Travellers visit this lively city in order to access the wonders of Angkor Wat, and with a relatively small area in Siem Reap dedicated to tourism it is an easy place to base yourself eating and drinking around ‘Pub Street,’ or getting a much-needed foot massage following a day at the temples.
What we did…
Phare Circus ($18):
We were not sure what to expect from this show but left an hour later with huge smiles. Originally we thought $18 dollars for one hour seemed quite expensive but the experience was worth every penny.
The performers were highly skilled in a whole range of acrobatics and tricks, the musicians were incredible, and the story line was engaging. We couldn’t help but be caught up in the feel-good vibes as it was obvious the performers loved what they did and their energy was amazing.
Tickets are easily bookable from your accommodation, the numerous tour agencies, or online and we booked the day before without any problems. There are two ticket prices $18 or $36 dollars but the tent is small so there is no large benefit for paying the extra money as the majority of the cheaper seats have a good view. Some seats have partially obstructed view with a support pillar or are located right by the band which could be a bit louder but if you arrive early you can select a good seat (before you go in you can browse a small shop or buy drinks and food from the café).
Tuk-Tuks cost around $3 each way if you book a return (there are lots waiting when you come out but cost slightly more if not pre-booked) and the circus tent is located just on the outskirts of the main area of town.
Before the performance started we were shown a video about how Phare started and the other work of the organisation. Having worked for a social enterprise in the past I loved learning about this and thought it an ingenious way of helping local communities. More can be found out about their work here.
It feels like you are stepping back in time when you walk through these huge ancient structures, from the grandeur of Angkor Wat to the jungle ruins of Ta Phrom, we believe the pictures speak for themselves in showing how amazing this place is.
Visiting the temples of Angkor Wat is the main reason most people travel to Siem Reap and below we have provided some practical information to help you get the most out of this incredible experience:
1. Purchasing tickets
The temple complex is huge and the first thing you need to do is decide on the number of days you wish to spend exploring. In 2017 there were three different ticket types:
- 1 day – $37 – valid after 5pm the day before the ticket is valid
- 3 days – $62 valid for 10 days
- 7 days – $72 valid for one month
Being budget conscious we went for a one day pass and were happy with this choice, we felt that we could have potentially spent another day exploring but probably not three or the temples may al begin to blur into one! If you have a longer stay in Siem Reap it is worth getting the three-day pass and spreading your visits over the 10 days.
Tickets are purchased at an office set apart from any of the temples and we recommend getting them the evening before in order to avoid the crowds in the morning (which can make you miss the sunrise at Angkor Wat). You can also go into the complex after 5pm to catch the sunset the day before your ticket is valid. At the office, they take your picture to put on to your pass which you have to pay for in cash (there are ATMS there but queues can be long).
There are lots of options for travelling between the temples (which are spread over a long distance):
- Minibus – if you can afford one then you will (really really) appreciate the air-con. You can book on to a private tour or join a group (available through accommodation, tour offices or online).
- Tuk-Tuk – this is the most popular option due to cost. We spent around $30 for an 8-hour trip including iced water. We found our driver ‘Tino Thai’ through a Facebook backpacker group and he was great.
- Bicycle – we were very impressed by those choosing to do this, it was exhausting by Tuk-Tuk let alone biking between temples!
- Moped – there was conflicting information as to whether it was possible to rent a moped and do this independently so we did not go for this option. However, we saw one traveller doing this. We feel it is worth it to pay for a driver however as they know the route and can make good suggestions.
Deciding on your temple itinerary can be tricky as there are so many to choose from and it is not possible to cover them all in one day. It is likely that you will start at Angkor Wat for sunrise and go from there, and most guides will give you the ‘big loop’ or the ‘small loop’ to choose from (both can be done over two days if you have a three-day pass). We paid our driver to take us to a selection of temples across both loops and he had some good suggestions of interesting temples to stop at which we did not originally have on our list. A full list of the temples can be found here.
4. Helpful tips
- It is incredibly hot, so sun-cream, sun hats, and plenty of water are vital (water was included in the cost of our transport so check with your driver). If you have a handheld fan then take it along, you will be the envy of everyone.
- There is a lot of walking involved despite being driven to each temple, plus your feet swell in the heat so choose your footwear wisely (we saw some Asian ladies in heels and couldn’t believe it).
- As it is a temple your shoulders and knees need to be covered, but make sure your clothes are as loose and breathable as possible as you will be sweating more than you ever have before! Learn from us and avoid ‘elephant pants,’ although the material is light they do not allow legs to breath and it feels like they are in a sauna (and an itchy one at that once the mozzies have at you).
- You will see monkeys in lots of the temples – avoid them and try not to have food or drink visible as they are not afraid to try and take it.
- There are lots of small children trying to sell you things. As heart-breaking as it is to say no (they are very persistent), it is in their best interests as they should be in school rather than selling souvenirs to tourists.
- If possible, take your own snacks with you as most of the food places are overpriced.
Getting there and around:
How you travel to Siem Reap will depend on the route you are taking through Cambodia and whether you are travelling by land or air. Travel Fish provide a good overview of the different options.
As we were in the 4000 islands in Laos prior to going to Siem Reap, we crossed into Cambodia from the Stung Treng land border and caught a bus from there in to the city centre. The bus station was a ten-minute walk to the Pub Street area.
The area with hotels, restaurants, bars and markets in not that large so it is easily walkable. Alternatively, there are Tuk-Tuks everywhere offering rides from $2-$4 (and trying to sell you Angkor Wat tours). We saw some tourists on bikes but the traffic was quite busy so we didn’t bother.
Where we stayed:
We stayed at Le Tigre hotel which had a small pool and was near to some restaurants/bars and about a 15-minute walk to pub street and the river. However, we suggest staying a road or two closer to the area around pub street if you want to be more central.
Where To Next?
Planning A trip? Don’t leave without your Travel Insurance.