Bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, and Vietnam to the east, Cambodia, officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia, is one of the perfect jump-off destinations to starting anyone’s dreams of backpacking Southeast Asia. This charming country in the heart of the SEA region is composed of a number of large cities and towns, with Siem Reap as easily the most visited one. And why not? Siem Reap is the main access to the UNESCO World Heritage temples of Angkor. Like most say, when you’re in Siem Reap, you’re one step closer to becoming another modern version of Lara Croft.
Filled with rich history, friendly people, delicious food, and a vivacious night life, Siem Reap is without a doubt a beautiful town to visit and enjoy. Here’s my SIEM REAP TRAVEL GUIDE to help you prepare for your ‘temple-run’ trip.
A sister member-state of the Philippines in the ASEAN, Cambodia offers visa-free entry for Philippine passport holders. As tourists, Filipinos can stay up to 21 days without visa.
CURRENCY AND MONEY EXCHANGE
Cambodian Riel (KHR) is the official currency of Cambodia. 1 USD = 4,000 KHR (1 USD = PHP 50). US Dollars is however, widely accepted in most establishments in Siem Reap. Restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops and even tourist ticket counters mostly flash prices and fees in USD. They usually accept USD for payments and give riel (usual denomination: 500, 1000, 2000) as a change (for less than a dollar change). For Filipinos traveling to Cambodia, I would suggest bringing US Dollars when travelling here as Philippine peso has terrible rates in this part of the world.
While you may hear them speak in their local dialect at times, Khmer people are fluent in communicating with the English language. You don’t need to worry about almost anything in Siem Reap, just ask any local politely and they’ll be happy to help you.
Cambodia is an hour behind Philippines. Don’t worry though. By the time you disembark your plane at Siem Reap airport, your smartphones will automatically adjust with the local time.
HOW TO GO THERE?
Be you in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam or Malaysia (or in any part of the world), the easiest way to reach Siem Reap would be by plane. Let me remind you though that this option will not be the cheapest, but will certainly be the most convenient among others.
From Manila, Philippines:
Cebu Pacific Air offers four direct three-hour flights weekly to Siem Reap (Tue/Thu/Sat/Sun). If you are from Cebu however, an alternative would be to take a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then take another leg to Siem Reap. This is what I and my cousin did as it was way cheaper than flying to Manila.
From Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam:
Aside from taking a flight to Siem Reap, the cheapest way to go if you will be coming from Ho Chi Minh City would be to take a 13-hour ride by bus. Fare would cost around $30 (Php1,500). You can book online through 12go Asia site.
From Bangkok, Thailand:
By plane: Air Asia offers direct flights daily to Siem Reap. Regular fares should be around $62 (Php3,100). Watch out for AirAsia seat sales though, some friends of mine got their Bangkok-Siem Reap tickets at half the regular price.
By bus: There are direct buses plying from Bangkok, Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia. To avoid being scammed, it’s best to book with the following operators as recommended by travel bloggers:
Bus Fare: $32 (Php1,600)
Terminal: Giant Ibis Khao San
Approximate Travel Time: 8h 30 mn
ETD Bangkok (Thailand): 7:45 am
ETA Siem Reap (Cambodia): 4:15 pm
Bus Fare: $27 (1,350)
Terminal: Morchit Terminal
Approximate Travel Time: 9h
ETD Bangkok (Thailand): 8:00 am and 9:00 am
ETA Siem Reap (Cambodia): 5:00 pm and 6:00 pm
By train: Now, taking the train from Bangkok to Siem Reap might be a little complicated than the other options, but some friends have told me, this way will be the cheapest. Here’s how to do it:
- Take train from Hua Lamphong Railway Station – Aranyaprathet Station. You can chose between 5:55 am and 1:05 pm departures. Travel time takes about 5-6 hours and fares range from THB 48 (third class), THB 111 (second class) and THB 222 (first class).
- At Aranyaprathet station, take tuktuk (about THB100/$3) or a motorbike (THB60/$1.8) to the Rong Khlua Border (or known as the friendship border) for immigration clearance.
- Once done, walk straight to the FREE shuttle bus that would drive you to the transport depot to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
- From the transport depot, you can take either the government bus ($10) or a taxi (about $35-$55) to downtown Siem Reap.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP?
This is another feature of Siem Reap that I love the most – a wealthy selection of affordable and stylish accommodations! My best bet when booking accommodations in Siem Reap would be around Pub Street and Old Market. You can find almost anything here: restaurants, shopping malls, night life, and anything touristy to do. Depending on your budget, you can find arrays of budget and mid-range hotels and even luxury ones in many booking platforms like Agoda, and Booking.com.
Getting around downtown Siem Reap is no difficult feat for foreigners. You can find tuktuk (motorbike) almost anywhere in town. Fares will range from USD 1 (if near the town center) to USD 3 (if far from the town center). For those accommodations located a bit far from the town center, hotels usually offer one-way free tuktuk ride to the downtown.
SIEM REAP ATTRACTIONS
- Angkor Wat Archaeological Park
Recognized to be the largest religious complex in the world, and named to be one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom are the primary reasons why people from all over the world flock to Siem Reap, Cambodia. This archaeological site speaks volume of how magnificent Southeast Asian culture was, Cambodian culture specifically.
Touring around Angkor Wat:
You can rent a tuktuk (with driver) for a day for $15 to tour you around the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom. If you will want to watch the sunrise at Angkor however, you will have to add $3.
ANGKOR WAT TICKETS
2. Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Villages
Fifteen kilometers south of Siem Reap lies the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Tonle Sap Lake plays an important natural resource to Cambodian livelihood. Around the expansive lake, one can also pay a visit to a floating village with Chong Khneas Floating village being the nearest to Siem Reap. Other main floating villages are Kampong Phluk, Kampong Khleang and Prek Toal.
3. Angkor Night Market
Claimed to be the first night market in Cambodia, Angkor Night Market is undoubtedly Siem Reap’s most celebrated shopping market. This outdoor market houses more than 200 traditionally-styled Khmer huts selling clothing and handicrafts (including souvenirs items) produced by the Khmer communities themselves.
4. Pub Street
Sure enough, this alley located a few blocks away from Angkor Night Market is the heart of Siem Reap nightlife. Best known for its $1 Angkor draft beer, Pub Street is a must-visit for first-timers in town, and repeaters alike.
5. Angkor National Museum
There’s no better way to start a Cambodian tour but a visit in Angkor National Museum. With displays of 1,000 artifacts from the ancient Khmer empire, and relics from ‘pre-Angkor Wat’ periods, this expansive museum aims to showcase the rich history of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
6. Cambodia Cultural Village
Another way of immersing one’s self to the culture and traditions of the Cambodian race is a visit to Cambodia Cultural Village. Housed in a 210,000 square meter area, this theme-park-like village exhibits the nation’s traditional lifestyle, beliefs, practices and customs through a wide array of live performances.
For anybody who had an experience of wandering around Siem Reap and its hidden gems, this can be told without any trail of reservation and doubt – that indeed, Cambodia is beautiful and timeless. It may not be as physically progressive the way its neighbours does, but it will never be a take against this warm and amazing country. Her untouched character and rawness will only make her visitors love her all the more.
When the time comes that you have decided to pay a visit to this enchanting little town of Siem Reap, I hope this travel guide will come of help to you and you’ll have an equally unforgettable Angkor experience like I had. Fly high!