There are many incredible things to do in Siem Reap, and visiting Angkor Wat is just one of them.
Visiting Angkor Wat is definitely among the top things to do in Siem Reap and one of the best things to do in Cambodia. To many it is the cherry on the cake of a trip to South East Asia.
I spent 4 days in Siem Reap. It may not seem like a long time, and since there are so many things to do in Siem Reap and it has a great vibe I would have gladly stayed longer – but it was 40 degrees Celsius with high humidity levels when I visited, and despite my best efforts to stay cool, I eventually got worn out and decided to leave for the much milder Koh Chang, in Thailand.
Read more about Koh Chang on my post “Why Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand.”
In this post, I highlight all the best things to do in Siem Reap, starting with visiting Angkor Wat and sharing plenty of tips to make the most of your time there.
7 Fabulous Things To Do In Siem Reap
Visiting Angkor Wat complex
Visiting Angkor Wat is the most obvious of the many things to do in Siem Reap, yet simply unmissable. Visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is actually one of the top things to do in Cambodia. Yet, a site so spread out can be a bit overwhelming to visit, so it is better to go prepared and knowing what to expect. Here’s a few tips for visiting Angkor Wat.
Tips for visiting Angkor Wat
There are one-day, three-days and seven-days passes for visiting Angkor Wat. The one-day pass costs $37 USD, the three-days one costs $67 and can be used in the course of a week; the seven-day pass costs $72 and can be used in the course of a month. Even if tight on time, I really recommend to plan at least two days for visiting Angkor Wat, as it is one of the top things to do in Siem Reap. It is totally worth investing the time and money to explore it properly.
Getting a guide
Believe it or not, I have heard some people say that one day is enough for visiting Angkor Wat and that after a while they got bored. What?! To me it was a fantastic experience! The problem is that a lot of travelers – usually backpackers – are so obsessed with the idea of traveling independently, on a very tight budget, getting off the beaten path and to experience things “as a local,” that they hardly end up experiencing anything at all.
That’s why I recommend taking a guided tour of Angkor Wat as one of the best things to do in Siem Reap. These are some of the best tours of Angkor Wat:
- Angkor Wat full day small group sunrise tour
- Angkor Wat full day private tour with sunset
- Angkor Temples private full day tour with sunset
- Angkor Temples Grand Circle full day photo tour
- Angkor Wat full day private tour with sunrise
- Full day Angkor Temples bike tour
- Angkor Wat Temples provate 2-day tour with sunrise and sunset
There even are guided photo tours of Angkor Wat.
Make sure to invest some of your budget to get a certified guide and book a 2 day guided tour that takes you around the complex of Angkor. Certified guides can charge anything between $30 and $50 USD per day, which is a reasonable price considering that the tour lasts 8 full hours or more. If you can share the costs with friends or other travelers, it doesn’t turn out so expensive.
Hotels and hostels are usually happy to help with putting together a group.
Chang, the guide I hired was incredibly kind and he knew the sites so well, as well as the habits of most visitors, so that he dodged the crowds fantastically. I was expecting to find people everywhere when visiting Angkor Wat, and of having to fight for some personal space and for a good photo, and it never happened. Thanks to Chang, I never felt overwhelmed by the crowds. In fact, he knew all the right spots to take the best pictures.
Itineraries for visiting Angkor Wat
Among the best things to do in Siem Reap before actually visiting Angkor Wat, there’s getting an idea of an itinerary to follow – so as not to waste precious time moving from one place to another, to make the most of the incredible site and to avoid the crowds. Guidebooks, travel blogs, hotels and hostels all suggest various itineraries, which usually go from the strict highlights of Angkor Wat to the further away sites.
This was my itinerary:
On the first day, I visited the magnificent Angkor Wat – the world largest religious building; Angkor Thom – with the Buddhist temple of Bayon and its huge faces, as well as the intricate bas-reliefs; the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King; Victory Gate; Ta Phrom – nicknamed the Tomb Raider temple, and testimony of the power of the jungle – with Preah Khan, a temple dedicated to Buddha, Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu; and Banteay Kdei.
I concluded my first day visiting Angkor Wat seeing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng. My advice is to go there no later than 4:00 pm, as only 300 people at a time can enter the temple and the security guards allow someone in only when someone gets out. Going later than 4:00 pm means standing in line for up to one hour in order to climb to the top and possibly missing the sunset.
In any case, seeing the sunset from Phnom Bakheng is not one of the top things to do in Siem Reap – it is pretty, but not as spectacular as seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat for sure! Also beware that there usually is an extra charge for tours that end after sunset.
This tour lasted 10 full hours, including the lunch break and the sunset.
On my second day, the tour started with visiting Angkor Wat for the sunrise (again, there is an extra charge for this).
We then moved to Preah Khan (which isn’t the same temple right by Angkor, but one much further away), exquisitely quiet and peaceful; Preah Neak Poan, a Buddhist temple where a large square pool is surrounded by 4 smaller pools with a circular “island” in the middle; Ta Som – a smaller temple north-east of Angkor Thom and also invaded by the jungle.
We then went to East Mebon, a 10th century Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva where guardian elephant statues are located at the four cardinal points; Pre Rup, where according to Cambodian belief funerals took place; and Sra Srang, which is a baray or reservoir and whose function is still unclear and probably a combination of agricultural and religious functions.
This tour lasted about 8 hours, including the sunrise and breakfast.
Dress code and etiquette for visiting Angkor Wat
The heat in Siem Reap is so strong that it is very tempting to walk around in shorts, tank tops and flip flops. Yet, you have to pay respect to the sites and the monks in them. It is better to wear long pants or a long skirt, closed-toes shoes and a shirt that covers the shoulders as the security guards don’t allow visitors who are not dressed appropriately to enter the temples which are still used by the monks. All in all, it is so hot that what you wear makes little difference anyways.
Once in the temples, respect the religious sites. Don’t scream, and don’t leave any garbage around.
There are also various cats roaming around – the monks take care of them. You can pet them, but leave them alone if they are sleeping.
Finally, there are lots of monkeys around Angkor Wat. Don’t feed them – monkeys would eat anything, but that is not good for them!
Eating and drinking at Angkor Wat
One of the most important things to do in Siem Reap is staying hydrated. The heat is so bad, and the humidity so strong, that water is a necessity. Make sure to carry some water, and buy some more from the small shops that can be found outside the temples. Carrying a water filter is a better option to use less plastic and leave less footprints. There are also lots of places around the sites, that sell anything from simple snacks to cheap local eateries and fancier ones.
Getting to Angkor Wat and around
Some say that one of the coolest things to do in Siem Reap is renting a bike to visit the Angkor Wat complex. But it is so hot that you really have to think about this carefully. It is probably better to hire a tuk tuk (or remorque, how they are called in Cambodia). This costs around $15 to $18 for the whole day and can carry up to 4 persons, so it doesn’t end up being that expensive.
Seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat
There is no doubt that one of the best things to do in Siem Reap is seeing the sunrise at Angkor Wat. You will have to wake up at 4:00 am for that but I promise you it is worth it. If you hire a good guide, you can also rest assured that you won’t feel the place so crowded.
You can book a sunrise guided tour and the guide will know exactly where to go and the exact timings for taking the best pictures.
TIP: Make sure to stay on the right side in front of the temples first. Most people go straight to the right, so that side gets crowded. Once the sun starts coming out, move to the other side for more photos. You will see the reflection on the moat and that is a lovely photo to take.
Doing the Flight of the Gibbon
If you like zip lining, make sure you try Flight of the Gibbon – it has some fun zip lines in Angkor Park. Flight of the Gibbon runs a very good conservation program, reintroducing gibbons in the area.
Read more about my zip-lining experience in Argentina on my post “Great things to do in Argentina.”
Zip-lining with Flight of the Gibbon is an amazing experience. You will get picked up from your hotel at 8:00 am and taken to Angkor Park. The base is completely immersed in the jungle. As soon as you arrive, you are welcomed by the staff, who helps you wearing the protective gear. Safety is certainly one of the things that makes the Flight of the Gibbon special.
You will then be taken to the beginning of the trail and trained about the safety measures, on how to fly and how to stop. Guides speak perfect English, they are incredibly friendly and extremely professional.
There are ten zip-lines, and 4 sky bridges. At each stop, you will be given information on the length of the flight, on the hight and – most importantly – you will be all tied properly for safety. You will also get insights on the jungle surrounding you, on the wildlife and plants you see.
When you will finally make your way to the base camp, you may be able to spot one of the gibbons that live in the area.
Before being driven back to town, you will be taken for lunch at a lovely restaurant and get to try some of the local dishes. Lunch is included in the experience.
Enjoying Siem Reap bustling night life
The center of town is one of Siem Reap attractions and can’t be bypassed. It is a series of bars, restaurants (lots of them western style) and pubs, all blasting very loud music and offering happy hour deals.
Pub Street – that’s the name, which says a lot about the place – is packed with a younger crowd looking for cheap booze which can be found on the many “booze carts” selling alcoholic drinks in the street. It is fun to watch for a while.
Getting a massage (and supporting a good cause)
The center of town is the best place to get a cheap massage – excellent way to relax after having spent the whole day visiting Angkor Wat. Lots of places offer a foot rub for just $1 USD, back rubs, and all sorts of other massages, and even the fish massage where fish eat the dead skin off the feet.
If privacy isn’t an issue (customers are all sitting right next to each other in the open, passers-by curiously staring), this is one of the most fun and cheap things to do in Siem Reap. Just make sure that the people doing the massage are actually adults – I have seen lots of masseurs who looked way too young to be working till late, and I’d hate to contribute to child exploitation.
There also are various spas where the masseurs are blind people and where the profits go to support their training, employment and integration (but beware as there also are places that exploit the blinds for profits). Sure enough, one of the best things to do in Cambodia is supporting a good cause, where by paying for a service such as a biking tour, a meal or even a massage, money goes to support the local community with education, employment, integration and environmental protection programs.
The Night Market in Siem Reap is packed with small stalls of local artists that sell hand made jewels, clothes and bags, some of it made from recycled material too. It’s a perfect place to shop for souvenirs.
More important things to do in Siem Reap
The heat in Cambodia is unprecedented. One of the most important things to do in Cambodia is to keep hydrated, drinking lots of water.
Make sure to always protect against the sun, which is really strong at this latitude. Wearing a high SPF is necessary not to get sunburnt and in fact, make sure to get proper sun lotion as it is known that in this part of the world lots don’t actually do what they promise.
Finally – Siem Reap and the rest of the country (and of South East Asia, in fact) are invaded with mosquitos. The chances of getting malaria are slim, especially during the dry season. However, make sure to apply mosquito repellent, possibly with DEET too. Wear long pants and shoes so that the areas where you need to apply it are minimal.
What Not To Do In Siem Reap
This isn’t meant to be a post on responsible travel (you can read one here). Yet, I feel compelled to comment on what I saw when visiting Angkor Wat, because I was seriously bothered. One of the things not to do in Siem Reap (in fact, one of the things not to do anywhere in the world) is riding elephants. Yet, I saw quite a few elephants walking around the sites, and lots of them carrying tourists.
I am frankly shocked that there still are people that ride elephants in an era when information on how these animals are tortured, how their body structure isn’t apt for carrying weights, and what the consequences are is so easily available. In fact, we don’t even have to look for this kind of information, as it is provided to anybody who basically browses the web and has a Facebook account.
News such as that of the elephant that died in the 40 degrees heat after having been ridden by tourists are all over the web. The Mail Online was the first to report it.
If you are traveling to South East Asia make sure to stay away from activities such as elephant riding and the likes.
Practical Information For Visiting Siem Reap
Where to stay and where to eat in Siem Reap
As one of the top places to visit in Cambodia, Siem Reap is geared to accommodate travelers on any budget. The choice of accommodation should only be based on location. Most people opt to stay in the centre, not far from the mayhem of Pub Street.
These are some of the best places to stay in Siem Reap:
- Rose Royal Boutique Hotel
- Dream Mango Villa
- Viroth’s Hotel
- Uncle Sam Villa
- eOcambo Village
- Ladear Angkor Boutique
- Udaya Residence
Of these, Rose Royal Boutique Hotel, tucked away in a small street right behind the centre, is my favorite. I particularly like the pool, perfect to refresh at the end of a hot day.
Food is never an issue in Siem Reap. Chanrey Tree is lovely: delicious food in a cozy environment and great service, all for around $15 USD per person which – granted – is a lot of money in Asia.
Another place to try is The Hidden Home. It is a family run restaurant tucked away in a quiet street, where the host is super nice and the food delicious. A meal which included an order of vegetables with tofu, chicken with pumpkin, two sides of rice, a beer and a mango smoothy and a courtesy plate of fruit turned out to be $8 USD.
Finally, one of the best things to do in Siem Reap is trying the street food (the best place for that is after Pub Street, on the way to the river). Stir fried noodles, fruit smoothies, fruit bars, rice cakes made with rice flour and coconut milk, filled with fruit or pumpkin, pancakes and what not. It was delicious and oh so cheap – not to mention a lot of fun. There even is a place that allegedly makes fried ice cream (which isn’t fried at all, actually – but fun to see how it is made nevertheless).
How to get to Siem Reap and away
Siem Reap is well connected to the rest of the country by bus, with connections to Phnom Penh, Battambang, and even Bangkok. Buses can even be booked online.
For bus rides from Bangkok, click here.
For bus rides from Phnom Penh, click here.
The airport is located at about 20 minutes drive from the city (no more than $10 USD by tuk tuk) and connects it with various destinations in South East Asia, including Bangkok. Entry to Cambodia requires a visa that can either be obtained on arrival (but scams are very frequent – they even tried to scam me at the border) or via trusted online agencies such as iVisa.
Further readings about South East Asia
Make sure to read my other posts about South East Asia:
- 20 Fabulous And Simply Unmissable Things To Do In Bangkok
- 19 Incredible Things To Do In Chiang Mai (Plus 3 To Avoid)
- 33 Incredibly Fun Things To Do In Vietnam In 15 Days
- 10 Things To Do In Saigon In Just 3 Days
- 17 Fun And Unmissable Things To Do In Hanoi
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