3 Days in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, the resort town in northwestern Cambodia, is the gateway to the famous ruins of Angkor, the seat of the powerful Khmer kingdom between the 9th and 15th centuries. The temples today are one of Asia’s biggest tourist attractions and what everyone comes here for (after all, they are spectacular) but Siem Reap has so much more to offer tourists outside of its temple walls; from jungle adventures to a vibrant culture to luxury hotels and a fabulous nightlife.
Exploring the Temples of Angkor
You can’t go to Siem Reap and not see the temples of Angkor, the world’s largest (and best preserved) religious site. Angkor’s vast metropolis of thousand-year-old temples includes the impeccably-preserved Angkor Wat (the main temple), as well as Angkor Thom, and Bayon Temple, among many other smaller temples.
You can get one-day, three-day or weeklong passes to the ancient temples, so we opted for the three-day. That way, you can plan one day around seeing the sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat, and have another full day for exploring the other temples. I highly recommend hiring a tour guide to take you through the temples for at least one of the days. The tour guides are very reasonable (we paid around $30-$35 per person for the whole day, including the tour guide and tuk tuk driver), and the guidance you get from having a tour guide is so much better than wandering around not knowing what you’re looking at. The stories behind Cambodian history are fascinating, and a good tour guide will give you great insight into not only the rich history of this Kingdom, but insight into life there today as well.
Should I do the sunrise at Angkor Wat?
Watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat is like a world traveler rite of passage. But is it all its hyped up to be?? The sun rising over the ancient temples is so stunning, and definitely something I would do again. That being said, it’s not a MUST for having a great time in Siem Reap. The sunrise is a nice bonus, and a great thing to do if you have multiple days and time to spare exploring the temples, but I wouldn’t push it by doing the sunrise and a ton of temple-exploring all in one day. I think you would be too exhausted to truly enjoy everything Siem Reap has to offer!!
For us, it was perfect to spend the first day exploring the three main temples (Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple & Ta Prohm), which we did with a wonderful guide organized for us by Jaya House River Park, Mr. Kim Hean, a tour guide who spoke wonderful English and toured us around all the temples. You can choose from a “short” day – just the three temples (that still will take you from 8am-3 or 4pm, with a stop for lunch) or a “long day” which will take you to some more of the smaller temples after the three main. What I loved about our private tour with Kim was that he tailored the day to us. When we wanted a snack, he took us to a local street market where we had the most delicious samplings of fruits and local bamboo coconut sticky rice. When we were thirsty, he’d have ice cold waters for us, or have the driver of the Tuk Tuk find us some of Cambodia’s famous sugar cane water. We were able to time how much time we spent in the temples to our liking and ended up having the very best time. I highly recommend doing a tour through him – you can request him through Jaya House or he conducts private tours and can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Then, after re-grouping at the hotel (aka swimming in both pools, having a huge delicious dinner at the hotel and drinking lots of wine — it’s so cheap in Cambodia compared to Bali!!!), we did the sunrise the next morning. Since we had already gotten all the information on the temples from our tour guide the day before.
What (Wat) to know before exploring Angkor Wat:
There are a few things that every traveler coming to Siem Reap should know before they set off to explore the temples.
The dress code
The Angkor Wat complex is a religious site, and is sacred to Cambodians. As of 2017, you will not be allowed to enter the temples with anything showing your knees or your shoulders. It used to be strictly just shoulders, and for women wearing dresses/rompers it was a little more relaxed, but now there is a very strict dress code enforcing everyone to completely cover up. Men don’t necessarily have to wear pants, but their shorts should reach their knees if they choose to wear shorts. Please note that it is VERY hot in Cambodia, so think ahead of some lightweight layers you can wear if you are planning on going to the temples. Silk scarves work great for women to cover shoulders, as do pants like these ones from Planet Blue which I wore so much throughout my trip!.
The weather at Angkor Wat:
Climbing around Temples in the Cambodian heat (especially in covering clothes) gets HOT, HOT, HOT! you’re going to need to dress as light as possible, and definitely bring or buy a lot of water throughout the day. The hottest season is from March-May, where temperatures average above 95 degrees. The wet season runs from April through the end of October, and the most temperate (and high season for tourists) is from December through the end of January.
The prices in Cambodia:
Let me let you in on a little secret as to why everyone is obsessed with Cambodia right now: it’s so CHEAP. Nowadays Siem Reap’s economy consists mainly of tourism, which can certainly lead to a huge increase in the cost of just about everything. While that might be true for locals, as a tourist I still saw some of the lowest prices I’ve seen anywhere in the world. Think $.50 cent beers, $2 glasses of wine, and $4 cocktails at luxury resorts. Did I mention these five-star hotels that would normally be $500+/night are around $150-$250 a night. Everything in Cambodia is more than half the cost of anything you’d get elsewhere in Asia and it’s fabulous.
I cannot recommend this hotel more for a perfect place to stay in Siem Reap. Tucked in the jungle, this luxurious 36-room hideaway is an oasis just minutes outside of the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap. Nestled along the tranquil banks of the Siem Reap River, it’s the absolute ideal place to relax after a long day at the temples.
You’ll come for the glamorous, art-deco vibes, the 2 beautiful pools, the lush and luxe decor, and the decadent included breakfast buffet (featuring mimosas made from various fresh tropical juices every morning), but you’ll be swept off your feet by Jaya House’s passion, heart, one-of-a-kind service and its home-away-from-home charm.
Rooms run for around $200-$300/night, depending on the time of year. Book here @ Jaya House River Park.
Exploring Siem Reap’s “Eat Street” and “Pub Street”
There are two main streets that make up the downtown of Siem Reap, fittingly called “Eat Street” and “Pub Street”. There are a ton of restaurants on eat street (including a local street food market for the more adventurous eaters), and there are a ton of fun bars on pub street. Grab a cocktail at Miss Wong Cocktail Bar, dinner at Cuisine Wat Dunak, and finish up the night with some dancing at Temple Club. Nights in Siem Reap are lively (everyones here on vacation, after all!) and walking the streets at night is a must!
Enjoy your time exploring one of the best cities in South East Asia! And if you’re wondering what else to do on your trip to Cambodia, check out my full 9-day itinerary in my Cambodia Travel Guide.