I was met with confused stares every time I mentioned visiting Cambodia to friends/family/colleagues, most didn’t really know enough about the country but almost everyone mentioned the Angkor Temples in Siem Reap, the prime tourist attraction in Cambodia. And if you are not particularly fond of architecture and monuments (like me), you will be a tad bit concerned with this feedback, wondering if there is anything more to this city than its world renowned sites. I did make it to Siem Reap and am totally glad that I did ! It is a busy, bustling city, full of travelers who throng to see the temples but it does have more to offer than that – an easy, friendly vibe and a mind blowing variety of food, both of which made my experience incredible. Below are my top 5 things to do in Siem Reap –
1. Ride in the Tuk Tuk
The tuk tuk is basically a bike to which a carriage/wagon is attached and you will finds loads of these throughout the streets of Siem Reap. These are convenient, airy and the cheapest mode of transport in Siem Reap (unless you are riding a rented bicycle all day) – to give you an idea, a 3km ride from our hotel (Lotus Blanc Resort) to Pub Street cost us $2. While coming back late at night, the Tuk Tuk drivers tried to make an extra dollar or two off us but we always bargained and got a ride back at the same price.
2. Soak in the vibe and energy of Pub Street
Pub Street is the nightlife hub of Siem Reap and sort of touristy so I doubt if any locals visit it, but don’t write it off since there is a lot to explore here from unending restaurants, cafes, bars and the likes. It is a delight for street food lovers, and you can sample great eats at very reasonable prices. The variety is mind-blowing – from Khmer food, to street stalls of fried insects, carts making fresh pancakes, a splendid selection of meats and barbecue, fresh fruit and milk shakes, the list is never ending. Add to this that you can buy Angkor beers and Mekong whiskey for under $1.5 (though I should probably warn you that after a few days of Mekong whiskey, my insides did feel a bit burnt 😛 )
3. Shop at the Night Market
Within walking distance of Pub Street are many night markets if you want to buy some interesting souvenirs’ – clothes, silk, local crafts, jewelry, shoes, bags, candles and more. Bargaining is the norm and though I didn’t buy anything, it’s still great fun to look around (I saw pretty much the same stuff in Bangkok but at double the prices and on hindsight wish I had bought some of the things that I liked)
4. Relax with a massage
For me, nothing beats a good massage after a tiring day, but I never ever end up getting one on my travels since it is a tad too expensive. Especially since you can get a local maalish (massage) in the comfort of your home in India for as little $4. Siem Reap was a pleasant surprise with so many massage parlors offering one hour foot massages for under $5 (yeah!). You will see loads of lounging chairs outside these parlors at any time of the day or night, filled with tourists and their gadgets (Wi-Fi is always free!)
If you don’t mind little fish nibbling dead skin from your feet, in a community tub with multiple other people, try the fish spas (didn’t dig this really!). If you want something more private, try the Body Health spa (next to Sister Srey Café in Old Market) where I got a full body massage for $12.
5. Cycle to the Angkor Wat
To be honest, I am not really a big fan of architecture and history, so spending days at the Angkor temples didn’t excite me too much. So the mister (I will call him B) and I decided to check out only the most famous one, Angkor Wat by renting bicycles(for $2 a day from a local non-profit, The White Bicycles) and cycling to the site. The bikes weren’t in the best of conditions but we still decided to go ahead as it was for a good cause (you can ask your hotel for other bike companies as there are many). It was 8 kms one way from the White Bicycle office to Angkor Wat, cycling on the main streets was a bit tricky as traffic isn’t the most organized – there is no separate cycling track and people drive past very closely and honk unnecessarily. I wasn’t too fazed as I am fairly used to it back home, but in case you are the nervous type, you may be better off just taking a tuk tuk.
We spent a couple of hours at Angkor Wat exploring the temple. Yes, the structure is gigantic and yes, this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But to me, it wasn’t spectacularly beautiful, I guess monuments isn’t really my thing. Our hotel insisted we check out Angkor Wat at sunrise (apparently no one should miss this but B and I just slept in) – I remain unconvinced that I would feel otherwise about the place. For me, the fun was in the experience of riding a bicycle on the streets of Siem Reap, I must tell you that B was clutching his bum by the end of it, but if you have a cushy behind, you will do just fine 😉
- You don’t need to carry local currency anywhere as the $ is widely used. I was surprised at the extent as all restaurants, hotels, shops etc have rate cards only in dollars.
- Have a local number and internet – it will come in very handy to navigate through the city, especially if you don’t have a guide and are cycling/walking around.
- Stay on National Highway 6, it has the best properties in Siem Reap and is just a few kms away Pub Street, where you will likely be spending your evenings
Have you been to Siem Reap? Would love to hear of your time there in the comments section .