Oh Cambodia. I start my write up of Southeast Asia with you because you were simply amazing! Even before I left on my journey, there was something about this country that spoke to me…and it didn’t disappoint! In fact…it exceeded all of my expectations. These people, this culture, this place... now ranks high atop my must sees of all of my travels. So what makes it so great?
What makes Siem Reap Great:
The Night Market and Pub Street
These are located near each other and you can easily walk or tuk tuk (explained below) over to each area. There is also an art gallery section that I didn’t get to explore fully but looked like it provided just as much entertainment. These are must do things when in Siem Reap!
I actually went to them on separate nights so I didn’t have to lug souvenirs around to restaurants and bars but you could easily bring an empty backpack to put things in if you want to spend your evenings strolling through both! When shopping at the markets, most prices are negotiable. You start with 50% off the already low price marked and work from there. Keep in mind; you may be able to negotiate even more if you are buying multiple items from the same person. Another note…be prepared to walk away from a sale. They will come down to their final, especially earlier in the night because their first sales are considered their good luck sales, but if it’s not what your bottom line is, walk. You can always go back if you can’t find the item elsewhere. If you are also visiting Thailand on your trip, I highly recommend getting your gifts here because they are much cheaper than in Thailand since Cambodians tend to negotiate and haggle price just as the Vietnamese do. Side note: don’t be “sold” on a product due to somebody saying that they made it by hand themselves. They MIGHT have made them or more often than not, they are products from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam that ARE handmade but are being sold at the Cambodian market. You have to be a bit mentally strong and if you really don’t want something or don’t feel comfortable, walk away because many will plead and guilt trip you into a purchase. Also in the night market there is juice & coffee stands readily available (where you can even add alcohol to your drink if you would like), delicious street food cooked from actual restaurants and snacks galore. I snacked on a smoothie, popcorn, and a beer for $2.50 and was completely content! Most interesting find besides the super cute pants I snagged for myself?? Snake and scorpion 'wine'! Basically grain alcohol infused with a snake or scorpion (pic below).
On Pub Street there is every variety of restaurants that you can think of from Italian to western inspired to Indian to traditional Cambodian and much, much more. There is something for everyone so to change up my SE Asia diet that my body had grown accustomed to, I opted for pesto pasta, a giant bottle of water, a large beer to split with my mom AND her pasta dinner all for under $10! Also, many restaurants here will exchange your money at payment if you just ask them : ) We had enough spare Cambodian Riel to split some “fried” rolled ice cream from one of the street vendors while we walked the streets and soaked in the environment. Both areas don’t get busy until about 8:30/9pm so they are family friendly as well if you have your kids with you. The ambiance is captivating with string lights, neon signs and quirky street art hanging above your head as you walk through and enjoy this multicultural haven for those seeking a bit of normal with a cultural twist. If you are from or have ever visit the states and have been to Bourbon Street in New Orleans, then this would be a favor cleaned up version of it!
It’s Affordable & Tourist Friendly
Prices in Cambodia are amazingly inexpensive compared to most places in the world. The flight price might be shocking but once there you can find very reasonably priced hotels and hostiles (no need to even really pre-book since sometimes you can negotiate a better deal in person). Food, drinks and attractions are all fairly cheap as well once you get away from the standard hotel overpricing on food and beverage (separate blog on food and accommodations is in the works).
Yeah you could take a cab, but have you ever taken a tuk tuk? There is just something about hopping into an open air carriage attached to the back of a motorbike that makes your day! I love tuk tuks because they can weave in and out of traffic unlike a cab, they aren’t metered and they are typically cheaper (word to wise, MAKE SURE you agree on a total price for your group before getting in!). Not saying that anybody is shady but in the tourism business, you can’t be too careful. Many tuk tuk drivers will offer to stay with you for the day, even while exploring the temples. Worried they will leave you? Don’t be, many require payment at the very end or if you are still worried, pay them to each place (even though it will probably cost you more, it will give you peace of mind) and if all else fails, there are plenty of them around to offer you a ride back (just DON’T FORGET to check the price!). Also many drivers are friendly and will offer to stop for water, snacks, or at shops for you.
If culture and “filling your soul” is what you are seeking mixed in with fun, cheap drinks, cheap food, cheap goods and the kindest people on earth then you found your heaven on earth! In case you are living under a boulder and are unaware, Siem Reap is the home of Angkor Wat, built in the 12th century, it is the largest religious temple complex in the world. Oh and trust me, they aren’t kidding by the largest! They even sell week long passes to the complex because there is entirely too much to see in one or two days. See my quick highlights for the must hit places of the complex BESIDES Angkor (impressive and cool because it is what it is but there are some other gem must sees that are on site). No matter what, just know, there is plenty to see and it’s worth starting early and carving out time for these places. Enjoy some play time later in the evening but don’t miss out on these relics.
Pricing from tourismcambodia.com lists all the hours and pricing that one might need:
“Passes are sold in one-day ($37), three-day ($62) and seven-day ($72) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. Photo taken on the spot with free of charge is required at time of purchase.
Visiting hours are 5:00AM - 6:00PM. Angkor Wat closes at 6:00PM, Banteay Srey closes at 5:00PM and Kbal Spean at 3:00PM. Always carry your ticket. It will be checked upon each park entry and at major temples. There is a significant fine for not possessing a valid ticket inside the park. A regular admission ticket is not required to visit Phnom Kulen, Koh Ker or Beng Melea, but there is a separate entrance fee of $20, $10 and $5, respectively.”
*Please note that a separate blog (click here) with map is now posted with tips and tricks to Angkor Wat and the must see temples on the complex. Too much information to put on this post to give you enough detail! BUT here are a few pics to quench your wanderlust taste buds for now ; )
Key Things to Note:
The airport is located within 10 minutes of a majority of places to stay and restaurants in this small tourism driven town. It is also a very clean and user friendly airport.
Cambodians typically have the option to learn English or French in school so language barriers are pretty much non-existent.
US dollar is widely accepted here. It is a little difficult to get Cambodian Riel in the states before you go but you will be fine with US money and getting some change back in Riel. Money needs to be in GOOD condition. No rips or tears at all.
You must have a tourist visa to enter the country so check for all documents before you go. No shots are immunizations are required.
The food is great so don't hesitate on trying new things! The fish amok is to die for!
I was only in the Siem Reap and Angkor areas but I truly look forward to going back and exploring more of this gem of a country. I honestly fell in love with its sincerity, hospitality and wisdom and it goes down as a must take trip! Put it on the bucket list right now, I promise you won’t regret it! For now, I will hold this country in my heart <3
In Love w/ Siem Reap