On our first trip to Southeast Asia, one of our highlights was exploring Vietnam. When we visited Ho Chi Minh City, we heard from several travelers that our next stop should be nearby Cambodia to see Angkor Wat. We had already booked flights onto Thailand and weren’t able to see Cambodia, so visiting Siem Reap and Angkor Wat was at the top of our must-see list when we headed back to Southeast Asia.
Three days in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Day 1 – Travel to Siem Reap, Dinner and Drinks
We flew to Cambodia from Bangkok and arrived in the early afternoon. The Siem Reap airport is modern and even relatively fancy, with services from several regional international hubs to meet the needs of tourists looking to experience Angkor Wat. After getting through immigration, we found the tuk tuks that our hotel provided and took off.
We checked into our hotel in Siem Reap, Mango Rain Boutique, and relaxed for awhile before grabbing dinner in town. We decided on Chanrey Tree which serves a menu of both western and traditional khmer (Cambodian) food in a modern upscale atmosphere. The dining experience and food were both fantastic!
Afterwards, we headed to Miss Wong’s for some of their tasty cocktails. We were huge fans of the ambiance and spent the rest of the evening chatting and sipping on gin and vodka drinks.
Day 2 – Angkor Temple Complex
On the morning of our second day, we were ready to get an early start and see Angkor Wat at sunrise. Unfortunately, a morning storm delayed our plans. We waited out the storms with a slow breakfast and headed to the Angkor Temple complex in a tuk tuk around 8AM. Reserving a private tuk tuk through our hotel ended up being a great decision – it made the logistics of getting around the temple complex painless and only cost $15 for our entire group of four.
Our tuk tuk driver took us on a route seeing the major temples in the Angkor complex, which seemed to be the same route that every other driver used as well. We had read about tour operators that use this predictability to their advantage and operate a reverse route which minimizes crowds throughout the day. Although we didn’t try to use a reverse route because our tuk tuk driver spoke very little English, it may be worth considering on your trip – especially if you are in Cambodia during high tourist season.
We started our day of temple sightseeing at Angkor Wat and decided to pick up a guide at the entrance of the temple to tell us about the temple and larger complex. We paid $10 for a two hour tour and really appreciated the detail that our guide provided on the history of Cambodia and the temples. Without the information he provided, a lot of the meaning and significance of the sights would probably have been lost on us because there is little signage in the temple complex.
To find a good guide, I would recommend talking to a few of them that approach and ask them about their training and what they will provide on a tour. We found that our guide had much better English than some of the other guides. It’s worth ‘shopping around’ and negotiating a bit to get the best price and experience.
After our tour of Angkor Wat, we continued on our tuk tuk tour of the rest of the Angkor complex. While every temple was unique and cool to explore, the other highlight of the day was seeing Ta Prohm. Known by tourists as the Tomb Raider temple, it is the iconic temple where Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was filmed.
Locals will be quick to tell you that Angelina Jolie spent over a week running through these ruins while shooting some of the most breathtaking moments of the film. Because of the sight’s popularity, it is now protected with a wooden infrastructure which also makes it one of the easier to navigate temples in the Angkor complex.
We returned to our hotel in the late afternoon after checking out several more temples and stopping for a midday lunch. That evening, we headed into town to grab dinner and wander around Pub Street, which is ground zero for nightlife in Siem Reap. The town’s growing role as a tourist mecca due to the popularity of Angkor Wat makes a stroll down aptly named Pub Street feel more like an evening in New Orleans thant Southeast Asia. A wide variety bars and restaurants are eager to serve tourists a beer for about $0.50, and we were happy to take in some people watching over a few frosty pints.
Day 3 – Relaxing, travel out of Siem Reap
On our last day in Siem Reap, we decided to take it easy. We spent the morning relaxing at the hotel pool and soaking in some last rays of sun before we began our long journey back stateside. Our hotel had a nice pool, comfy beach chairs and a waiter that took orders for drinks and snacks from the hotel bar which made it easy to kick back and relax.
We grabbed lunch at Spoons, a hospitality training restaurant that is run by EGBOK Mission. Hospitality training restaurants are common in Siem Reap, where a young and relatively unskilled workforce is being trained for a number of careers catering to the needs of tourists who come to visit Cambodia from across the globe. After a quick but tasty lunch we were on our way to the airport to start our long journey home.
Although we only scratched the surface of what Cambodia has to offer, experiencing the Angkor Temple Complex alone made it worth the trip. The city of Siem Reap also gives a great introduction to Khmer culture. Are you thinking about a trip to Cambodia? What are you most excited about?