHAT WE DID IN SIEM REAP
Our first night in Siem Reap was spent of a reallllly local food tour with Siem Reap Food Tours. This was one of the coolest food tours that I have ever been on because it visited very local establishments (mostly street food and markets) and did not sugar coat the food for Western visitors. I am going to write an entire post about this food tour, but it was an interesting introduction to Cambodian food culture, and the food is quote delicious!
Our second and third days were spent between visiting the Angkor temples with Happy Angkor Tour and relaxing at our hotel. Clearly, I will do a post on my visit to the Angkor temples, but, for planning time in Siem Reap, its quite popular to explore the Angkor temples very early in the morning and spend the afternoon relaxing at your hotel due to the heat, and I recommend spending at least two days exploring the Angkor temples.
We spent our final day in Siem Reap totally exploring the city, which was so, so interesting! Siem Reap is wild on one side, with tuk tuk’s controlling the streets and construction everywhere. But then in another part of the city, the streets are clear and beautiful with a French flair and and a vegan coffee shop on the corner! It actually reminded both Dan and me of Marrakesh, Morocco (we visited in 2011). In short, exploring the city of Siem Reap warrants at least a half-day of your time, more if you can afford it.
On our self-guided tour of Siem Reap, we walked from our hotel to the Siem Reap river, passing by the Royal Residence (in Siem Reap), and then along the river and eventually walked back up towards Pub Street – Siem Reap’s most famous street.
And on that note, you shouldn’t visit Siem Reap without hitting up Pub Street. As its name suggests, Pub Street is a street jam packed with restaurants, street performers, bars, and shops, many of which have ridiculously low prices for beer, food, trinkets, and massages. It is a fun place to stroll in the evening but quality in a lot of these establishments is lacking. It is fun though, and we found a lot of fun places just off of Pub Street!
We did a lot of shopping during our day in Siem Reap and had our fair share of cheap beers (as low as .50 for Tiger draft beer). Pro tip – for shopping, there are a decent amount of Cambodian made products in the Pub Street area; there are also a lot of cheap non-Cambodian made products. In short, the nicer looking stores are Cambodian-made and the cheaper, crappy stores (the ones selling those elephant pants) are not. Alley West – Siem Reap’s “most beautiful street” – is a good source of local Cambodia shops. I really enjoyed shopping in Siem Reap – I made more purchases here than anywhere else.
In addition to shopping and drinking, Siem Reap is also home to a number of its own, more modern temples – called wats – and museums. Tourists can explore these temples but should not go inside unless dressed conservatively.
WHERE WE STAYED IN SIEM REAP
After going back and forth on a number of high end properties, we stayed at Mallen d’Angkor Boutique Hotel, and we really enjoyed it. My favorite parts of the hotel were the very inexpensive massages they offered (90 minutes for $38 and 60 minutes of reflexology for $25), the delicious breakfast, the staff, and the fact that Mallen d’Angkor is located outside of the tourist center of Siem Reap. The location of the hotel allowed us to see more of a “real” side of Siem Reap. That being said, those who are not well-traveled or are cautious about Cambodia may want to book a hotel in a more, Western chain hotel.
WHERE WE ATE IN SIEM REAP
Siem Reap has some pretty good restaurants of all types, from Cambodia to Western to Vegan to Korean to French…the list goes on. As I mentioned, there are a lot of ex-pats in Siem Reap, so there is a wide variety of food. Since we are never in Cambodia, we tried to stick to Cambodia food, which I very much enjoyed!
While Siem Reap’s most famous restaurant, Cuisine Wat Damnak, was closed during our trip (booooooo), I really enjoyed dinner at the upscale The Sugar Palm. The Sugar Palm offered Cambodian fare in a modern setting.
I also enjoyed having coffee and vegan desserts at the very modern (and Western) Sister Strey Cafe.
And, one of our most fun dinners, was an unlimited feast of Korean BBQ and sides for $7 USD/person at Dakida!
WHAT WE DRANK
Drinking is really fun in Siem Reap. As our pilot said on landing, get ready for those .60 cent beers! Actually, a lot of people come to Siem Reap just to party. While we really did not drink very much in Siem Reap (too tired from temple exploring), we did enjoy the local beers, Angkor and.
We also had a great night out at Picasso Bar, where strong cocktails were $4 and “buy one, get one” (so $2 each!) from 1 – 9 PM…
TIPS OF VISITING SIEM REAP
Cambodia uses the US dollar. ATMs depense US dollars and every takes them. I recommend brining US dollars to pay for your hotels and any tours and then brining spending money in small bills ($5 or $1). Most hotels and modern restaurants will take credit card (though usually not American Express) and I did not see anyone using US coins.
Certainly not all Cambodians speak English. That being said, most people that you encounter in the tourist industry will speak at least some English. I recommend read reviews on tour guides to confirm the level of English spoken.
Hiring a tuk tuk – a motor bike with a carriage on the back – is the most popular means of getting around Siem Reap. Tuk tuk’s collect from the airport, drive all the way out to the furthest temples in Angkor, and ferry tourists around Siem Reap. A drive from our hotel (outside the main tourist center) was $3 USD.
There is a lot of construction going on in Siem Reap and a lot of the streets are uneven or not properly paved. Bring closed toed shoes.
Local beer is the cheapest drink, often as cheap as .50/draft (note – draft only, not bottle) on Pub Street. You can also find good deals on cocktails. but wine is generally a no go. For whatever reason (probably lack of demand), good wine is difficult to find in Siem Reap. We actually bought some at a grocery store and it had gone bad.
I found Siem Reap to be very safe, wore my engagement ring the entire time, and, aside from normal travel precautions, I did not take any extra safety steps. However, Siem Reap, especially Pub Street, gets very crowded and I could see a lot of people feeling uncomfortable in the crowds. Plan to stow your wallet/jewelry, etc. accordingly. And on that same note, most Cambodians are not terribly wealthy, so there is no one walking around with designer items.
STEAL OUR TRIP
Siem Reap: Cambodia Tourism’s website on Siem Reap. Not exactly helpful, but in English.
Mallen d’Angkor Boutique Hotel: Abacus Lane (next to Abacus Restaurant), Siem Reap. Not in tourist central, in a good way! Use Abacus Restaurant as a mark for tuk tuk drivers.
Picasso Bar: Alley West, Pub Street Alley, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia. Small bar near pub street that draws an English speaking crowd. $4 strong cocktails, “buy one, get one” during happy hour. Open daily 13h – 2h, happy hour 13h – 21h.
The Sugar Palm Cafe: Street 27, opposite Pannasastra University, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia. Open daily 11h – 14h30 and 18h – 22h. Recommended to make a reservation online in advance.
Sister Strey Cafe: Open 7 – 18h. Good spot for real coffee, and there is a lot of vegan food on the menu.
Cuisine Wat Damnak: Wat Damnak Market Street, POBox 93108, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia. Open Thursday – Saturday 18h30 – 21h30. Reservations should be made when they open online 90 days in advance.
Dakida Korean Barbecue: Oum Khun St, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia. Open daily 17h – 1 (00 on Sunday). $7/person for all you can eat Korean barbecue and sides.
Siem Reap Food Tours: A true local food tour through an untouristed part of Siem Reap. Reservations must be made online in advance. Email the operators with food restrictions before visiting.
Happy Angkor Tour: The tour company that we used to tour Angkor Wat and the Floating Village over 2 days. Our guide was Samath and our driver was Mr. Srom. We paid $163 total for the 2 days guided tour of Angkor and the Floating Village, pick up and drop off at our hotel, and the tour (including water and cold wash clothes after each temple). Totally worth the money!!
ON A BUDGET
In short, Cambodia is an ideal budget destination. Nice accommodations are inexpensive, and hostels are down right cheap. Food and beer are also a steal, especially if you are not picky about your food. Actually, the only thing that I found not cheap in Cambodia is a visit to Angkor Wat, which simply cannot be missed. I recommend cheaping out on food and accomodation, and spending whatever it takes to see Angkor Wat as you see fit. Its absolutely worth it.
Also, buy your Cambodia Visa online in advance from the Cambodia government (and not a third-party) to save time and money. I bought from a third-party vendor accidentially (with an up-charge) and they messed up; however, I emailed the CAmbodian government directly and they got right back to me with my correct Visa.