While nearby destinations like Thailand are overflowing with tourists, Cambodia, with it’s relaxing spas, stunning scenery and delicious cuisine, is still relatively under the radar. And with an even more favorable exchange rate than Thailand, it’s really a hidden gem. I recently went to Thailand and when flying from Bangkok to Phuket/Krabi, Siem Reap- home of the iconic Angkor Wat- is perfectly on the way (only 1 to 1.5 hrs each way).
🗝 Tip: Although Cambodia has it’s own currency, the US dollar is the preferred currency of choice and will get you further. Since there’s plenty of establishments that don’t take credit cards (markets, restaurants, etc) make sure to bring plenty of dollars.
Climb Through the Ancient Angkor Wat Temples
The beautiful temples of Angkor Wat are what most people visit Siem Reap for. These Buddhist temples are a UNESCO World Heritage site and are most recognized for being the back drop of the Tomb Raider movie with Angelina Jolie & Indiana Jones Temple of Doom. Besides being one of the most stunning places that I’ve seen in person, what I love about Angkor Wat is how you can literally climb all over it and explore to your heart’s content. Most UNESCO sites have security guards and ‘no touching’ signs everywhere, but you will see none of that at Angkor Wat. Only a strict dress code- it is a religious site, after all.
🗝 Tip: Follow the dress code, they are strict. Long pants & short sleeves for men; short sleeves & knees covered for women. Try to wear all cotton clothes, it’s very hot, and you will work up a sweat from all the climbing. Also, wear comfortable shoes, the walk ways are not exactly paved.
🗝 Tip: Sunsets & sunrises are a stunning sight at Angkor Wat. You don’t need a ticket as you can view them from outside the temple. I was only in Siem Reap for 2.5 days so to make the most of my short trip I bought a one day ticket to explore all day and then took a tuk tuk to see the sunrise the morning I left. Most hotels will pack you a breakfast. Make sure to go early for a good spot, there will be hundreds of people there. I got there by 5 and had my pick of the best spots.
Eat Delicious Khmer Cuisine Like Souffled Fish Amok
Fragrant curries, hearty noodles soups, flavorful skewers of meat and the famed, fish amok- fish seasoned with curry and steamed in coconut milk; food in Siem Reap is delicious. The cuisine reminds me a lot of Thai food, but with it’s own unique flavors and dishes. And the fruits and vegetables are so fresh. The best mango I’ve ever had was in Siem Reap. Food is so cheap here so try it all 🙂
🗝 Tip: If you’re going to try the Khmer signature dish, Fish Amok, go to Sugar Palm. Gordon Ramsey personally came here to learn how to make the dish from Sugar Palm’s chef, Kethana Dunnet, who’s famous for her souffled version.
Take a Tuk Tuk to Pub Street & the Angkor Night Market
Tuk tuks, a motorbike drawn carriage, are everywhere. It’s about $2-3 USD for a 5 min ride into town. I even hired one to take me around Angkor Wat. They are so much fun- you get a nice breeze as you take in the scenery.
Pub street is where everyone heads in the evenings. It’s a street lined with bars & clubs and is an experience in itself. The Angkor Night Market opens at sunset every evening. It’s a lively street fest with numerous stalls of every souvenir you can imagine and food carts throughout.
I recommend heading to the night market after dinner for a delicious strawberry banana nutella crepe (better than the ones I had at the Thai night markets) and shopping. Afterwards, head to Pub Street and go to Miss Wong’s, a scarlet hued, 1920’s Shanghai themed bar for a tropical fruit infused cocktail. End the night at Angkor What, the classic, hole-in-the-wall, dive bar.
Shop Hand-Carved, Lucky Elephants & Local Spices While Supporting an Entire Community of Local Artisans
Artisans d’Angkor is a social company that helps local people find sustainable work near their home villages by teaching them traditional Khmer crafts. You can shop Artisans d’Angkor and tour the workshop downtown in addition to several other locations. The prices are much higher than the souvenirs you see at the night market, but the quality is stunning. Artisans d’Angkor has home goods, silk clothes & accessories, jewelry and art. Senteurs d’Angkor has all sorts of spices, beauty products and candles. Cambodia is known to have some of the best cinnamon in the world and I also stocked up on peppercorn & curry power. Their mango lip balm and lemongrass candle smell amazing, but favorite purchase was this hand-carved elephant.
Have a Luxury Spa Day for $62 USD
Jetsetters rave about cheap Thai massages, but spa services in Siem Reap are an even more affordable indulgence. If you read my previous review of my amazing hotel, Viroth, then you already know about the spa. I got a spa package consisting of an aromatherapy massage (75 min), body brushing (15 min), mango scrub (30 min), vitamin rich facial (60 min) followed by a hydrating body treatment- all for $62 USD! This spa package was at a high-end resort, Viroth Hotel, so I’m sure you can find even cheaper services if you wanted.