Siem Reap is growing in leaps and bounds due to the increasing interest in Cambodia as a tourist destination. Still a relatively small city it nonetheless has the fastest growing hotel industry of any city in South East Asia. This unfettered and haphazard growth has resulted in strange pockets of developed areas followed by blocks of rural land, all within the city limits! Most fun is the “roads that lead nowhere”! The best time to visit is October through March. You will be required to purchase an entry visa upon arrival to any Cambodian airport. Carry extra passport photos with you and the current fee is $25USD.
I personally recommend that you stay within walking distance of the Old Central Market area. This way you are close to the night time action and vibrancy of the infamous Pub Street. Three blocks of an eclectic mixture of restaurants, bars, dinner theatres and cafes. A virtual potpourri of international guests laughing, socializing and sharing a similar interest in the Temples of Angkor Wat.
Siem Reap is the most popular destination in all of Cambodia and therefore you will find the prices higher here than elsewhere. However, that being said, most North Americans still find it insanely inexpensive because Cambodia is such a desperately poor country. Wonderful meals including wine will run you $5pp or less. Fabulous dinner theatre shows, featuring the local Apsara dancers are enjoyed for $12pp. Accommodations ranging from typical Khmer guesthouses to luxury chain hotels are available in every budget.
The Angkor Temple Archeological Park is simply amazing. Truly something you cannot afford to miss!! Designated a UN Heritage site, the Park is testament to the rise and fall of the Khmer regimes. You really need to spend the extra few dollars to employ a local guide as the temples are all so unique and have interesting histories. My little cadre of four woke up at 4 AM to do the Sunrise tour. 1 Day Pass entry was $23CAD (equivalent) and once inside the site we quickly found a perfect vantage point for the infamous “sunrise over Angkor Wat” photo op! We spent the entire day there and I can truthfully say that that was more than enough for me. I tend to get a little “templed out” at the best of times. If this is a passion of yours, you can buy 3-5 or 7 Day Park Passes.
The realities to Angkor Wat are the following:
- You need to be in good physical shape. There is a tremendous amount of walking and climbing involved to best enjoy the varied temples.
- There will be vast crowds.
- The vendors will not give up!! Small children will follow you relentlessly trying to get you to buy a postcard or bracelet.
- You need to pace yourself. The site is huge and you can easily get overwhelmed by the humidity if you allow yourself to get dehydrated or if you don’t make time to rest and get a meal.
Aside from the temples there is so much else to do. Khmer cooking classes, AK47 shooting ranges, tours to the Tonle Sap River to visit the Floating Villages and fantastic shopping at the Central Market. One cautionary tale however is the “orphanage tours”. Once tourists discover how truly desperate the living conditions are in Cambodia, they want to do anything possible to help. Sadly a number of these so-called “organizations” have proven to be nothing more than money-making scams. Be sure to do your research and get authentic endorsements prior to contributing to any local orphanages.