*I spent 3 days in Siem Reap in February 2014 and I had a wonderful time. It’s my favorite city in Cambodia! Inside of this Siem Reap Guide, you’ll hear about my experiences and get tips for culture, food, nightlife, things to do and more.
I took an 8-hour bus to Siem Reap from Bangkok, and I must admit that Cambodia is a whole different ballgame than Thailand. It’s shockingly different.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, so it took me a little while to adjust to the new culture. But after a short time of immersing myself into the culture, Cambodia quickly became one of my favorite countries in the world.
Every year, Siem Reap gets more and more touristy because people are discovering the hidden treasures around here. The biggest draw to this city is the Angkor Region, which is known as the largest and most magnificent preindustrial city in the world. Within 100 kilometers, there are thousands of 12th century stone temples, including the biggest religious monument in the world: Angkor Wat. It is spectacular. You’ll see LOTS of Asian tourist groups and white people from all over the world around these temples.
For being somewhat of a crowded city, the streets were dead silent. It was almost eerie because there were thousands of people everywhere but all I could hear was the sound of their mopeds.
Cambodia is a very poor country — much more than I originally thought. Expect to see a lot of poverty on the streets, little kids (4-7 years old) grabbing your leg begging for money, and lots of people with missing limbs. Also there is trash everywhere and there seems to be no laws enforced.
The Cambodian currency is the Riel, but everyone accepts dollars. The ATM’s even spit out dollars for you because they are so commonly accepted. The Riel currency is so inflated that there are no coins. The exchange rate is $1 to 4,000 Riel, so a 100 riel bill is literally worth 2.5 pennies and that’s the lowest bill possible.
Alright, let’s dive into some quick facts:
– Currency: Cambodian Riel
– Language: Khmer (Cambodian)
– Population: 175,000
– The name “Siem Reap” translates to “Defeat of Siam (Thailand)” which refers to the long conflict
– 1/3 of the population lives on less than $1 per day
– There are more than 100 bars in the city
– About 95% of Khmer people are Buddhist
Culture and People
I think it’s necessary to tell you a little bit about Cambodian History – specifically about the genocide that occurred from 1975-1979.
Over 3 million Cambodians were killed (over 25% of the population) under Pol Pot’s regime. They compare Pol Pot’s regime to Hitler; it was just that devastating. The main killing fields to visit are in Phnom Penh, so I recommend visiting if you get the chance.
I strongly believe that this country is rebuilding itself from what it used to be 35 years ago. It’s quite fascinating to see all the people with smiles on their faces. Everyone is SO incredibly friendly. I was always treated with respect and pleasure. There was never a time that I didn’t feel welcome into their culture.
A note on transportation — you will get from place to place via a tuk tuk (3 wheeler taxi). My friends and I hired a private tuk tuk driver to take us around ALL day on a 8 hour tour, and the was $40 total. As you tour around the temples, all of the tuk tuk frivers will literally camp out in their tuk tuk’s in a hammock and wait in the blistering hot sun until you come back. Our driver was the coolest dude ever and we became good friends. Ask your hostel or hotel and they will arrange one for you!
I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and make some new local friends! Click this link to learn the Top 10 Khmer Words to keep in your back pocket 😉
What to Do?
For example, a pitcher of beer and a delicious Cambodian Meal will run you about $4 total.
Also, you’ve gotta check out the street markets! There are literally dozens of them where you can bargain down 80% from their original price. It’s pretty fun and exciting!
As I mentioned in the beginning, the #1 attraction is to visit the Angkor Temples. Wake up at the crack of dawn and go see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Then, spend the next half-day exploring the other nearby temples. You will be amazed by the precision and detail in these temples. I can compare it to seeing the Colosseum in Rome and the Parthenon in Athens. There were butterflies in my stomach from the moment I first laid eyes on it.
Get a traditional Khmer massage! They are $5 for hour and it’s amazing. They not only stretch out every muscle in your body, but they also deeply massage you to get your knots out with coconut oil. I got at least one everyday.
For a more complete list, check out my post on 10 Things to do in Siem Reap!
The cuisine in Cambodia is pretty similar to Thai. Lots of rice, meats and a variety of curry dishes.
The Classic Cambodian dish is called Amok – a coconut milk based curry with basil leaves and other spices. It’s usually served with fish, but you can sometimes get chicken. I ate it everyday that I was in Cambodia.
If you want to have a “happy” day., then you can enjoy some “happy pizza” and see for yourself (it gets your stoned!) 🙂
To learn more about the best local dishes to eat in Siem Reap, please visit my post on 5 Cambodian Foods to Try.
Nightlife in Siem Reap was a blast!
Despite it being mostly tourists, there is a street called Pub Street that is packed with people from all over the world on any given night. Lined up on the street are dozens of bars, dance clubs and restaurants. Go there around 9 an have yourself an unforgettable night!
*Thanks for reading my guide to Siem Reap! Have you been before?