Siem Reap, Cambodia is home to many spectacular temples and attractions that would take at least several days to visit them all. But you only have one or two days for your visit, where do you go and how would you get there? Fortunately, even for the shortest of trips, you can still get a full experience of what the city has to offer and we can offer a few tips to guide you.
How to get there
The quickest way to get to Siem Reap is by plane, but if you’re staying in cities like Phnom Penh, Battambang or even Pursat (where we were placed for our volunteering), the most economical method is by bus. A one-way ticket from those cities is about $7 per person and can take 3-7 hours, depending on your location. Giant Ibis is a well-known bus company with its fleet offering WiFi, air-conditioning, outlets for charging your devices, even overnight bus rides, and great customer service. You can also take a private bus or taxi rides, but they may run you a little more money.
Getting around the city
The most economical and fun way to get around is by tuk-tuk, which is an auto rickshaw. For 3-4 people, you can get a tuk-tuk to take you throughout Siem Reap and visit the temples for $15-20 for an entire day (but I suggest giving a really nice tip if they take care of you since many drivers barely make enough to support their families). We had a really great driver named Kent that picked us up from our hotel, drove us to various temples while giving us their historical context, helped us arrange bus rides and dropped us off at several other destinations. If you have a higher budget, you can opt for something more comfortable like a private taxi or bus.
Buying your Angkor Wat pass
In order to get into the temples, you first need to obtain an Angkor Wat pass. You can purchase one-day pass for $20, 3-day pass for $40 and 1-week pass for $60, and you will have your picture taken for the pass. For 3-day and 1-week passes, you can visit the temples on separate days within one week and one month periods, respectively. If you buy your 1-day pass at 5:00 pm, you can visit the temples in the same evening to catch a sunset, and you will still be able to use it for the entire next day until 5:00 pm. Make sure you keep it with you and dry at all times. If you lose the pass or your photo becomes unrecognizable, you will have to purchase a new one.
Where to go
The most visited attraction is Angkor Wat, one of the largest religious structures in the world. While you can visit the temple anytime, it is famously photographed during sunrises with the lotus ponds reflecting the structure and sky. Here’s my short timelapse of the spectacular sunrise we saw: Angkor Wat Sunrise. The other temples we were able to visit were East Mebon, Bayon, Ta Nei and Ta Prohm. Many of the temples are within a very close proximity to each other, and you can easily visit up to 6-8 temples in a full day. Check out our full video of our visit:
After a long day visiting temples, you can head over to Pub Street, a destination with a wide array of nightlife activities. There are many restaurants with local and western menus at reasonable prices. You can also hit up many bars, enjoy the live entertainment and party on late into the night. If you’re wanting to unwind and relax, you can get a full body massage for 1-hour starting at $8 or try a fish pedicure. There are also a variety of food and juice stands, and markets to buy clothes, crafts and other souvenirs.
All vendors will accept the US dollar, but bring mostly $1 and $5 bills, as local vendors may not have enough change for larger bills.
Siem Reap is generally hot all year round (reached 40°C, or 104°F when we were there) and very humid, so bring thin and light colored clothing. Traditionally, you should have clothing that covers the shoulders and the knees when visiting the temples. I brought along Columbia Convertible Pants, which had many pockets for security, is made with very light fabric, and unzips at the knees to turn into shorts. You can also purchase elephant pants for a couple dollars, which are very light, flowy and will keep you cool
It’s important to stay hydrated in the intense heat. Vendors are plentiful that sell water bottles and soft drinks from 50 cents to $1. There are also many juice standings selling ice cold smoothies for $1, but be careful of smoothies not using filtered or bottled water, which can easily give you diseases or viruses.
Carry plenty of sunscreen and bug spray. Always protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays by reapplying sunscreen, including your head if you’re not wearing a hat. Bugs can also be very vicious and unforgiving, so apply at least one good layer for defense.
While vendor food and drinks may look delicious, there is always a risk of contracting viruses or diseases from poor hygienic practices or water sources. Everyone in my volunteer group got sick from eating or drinking food there, including me and another member contracting viruses that gave us fevers reaching 104°F.
Hope you enjoy the tips that we laid out based on our personal experiences. Leave a comment with some other tips that would be helpful when venturing to Siem Reap!
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