Cambodia is high on many travellers bucket lists’. Home to awe-inspiring Angkor Wat, Cambodia is not only ancient temples and devastating recent history. It is also filled with genuine people and stunning beaches. If you’re short on time in Cambodia, you’ll want Angkor Wat to be a top priority to visit. But, is there more to Siem Reap than what meets the eye?
I have heard other travellers rave about Cambodia – how beautiful it is, how interesting yet devastating the recent history of this country is, and how you’ve just got to go there. Unfortunately, I am not able to completely agree with these comments. At least not when I have only barely scratched the surface of probably the least Cambodian-like town in the whole damn country. The town I’m talking about is Siem Reap, home to magnificent Angkor Wat. Don’t shoot just yet guys, hear me out…
It’s not often that I have had to say I was disappointed with a place I have traveled to. But at the end of the day, we are all human and with different perspectives of travel – which is why I feel the need to share my honest opinion. Sometimes I wonder if people only share the highlights on their blogs. It’s not hard to forget the crappy times when you are writing about a place, after the fact, and remembering only the great parts of a place or experience.
Getting There & Visa Requirements
Cambodia lies in the middle of South East Asia – bordered by Thailand, Laos & Vietnam. It is a staple in the traditional South East Asian backpacker route – especially Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Getting there from bordering Thailand or Vietnam can be easy and expensive (flying) or it can be long, bumpy and cheap (taking the bus).
If you are flying directly into Cambodia internationally, you will most probably fly with airlines like Thai Airways, Vietnam Airways or Qantas – transiting in their respective hubs. Flying also gives you an opportunity for a quick sneaky stop over somewhere on the way over 🙌🏼.
Australian Passport holders will require a visa to enter Cambodia. It can be attained on arrival at the land borders of Thailand and Vietnam, or it can be attained at the International airports in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. I have also heard you can get it before traveling, however I am not familiar with the process. The tourist visa will be issued for 30 days from date of entry into Cambodia. As always please consult your local consulate to check up to date visa requirements for your specific passport, as they can change at any time.
Now that the logistics are out of the way, let me tell you a little about our time in Siem Reap.
What We Did With 3 Days in Siem Reap
We finally arrived in Siem Reap, after two very long days of travelling. It’s quite a long journey from Ho Chi Minh City by land 😬. Hot, sweaty, and feeling slightly bus sick, I was ready to relax by the pool for a few days in between exploring the amazing Angkor Wat, and getting a feel for Cambodia.
Where to Stay?
We stayed at the Popular Boutique Hotel, just on the outskirts of town and it was perfect for us. For only $17 AUD per night, we had a huge private room with a big comfy bed. The property also has a small, but nice swimming pool for you to relax and rejuvenate in, after your sweaty temple explorations. The restaurant and bar area backs onto the swimming pool, so it made the perfect area for me to get some writing done of an afternoon. I really enjoyed our stay here.
The hotel is also conveniently located only a short walk away from the popular Pub Street, as well as plenty of restaurants and bars for nightly dining.
It’s true what they say – Angkor Wat is simply amazing! If you visit Cambodia for one reason only – it should be to visit these magnificent temples.
Angkor Wat lies within the Angkor Archaeological Site – 400 square kilometres containing the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire of the 9th to the 15th centuries. The most famous of the temples are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and the Bayon Temple.
Hot Tip: Planning ahead with the weather and picking a clear morning to visit Angkor Wat to catch the sunrise is really important. We got out of bed at 4:30am for an overcast sunrise 😞😞
While Angkor Wat was super impressive, and certainly the grandest of the temples – I also loved Bayon, as well as Ta Prohm (most commonly known as Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider temple). I just found the intricate carvings of hundreds of faces of Bayon to be absolutely incredible!
How much time should I spend at Angkor Wat?
Before we went, I read so many blogs saying that you would need 3 days minimum to explore the temples. I would say that this definitely depends on your interest in temples and history, and your attention span. I would go further to say it would also depend on what time of year you’re visiting. Do you know how hot it is in May in Cambodia? Ridiculously hot 🥵. Abort mission if possible.
We spent almost 8 hours exploring the main temples, and I honestly felt that we covered the majority of the highlights 🤷🏼♀️. Sure, maybe we didn’t learn the insider stories or get a significant overview of the ancient history surrounding the area, and to some that will be sacrilege. We were both impressed and satisfied with our time at Angkor.
However, I can completely understand why some people would use the entire 3 day pass to dig deeper into the area, and cover most of the Archaeological Park extensively. It is a huge area to cover, and I know some people just absolutely love this stuff.
How do I get around Angkor Wat?
There are two popular ways of getting around the temples. These are to hire a tuk-tuk and driver, or hire a push bike. If you were travelling in April or May, I would throw the push bike idea out the window. It really is that hot.
We hired a tuk-tuk driver named Wundi. He was a lovely, young guy and was happy to drive us around anywhere we wanted. I think we paid him about $20 AUD for the day (which I believe is normal). He picked us up at 4:30am from our hotel, took us to buy our tickets and delivered us to Angkor Wat – ready for sunrise (that evidently hid behind an overcast morning 👎🏻).
There is certainly no shortage of ‘tukies’ hanging around the main streets of Siem Reap. Just listen for ‘tuk-tuk-tuk-tuk’ (literally, like a chicken clucking), or ‘You want tuk tuk? Go see temple?’. Just be careful that you don’t get overcharged – agree on a price for the day with your driver from the get go, and stick to your guns.
Tips to Dressing Appropriately
Dressing appropriately is a big thing right across South East Asia, but it is particularly monitored at Angkor Wat. Showing respect in these areas is paramount, regardless of the temperature or humidity.
For guys, this means that shoulders and knees should be covered. And for the girls, full leg coverage and at least half of your arms. To give you an idea of how serious they take it – there was a girl in line behind us to enter one of the areas within Angkor Wat and she was wearing a shawl to cover her shoulders. She was denied entry 😞.
Don’t be tempted to wear that beautiful flowing dress, and let the shawl slink off of those shoulders – just for the perfect insta shot. The temple officials are pretty onto it, and you might just find yourself booted out, with one expensive entry ticket confiscated 😫.
Local Village ATV Tour
My other favourite part of our short time in Cambodia, was our Sunset quad biking tour around the local villages of Siem Reap. I started to call these areas “the real Cambodia”. We chose a locally operated company called Siem Reap Quad Bike Adventure and opted for the Sunset ATV Ride – hoping to catch a glimpse of the sun going down over the rice paddies.
It was just a really cool experience. We were the only two on our tour. We got to drive through the red dirt roads, seeing tiny villages, with houses that look like they could fall over in the smallest breath of wind. And the kids, wearing tattered clothes, yet their smiles shining incredibly bright! It was certainly humbling. This was the Cambodia I had been expecting.
I was just really disappointed with the township of Siem Reap 😬. I’m talking about the touristy area, like Pub Street and surrounds.
Sure, many backpacker’s probably love Pub Street, where you can get a draft beer for 75 cents. There are tons of bars and restaurants along the street, which I felt were very over-priced (compared to the rest of Asia!). There were mainly westerner’s working in all the establishments, as well as standing in the street trying to get you to sign up to the latest pub crawl.
I know you’re probably thinking that I am super old and boring. I might be, and that’s okay with me. But to me, Siem Reap just didn’t feel genuine. Not for a town that is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
To you, this might sound like heaven! In which case, I am sure you will love Siem Reap. I just wanted to share my honest opinion so there are no surprises when you visit.
We also found that every meal we ate in Siem Reap, left us feeling somewhat unwell afterwards. The standard of food health and safety is very different throughout South East Asia compared to the Western world in general. However, it was significantly lower in Cambodia 😬.
We managed to survive the whole 4 weeks of traveling South East Asia without getting food poisoning. And we ate plenty of street food! Of course, on the very last day in Cambodia, my boyfriend was struck down by some chicken fried rice 😫.
So should you visit Siem Reap?
100% absolutely! If you went all the way to Cambodia, and didn’t visit Angkor Wat, you would kick yourself as long as you shall live. All I’m trying to say in this post, is to not expect a quiet, little town that is full of ancient history both inside and outside of the temples.
There are actually a few other things to do around Siem Reap. Such as visiting the Landmine museum, getting massages and letting little fish eat the dead skin off your foot 🤮. As well as exploring the new and old markets, among other things. I guess we just ran out of steam and money towards the end of our trip. So exploring Angkor Wat and our small hotel pool, was enough for us this time.
Have you been to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat? I would love to know what your honest thoughts were – love or hate? Let me know ☺️