In early August I flew directly from Manila to Siem Reap in a 90-dollar round trip fare which I got from an airline fare sale.
Being my second time there I wanted to expand my culture intake and still see the basics with a friend who had never been.
Home of the renowned Angkor Temple complex Siem Reap lies in the northwestern part of Cambodia and is a favorite stopover in Southeast Asia for backpackers traveling by bus from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Phnom Penh. With so many unique things to experience in Siem Reap it can be overwhelming trying to decide what to do. Below are seven awesome bucket list items you should include on your itinerary.
Here are our 7 Awesome Things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
1. Indiana Jones-ing at the Temples
No visit to Siem Reap can be complete without a visit to the temple complex. You can get a 3-day pass to the Temples for 40USD and a day passes for 20USD. If you get a day pass, I suggest you plan on what temples to visit. Touring the temples can be exhausting so don’t forget to wear comfortable (but respectful) clothes and a bottle of water.
The Angkor temples are real testaments to tenacity. That feeling you get when you are on the walls of these 9th and 13th-century old architectures as they unveil history is lasting. The rise and fall of empires, the intricacy of the Khmer art, and the harmonious adaptation of the ruins to nature as it stand the test of time, these sums up my temple hopping experience.
Check out some of the cool and cheap tours you could do in Angkor Wat.
2. Bargain Shopping
The bustling Old and New markets are heavens for shopaholics. You can find almost everything here. From stunning artworks to bags and everything in between. I’d say Cambodians are hardcore sellers and a pro-level haggling and bargaining skills could save you serious money. Be wise in giving your preferred offer but don’t forget to be reasonable too even if the conversion is in your favor.
Remember to look around before buying – many of the stalls offer the same or similar items. Buying from the first stall, you come upon is a good way to overpay.
3. Phare, The Cambodian Circus
After visiting the temples soaking in the energy from the circus is a great way to end the day. A circus for a cause founded in 1994 to support its performers who came from poverty stricken backgrounds. The festive mood reminds me of my childhood memories in a “Perya,” a Filipino style Carnival. The hotel where I checked-in sold the circus ticket for 18USD. You can buy tickets at the circus venue too for the same price. The show starts at 8:00 pm and it’s free seating so make sure to be there a bit earlier to secure better seats. Preferred seating is also available for 35USD (Adult).
They have a few different shows however the screenplay I saw was about discrimination with a little bit of humor lighten a very sensitive social issue. The group performs in a very solid stance, and you could see that they love what they’re doing. The group is world renowned and has traveled to end the world visiting the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.
4. Afternoon Drinks on a Roof Deck
What could be a better day ender than lazing on a roof deck on a large bean bag while watching the sun as it sets over the downtown river? You can find cheap rooftop bars close to the old market area. I went to a place called “Temples Bar” somewhere in the heart of Pub street. Having a glass of cocktail and snacks with Cambodian acoustic songs in the background while catching the afternoon rays on a roof deck is a travel experience I will always remember.
5. Bicycle Touring
What’s the best way to explore the Siem Reap? Well, rent a bike for a dollar and get lost in it. I didn’t mind battling for space on the road against tuk-tuks, motors, and pedestrians and all I remembered from that journey was I was biking around Siem Reap that morning. I passed by the majestic Angkor Wat and in that fleeting moment time stood still.
You can rent a bike for 1USD. Bike rentals are everywhere, so you don’t have to worry. If you’re lucky, you can borrow one from your hotel for free. Just ask the hotel staff politely.
6. Spend some quite time in a do-good coffee shop
While your hotel checks out is scheduled at around noon, flights back to MNL are scheduled at night, and if you wish to stay in your hotel until evening, you have to pay for a hotel day’s rate.
Spending some quiet time in a do-good coffee shop is a nice thing to do while waiting for a red eye flight. My friends and I spent our last few hours in Cambodia last year in a coffee shop called New Leaf Book Cafe. If you identify yourself as a book lover, then this place is your paradise. It’s a quite place in the heart of bustling Siem Reap. Enjoy a glass of iced Cambodian coffee while reading books donated to the coffee shop. And their profit goes to community projects in the province. They serve light meals, and the service is excellent. They also have wi-fi and power outlets where you can charge your smartphones and power banks while waiting for your flight.
New Leaf Book Café
Group 10, Phum Mondul 1, Svay Dungkum, 306 Street 9, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
7. Marvel at the Angkor Wat Sunrise
It was 5:15am and Mr. Chour, our tuk-tuk driver, was waiting patiently at the hotel entrance. We would be heading to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. At first, I thought it’s impossible to capture a good picture of Angkor Wat during sunrise because the light was not sufficient to showcase the beauty of the temple and its entirety and it was hazy. The sky started to display its amazing spectrum as it unveils the outline of the temple from across the moat. The photographers started the capture every single moment of it. It was breathtaking. I know waking up early is a pain but at that moment all I ever thought was, I just had one of the greatest adventures of my life.
STILL LOOKING FOR OTHER TOURS TO DO IN CAMBODIA?
Even the best DIY trips need a little help here and there. If you’re headed here, check out all these awesome experiences for only $120 and below. Use them to spice up your budget DIY itinerary, or buy one as a gift for a friend (click the photo for more details!)
Budget – Adan World Hostel Siem Reap
Mid Range – Golden Temple Residence
Luxury – Borei Angkor Resort & Spa
Looking for other articles? Check out our DIY Travel Guides Around the World. For cheap and luxurious places to stay while traveling, here’s our ultimate list of best hostels and hotels!
About the Writer
Carlo Teope was born and raised in Manila and currently working in the BPO industry. “My love for photography and writing grew when I became a photojournalist back in school days. I love traveling – to a point my normal weekend is away from home.
You will always find me sitting on a window seat on flights going back to Manila next to my partner, zoned out, plotting an enormous change in my life in the state of post-travel blues. Some flights pass by while some drag on forever. And to help myself mitigate the journey along the way, I write.”
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