Siem Reap Travel Guide
So you’re planning on some travel to the wonderful Siem Reap, Cambodia, and you want to see all the highlights. More importantly you don’t want to miss out on anything either! So questions such as, what to see, what to eat, where is recommended to stay and many others will be in your thoughts. Hopefully our Siem Reap travel guide will give you the answers.
Cambodia is a fascinating and wonderful country. It is undoubtedly less well known and visited that its bigger neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. Cambodia is usually known for two things: the killing fields and temples. There is however so much more to Cambodia and especially Siem Reap.
Siem Reap means “defeat of Siam,”. The name is said to be bestowed upon the city by King Ang Chan, after a glorious victory over its neighboring kingdom. Siem Reap used to be a small village until an expedition into the surrounding forest began in 1901. This was famously the year “Angkor” was rediscovered, changing the destiny of this quiet and charming little town. Since then, the city has enjoyed rapid development. There are various accommodations to choose from. From budget hostels to high-end hotels, restaurants to sidewalk eateries. You will also find lively dance clubs along the Siem Reaps city streets.
Below we hope our Siem Reap Travel Guide will provide you with some valuable insight and tips to this wonderful place.
1. Visit A Market
A visit to Siem Reap would not be complete without visiting a Cambodian market. There are several markets and which one you visit tends to be based upon how “local” you want the market to be. From the really local markets where there are few tourists and you can browse unbothered, to the trinket laden ones, there is a market in Siem Reap for every taste. Food markets can be confronting for anyone that doesn’t like seeing where their meat comes from. The most easily accessible market is Old Market or Phsar Cha in downtown Siem Reap and is perhaps the best market if you are slightly squeamish. This is a market for the wealthier Cambodians to shop. There is also an area for ready to eat food like noodle soups and snacks that change throughout the day. There are things like skinned frogs and things like that on display but there is a surprising lack of aroma to this market. Siem Reap Travel Guide Tip: Get there early to grab the best bargains.
Cambodian art and home-wares are lovely and distinct from what you may buy in other countries. Made in Cambodia Markets on Kings Rd are on every night and vendors do not have to pay a commission to sell at this market so the proceeds go to the creators themselves at a fair price. It is slightly pricier but these are generally artisans that produce things that you won’t find at other markets. The Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC) has a few good shops mostly for the serious art collector. Angkor Artisans offers people the chance to tour through workshops and watch artisans create beautiful soapstone or wood sculptures. The fair trade project was designed to give artists the opportunity to hone their craft.
3. Visit Temples
There are no shortage of temples in Siem Reap and it is one of the major draws for tourists. During your Siem Reap travel a temple trekker will be in heaven. Three popular temples are Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Angkor Wat is best accessed at sunrise so pick up is at 4:45am. Many of the hotels are accustomed to guests leaving early to visit temples and provide food and or takeaway breakfasts. To access the temples you will need to buy a 1, 3 or 7 day temple pass so leave some time for the queues. The most popular position is across the lake to get the sunrise in the background. Siem Reap Travel Guide Tip: if you want a few minutes of Angkor Wat to yourself, the temple opens at 5:45am and from 5:50pm is when people start to file in. This literally gives you five minutes to have some quiet, contemplative time to yourself before everyone comes in. There is also a dress code at Angkor Wat because you are entering a place of worship. Women must have their shoulders covered as well as clothing past their knee.
4. Eat Street Food
The food in Cambodia is really good, unless you’ve visited already, you may not have tried much of it before as it has stayed in the shadow of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. You will see a huge variety of food on offer. Cooked fresh right in-front of you. All at a very reasonable price of just $1 or $2. Once you go deep into Cambodian cuisine, you will discover unique and amazing flavors. Cambodian street food offers unique and surprising delicacies that are foreign to the eyes and stomachs of most visitors. It is not for the squeamish travelers. That said it will give you an amazing experience, a real culinary adventure. As you dive deeper into the Khmer street food culture, you will find rare treats and wonderful delicacies. Siem Reap Travel Guide Tip: If you see litter on the floor around a street seller, its a sure sign of happy customers and tasty food!
5. Eat With The Locals
There are some wonderful restaurants to eat at where you can eat with the locals. Back at 60 Road there are a range of sit down restaurants with a range of Cambodian BBQ restaurants. Cambodian BBQ is a fascinating and clever take on barbecue. Everything is cooked on a gas cooker with a dome in the center. Lard and butter are provided as is a soup. The soup is poured around the dome and the vegetables cook in this while you spread some butter on the dome. The meat is also cooked on this so you get the barbecued meat and seafood plus nicely cooked vegetables. A serving that can feed 4 will set you back $13. Cambodians also tend to eat a lot of rice and smaller servings of protein. Why not try Prahok k’Tis (a delicious pork and prahok dip with vegetables), soft braised eggplant with pork, morning glory with pork, a chicken, vegetable curry and a Chinese pork sausage. Everything is just so delicious with robust flavors. If you want to dine with local Cambodians but in a upmarket but casual atmosphere ex Malis chef Eng Im cooks some divine dishes.
6. Eat At An NGO Eatery
Cambodia is a country rebuilding itself and on the ground there are many NGO (non-governmental organisations). These are designed to support social enterprises and teach people new skills in hospitality. This is not what you would call “pity tourism”. In fact dining at some of these NGO cafes and restaurants will give you one of the best meals you could have. New Leaf Eatery on Street 09 has a fabulous atmosphere that just draws you in. The staff are sweet and helpful. The green mango salad and the fish amok 2 ways is wonderful. The mains even come with a complimentary beer, limeade or ginger ale. One of the tastiest places to try real Khmer food is at Marum, an NGO and training center for disadvantaged youth. Staff wear t-shirts that denote them as a teacher or a student. The staff are genuinely friendly and the food is absolutely delicious. Siem Reap Travel Tip: Most people here will speak English so don’t be shy, talk with them and gain some insider knowledge on the area!
7. Eat Fusion Cambodian
Many restaurants in Siem Reap have menus that do Cambodian dishes as well Western dishes. However there isn’t a proliferation of great fusion restaurants. Mie Cafe is one of those that do fusion well. The restaurant is in a lovely colonial style house with lush greenery and frogs. It is an open air restaurant and staff will point fans in your direction when you sit down to cool you off. For vegans there is also a vegan menu.
8. Eat At a High End Restaurant
Siem Reap has some truly spectacular restaurants. Enjoy a fine dining experience at Malis, one of the most visually stunning restaurants. Chef Luu Meng is Cambodia’s biggest celebrity chef. He travels the whole region of Indochina creating “Living Cambodian Cuisine” which means the Cambodian cuisine of today. This is not fusion cuisine but an elegant, fine dining Cambodian cuisine. Dinner is probably as pricey as it gets in Siem Reap and will cost around $100USD for two. Sample dishes like Royal mak mee noodles which are mixed at the table. Featuring pork marinated in Kroeung. It includes a traditional curry paste with lemongrass, chili, turmeric, garlic, shallots and ginger. Hidden Chreav duck with black pepper sauce and red prawn rice, Fish Amok made with goby fish steamed in a banana leaf basket is also delicious.
9. Bar Hop
Visit the cocktail bar Miss Wong’s while you still can because in three years time when the lease is up. Owner Dean Williams wants to pack up and move to a different part of Siem Reap. Dean started the retro chic bar eight years ago on a dingy little street dubbed “The Lane” but now because of Pub Street parallel to it and passing time, it has now become a much busier street. Miss Wong has an enormous cocktail list of their own concoctions. For something pretty, try the rose and lemongrass martini served with rose petals. For some gutsy infusions, try the tom yum martini. Oscar winning actress Marissa Tomei was a big fan of the bar on her visit. A little further down “The Lane” is Asana, a gorgeous relaxed two story cocktail bar. You’ll know it as soon as you see it as it also known as the “Old Wooden House”. Siem Reap Travel Guide Tip: Competition is high so look for the special drinks promotions!
10. Spa away
Siem Reap has thousands of massage and spa places. From the humble spa where a 1 hour foot massage will set you back $3USD up to spas that are beyond luxurious. Try Lemongrass spa (there are several locations). Here you can get an amazing massage by trained staff at a great price. Simply lie back and relax in the most relaxing of atmospheres.
12. Visit Phare Circus
Our customers always tell us how they fall in love with the Phare Circus, one of the most interesting circuses featuring some very talented young Cambodians. Originally started by 8 young artists after the Khmer Rouge regime, each show tells the story of issues facing the modern Cambodian. Before the hour long show you can also eat at Phare Cafe, a concession outside the Big Top where chef Sreyleak Proeum makes wonderful Khmer cuisine. The $12USD set menu features banana blossom salad, crunchy spring rolls and tender beef skewers. It also includes a main of lemongrass beef or fish amok and dessert of a divinely silky duck egg custard with bananas.
“Siem Reap Travel Guide” – by Vietnam holidays and tours
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