Beginner's Guide to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Siem Reap has been on my bucket list for so long, it was so amazing to actually see it in person! I went on my holiday break from teaching in China, so I only had 5 days. But with these recommendations you can see all you want to see in Siem Reap in any amount of time!


Do not waste your time getting any Cambodian Real because everywhere accepts (and prefers!) U.S. dollars. This is something I wish I knew before going with thousands of dollars worth of Cambodian Real (about $50 USD). Make sure you have small bills because everything is extremely cheap and you'll need the small bills when haggling down prices at the night market.

Things to Do

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat is definitely the most crowded and well-known temple of the bunch. It was so big, we spent about 4 hours here alone. You start off with several smaller buildings before you actually get to the Angkor Wat temple.

The walls are engraved with so many ancient pictures and stories, it is great to have a tour guide to explain their meaning to you. Make sure you go all the way to the very top of the temple (they only let a certain number of guests up for 15 minute intervals of time), so you can see 360 degree views of the temple grounds. It is so amazing. You can even get blessed by a Buddhist monk at the top if you desire!

Ta Prohm

This temple is most famously known for its depiction in the hit Angeline Jolie film: Tomb Raider. It is now nicknamed as the Tomb Raider temple. It is quite small, but absolutely gorgeous. There are trees and tree roots coming out of all directions of the temple, and bright green moss cover the individual stones.

Angkor Thom

Now this is actually the city name! Most popularly known for its gate that many people take pictures under on their mopeds. It is quite detailed, and something you will go through on your way to Bayan temple!

Bayan Temple

This actually ended up being my favorite temple! The big surprise here was the amount of wild monkeys- I was not expecting it. They were everywhere, it was amazing! This temple has thousands of different faces carved into every inch of it.

Although it is just one building, there are so many different parts to it, you could get lost going up, down, and in all the side rooms. It was the least crowded of all the temples, and in my opinion, the most beautiful.

Phnom Bakheng

It's about a 15 minute hike up the mountain where you can come to either the temple and wait in a line for about 1 hr to go inside, or opt for the concrete platform in front for nearly the same sunset view. We opted for the concrete platform! The view on top of the mountain allows you to see greenery for as far as the eye can see. It was a great way to end the day!

Mechrey Floating Village

Another popular tourist sight in Siem Reap are the floating villages. However, there are so many different floating villages, that you want to make sure you are getting an authentic experience and not falling into a tourist trap. We opted for the Mechrey Floating Village, about 40 min outside of Siem Reap downtown. Every building is on buoys so their houses rise and fall with the water level.

We took a boat out to see the floating village, got to actually go inside one of the floating houses (which doubled as an alligator farm!), and watched the sunset on the boat ride back as we munched on some free snacks (and by snacks I mean, frogs, crickets, and worms). It was amazing to see how these people live, they have everything you could need: a school, basketball court, market, hair salon...all floating on water.

Lotus Fields

It's about a 30 minute bicycle ride outside of the city- be ready for some dirt road terrain and several quick pit stops to let grazing cows move out of your path. We did a tour through our hostel, so once we arrived our group watched the sunset from the floating grass huts in the lotus field. Everywhere you look are picturesque views and tales from local Cambodian people. It's an authentic and unique experience.

Pub Street/Night Market

The night market is huge, with lots of twisting alleyways where you can get lost! They sell anything from Cambodian souvenirs to fake Gucci and Prada. Make sure to bring small bills and be ready to barter! The Pub street is pretty self explanatory- it's where you go to party! End the night with a few cocktails or the 50 cent pints of beer at nearly any bar or club.

Get a Massage

This is a great way to kill and hour or two, or just relax after doing a full-day temple tour. The prices obviously differ at each place, but typically it's $10 USD for a 1 hr oil massage.

Wet vs. Dry Season

Cambodia has 2 seasons: Wet season and Dry season. The local Cambodian people say "one season is hot, and one is even hotter." Which is completely true. The wet season ranges from around September-March, while the dry season is April-August. The main distinction between the two seasons is the view and air quality. During the wet season, the rivers and lakes are high, giving picturesque views from mountain tops and when you go to the floating fishing village.

However, it doesn't have the best sky for those magnificent sunrise and sunset views. Whereas the dry season doesn't have as great of land views, but the sky views are drop dead gorgeous. If you are thinking of waking up at 4am to do the sunrise Angkor Wat tour, I highly recommend you go during the dry season or else it is very likely you will have gotten up that early to see a gray hazy sky


Last, but certainly not least: Hostels. I always stay in hostels for many reasons: 1. Usually they are the cheapest options 2. They offer fairly unique and cheap tours 3. You meet lots of people backpacking the world just like you are. For this trip we decided to splurge a little and get one of the more expensive hostels. You can find hostels from $1-3 USD per night, but the Lub D Cambodia Siem Reap hostel is $7 per night (I know, so expensive right!). But, it is hands down the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. There is a beautiful pool, swim up bar, multiple food stations to order food, and the rooms are spectacular. Impeccably clean, fresh towels and sheets daily, and we were even upgraded from a dorm style room to a private room for FREE! I would definitely recommend this hostel and it's other partners in Bangkok and Phuket as well.

They also have a lot of events- like movie nights- and offer a great range of tours. We did the full-day temple tour through them. It was only $12 USD (Plus $37 entrance fee) & we were able to see Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider temple), Angkor Thom, Bayan temple, and a short hike to Phnom Bakheng to watch the sunset.

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