If you are wondering what to do in Siem Reap Cambodia, here’s your answer: visit the wonderful historical site of Angkor and immerse yourself in the rich Khmer culture. Angkor is a city that marked Asian history, and it is no surprise that it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992.
Angkor was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th century, thus dominating all of Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. For your information, Phnom Penh is now the capital of the kingdom of Cambodia
Let’s discover together this mysterious city! Here are some tips and good spots to visit that will help you organize your trip.
When I was in Siem Reap, I stayed at a dormitory in this great hostel that I highly recommend. It cost me about $7 a night. The rooms as well as the common areas will have all the comfort you need. You will also have access to an upstairs swimming pool where you can freshen up and meet people!
This hostel is very conveniently located at a 5-minute walk from the Night Market and Pub Street, which is, as the name suggests, a street lined with bars and clubs. Have you picked a hotel yet?
It is important to remember that the city of Angkor is not in Siem Reap, so to speak so let me explain how you can get there.
How To Get To And Move Around Angkor
I had a scooter back in Siem Reap on which I traveled from Vietnam. So I used it to travel the 8 kilometers that separate Siem Reap from Angkor. By the way, the city of Angkor is really huge. So don’t think you can just take a cab and go somewhere or walk around the city, it’s just not possible. I also used my scooter to move around Angkor and I really enjoyed this sense of freedom and the fact that I could go wherever I wanted. It also allowed me to discover unknown but nonetheless gorgeous temples.
So here’s my advice and it’s pretty simple: if you do not have a scooter, rent one and go on a big adventure! It will cost you about $9 a day or so, depending on your bargaining skills. Don’t hesitate to talk to other travelers at the hostel you’re staying in to see if they’d be interested in joining you. Especially if you’re not a scooter person or if you’d be hesitant to drive one for whatever reason.
If moving around on a scooter is out of the question for you, your last option would be to pay a guide with a tricycle (or a tuk tuk) who will accompany you to Angkor. It will cost you around $35 a day, and you can fit up to 3 people in that tiny tricycle! Don’t ask your hotel to book one for you though because they’ll probably charge you extra money for that. Go outside, spot one in the street and find an agreement with the driver on costs and a visit schedule.
Siem Reap Cambodia – Where To Get An Angkor Pass And Costs To Expect
Just like you did when booking a guide, try to avoid intermediaries and buy your pass at the official offices located here. As you can see on my ticket, I went to Angkor in March 2016, but since February 2017, entrance fees have increased significantly:
Prices have practically doubled, and many associations have called for a boycott of the city because of this increase. Unfortunately, nothing can really be done about it.
If you’re wondering what pass to buy, I bought a one-day pass but to be honest with you, I underestimated the size of the site a little. So, if you can afford the money and the time, I recommend the three-day pass.
If you picked your pass and settled on a transportation option, here’s a list of the temples you shouldn’t miss!
Siem Reap Cambodia Angkor Temples – Angkor Wat
The first temple you will come across is the most popular one. It’s the famous Angkor Wat of course. It is the symbol of an entire nation and you can also see it on the Cambodian flag:
Its peculiar shape has been conceived to resemble Mount Meru, the Hindu mountain of gods. Angkor Wat is therefore a Hindu temple when it was first built in the 12th century by King Suryavarman II. It was also dedicated to the god Vishnu.
But Cambodia has since converted to Buddhism and Angkor Wat has now become a sacred Buddhist site. You will therefore find Buddha statues and worshipers who pray there.
Angkor Wat itself is really huge and you’ll need a good hour to visit all of it.
Angkor has several buildings and pagodas that are very well maintained, considering their actual age and history.
What is also impressive is the beautiful bas-reliefs typical of Khmer culture.
Angkor Wat being the number one attraction of the city, it is often crowded with tourists. But since the temple is so big, it won’t bother you that much, at least not everywhere on the site. To avoid crowds of visitors, visit the temple before 10AM and you should be fine.
Siem Reap Cambodia Angkor Temples – Angkor Thom
We’re now in Angkor Thom, which was one of my favorite sites to visit. Access to this royal city is through the entrance you can see above. Let me warn you right now: you’ll probably feel that you’re being watched, and for good reason. The site is filled with stone sculptures representing a caring but authoritarian face. It is that of Jayavarman VII, king of the Khmer Empire, who built the city towards the end of the 12th century.
The Bayon is the most impressive temple in the city of Angkor Thom. It contains no less than 2000 faces carved on 54 stone towers ! An authentic masterpiece that I’m sure will leave you speechless.
Just like Angkor Wat, the Bayon has many bas-reliefs that illustrate traditional scenes of Khmer culture, including the famous Khmer dance that is still practiced today.
Siem Reap Cambodia Angkor Temples – Neak Pean
We’re now in Neak Pean temple, which is located here. I discovered the temple while driving around on my scooter and I wasn’t disappointed at all by what I have found. To visit the site, you have to cross a pretty lake on a wooden pontoon (see picture above). Beautiful water lilies float on the lake.
Beyond the pontoon is a beautiful stone sculpture sitting on a circle-shaped base, surrounded with water.
There was no one around when I got there so I enjoyed its peaceful atmosphere for a few minutes. I keep great memories of that place!
Siem Reap Cambodia Angkor Temples – Ta Prohm
We’re now at the temple of Ta Prohm which was also one of the sites that impressed me the most in Angkor. Here, the ruins themselves are not what makes the peculiarity of the site, it’s rather the huge trees that have sort of invade the temple.
Those are of the tetrameles nudiflora genus and their trunk and root size is really impressive. When Angkor was rediscovered in the beginning of the 20th century, many renovations have been undertaken to allow better preservation of this historical treasure. But for Ta Prohm, renovations were deliberately limited in order to keep the chaotic aspect of the site, which is what makes it so unique.
Looking at these photos, you really feel that nature has claimed its sovereignty back and that it has literally merged with the temple.
I’ll leave you now with these thoughts in mind. I hope I have helped you organize your trip to Siem Reap. Enjoy Angkor and act responsibly when you visit this magical site. It is simply too big to have guards everywhere watching over it and that is somehow enjoyable so in return, avoid touching the ruins and tread with care! This beautiful open air museum needs to be preserved.
PS: For more tips to visit Cambodia, feel free to read these articles too: Cambodia Travel Blog.