Travel Guide: Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia Verdict: Overall we would highly recommend visiting Siem Reap & Angkor Wat but it’s definitely the kind of place you only go once in a lifetime. Once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it!
Where we stayed: Park Hyatt Siem Reap (breakfast included in our rate). Gorgeous hotel in a perfect location, cannot recommend it highly enough.
When & how long: Early March - 2.5 days, 3 nights
Getting there (Visas): We flew into Siem Reap from Vietnam (on Cambodia Angkor Air) and since it was our first stop into Cambodia we had to get visas. The process is pretty easy and doesn't require any pre-work except having the following with you upon arrival:
- Your Passport
- A Passport Photo
- Cash (I believe it was $30 USD each)
The whole process was easy but did take a while so be prepared for a 45-minute wait
Siem Reap Airport: Really nice new airport with lots of good food options. If you have to spend time in an airport this is a pretty nice one to kill time at.
Food & Activity (Short & Sweet):
- Mei Cafefor dinner. This was one of our favorite meals, everything was refreshing and yummy but the showstopper had to be the desserts. We indulged in two: the chocolate molten cake and the frozen lime pie
- Amok a famous Cambodian dish. We had this a few times, it’s on most menu’s and is a coconut curry dish with your choice of chicken/fish/veg. Worth getting a time or two!
- Angkor Tour Guidesfor personal tours of Angkor Wat and other excursions. I cannot recommend them enough, our guide was informative and sweet and always on time with the driver at all locations. Visit siemreapguideservices.comto get connected. Ask for Mrs. Saven as your tour guide she was delightful!
- Park Hyattfor dinner. Our hotel had a beautiful restaurant serving fancier Cambodian cuisine. Also if you stay at the hotel be sure to get a salad poolside and grab a sandwich from the coffee shop if you need lunch to go!
The Daily Schedule:
We arrived in the evening and ate dinner at our hotel on a floating day bed, and then retired to our fabulous room because we knew we had a couple packed days ahead of tours
Day 1: 8:30-3:30 - Drove through small villages, stopped to try some foods and interact a little with locals in different towns. Took a boat ride out to Tonle Sap Laketo see floating fishing village (highly recommend). After they took us to a small temple (if you want to see LOTS of old ruined temples it's fine but based on what we saw the next day it wasn't anything more than we needed to see). After touring we relaxed at the pool and had dinner at Mei Cafe (cool spot).
Day 2: 5:00-2:30 (we finished by 10 am) I thought the early morning wouldn't be worth it but it was. We got breakfast to go and our guide picked us up to go get tickets for Angkor Wat. Got there with tons of other tourists to see the sunrise. Hung around a bit to eat our breakfast outside the temple before entering around 7:30 am. Lots of little kids and vendors selling goods outside the temple. The temple itself should take about 1 hour to tour (including a little blessing from a monk inside!) unless you want to take a million perfect photos or linger around, but it gets quite crowded and hot. Next, we saw Angkor Thom and another temple which was more than enough. Honestly, I think Angkor Wat is the main one to see the rest are a bit redundant. We also heard after the fact that the museum was nice to do beforehand but we didn't do that - although our guide was so knowledgeable and informative the day before and during the tour, I felt that I got a good idea of it. Also at Angkor Wat go visit the pagoda off to the side where the monks live and pray. We got back and spent the rest of the day laying at the pool, getting a massage, and taking a 30-40 minute tuk-tuk ride around the town. It's not really a cute or charming town, rather dirty and full of tourist shops but the Tuk Tuk rides were really a nice way to see everything and avoid the crowded sidewalk walking (they're covered in motorbikes). Our second-night dinner was at sugar palm which was fine. Would try to make a reservation at Cuisine Wat Damnak 3 months in advance if possible.
If we did it all over again we would arrive midday and do the main temple museum in the afternoon then early dinner. Then one day of tours like this:
- 5-8:30 am Angkor Wat your (don't take breakfast just coffee/banana).
- Come back to the hotel for breakfast then head to the fishing village around 9:30/10 and see all of that skipping the other temple tour, ending around 2:30/3.
- Then spa or relax until dinner. Next day maybe stay until early afternoon, breakfast, relax at the pool, Tuk-tuk ride and leave.
Nitty Gritty Details:
About the Hotel…
Let me start by saying this hotel has major curb appeal, nay sex appeal if a hotel can have such a thing. It's just yummy to look at. From the pretty driveway off the bustling downtown streets of Siem Reap, to the glassed-in "living room" with its pink crushed velvet chairs and dark wood bookshelves, to the fabulously under lit courtyard with swinging dinner tables. We arrived late at night and just wanted to EAT and get to the room.... so we said no to the lovely bellhop showing us how to use the lights and boy was that a mistake. Who knew hotel room lighting could be so un-user friendly, luckily some other American tourists who seemed smart and well-traveled mentioned that they too couldn't figure it out. Le sigh. We dropped our stuff and found ourselves a swinging dinner table and ordered up some traditional Cambodian food which was delish. Then, bed. Oh, we also did laundry here which I'm sure was SUPER expensive alternative to having one of the million places in town do it but I've got skin allergies and break out in hives from some laundry detergents and just wasn't interested in taking my chances. So for $40 I had luxury laundry service, and it was lovely, let me say. They even hung up my Lululemon's.
About the tours & Siem Reap…
Regarding our tour guide Mrs. Saven and our driver Mr. Null, they arrived on time, bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to take us on an adventure. Right out of the gate we liked our lovely guide. She had a broad smile which she revealed often and was feminist AF. She was a smart young woman from a rural village who was lucky enough to have parents who valued education for women and sent her to college. Still, she explained, over two days of interesting history lessons and political rants, it's very hard to make a living in Cambodia as much goes to the government and they don't do a whole lot to support their people in really impactful ways. She had to explain all of this while in the car by the way. She couldn't mention in public her disdain of the prime minister who has been in power 30 years and who has lost elections but claimed they were wrong and scared people into thinking war would be waged if he lost soooooo he just keeps "winning, winning so much that people are getting sick of his winning". Just sayin. Anyways it mainly sounds like he's in cahoots with the Vietnamese and they pretty much Reap all the benefits of the tourist attractions in Cambodia (pun intended). After about an hour drive with a few roadside stops for coconut rice cooked in bamboo sticks (and locals ogling over our light skin and pointy noses... she literally told me when she was pregnant with her daughter she hung pictures of white people around their house and prayed her daughter would be light skinned. Then as a small potentially malleable baby, she pinched her little nose daily in hopes of her having a more European nose). Just goes to show, we always want to be what we aren't and also how white European definitions of beauty seem to run rampant the world over.
As we drew closer to the spot where we would embark on our boat to the floating fishing village we drove through other land villages with homes on stilts. This was fascinating to see. The dusty roads were lined on each side by these ramshackle huts suspended above the ground by 30ft with the ricketiest of materials supporting the base. I specifically asked about not seeing many elderly and the answer was basically like "once you're up there you don't come down" and man these places did not look conducive to geriatric living. The people, and especially the kids, seemed happy enough though. They all smiled and moved slowly, knowing inherently, the way people from hot climates know, that moving fast would be a waste of energy. We saw the process of smoking tiny little fish, kids of small ages casually using huge knives to chop off the heads, basically the equivalent of American before/after school care. Next, we were taken on a boat out to the floating village past many men using nets and another somewhat primitive apparatus to collect the tiny fish and shrimp from the incredibly muddy river. All I could think about were the snakes and rampant bacteria floating in the water that these people not only work in but bathe in as well. The floating village was also fascinating, living on these little raft houses, children clearly learn to swim at a very young age (literally sink or swim), teenagers still oddly similar to teenagers the world around with headphones plugged into devices checked out of family life (solar powered devices btw). After the water tour we had lunch enjoying some traditional Amok in a coconut and then saw a temple and honestly, I can't tell you much except it was pretty, quiet, and covered in trees. But we were tired and hot and I wouldn't recommend seeing it unless you really really like totally ruined old temples that were literally the "practice" project for the real thing, Angkor Wat.