48 Hours in Siem Reap, Cambodia
The city of Siem Reap, while home to the Angkor Temples, is also a place of bustling culture and amazing nightlife. There are shows and markets, unique villages, and vast natural landscapes. So how does one see so much, with such a short period of time? Below sums up an action packed 48 hour visit, highlighting all the must sees of this iconic, historic city.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO:
Since the US dollar is so strong, the places, stores, and even tuk-tuk drivers will be asking you to pay in American currency. It's also important that the bills are crisp and in mint condition, your cash will not be accepted if it includes rips, wear or tares.
When coming in through immigration on arrival, make sure to have $35 US dollars on hand, along with an extra loose passport photo, as this will be needed to pay for your tourism visa. No worries into applying beforehand. Cambodian visas are handled on arrival.
If there was ever a time to live like a king or queen, this may be it. The dollar stretches far in Siem Reap, and this also includes the price of hotels and accommodations. Our stay was at the Night Hotel located on Sok San Road street. For $60 a night, we had a lovely premium king room, 24 hour concierge, and on call tuk-tuk driver funded by the hotel (within certain hours). The hotel is also walking distance away from the night market and Pub Street. The hotel's restaurant had the most amazing food we ate on our trip in Cambodia.
*A strong recommendation to order the Khmer Curry (khmer cuisine references the style of Cambodian cooking), and the lemongrass soup. I promise you wont be disappointed.
9 AM - For the morning, I suggest checking out the Fishing villages of Siem Reap and the natural wonders of the Mangrove Forrest. As you explore Kampong Phluk and Tonle Sap Lake, you'll get to witness 3,000 locals (pending the time of year) go about their daily lives while living above Tonle Sap Lake. Whether it's boating through the neighborhood, or during dry season - walk along the homes, you get an up-close look at these amazing home structures and the people who make up these towns.
After visiting the fishing village, head over to the floating forrest as tiny canoes take you up close, into the depths of the mangroves.
5 PM: It may be surprising some of you that, for the first day in Siem Reap, I'm not suggesting exploring the Angkor Complex. And here's why - for the price of admission, you pay for 1 day or 3 day passes. The cost is $37 for 1 day, and $62 for 2. But my goal is to show you how to experience all the sites with still getting the best value for your dollar.
And how's that? Ticket sales for the following day go on sale at 5pm. If you arrive at the Angkor Complex ticket stand at the time - not only do you get your ticket for the next day sunrise (*check local weather apps to ensure the exact time of the sunrise) but - you also get to head into the complex after your ticket purchase at 5pm, giving you an extra sunset view in the temples.
6:30 PM: After a long day of exploring, it's time for a delicious dinner. If staying at the Night Hotel I highly suggest eating at the beautiful outside restaurant ( the food is incredible and I'm usually not one for recommending hotel cuisine unless it's extremely note worthy). But if you're interesting in heading elsewhere, head over to Wat Damnak, which is traditional Khmer/Cambodian cuisine mixed with French fusion. A 6-course tasting menu will cost you $31 USD, and it's highly ranked on trip advisor as one of the best restaurants in the area. Given it's high reputation and delicious cuisine, I suggest making a recommendation before your trip.
8 PM: It's time for the circus! And no, this isn't your ordinary circus with clowns and wild animals. This is the Phare Circus. It's made up of a dozen of kids under the age of 18 who do phenomenal acrobatic stunts while telling a beautiful story. I would compare this to cirque du soleil show, but filled with wild, youthful energy. What's even better about watching and attending the Phare Circus is that you're supporting such a wonderful cause. The Phare circus is actually a part of a non-profit organization that funds an Art's school for struggling teenagers, and young adults. So enjoy an amazing show and know that your money is being well spent!
6 AM: Rise and shine! It's time to seize the day, and no better way to do that than watching the sun rise over the iconic temple of Angkor Watt. The benefit of having bought your ticket the night before, is that you have the chance of seeing the sunrise in the complex before the ticket office opens.
9:30 AM: Begin your tour with expert guides (or explore the complex on your own) as they explore the complex of Angkor with you. You can arrange to meet on the complex, or most tours will pick you up from your hotel (if you prefer to grab a quick bite to eat or nap before your day of adventuring). I booked with Green Era Travel, and I have to say it was wonderful - the tour guide was super knowledgable and we covered three of the major temples: Angkor Watt, Angkor Tom, & Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider). In addition we walked through the other unique sites in the complex, including the king's palace, and smaller temples scattered around the site.
*A quick hint - if exploring the temples on your own, make sure to check out Angkor Watt around noon. The reason being, the temple is crowded in the morning and late afternoon (around 3pm), so around noon Angkor Watt is almost empty with tourist are at lunch. While it will be the hottest time of the day, having the temple to yourself is quite a nice way to get the best photos and have an even better experience.
6 PM: After a day filled with exploring in Angkor, it's time to check out the some of the local culture and cuisine at the Aspara Dance Performance - which also includes a traditional Khmer buffet dinner. Once you arrive at the Koulen theater-restaurant, you'll feast of local delicacies, such as the classic amok Cambodian curry and Khmer barbecue meats, and traditional desserts. As you eat, enjoy watching the cultural Apsara dance showcasing Cambodia's unique Khmer heritage. Experience the beautiful costumes, traditional music, and religious folklore. You'll watch dance numbers such as "Ballet of Apsaras" and "Dance of Mekhala," and the mythological tale of the Hindu epic "Ramayana."
9:30 PM: After dinner, head over to the Night Market before heading to Pub Street. Negotiate a fair price on a beautiful painting, or a dining set for your home. You can be like me, and indulge in purchasing several pairs of elephant pants - because they're incredibly comfy and also... extremely touristy. Then meander your way on over to Pub Street. A 6 block stretch filled with tons of music, partying in the street, and even some scorpion street meat... Both attractions are a must see in Siem Reap. You can also find yourself 30 minute to hour massages from $2 to $10 dollars - the quality varies on price, but you'll notice the parlors on every corner. I highly recommend getting 1, or 5! during your stay.
Best Take-Away for Siem Reap: The People, they are so kind and friendly. Definitely made this trip one of my favorite adventures I've been on.
*Photo Credits: Paul Nolan