Siem Reap is known for Angkor Wat, the breathtaking ancient temple complex that captivates the hearts of many. But beyond the beautiful religious monuments, there’s still so much about this town that awaits discovery – a delightful cuisine, hospitable locals, lush forests, and a thriving nightlife.
It’s a fast-growing town, always filled with activity and overflowing with tourists. It is easy to get disoriented in the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap so it is best to travel there well informed and prepared. To help make your trip as stress-free as possible, here are a few things you should know.
You will need a visa to enter Cambodia but luckily for you, you don’t have to apply for a visa in advance because you can just get one the moment you arrive. The visa costs 30 USD and you will need a passport-sized photo with your application. The whole process of applying for a Cambodian visa only takes a few minutes
Riel is the Cambodian currency but you don’t really have to go through the hassle of having your travel funds exchanged because local restaurants and lodging places prefer to be paid in U.S. dollars. Of course, they will still accept payments in the local currency but it is always better to just pay in dollars to avoid losing money because you might not always get the best exchange rates while you’re there.
There’s no shortage of hotels, guesthouses, and hostels in Siem Reap so finding a room is easy. As much as possible, choose a hostel that’s centrally located to save on transportation costs but if you prefer sleeping options quite far from the town centre, that’s not a problem either.
You can get a dorm room for 10 USD, sometimes even cheaper. Throw in a few dollars more and you’ll get a decent room with AC, Wifi, hot and cold showers, and cable TV. During low season, walk-ins are advisable but if you’re planning to visit between November and December, generally considered as peak season, booking months in advance through online booking sites is recommended.
Local transport is cheap and reliable. A tuktuk ride within Siem Reap costs between 1 to 2 USD. Motorbike rides cost even cheaper, at fity cents to a dollar for rides within town. When transacting with motorbike and tuktuk drivers, make sure that you and the driver agree on the fare and destination first.
But for longer drives, you might want to rent a car to escape the often stifling Siem Reap heat and humidity. You can hire an airconditioned car and a driver for as low as $30 per day.
On top of your must-visit list when in Siem Reap should be the Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious monument and arguably one of the most beautiful structures in the world. Aside from Angkor Wat, there are other temple complexes to visit within the Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are also a handful of temples outside the boundaries of the park.
When visiting temples, it is recommended that you hire the services of a licensed tour guide and a driver in order for you to cover the most ground. Arrange for an early morning tour if you want to catch the sun rise over the magnificent Angkor Wat. You’ll also need to purchase the $20 one-day temple pass to enter the different temple complexes. And please, do not forget to drink lots of fluids and wear a hat and sunscreen when visiting temples.
To experience the best of Siem Reap, you have to spend at least three days there. Allot some time for a more leisurely exploration. You can even travel to the countryside and make short stops at towns and villages. Or you can join a day tour that will take you to a few Tonle Sap fishing villages.
While not as popular as those from Thailand and Vietnam, traditional Khmer dishes are just as good, especially stir-fries and the curries. Must-try Khmer dishes include fish amok (fish curry), red coconut curry, and lok lak (beef and vegetable stir-fry). For the best gastronomic experience in Siem Reap, join a street food walking tour or sign up for a traditional cooking class.
If you’re feeling a bit adventurous, you might want to try the deep-fried critters sold at the Old Market and the snake and tarantula kebabs peddled at the Angkor Night Market.
Siem Reap is in Southeast Asia so you can expect a frenzied shopping experience there as well. The town boasts of a good number of night markets so you won’t have difficulty shopping for souvenirs to bring back home. While prices at night markets may be cheap according to most people’s standards, know that vendors usually mark up the selling price so you should haggle for a great price. Be firm and assertive, yet polite. If you can’t seem to negotiate a lower price, smile and move on to the next stall. Chances are, you’ll find the same item in the next stall at a much lower price.
Cambodia is a conservative country, and despite the influx of tourists, Siem Reap is no different. Public display of affection among couples is a no-no. Dress appropriately – knees, shoulder, upper arms, and upper legs should be covered – especially when visiting the Angkor Temples and other religious sites. Always remove footwear when entering temples. Women should never touch a monk.
When you are invited to a local’s home, bring a small token or gift with you. Remember to remove your shoes before entering and never point your feet towards anyone or use your feet to open a door. Also, never touch another person’s head for doing so is disrespectful.
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By: Brendelyn Balaga