Over the past year, I have ended up in Siem Reap, Cambodia multiple times – make that a total of 6 times, of which I spent nearly 5 months of 2013. This was quite a stretch, especially as I wasn’t sure I would actually be traveling there at all this year, and ended up entering the country for the first time in early February on a whim when I was crowdsourcing my next destination via my Facebook friends. I had about 2 weeks to kill after wrapping up my time in Laos before heading to Taipei for a friend’s wedding, and wasn’t sure that would give me sufficient time to really make my way through Vietnam (and to this day, I still haven’t made it to Vietnam).
Regardless, when I first got off the plane upon my arrival in Siem Reap, I definitely noticed that there was something special about the city. While I went on a tour the very next morning of Angkor Wat and the other temples in the complex, I had a bit of a hard time with the 200+ people who were following me around and asking me to buy things (being a single female traveler was probably part of the problem, as I must’ve looked like I couldn’t say no). Yet, the days after that, I grew to like my time there more and more, and after follow up visits to the temples, I no longer had the same issues. After leaving Siem Reap to head to the more local town of Battambang, I ended up meeting a group of new friends on the bamboo train, and since then couldn’t help but return several times.
So now that I pretty much feel like a Siem Reap local (seeing as I spent more time there than any other single place during the year), I’ve finally managed to cull together a bit of a map of all those great places, for expats and tourists alike. Cambodia is by no means a culinary destination (at least in my opinion), but there are still a few places you can go while there that should keep you satisfied while in the area. Also, I haven’t listed all of the temples I visited, as that would be way too many, and most people will likely just have time for the Small or Large Tours in the Angkor Complex anyway.
And again, you can open the larger map itself to see all the details, websites, and locations, but I’ve also summarized everything as a quick overview. If you’d like to see what I’m up to as I travel around in future, follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Tumblr.
|Memoire D’Angkor Boutique Hotel||Located next to Lucky Mall (the only actual ‘mall’ in Siem Reap), Memoire d’Ankor is a hotel that is less than a year old with a great pool, spa, room service menu, and fantastic service. Say hello to Sambo for me if you stay there!|
|Golden Banana Boutique Resort||There are actually 3 parts to the Golden Banana Resort now – the locally owned Superior and Bed & Breakfast parts, and the foreign-owned higher end boutique side. Regardless, the service is friendly everywhere at this gay-friendly resort, and the location is the best you can get. Just across the river and behind the Arts Night Market, you’re just far enough away from the craziness of Pub Street, but close enough to walk there in a couple of minutes.|
|Mulberry Boutique Hotel||A beautiful, recently opened resort, the Mulberry has a fantastic pool, and just enough rooms to feel like you’re part of a large family. The Family Suites take up 2 levels and have 2 full bathrooms and you can walk out to the swimming pool. Thai-owned, they serve Thai food at the restaurant along with Khmer food, and Vanya and her staff are excellent. A blissful spot for a quiet getaway within the central area of the city.|
|Soria Moria Boutique Hotel||The first place I stayed when arriving in Siem Reap, this hotel lives up to it’s reviews and has a very friendly staff (do you see a trend yet?). Very clean and just across the river from the main pub street tourist area, this hotel has a small pool and can help you with whatever you need in terms of preparing tours and what to see on your trip.|
|Pip Pip Guesthouse||If you’re on a bit more of a budget, Pip Pip Guesthouse has rooms between $10-$25 a night, either with shared or private bathrooms. The Khmer owner is super sweet, and owns the electronics store attached and has adorable kids who will high five you when they see you. Requests needed for room cleaning, and you won’t get the additional frills of daily water or toilet paper, but you’ll get free hugs!|
|The Backpacker Hostel||With blazing fast wifi, the Backpacker Hostel has incredible value for what you get. Two double beds with a private bathroom for ~$15 a night, and a great location, if you can find an empty room here, you’re set, even with a lower budget. Try their banana pancakes for breakfast.|
|Chive Dumpling Food Stand||So this is the home of the one and only street food vendor that I frequented while in Siem Reap. I believe that it was a father and son who made these fried chive rice flour dumplings with a sweet and spicy fish sauce – 2 for 3000 riels ($0.75) or 3 for $1USD. A great snack, they would usually show up from around 3 pm until their product was sold out by the end of the evening. You’ll be able to recognize them for their smiles (and also were the only ones selling this in town).|
|Noodle Soup & Shake Stand||If you’re looking for a bowl of noodle soup with some meat and veggies that will never get old, head inside the Night Arts Market. You’ll see a small restaurant with a few tables and chairs outside. The best soup and shakes in Siem Reap. Hands Down. And for only $1 each item, you’re set! Just keep in mind the soup usually isn’t ready until around 2 pm each day, as it’s made fresh daily. And don’t forget to try the home made chili oil – delicious!|
|HAVEN Training Restaurant||A great training restaurant with high quality Khmer fare, HAVEN has been top rated for awhile, and in high season, you’ll definitely need reservations in the evenings.|
|Hashi Japanese Restaurant||Located across the street from Memoire d’Angkor, The Hashi is definitely the only place to go for Japanese food in Siem Reap. While it’s priced on the high end, if you’re from Vancouver like me and can’t live without sushi, it’ll be worth every penny. Although great, don’t expect Vancouver level product. Try their unique rolls!|
|Abacus Restaurant, Garden & Bar||A delicious French-inspired restaurant, Abacus is one of the finer dining experiences you can have while in Siem Reap. Everything from delicious French wines to Cuban cigars can be found, and they also serve different variations of foie gras, depending on their current menu selection. Perfect for a long afternoon of dining (I spent 4.5 hours there), or a romantic evening dinner. Air conditioned seating inside, or enjoy the outdoor garden area if it’s not too hot for your liking.|
|Rina Rino Restaurant||A fantastic local restaurant (literally the best I found the whole time in Siem Reap), this is a great spot for shakes and Khmer food with some flavour! Inexpensive meals and very friendly staff. Don’t be expecting much in terms of atmosphere, but the food here is very good. Also, be patient, when it’s busy it may take awhile, as they only have 2 burners!|
|Terrazza Italian Restaurant Siem Reap Branch||Originally opened in Phnom Penh, this Italian restaurant is located in the new King’s Road Complex with a variety of other restaurants. The owner, Mario, takes great pride in his product, which is mainly imported from Italy. A great fine dining experience in SR if you’re looking for a little bit of home.|
|Green Star (Not for Profit) Restaurant||A not for profit training restaurant, this place used to be a bit more popular. The fried corn is crispy and sweet and a must try, however, I’m not actually quite sure what else I would recommend at this point.|
|La Boulangerie-Café||Looking for a made to order sandwich or a fresh croissant or pain au chocolat? Well, here’s where you’ll find it! They also make good Khmer food.|
Sites & Activities
|Angkor Wat (and full complex)||Need I say more? Just go. Sunrise is also pretty great, but note you’ll be watching it with at least a couple thousand other people. If you were following along with me at the time, you’ll see my people watching photos…|
|West Baray||A great place to relax with a book. Rent a spot with a hammock, bring some beers (or buy from the hawkers), and take a nap. You can also rent inner tubes for floating on the man-made body of water. The best part to go is the quieter area that’s West of the main entrance area.|
|Phnom Krom||A quiet temple (you still need an Angkor Pass to get to it or else find ways around this), tourists generally never make it here. I went on a scooter after being in SR for awhile already, and it was a nice spot to relax and read a book away from the usual hustle and bustle.|
|Tonle Sap Lake||On the drive here, you’ll pass by houses on stilts, known as the floating village during the rainy season when flooding is prevalent. You can also get on a boat for $20/person, whether you are in a group or have your own, but I didn’t love this tour. It’s interesting to see how the people live, but I didn’t enjoy seeing the caged up crocodiles, or hearing about the orphanage on the water scams. Be warned.|
|Ta Prohm||You’ve probably seen this temple in the movies if you’ve watched Tomb Raider already, but come and enjoy it in real life. My favourite of all of the main temples in the complex (unlike most others who liked Bayon or Angkor Wat itself), it was quite majestic to see the beautiful trees intertwined in the building blocks of the temple itself, especially on a quiet rainy afternoon.|
|Yoga @ Siem Reap Hostel||For great yoga classes on Mondays and Thursdays, go see Lindsay for either a morning or evening class. You’ll get a great workout and also de-stress (if you aren’t already on vacation and completely relaxed). Check at the hostel for updated schedules. $5/class includes rental of a yoga mat if you don’t have your own.|
|Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa||If you’re looking for a higher end place to enjoy yoga in a studio, followed by a dip in one of 3 salt water and fresh water pools, take a class with Lindsay on Thursday afternoons or Sundays at Navutu. A little hard to find by tuk tuk, you’ll be able to Google Map this place and make your way there eventually (as there’s no signage along the way). Check with the Resort for updated yoga schedules. $8/class includes a bottle of water, yoga mats to borrow, and use of the pool.|
I’m guessing I’ll continue to add to my list as memories come back to me over the coming days, but for now, this should be more than enough to start you off if you manage to hit this beautiful place. Now that it gets more than 2 million tourists passing through each year, there has been more and more development. Each time I return, there are so many new things that pop up!
Another quick tip for those looking for a good tuk tuk driver for temple tours or just helping you get from A to B! Please contact Meas at +855 (0) 92 181 185 or else Sam at +855 (0) 92 572 187. (If you’re dialing with the country code +855, no need to dial the 0, but if dialing locally, then start with 0 and the rest of the number).
The next travel map on my list while in Asia will be Pattaya, Thailand, as I’m spending time there with my Thai family (and I’ve actually lived there off and on over the last few years, as some of you may or may not already know). So keep your eyes and ears open! I’ll give you insights on where to go, what to eat, and what to avoid if you’re not the average sex tourist looking for the best happy endings, soap massages, or ping pong shows. If that’s more your style…well, then I can’t help you.