Siem Reap, the city behind Angkor Wat

I’d actually never heard of Siem Reap before researching our trip to Angkor Wat and I think that in many ways the city gets lost in the tourism the attraction brings. Angkor Wat is one of a group of ancient ruins located in the Angkor Archeological Park. The whole area is included in the ticket price and there are few if any hotels located inside. If you’re going to Angkor Wat you will be staying in Siem Reap.

Siem Reap has exploded with tourism in the last few years and you cannot cross a street without encountering a tuktuk driver shouting offers to bring you on a temple tour. If you’re coming from Thailand like we did the aggressiveness of these encounters can be somewhat jarring. Try to remember that the local people don’t have much money and getting your business can make a huge difference to them. If you’re not interested just smile and move on.

Because the hotels and restaurants are aimed at tourists rather than the local population you will find they are more expensive than other places in Southeast Asia. I think that I probably spent in a week what would have taken 3-4 weeks in Thailand. That said we did cram a lot of activities into our five day visit and we all had a lot of fun.

The one thing that is very inexpensive here is the beer. It is only $.50 in most places, and often comes free if you order a meal. If you’re looking to try bar hoping or just kick back with a cold one when it gets hot this is the place to do it.

Now that I’ve talked a little about the town I will go into some details about our trip. Tips, where we stayed, where we ate and other services available in Siem Reap.

Like I mentioned in my last post for the most part they use US dollars for currency in Cambodia. You will want to use bills no larger than $20 and to make sure they are in good shape. Overly dirty, wrinkled or ripped bills may be refused. You may also receive some Cambodian currency as small change. Try to use all of this up before you leave as it’s too small to exchange.

My other tip is that you get a sim card and a week long tourist plan for your cell phone. Being connected to our friends back home and being able to look things up was invaluable and made me feel a lot more secure. It is conveniently located at the airport and doesn’t take more than a few minutes to set up.

We stayed at the HI Siem Reap hostel in a private room with bath and air conditioning. This was maybe two blocks away from the Art Market and a short walk to downtown. It was clean, comfortable, and because they are owned by the same company as the HI Siem Reap Deluxe we were able to use the roof top swimming pool at that location.

If you are planning to swim at the pool you will probably want bring your swimsuit with you or make sure to wear a cover up. While it is not far to walk I did feel uncomfortable walking for so long in a wet swimsuit and towel. There is a public bathroom at the pool that you can use to change.

The one things that I have to mention about our stay is a problem I had  with their laundry system. They sew small colored thread into your clothes in order to keep track of them and this permanently damaged a few of my pieces. All of the clothes that I had washed during our trip have small holes in them now, many in visible locations. I was pretty disappointed by this and would not choose to use their laundry service again.

Other than that I would highly recommend the HI Siem Reap hostel. You do not need to be a HI member to book, but you do have to pay 10-15% more. It still worked out to be fairly inexpensive.

The location of our hotel was perfect for us to walk to downtown to  go to one of the many restaurants, get a massage, or to grab some snacks from the convenience store.

While in Siem Reap we chose to eat out for most of our meals. For the first few days we didn’t have much luck finding good restaurants however by the end of our stay we found a few nice places to eat. Here are some of the places that we discovered.

Nai was one of the first restaurants that we encountered and while there selection is a little hit or miss they do have some very tasty sandwiches. Also, like many other locations in Siem Reap a lot of the specials came with a free beer! They had a huge menu with lots of pictures.  Check out this tomb!

After several days we wandered into an area with much better restaurants. One great but unexpected find was Viva, a Mexican restaurant.

The food at Viva is really good and coming from California probably the best Mexican that we had in all of Southeast Asia. Here you can see we simply devoured a plate of taquitos with fresh guacamole and salsa. In addition to Mexican food they make some asian dishes so this is a good place for groups that can’t decide on a single cuisine.

We also stopped into the Yolo Bar for beers and to play a game of jenga once or twice. I don’t remember if we had any food there but the beer was nice and cold!

Other than eating out we got two or three cheap massages that helped our sore muscles. The massage place that we went to has a bunch of comfy chairs out on the sidewalk. You take off your shoes, roll up your pant legs and a nice Cambodian woman or man rubs the aches out of your shins for about $6. We definitely needed it after all the walking!

For our trip into the Angkor Archeological Park and when we wanted to relax in our room we went to one of the many off brand 7-11’s and picked up snacks or drinks as needed. I even bought a cheap pair of headphones after I lost mine. These are not as nice as the 7-11’s you find in Thailand and are more like the ones back home.

That’s all I can think to mention about the city of Siem Reap. While I had a lot of fun in Siem Reap I don’t think that I will be back for a long time. I feel a lot like I’ve seen Angkor Wat but have yet to see Cambodia.

Next time I am going to talk about our trip to Angkor Wat, the Bayon, and Ta Prohm.