Cambodia’s one of the latest travel hot spots for young budget travelers like myself, but there seems to be relatively little known about it – aside from it being chockfull of temples (or at least that’s how it felt to me and my friends when we were “planning”). Knowing how busy we millennials are with work and friends and family, I figured it might be good to quickly blog about my Cambodia trip with friends as well, on the off chance it helps YOU have a better idea of what you could do there. So without further ado, on to our adventure!
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I’ve always wanted to go on a legit trip abroad with friends, but the opportunity never really presented itself until recently when my friend saw a Cebu Pacific piso sale promo that would allow us to buy round-trip tickets for Siem Reap at PHP 5,784 each / ~ USD 125 (inclusive of travel tax). And voila, my first trip abroad with friends finally came to be!
As we didn’t have a lot of time to research and plan out our trip, my friends and I kind of winged the whole thing (e.g. we decided to just book a private tour to save us the hassle of having to plan out everything + having the luxury of an air-conditioned van to shuttle us to the national park as well as from one temple to another). See below a rough breakdown of how much each of us spent on general travel expenses (excluding shopping). Note that you could certainly travel much cheaper, but this at least helps you estimate how much you can spend conveniently, if you don’t have time to research for the cheapest way to go around Siem Reap.
Table of contents
- Flights from Manila to Siem Reap
- Airport-hotel-airport transfer
- Where to stay in Siem Reap
- Two-day itinerary
- Where to eat in Siem Reap
- Souvenir shopping
- Other suggestions
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Before we begin, let me answer a few FAQs – see below:
|When’s the best time to visit Siem Reap?||Weather plays an important role in deciding when to go to Siem Reap, as you want the skies to be clear and not overcast when you take your Instagram-worthy photos of the Angkor Wat and the waterfalls + you don’t want to get heatstroke from walking under the scorching sun for hours on end. Having said that, November to March is the driest season for Siem Reap – but I’d recommend that you head there around mid-November. Two reasons why:
■ December and January may be the coolest months of the year, but they’re also the most expensive ones – meaning hotel rates go up, tuk tuk drivers drive a much harder bargain, and it can be difficult to find decent rooms, and everywhere you go from (from temples to restaurants) will be ridiculously crowded. November, on the other hand, is still relatively early in the peak season, so bargains can still be gotten and you’ll be able to enjoy a view of the beautiful temples without hordes of tourists blocking your way. Don’t go early November however as there might still be occasional rain showers!
■ Flight fares are usually cheaper in November (at least for the Philippines) as there are no big holidays during this period so close to Christmas, making people less likely to travel during this time
|What should I pack when going to Siem Reap?||Siem Reap is ridiculously hot so make sure to bring light, airy clothes; comfortable walking shoes/slippers; sunblock; and a hat to protect your head from the sun!
If you plan to go up Angkor Wat (and you definitely should), make sure you’ve packed a top with sleeves (or wear a cardigan) as well as skirts/shorts that reach your knees – as they won’t let you up otherwise
|How much money should I bring with me?||Bring at least ~USD 80-100 for each day you’ll be in Siem Reap. This should comfortably cover your hotel, food, and tour costs (add more depending on how much you shop). Note that most establishments in Siem Reap don’t accept credit cards (excluding hotels), so it’s best to bring cash just to be on the safe side
Do not convert your USD into the local currency, as USD is accepted (and preferred) in all establishments, so you’ll only be devaluing your money if you get it exchanged.
|Where should I stay while in Siem Reap?||Hotels are quite cheap in Siem Reap so I’d suggest you choose your hotel based on location and amenities provided. Pub Street is the main tourist street of the city, filled with restaurants and pubs that don’t close until the wee hours of the morning. If you’re there to party, by all means stay near Pub Street, but be warned – you’ll need to be a pretty heavy sleeper to get through the noise and revelry of the night. Having said that, do not stay too far from Pub Street either as this is the city center (with the pubs, restaurants, souvenir markets, and supermarkets you’ll probably want to frequent throughout your stay). Staying too far would require shelling out money for a tuk tuk ride to and from your hotel each time, so beware.
In our case, we chose to stay in a hotel not along Pub Street but relatively near it (~15-30 mins walk). We usually ended up getting a tuk tuk as we were too lazy to walk, but we at least had the option to walk if we wanted to
|What’s the best mode of transportation around the city, and to the temples?||Tuk tuk is the way to go – they usually cost USD 2-3 one-way (for 4 pax) depending on how far you want to go, but you can try to haggle with the drivers for a better price
The tuk tuk price will certainly differ if you want to go to the temples (which is a bit farther out from the city), so it’s best to commission a tuk tuk driver to bring you around and give you a “tour” for the day (costs around USD 20, but best ask your hotel for the going rates when you’re there). Just make sure to get one who speaks decent English, as he’ll share the history of the temple and the best places to check out throughout the day! Only downside here is the tuk tuk is an open air vehicle, so you’ll be exposed to the heat and dust the entire day
Another option is to commission a private tour (which is what we did), but this is definitely the pricier option. This works if you’re at least 4 pax, so you get to share the cost of the tour amongst the group. Getting a private tour means you get an English-speaking tour guide, an air-conditioned van, water bottles, and wet towels to keep you cool after a hot day out in the sun. Bang for your buck? Maybe not. But if you’ve only got a few days, with minimal time to research, might be worth it to spend a bit to minimize the hassle of planning and enjoy your well-deserved vacation break!
Now on to my experience in Siem Reap + some (hopefully) useful tips and tricks for you to take away before you travel there!
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Flights from Manila to Siem Reap
Definitely go for Cebu Pacific, as they’re the only airline that flies direct to Siem Reap. The schedule available is pretty sweet as well, with a flight that leaves Thursday, 9:30pm (allowing you to put in work on Thursday before flying out), and a flight that allows you to be back in Manila by Monday, 2:30am (allowing you to go into work on Mondays if you need to). Essentially, this means you could take just one day off from work (Friday). No guarantees on how sharp/on top of work you’d be on Monday however, so if you can take Monday off, I suggest you do it!
Always be ready for Cebu Pacific’s piso fare promos, my recommendation being you going to Siem Reap around mid-November for relatively cheap fares and accommodations as well as relatively good weather!
Make sure to ask for the arrival card on the plane as the Cebu Pacific crew forgot to do so during our flight to Siem Reap. This meant we were stuck at the airport for >30 minutes looking for arrival cards we were meant to fill out, before we could pass through immigration (can you believe the airport ran out of arrival cards?)
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You can book a car or a van from the airport to the hotel right outside the immigration counters (they were still open even at 11:30pm). Unsure how much a car costs (for 4 pax), but the van costs ~USD 10 one-way. Because we landed pretty late in Siem Reap, we didn’t want to take any chances so we’d already booked beforehand (aka the day before) for a van to come pick us up via Transport Service (Rickytours@gmail.com). They also charged us USD 10 one-way so it turned out to be a great choice
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Where to stay in Siem Reap
Hotel: Frangipani Villa Hotels (#603, Wat Bo Street, Salakormreuk Commune)
We got two Deluxe Double Balcony Pool View Rooms (which happens to be their priciest room) – with one room housing three girls, and the other room housing three boys
Each room had a queen sized bed with canopy, as well as a twin bed – with the warm, comfy, and inviting beds silently beckoning us to stay a few minutes longer each morning
The air-conditioning was okay (although we had to turn the aircon on the whole day for it to be nice and cool once we got back to the rooms after a long, hot day outside), and the bathrooms were clean with working hot water whenever we needed it
Free water was also provided (water dispenser found outside the breakfast room), and the free breakfast was yummy (breakfast selection repeats every other day). You can also request the staff to pack you a breakfast for pick-up at 6am or earlier the next day, in case you’re planning to picnic while waiting for the sun to rise over Angkor Wat. Just make sure to inform the staff by 9pm the night before so they can prepare accordingly
Entire hotel was always serenely quiet (which was what we were after with this hotel), being farther away from Pub Street
WiFi is included and available at both the lobby and your rooms. It was really slow though – you had to search for specific spots where it would work best. Other reviews we read when researching about this hotel didn’t indicate the same problem, so this might’ve only been a problem during the period that we were there
All in all, we had a pleasant experience at Frangipani’s and I’d recommend the hotel. Think it’s great value for money, with the only problem experienced being the spotty WiFi connection. Worse comes to worst, most restaurants offer free WiFi, so you can always get your FB, Instagram, and Twitter time in during these times
P.S. Make sure you’re going to the right Frangipani Villas, as there’s another hotel named Frangipani Spa and tuk tuk drivers may confuse the two. Just remember, Frangipani Villas is the nearer hotel to Pub Street (Frangipani Spa is crazy far – the tuk tuk driver charged us USD 5 for that trip!)
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Two-day Siem Reap itinerary
Private 2-day Siem Reap tour: Happy Angkor Tour
We had booked with Happy Angkor Tour as they came highly recommended on Trip Advisor. Our main point of contact was Mony, and we finalized the tour details via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). His English is pretty difficult to understand so I’d recommend you just exchange emails as opposed to calling him. He usually checks and responds to emails around 10pm every night, so make sure to email before that time
The usual two-day tour costs USD 180 for 4-10 pax, but because we switched out the Floating Village for the Phnom Kulen Mountain on the first day, they charged us USD 220 instead. Note that this only covers your tour guide, air-conditioned van, and driver. You still have to pay for the Phnom Kulen and Temple entrance fees. Likewise, food (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are not included as well. Pretty sure you can get this tour for a cheaper rate, but this tour group came highly recommended on Trip Advisor so we decided to just go with them. Having said that, the bigger the group, the better, as you can then split the cost amongst more people
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DAY ONE TOUR
Morning to mid-afternoon: Explore Phnom Kulen Mountain and see the following sights – 1000 Lingas carved under the riverbed, the Big Reclining Buddha, and the Big Waterfall.
This experience is certainly different from the usual tours offered, and we had specifically requested to add this in (taking out the floating village which was originally part of the itinerary). Because of this, an additional USD 40 was added to our total bill, as Phnom Kulen is really far from Siem Reap (more than an hour away). Likewise, we also had to pay the USD 20 admission fee for the mountain park
I loved our tour guide on that day (can’t remember his name sadly) as he was extremely knowledgeable about Siem Reap and he regaled us with numerous stories about his beautiful city as well as responded to all of our inquiries ranging from their political system to their educational system. Best of all, his English was on-point and easy to understand, which was a relief as I sometimes struggle to hear through the thick Cambodian accent
The mountain park doesn’t require any strenuous hiking as the van will bring you as far up as the cars can go. Main walks involved was going to the Big Waterfall, as well as climbing up the many stairs to see the Big Reclining Buddha!
Our favorite part of this trip was the Big Waterfall as my companions happily climbed rocks in order to inch closer to the roaring cascade of water. I, on the other hand, was a complete scaredy-cat so I stayed close to land the entire period. Nevertheless, would recommend people try this out in order to enjoy an “extra-ordinary” part of Siem Reap that fewer tourists get to see. Don’t forget to bring a change of clothes, as you can swim if you want, or in case you want to change out of your sweaty clothing before heading back to the city
Was this worth skipping the floating village over? I’ve never been to the floating village so I can’t give a clear recommendation, but friends who have been there told us there was nothing special with the place – while my friends and I were very happy with Phnom Khulen
Afterwards, the tour guide gave us a free snack (banana wrapped with sticky rice – interesting to try?), then brought us to a restaurant near the park for lunch. Would definitely not recommend the restaurant he brought us to as the food was overpriced, food took forever to come out and taste was not that great. Not sure how we can improve on this however, as there didn’t seem to be any other restaurants nearby. I guess this might be a necessary evil of taking part in a tour group – it’s rare for me to have good food when we go with a tour group… But perhaps people can research first and ask the tour guide to bring them to a different restaurant instead?
Late afternoon: Sunset watching at Angkor Wat
We dropped by the hotel first after lunch as we all wanted to freshen up after the daylong trek through the mountain and waterfalls. Afterwards, we rushed to buy tickets for the Angkor Pass (USD 20 for one day), and then went to Angkor Wat for a chance to see the sun set
Sadly, the clouds were overcast that day so there was no sunset to be seen, nevertheless we happily took lots of photos of the temple swathed in shadows, as well as “artistic” shots of ourselves all throughout the temple
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DAY TWO TOUR
Early morning: Sunrise watching at Angkor Wat
We woke up ridiculously early in order to catch the sunrise (~5:30am). Our tour guide brought us to this secluded spot a bit farther out from the normal tourist lookout spot in order for us to get nice clear shots of the sun rising over the temple, without any tourist silhouettes getting in our way. This resulted in nice sunrise shots for our group, which we were very happy about! Guess this is another perk of having a tour guide, they know the best spots to go where you get a great vantage view, but without the hassle of other tourists milling around and getting in the way of your Instagram-worthy shot
After the sunrise, we went back to the hotel to eat breakfast. Other tourists normally bring a packed breakfast, but we forgot to inform the hotel about this the night before, so off we went back to the hotel. (We ended up trying the hotel packed breakfast on our last day – and it consisted of a juice tetrapack and different types of bread. Nothing special, I much prefer the actual hotel breakfast! But, it does save you time if you eat breakfast at the temple so you can go straight to touring immediately after)
Morning to mid-afternoon: Temple-hopping
Afterwards, off to temple-hopping (the main point of going to Siem Reap)! We went to three temples: Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm Ke Temple (more popularly known as the Tomb Raider temple), and Angkor Thom (specifically the Bayon Temple, which is famous for being the temple with many faces)
The day was beautiful, sunny and clear – just the right setting for photo-taking (both the artsy-farty temple shots, as well as the group shots that would go straight to Instagram)
I won’t go into the history of the temples, as I’m guilty of completely ignoring the tour guide as he went on and on about the origins of the temple, what the foundations and walls were made of, the historical and religious significance of the grounds we were walking through, and so on. If you’re interested in reading up on those types of stuff however, do check out my friend’s blog as he actually listened to the tour guide, while the rest of us were too busy taking photos. What I can tell you however is there are loads of temples you can go to, but the three we went to are the main ones and SHOULD NOT BE MISSED. I swear.
Angkor Wat is, of course, the most popular and well-known temple in Siem Reap. Come here first (immediately after breakfast! Brave the heat if you want nice photos!) and line up early to go up the temple (make sure you’re wearing decent clothing, no to sleeveless tops unless you have on a cardigan, and no to shorts and skirts that end above your knees). Afterwards, the tour guide brought us across the temple courtyard to take beautiful photos of the temple reflected off the lake
Ta Prohm Ke Temple
This temple, more popularly known as the Tomb Raider temple), is quite famous (apparently). If you watched Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider films, you may have a greater appreciation of this temple as this is where she jumped, ran, and evaded the bad guys. Obviously, I have never watched the film and cannot therefore give you greater details on this. This one was a bit more attuned to nature, with the temples half made of stone, with trees sticking out or melding in with the stone this way or that. By this time, it was already mid-morning, so the tourists were out in full-force, therefore there were less artsy shots to be taken. Nevertheless we tried our best – tada!
This temple is better known as the temple with many faces! I found it both beautiful and austere at the same time, with its many faces staring out at you from its multiple pillars. We had great fun taking random shots here, but our energy levels were definitely flagging by this time – so we opted to head back to the hotel afterwards, instead of checking out additional temples. But before we left for good, we took a nice shot outside the temple, with it reflected off some leftover pools of water caused by the rain the day before
There’s an option to have dinner while watching the Cambodian traditional dance show. However, we weren’t terribly interested in seeing the national dance, and reviews indicated that the buffet wasn’t very good either. So we decided to opt out of this
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Must-try restaurants in Siem Reap
Made the mistake of eating at Pub Street for the first two nights we were there. Food isn’t bad per se, but it was nothing to write home about either. On the plus side, there are always restaurants open there till really late, so when you’re feeling really hungry in the wee hours of the morning, this is the place to go
- Address: Pokombo Ave, along Siem Reap river side
- Operating hours: Lunch (11:00am-2:30pm) or Dinner (6:00pm-10:30pm)
This restaurant’s near Siem Reap’s Old Market, making it the perfect stop before heading to the Old Market to go souvenir shopping. Also, random tidbit: David Beckham ate here when he came to Siem Reap!
The setting mimics a traditional Khmer-style house, with a menu that stays true to the concept of a Khmer dining experience. Pricier than what you’d see at Pub Street, but worth the bang for your buck
- Address: Behind Wat Enkosei
- Operating hours: Monday to Saturday (Dinner only)
This is a popular family-run Khmer restaurant that’s a little out of the way (USD 5 tuk tuk ride from Pub Street), but definitely worth the effort
Again, pricier than Pub Street, but definitely worth it! We loved every single dish we ordered (see photos below), but unfortunately, can no longer remember what these dishes were called. Just ask your server for their most popular dishes as those are what we got!
This place is pretty popular so call ahead and make a reservation (ask your hotel concierge to do this for you), and make sure to bring cash as they don’t accept credit cards
- Address: 2 Thnou Street, near Old Market and Pub Street
We checked out Blue Pumpkin as we saw it advertised on the Cebu Pacific magazine
Ambiance was great – make sure to go to the 2nd floor where they have nice sofas you can rest against. There’s also free WiFi, and it’s really near the Old Market as well – so you can hang here before or after you go souvenir shopping
In terms of food, they serve a lot of stuff (pastries, coffee, sandwiches, pastas, and salads), but we specifically decided to try out their ice cream to ward off the heat. Here are my friends happily posing with their respective cones/cups
Supermarket (Near Pub Street)
Check out the supermarket near Pub Street if you’re looking to buy a few snacks. Alcohol in Cambodia is also really cheap so drop by the supermarket and buy a few bottles if you’d rather drink at your hotel room versus the pub
Souvenir shopping in Siem Reap
There are really only two places to go souvenir shopping in Siem Reap: Old Market or the Night Market. The Old Market closes as the sun sets, while the Night Market opens at around the same time. That means, you can continue shopping even as the other closes! Souvenirs found here are of the norm, e.g. keychains, plates. But do check out their comfy pants (for girls), as well as their snacks – I really like their banana/sweet potato/taro chips! No idea if they’re healthy, but they’re certainly tasty! Make sure to canvas the market and haggle well for your purchases, as they pretty much sell the same thing from one stall to another
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Other things to do while at Siem Reap
- Visit the Landmine Museum
- Tonle Sap Floating Village tour
- Join a food tour / Take a cooking class