Tips and Things to Know about Siem Reap
Traveling to Cambodia and checking out the sights in Siem Reap? Use our Siem Reap travel guide for navigating this hectic city and making the most out of what will surely be an unforgettable trip.
Table of Contents
- 1. When to visit Siem Reap?
- 2. How to get to Siem Reap?
- 3. Local Transport - Getting around Siem Reap
- 4. Shopping in Siem Reap
- 5. Must-try food in Siem Reap
- 6. Other tips in Siem Reap
Once known primarily as the gateway to the Angkor temple complex, Siem Reap has evolved into a modern, fun, and very visitor-friendly city. The town is a hive of activity, with attractions running the gamut from contemporary galleries to edgy boutiques and slick eateries.
1. When to visit Siem Reap?
Irrespective of the weather condition in Siem Reap, travelers can always enjoy their visits to the beautiful Angkor temples. January and February are typically known as the best time to visit Siem Reap. The weather is at perfect levels with a cool climate and has no rain, clear blue skies, and amazing picturesque sunrises and sunsets. March is another pleasant month with the climate remaining quite cool. The sky, however, becomes partly cloudy. Just be aware that this is the peak tourist season, so you will find it more crowded and prices will be higher. By April, the weather in Siem Reap turns quite hot and humid. You can visit the Angkor temples if you plan to avoid the sunniest time of the day when the heat is intense and unbearable. May marks the beginning of monsoon rains and also the start of the harvesting season in the country. It is still a good time to visit Siem Reap, especially for those who do not want to be jostled by heavy traffic. Temperatures start rising by June. As the temperature is still bearable, this is a perfect time for taking in the picturesque rain-washed attractions in the area. In July and August, the temperatures remain hot. However, this is a good time for families with school children on summer vacation. September is the wettest month of the year. If you are willing to brave a little rain, this is the best time to experience Siem Reap in its lush green glory to take in the delightful Angkor temples in the best peaceful manner. The cool and wet October gives way to a pleasanter climate. November and December are the beginning of peak tourist times in Siem Reap.
Siem Reap in December with nice weather expected for the crowds
2. How to get to Siem Reap?
There are direct international flights to Siem Reap from Bangkok in Thailand; Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse in Laos; Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Hanoi, and Danang in Vietnam; Hong Kong; Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; Beijing, Guangzhou, Kunming and Shanghai in China; Busan and Seoul in South Korea; Singapore; Taipei in Taiwan; Manila in the Philippines; and Yangon in Myanmar.
Domestic links are currently limited from Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. Airlines operating domestic flights include Bassaka Air, Cambodia Angkor Air, and Cambodia Bayon Airlines. Demand for seats is high during peak season, so book as far in advance as possible. Some of the discount fares are reserved for Cambodian nationals.
Siem Reap International Airport is 7km from the city center. Many hotels and guesthouses in Siem Reap offer a free airport pick-up service with advance bookings.
You can obtain a visa on arrival at the airport. Bring US dollars to pay for it, as proffering other currencies will result in a large "conversion fee". Bring a passport-sized photo also.
Buses are the preferred form of inter-provincial transportation in Cambodia. All of the national routes are ordinarily in good condition though there is construction in some areas.
Major companies include Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, Capitol Tours, Giant Ibis, and GST Express. The most popular amongst ex-pats was Mekong Express, which is known for its safety record albeit shabby older buses.
Tickets are available at guesthouses, hotels, bus offices, travel agencies, and ticket kiosks.
Departures from Phnom Penh run throughout the day, and night buses are available.
The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap offers a glimpse of Cambodian country life, as it barrels past rice fields, traditional wooden houses, and water buffalo and cows lazily grazing on the side of the road. The views are best appreciated from a full-size bus, as the mini-buses are more crowded and have smaller windows. There are dozens of bus companies offering services between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Buses take 6 - 7 hours. Bus tickets often cost $12 to $15.
Bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
From Battambang, roads are in good condition and normally, it takes 3 to 4 hours to arrive at Siem Reap. Buses depart every morning at 7:30 and 9:00.
In Siem Reap, most buses arrive and depart from the Chong Kov Sou bus station near Phsar Leu, 7km from the town center.
There are daily express boat services between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh or Battambang.
Between July and March boats run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (they do not run during the dry season when the water levels are low). The boats do not meet international safety standards, are run down, and are known to break down fairly regularly. Tickets cost $35 and leave from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay near Street 104 at 7:30 a.m. Depending on the season and water levels, the trip can take between four and eight hours.
The Boat From Phnom Penh To Siem Reap
From Battambang, boats cost $20 and take 4 to 8 hours or more, depending on the season.
The boats to Siem Reap arrive at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12km south of Siem Reap. The boats dock in different places at different times of the year; when the lake recedes in the dry season, both the port and floating village move with it. An all-weather road has improved access around the lake area, but the main road out to the lake takes a pummeling in the annual monsoon.
3. Local Transport - Getting around Siem Reap
Thankfully, getting around within Siem Reap itself is very doable on foot. If not, you can try this interesting means of transport.
Tuk-tuks are the local taxis, and the easiest way to get around Siem Reap. You can find a tuk-tuk for quick trips in Siem Reap anywhere. Be sure to negotiate a price upfront, most trips within the town cost between 2 and 4 US dollars. Tell the tuk-tuk driver the name of the destination, not street names.
Remork-motos are sweet little motorcycles with carriages (commonly called tuk-tuks around town) and are a nice way for couples to get about Siem Reap, although drivers like to inflate the prices. Trips around town start from US$2, but you'll need to pay more to the edge of town at night. Prices rise when you add more people.
A moto (unmarked motorcycle taxi) with a driver will cost from US$10 per day depending on the destination. Far-flung temples will involve a higher fee. The average cost for a short trip within the town is 2000 riels or so, and around US$1 or more to places strung out along the roads to Angkor or the airport. It is probably best to negotiate in advance as a lot of drivers have got into the habit of overcharging.
Car & Motorbike
Most hotels and guesthouses can organize car hire for the day, with a going rate of US$30 and up. Foreigners are not allowed to rent motorcycles in and around Siem Reap. So if you want to get around on your own motorcycle, you need to hire one in Phnom Penh and ride it to Siem Reap.
Some of the guesthouses around town offer bicycles for rent, as do a few shops around the Old Market, usually for US$1 to US$2 a day. The White Bicycles project rents bikes through over 50 guesthouses and hotels in Siem Reap, with all proceeds going towards supporting local development projects around Siem Reap. Imported mountain bikes are available from cycling tour operators for around US$8 to US$10. Another option is the new Green e-bikes, which are an environmentally sound compromise between the bicycle and the motorbike.
4. Shopping in Siem Reap
The town of Siem Reap is a shopaholic's dream, particularly for Cambodian silks and other textiles. Handicrafts, contemporary art, carvings, decorative items for the home, silver items, traditional stone carvings and lacquer wares, incense, candles, souvenirs, and clothes are also a great deal. From the smart boutiques in the luxury hotels and resorts to the open-air covered markets all over town, the variety and choice of items will astonish you. For more basic shopping needs, convenience stores and supermarkets are located all over town. Always remember to bargain! Even if the result is only a small discount, the bargaining process can be a lot of fun. The majority of outlets will allow bargaining, and it's essential in the markets. If you're looking to buy jewelry, be very careful unless you or someone you know are knowledgeable about gold and precious stones. Always try on clothes, like sizes, you are familiar with in your home country may be slightly different in Cambodia.
For a slice of Cambodian life, while you shop, Siem Reap's open-air covered markets are a must. The Old Market (Phsar Chas) in the center of town is best for curios and souvenirs. For real Cambodia, visit New Upper Market (Phsar Leu Thom) where the locals shop for food and general needs.
The Angkor Night Market in the heart of town is great for just about everything. It’s truly fun and an experience to explore, dine, chill and shop after dark. The goods sold here, primarily by local communities as well as non-governmental organizations, encompass clothing, silk paintings, traditional handicraft items, and wood and stone carvings.
Angkor Night Market
Angkor Shopping Center
Angkor Shopping Center is an internationally flavored, two-story mall opposite the Royal Gardens selling ready-made and custom gold jewelry, a wide selection of silks, traditional crafts, silver, and food. On the third floor, there is a Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant and bar.
Angkor Shopping Center
National Silk Center
Located 16kms west of Siem Reap, the Silk Center is a fascinating mix of silk farms and shops where visitors can see the entire process from silkworm to finished product, including mulberry bushes, silkworm breeding, spinning, dyeing, and looming. On-site, the Artisan d'Angkor shop has lovely silk clothing.
Asia Craft Center
This unique showroom stocks good quality traditional Khmer handicrafts such as lacquerware, carvings, and inlaid marble paintings as well as examples from Southeast and South Asia. Located on the Angkor Wat road, it also features silk carpets from Kashmir.
The studio of interior designer and artist Jean-Pierre Obriot is at his Sivatha Road gallery, featuring contemporary Cambodian art based on Buddhist spirituality together with exclusively designed home decor products.
The Red Gallery
American photographer John McDermott, whose famous photos of Angkor Wat are in Cambodia's National Museum, recently opened his second gallery in Siem Reap. Red Gallery is stylish and small, featuring paintings, photos, and sculptures from local artists.
Pich Reamker Shop
If you're fascinated by Khmer dance and drama, this gallery is for you. It offers traditionally made and authentic theatrical headgear and masks, with each example unique and beautifully crafted.
Rehab Craft Cambodia
In the Old Market area, you will find Rehab Craft, a non-profit NGO whose products, including silks, textiles, basket ware, silver, woodcarving, and soft furnishings, are all made by the disabled. Revenue from sales is reinvested in training and employment programs.
Senteurs d'Angkor Workshop
This workshop and its retail outlet on Airport Road specialize in natural soaps, moisturizing creams, candles, and balms, all deliciously scented using all-natural ingredients such as flowers, herbs, and spices. Even the packaging is hand-made from sugar-palm leaves.
Located in the center of town on Sivatha Road is this newly opened Western-style mall comprising a department store, a supermarket, a pharmacy, various other small stores, and a burger bar. Lucky Mall has a Lucky Burgers outlet on the second floor.
Boutiques in the Old Market area
A number of boutiques are located in the town center near the Old Market, specializing in original clothing designs made up of silk and other natural fibers. From skirts, shirts, and dresses to shawls, all colorful and well-finished, unique styles are easy to find.
Shopping in the area near the Old Market
5. Must-try food in Siem Reap
- Prahok: Known as a distinctive feature of Cambodian cuisine with a specific smell. To make prahok, the locals will simply prepare the fish and expose it to the sun for a day then mix it with spices including salt, sugar, pepper, garlic and cold rice then keep this mixture in a jar for several months.
- Fish Amok: You can easily find Fish Amok in Siem Reap as it is an outstanding dish of Khmer cuisine. Amok is actually a kind of curry with the main ingredient of catfish or white fish. Though every family here has its own recipe for this special food, the indispensable spices are garlic, salt, prahok, brown sugar, lemongrass, galangal, chili paste, and coconut milk. Fish amok is often served with rice. Foreign tourists say that Amok has an eye-catching look because it is served in a fresh coconut or sometimes it is wrapped in banana leaf with coconut cream on top.
Amok, The Essence Of The Cuisine Of Cambodians
- Green Mango Salad: a beloved dish of not only the locals but also the foreign tourists. Green mango salad is made from tart green mango and seasoned with fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, minced garlic, red hot pepper, and some types of fresh herbs. The subtle point of this dish is the moderated sourness of green mango and the amazing taste of the dressing. This salad is so popular in the region so you can order this dish as your appetizer in every restaurant or at any roadside food stall in Siem Reap.
- Chili Fried Insects: Walk down the streets in Siem Reap, and you will find many roadside food stalls selling fried insects. This was a popular food of the poor Cambodians in the past. There is a market that specializes in selling fried insects in Siem Reap where you can see many kinds of insect-like spiders, wasps, crickets, and silkworms... Fried insects taste really good and are so crispy.
The best and freshest fried insects are sold inside the local markets – look for insects that look fat and glisten with oil. If they are drier-looking, they are probably old, as are most of the carts that roam around Pub Street and outside Old Market. If you are a reluctant taster, choose the silkworms. Whatever you try, have something cold handy to wash it down with.
Freshest fried insects
- Kuy teav: rice-noodle pork broth soup (similar to Vietnamese pho and Thailand’s guay tio), served with thin slivers of pork, beef, or chicken (offal optional) and a mound of greens, which might include chopped lettuce leaves, sawtooth coriander, spring onions, and bean sprouts. In fact, this dish is enjoyed in Vietnam, under the name Hu Tieu Nam Vang.
- Num banh chok: In its simplest form, num banh chok, sometimes called 'num banh chok samlar', is the perfect dish to eat in warm weather: rice noodles topped with cool fish gravy and crisp raw vegetables including cucumbers, banana blossom, and water lily stems and fresh herbs, such as basil and mint. Siem Reap has its own version, which has more garlic and coconut milk than the original, and is served with a sweet sauce called 'tik pha em'.
Num Banh Chok
- Bai sach chrouk – rice and pork – is the name of Cambodia’s favorite breakfast dish, as well as a convenient description of what it entails: thin slices of meat served over rice. Bai sach chrouk is usually served over short, broken grains of rice. The element that takes bai sach chrouk beyond its name is the sides. The dish is almost always served with a bowl of broth, typically nicked from the adjacent noodle vendor, and a small dish of pickles.
- Num Plae Ai (Sticky Rice Sweet Balls) is a lovely dessert, which is similar to the floating cake of Vietnam. This dish is made of bits of white sugar wrapped in glutinous rice flour and cooked by scalding in boiling water. It will be “bathed” in a caramel bowl with palm flavor. Above the surface, there is also some fresh shredded coconut.
6. Other tips in Siem Reap
- Angkor Pass
You must buy an admission pass (an 'Angkor Pass') to visit the temples and sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Passes may be purchased at a center near Angkor Wat (they used to sell the pass at the entrance of the Angkor complex but it was overloaded). Passes are sold in one-day (USD37), three-day (USD62), and seven-day (USD72) blocks. The three-day pass is valid for one week and the seven-day pass is valid for one month. One passport-sized photo is required at the time of purchase of three and seven days passes.
- Clothes for visiting temples
Because these are religious sites for the Khmer people, it is finest to follow the dress code of "long pants/skirt and covered shoulders". This is the dress code that the Khmers follow when visiting any temple or holy space. You can buy a pair of pants at the market or use a shawl to cover your legs if you forget.
Dress modestly when visiting the temples
- How much time to spend in Siem Reap?
Like anywhere, it depends on your itinerary to decide how long you should stay in Siem Reap. However, somewhat between three days and a week is ideal. Three days are enough to see the most important temples around Siem Reap or five days if you want to see remote temples and the countryside.
- Hotels in Siem Reap
Finding a hotel that fits your budget and requirements will not be too difficult. From luxury resorts like the Amansara to basic hostels, accommodation is available for every kind of getaway. There are now several four and five-star hotels in town, especially along the airport road. You will always get a good deal on a good quality hotel or guesthouse in the downtown area. If you are looking for a local boutique hotel, Siddhartha Boutique Hotel is economical, pretty, has spacious rooms, and attentive service.
- Pub street
Not only does the road have a great atmosphere, it also has many side streets worth checking out for cuisine from all over the world. The night markets surround this area and are one of the main attractions of Siem Reap. The markets are great fun to walk around and you will find absolute bargains around every corner. In order to know where you are in Siem Reap use Pub Street as your starting point and walk out from there.
Nightlife in Pub Street
In the main, Siem Reap is vibrant if the chaotic town that boasts some beautiful resorts with easy access to the heritage sites of the Angkor temples and other cultural attractions, but it also has some of its own charms. A good tour guide - or a Siem Reap tour package - will show you everything.
(Image Sources: Internet)