”Vibrant, steeped in history, bonkers by night”. The bustling city of Siem Reap is a must-visit for everyone interested in the South East Asia trail.
1. Backpack. Book ahead to secure your spot in the famous Mad Monkeys hostel, complete with pool and a roof top ‘Beach bar’ covered in sand – this is the place for under 30’s fun.
2. Fully booked? No worries! Stay at Downtown Siem Reap. I stayed here. I arrived with two friends and left with a group that I still keep in touch with – I currently live with one of the guys in New Zealand!. Rooms are clean, staff are friendly and the BBQ’s are fab. The pool is perfect for lazying in the stifling heat and for meeting new travellers over a bargain cocktail.
3. Spend. If your budget stretches further than the traditional backpacker check out the options for a glorious Siem Reap experience on the Mr & Mrs Smith site.
4. Don’t miss. You can’t go to Siem Reap and not visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Wat. It is the world’s biggest religious structure, boasting temples from the 9th to 15th century. You can explore on foot, bicycle or by tuk tuk as we did. We didn’t see every one but were happy to visit four in a morning. Aside from watching sunrise over the main temple, which is something to be seen to be believed, the ”Tomb Raider” temple as used in the films starring Angelina Jolie was our favourite.
5. Eat. A meal in a little orange cafe just behind Pub Street was one of the best I had during my whole 4 months in South East Asia. The food in Siem Reap is high quality, low price. Expect menus full of flavour and choice. Side streets have a European feel with many places serving local and French inspired food until late.
6. Shop by night. The pretty night market is full of things you want but as a backpacker cannot justify buying as you have ”nowhere” to store it. In saying that it is still an experience to ‘window shop’, browsing is half the fun and of course if you’re on a holiday you can buy whatever will fit in your suitcase!
7. Hop in. Do the infamous Tuk Tuk Pub Crawl for many laughs and lots of new travel pals in one evening. With a swift (strong!) drink in each bar, the night goes quickly and gives you a look behind the scenes of the city as you are taken to places you would probably have otherwise missed. Stay out all night and get the same Tuk Tuk to Angkor Wat for sunrise if you fancy …
8. Pamper. Make the most of the many salons lining the streets. Ladies will feel great after a mani/pedi for under $10 whilst gents can enjoy a cut price massage.
9. Party. No matter your age or status you must at least walk through Pub Street. It’s suitably bonkers for backpackers or you can sit on the side with a cocktail and watch the chaos unfold. It’s a must see! If you make it away from the mayhem of the strip itself visit X Bar for a birdseye view from its unique skate ramp rooftop.
10. Ink up. If, like me, you find yourself being ‘one of those people’ who wants a ”tattoo from every place” they visit then head to Angkor Tattoo on the alley just behind Pub Street. I emailed the artist my requested tattoo in the form of a photo and he drew it directly from that. It was an intricate piece, he was amazing – it is one of my favourites. 5*.
11. Getting there, getting your visa, getting away. Siem Reap was my first stop in Cambodia, I crossed the border nearest to Don Det on the South of Laos. Contrary to what I had read online and been told by others, the crossing was fine – no worries at all! We booked our transport all the way from Don Det to Siem Reap, going by boats, mini buses, water taxis and lastly Tuk Tuks. It was a long but hassle free journey, our visas were granted at the border itself. We arrived at night time and loved driving into the bright lights of Siem Reap in our pink princess Tuk Tuk! We left in an overnight bus to Koh Rong on the south of Cambodia. The bus was hectic but we luckily managed to have the whole back area and considered it ”the best bus journey ever”.
12. Beware. Petty crime runs rife, with a particular target on drunk backpackers. Two of my friends were victims of attempted robbery (men on motorbikes approached them with their lights off in the dark and tried to snatch their bags). This was alarming especially considering we were only there for a few nights. Don’t bring phones out. Keep money stashed inside your clothes!
13. Tailor your time. We did three days in Siem Reap, seeing and doing plenty. Depending on how you feel about spending time in cities in general and how much time you want to dedicate to visiting the Temples you could easily spend over a week there. Research what suits you and your trip plans on the whole and run with it!
I arrived with no clue of what to expect from Cambodia and left with a wish to explore much more of it – I have nothing but fond memories of Siem Reap.