Aside from the Tomb Raider temples, I didn’t know much about Siem Reap, Cambodia. That changed when I visited the city last January. All the way from Cebu to Manila to Clark to Bangkok to Aranyaprathet to Poi Pet to Siem Reap, it took 36 hours of commutes and stops to reach the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Looking back on our trip three months ago, I’ve written so many stories about this quaint city more than any adventure I’ve experienced (so far). In line with my goal to provide insights on the countries I’ve been, I’ve created this definitive guide to share some tips and things to know about Siem Reap based on my experiences.
Angkor Wat Complex
By the way, I’ve interchanged Khmer and Cambodians in my past articles but don’t confuse yourself between the two, they’re one in the same (e.g. Khmer food = Cambodian food).
Tips and Things to Know about Siem Reap, Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the most famous among the lot but Siem Reap has many temples! So many that we weren’t able to tour everything with the three-day pass that we purchased. Angkor Thom Gate, Bayon Temple, Elephant Terrace, Ta Prohm, Pre Rup, Banteay Srei, East Mebon; each of these temples have their own distinction. These were enough to keep our eyes full for the two days that we had available.
temples with their own characteristics
What I like best about the temples are their rustic feel. How they look aged which shows their rich history. The intricate details of their carvings too. I haven’t really explored how and why they were built but seeing that they’re still standing up to now, it made me realize how important our own churches are in the Philippines. How each place of worship is a vital part of memory of a destination.
East Mebon Temple
Always carry your temple passes as every complex has check points that will require you to show your tickets as entrance permits.
Passes are priced at
20 USD for 1 day
40 USD for 3 days and
60 USD for 7 days
US Dollar Currency & Basic Expenses
1 USD = 4000 Riel
Although Khmer people use Cambodian Riel, prices posted in shops and even when negotiating for services, US Dollars are a preferred currency. It’s because the dollars have more value compared to their own. That’s why when we were there, we felt so rich knowing that our purchasing power was high. Khmer (Cambodians) will gladly accept Riel though.
Also, we did not spend a lot during a stay in Siem Reap. Our total budget expense was around 7900 Php or 175 USD excluding air fare. The amount is inclusive of expenses in the Philippines (taxis, buses and travel taxes from Cebu to Manila to Clark – around 3000 Php), transport from Bangkok to Siem Reap and going back to Bangkok, 2-days tour around the temples and some food trips on the side.
Cheap Khmer food will cost you around 1-2 USD per meal. For medium to upscale, food costs are around 3 USD up.
Amok is their national dish which is anything that is swimming in coconut milk – according to fellow travel blogger AJ.
For your accommodation, normal range would be around 8 USD to 12 USD per night. But we really got an excellent package for 3 at our hostel – Bousavy Guesthouse; as per Chyng‘s recommendation. We paid 24 USD each (3 persons) for 3 days and 2 nights with a tuk tuk tour around the temples for 2 days, free breakfast and one free dinner.
Bikes are at 1 to 2 USD per day. Tuktuk taxis are at 1 USD per ride.
- Souvenir Items
As for souvenir items, you can buy Lonely Planet (knock-offs) guides and other books for as low as 6 USD and scarves for 3 USD.
Haggling as a Skill
Planning to buy souvenirs? Haggle!
Choosing over meals in small eateries? Haggle!
Hiring a Tuktuk ride? Haggle!
Really. If there’s a country where you need to learn how to haggle, Cambodia is the place to be. Almost every product sold or service offered, you can haggle to get a cheaper price. It’s as if this trait of negotiating was developed due to the many tourists who flock the area. I couldn’t believe at times when I got a good deal for items I bought at the Angkor Night Markets. I didn’t even have to force the sellers that much. The technique is to walk away if you don’t agree with the prices. Most likely, they’ll give in to your request.
practice your skills in haggling
Word of Caution: Common sense will determine if a good or service can be negotiated. Haggling won’t work in upscale establishments.
Note: Don’t be too much of a cheapskate like me. I felt guilty afterwards when I reviewed how much discount I received from purchasing different merchandise. I realized how hard their life is and it could’ve been my way of contributing to their business if I hadn’t been such a prick and milked whatever I could out of their goods.
Ride a Bike, Exercise! Else Hire a Tuktuk
Bikes and Tuk Tuk Taxis are the main modes of transportation.
I wanted to rent a bike (1 to 2 USD per day) but my friend didn’t know how to ride one and we needed to visit the temples as fast as we could. Besides, it was already part of our hostel’s package so we opted to ride the tuktuk.
But if you have more time on your hands and you would prefer to pass by the different temples at your own pace, you can rent a bicycle from different shops and hostels.
bike for exercise or tuktuk if you’re in a hurry
There were a lot of bikes that were available in our guesthouse but we didn’t really bother as we hired tuk tuk taxis (at 1 USD per ride). The most that can fit in the tuk tuk would be around 4 people but 3 is already enough.
Tall Trees and Orange Land
One thing I noticed right when we stepped foot on this city and toured the different sacred monuments were the tall trees and orange soil. I’ve never seen such huge and tall trees in my life! As for the soil, I already got this notion from one of my companions who’s been there; still I wanted to see it firsthand.
The orange soil made me wonder how Siem Reap looks like when it rains.There was no downpour during our whole stay which was still a good thing.
Dust and Heat
With the sun high up and dust particles around, be sure to bring a bottle of water or two. If your skin is sensitive, apply sunblock too! Wet tissues are going to be your best friends, but I preferred using face towels. After a long and tiring day of walking in the different temples, you definitely want to wipe of the dirt that gathered in your face as well as drink a cold glass of water to appease yourself from the hot climate.
Huge bathrooms are available near the temples so you don’t have to worry about where to take a leak or dump. Just ask the security personnel and there’s no extra cost for you to use them.
Ditch the Pants, Wear Shorts! (Not too Short for the Ladies)
I wore pants on my way to Siem Reap. Other than that, I never got to wear my extra pair during the whole trip. This also applies in Thailand. Unlike Hong Kong and Macau or even Malaysia, I was never pressured to wear fancy clothing because of how rugged the city is. Feel like Indiana Jones or Lara Croft with your adventure gear.
Considering that we were walking around different temples, I didn’t bother checking how I looked so long as I was comfortable with shorts and slippers too. If you’re a lady (or even a guy) who likes to wear skimpy shorts, make sure you have a back up as there are a few areas in the monuments that are not permitted if you dress too sexy.
Take Lots of Photos!
Change your profile pictures in Facebook right away. Like I’ve always said, the temples are beautiful so you can take hundreds (thousands even) of pictures along the way. Be prepared with your camera and make sure the battery is fully charged as every angle of every area is picture-worthy.
If you’re companions are game enough, you might even have a number of crazy shots added to your album.
Siem Reap is unassuming. When you spend a couple of days, it makes you reflect because of how simple life is in this city. It’s the same feeling I’ve felt with Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental. Probably because of how similarly quiet the two places are. You just want to chill out and grab a bottle of beer or sip a fresh fruit shake.
Take time to pause and read a book.
With its laidback environment, it is best to take time to pause and let the world revolve around you; read a book or let the quiet atmosphere sink in.
Khmer People are Kind
Aside from the temples, the best part about Cambodia is its people. In general, I’ve never met such a good-hearted lot when abroad. I haven’t been to a lot of countries but I can say that the people in Cambodia makes you feel at ease. No pretentions and just pure hearts.
Talking to Suti, a Khmer kid making ends meet.
Of course, it’s natural that there are those who will trick you and you should avoid different scams not only in Siem Reap, but also everywhere you go. However, I can see how genuinely kind these Cambodians are (just like Filipinos) during my short interactions with them.
Banana Pancake vendor teaching Den how to prepare this roti.
One testament was when we were scanning through clothes that were being sold in a Khmer woman’s stall. After going through the pile of shirts, we didn’t buy any and just walked away. “You are a bad person.” was the only statement I heard from the woman. No curses nor FU signs thrown–I could be wrong and maybe they were cursing in their own language but still, I didn’t hear any.
Cambodia Humbles You
From land mine victims to those Khmer children selling merchandise; these people make you appreciate life because of how simple they live theirs. I talked to a Khmer kid and had an insightful conversation over a fish massage. Having these experiences have humbled me in a lot of ways and made me build a more positive perspective on things.
Land mine victims, an aftermath of war.
Those instances when I kept complaining about trivial things that didn’t add to a sum in my normal routine, they vanished when I saw the state of these people. Cambodia makes you realize what’s truly important in life.
Khmer woman selling water near the temples.
No wonder Angelina Jolie was touched and adopted a Khmer kid after her movie stint. Not that I’m going to get one any time soon; but witnessing how difficult their life is enough to encourage you to do well on your own. Cambodia will inspire you!
You from Philippines? We SAME SAME!
In their effort to relate, this was the response we received from locals when they found out where we’re from. I’m glad cause I didn’t feel left-out as they were all welcoming. There’s not much difference between our philosophies and theirs. We all want to have a better status in life and we all love Manny Pacquiao as the boxer.
My journals in Siem Reap have developed my passion for exploring and immersing myself in another country’s culture and way of life. I don’t know how many times I’ve said this but I regret the moment when I initially passed on the opportunity to wander in this beautiful city. I wouldn’t have discovered a lot if it weren’t for this trip.
I’m not sure if this is going to be the last article in my Siem Reap, Cambodia series–probably not. I still have a lot of photos that I haven’t published and there are still a number of scenes that I’d like to highlight. But for now, this will be a temporary end on a sequence of posts.
Here’s a couple of comprehensive guides about Siem Reap:
- Tips and Things to Know about Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Digital Nomad Life: One Month in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Check out my other adventures here:
- Quick Update from Bousavy Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Siem Reap and Bangkok Chronicles
- Getting There: Cebu to Manila to Clark to Bangkok to Aranyaprathet to Siem Reap
- No Ordinary Train Ride From Bangkok to Aranyaprathet
- Bangkok to Siem Reap: Avoid Scammers from Aranyaprathet to Poipet Border
- Where to Stay: Bousavy Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Where to Stay: Victory Guesthouse in Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Cambodia Trip: Angkor Thom Gate, Bayon Temple and Elephant Terrace
- Cambodia Trip: Trees in Ta Prohm Temple, Siem Reap
- Cambodia Trip: Walking Barefoot at Angkor Wat Temple
- Cambodia Trip: Pre Rup, Banteay Srei and East Mebon Temples
- Cambodia Trip: Haggling Prices in Angkor Night Market
- Cambodia Trip: Those Khmer Kids Selling Merchandise
- Cambodia Trip: Chill Out and Relax at Pub Street in Siem Reap
- Cambodia Trip: Insightful Conversations Over a Fish Massage
- Cambodia Trip: Land Mine Victims
- Cambodia Trip: A Guide to Eating Cheap Khmer Food in Siem Reap
- Cambodia Trip: Engrish and Random Sights in Siem Reap
- Cambodia Trip: Shuttle Bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok, Thailand
- Total Budget Expense in Siem Reap, Cambodia