Siem Reap – of Angkor Wat fame – is a staple on the well-worn backpacker’s track around South East Asia. For me, it’s definitely my favourite big city – perhaps the perfect medium between the charming but sleepy Luang Prabang (Laos) and the exciting, activity-rich but overwhelming Bangkok (Thailand).
Some have said that Siem Reap lacks the authenticity of other Cambodian cities like Battambang or Kratie, which is perhaps correct. It is a town built on tourism. You get your fair share of obnoxious tourists in SR, unfortunately. However, for me, the friendly people waiting to have a chat with you, the mix of things to do, and the awe-inspiring temples just a stone’s throw away well and truly make up for it.
So, next question, how long should you stay? Well, like anywhere, it depends on your itinerary. However, I personally think that somewhere between three days and a week is ideal. The perfect time frame for me? Five days. Just enough time to see plenty without feeling rushed and whilst having some time to sit and relax, but not too much that you get bored. This is what I’d do:
WITH THREE DAYS:
Day ONE- The temples, of course. Do not miss them. Get your Angelina/Indiana on and go exploring. Spend a day, and consider the following popular itinerary: The Bayon, Ta Prohm & then Angkor Wat during sunset. The view from the air by hot air balloon is beautiful.
Day TWO – Head over to Scenteurs d’Angkor and treat yourself with some beautiful products from hand-pressed flowers. Or, if you’re looking for something a bit strange, you could always head to the firing range to try out a range of guns. Not really my thing, but my brother was in heaven. Other day trips worth noting are the land mine museum, to learn about an important and tragic part of Cambodia’s ongoing struggles. In the afternoon, consider taking a popular quad bike tour around the surrounding villages and see the beautiful rice fields (NOTE: check whether your travel insurance covers quad bikes/ATVs, and NEVER carry passengers. Ever.) In the evening, venture into the SR centre and sample some of the “happy hour” (frequently ‘from early to late’ rather than a measly 60 minutes) cocktails. I’ve never been, but the Angkor What?! bar claims to have been promoting irresponsible drinking since 1999 and is a popular backpacker haunt. My personal pick is the Island Bar in the tourist night market where you can shop AND drink! Bliss!
Day THREE – Spend a day recovering from the night before at the quirky West Baray, a kind of pseudo beach where you can lie in hammocks, read, and buy drinks and snacks from vendors who come right up to your hammock. In the evening, get a tuk tuk to take you to “sixty street” (or “sixty road”), if you’re game, and sample all kinds of odd foods such as snakes, cockroaches (!), ants and more. There’s also more palatable options like chicken and beef available!
WITH FIVE DAYS:
The same as the above, but split day two into two days, and spend two days exploring the temples – heading out to see the more remote Banteay Srey temple, which is beautiful, and will give you an opportunity to see the surrounds of SR.
WITH ONE WEEK:
– Temple enthusiast? Spend three days exploring the temples. My advice is to split them, as they are very impressive, but “temple fatigue” is a real thing. Trust me.
– Attend cooking school. Cambodia has beautiful pepper (Kampot pepper) and I love their famous dish, Lok Lak. It’s quick, easy and cheap to make at home and you can impress your friends with how worldly you’ll seem when you cook like a real Khmer! The restaurant the Papier Tigre offers cooking classes.
– Visit some of the nearby Pagodas to get a feel for the significance of religion on modern day Cambodia. Many of the people there are happy to chat away to you – but always be respectful, for example do not touch monks!