The last two points on this list might have you thinking that we didn’t enjoy Siem Reap but, actually, we had a lot of fun here. It is a fairly small city so easy to get around, a little expensive, but also packed full of great places to eat and have a drink with an energy that ensures that you’ll have some fun here and soak up a little culture.
1. Sunrise at Angkor Wat
If you’re in Siem Reap then you already know that the top attraction is Angkor Wat, and the numerous surrounding temples. It is easy to see why this is such a popular attraction, it feels like stepping back in time… almost, except that a lot of other people have also stepped back in time with you and you’re all vying to try and take the same photograph of Angkor Wat reflected in a pond without other people in it, or a temple ruin with a tree growing over it that appeared in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider the movie, your favourite movie.
That being said, it is truly worth seeing, it is spectacular in design and scale and you can spend hours, even days, exploring and noticing tiny details.
We know a few people who have visited the temples in Siem Reap and here are the combined points we’ve learnt:
- Only tickets purchased at the Angkor Wat ticket office are valid. Anyone trying to sell you a ticket anywhere else is trying to scam you. The ticket office is a little out of town but, if you go to Angkor on a tour, as we did, then the tour will take into consideration this stop to buy a ticket.
- You can buy a 1 day ticket ($37), a 3 day ticket ($62) or a 7 day ticket ($72). Many people recommended paying the extra for a multi-day ticket. If you try and see too many temples in one day it takes the magic out of it a little bit. It also doesn’t allow time to explore the temples as much as they deserve. This is obviously personal preference, we only got a 1 day ticket, we were trying to save money.
- Many tours operate for both sunrise and sunset at Angkor Wat ($13-$15). We opted for sunrise which meant a very early start! The orientation of the temples means that the sun rose from behind the main temple building. It was a great sight to witness, even though cloudiness on the actual day did mean that the reality didn’t quite meet our expectations. The tour was pretty good, the guide talked through the history and importance of the site and we visited a couple of temples. This was interesting. However, the tour builds in a stop at a tourist trap restaurant (which is quite expensive), and you don’t really get to investigate the temples at your own pace.
- Getting Around: you can also get to the temples on a bicycle, motorbike or you can hire a tuk tuk driver for the day and they’ll drive you around the temples according to your schedule, given the choice again, we would choose this final option. Many tuk tuk drivers seen to do free lifts from bus stations to hostels in Cambodia and will then offer tours or provide their phone number for whatsapp and you can hire them as personal drivers (we did this in Battambang and it was ace).
All sarcasm aside, Angkor Wat was a fantastic place to visit. Get a private tuk tuk, or see if someone else in your hostel wants to share one, drive around all the temples that you want to see, in your own time and marvel at being able to walk through and touch and experience temples built almost 1000 years ago.
2. Visit Apopo: Landmine Clearing Rats
This was my favourite thing in Siem Reap. Very near to Ankor Wat is Apopo. Apopo is an organisation which operates across the world, training giant african pouched rats to sniff out TNT (in landmines) and even tuberculosis in patient samples.
The rats are capable of clearing a section of land, that would take a human with a metal detector 4 days, in 30 minutes! The reason for the speed is simply that a metal detector will pick up coins, old bits of tractor etc but the rat is capable of sniffing out the TNT within the explosives. Therefore, there are no false alarms. The rat finds the landmine, signals the handlers who mark the spot and provide the rat with a treat.
Entry is $5 and this includes a guided tour and a demonstration by one of the retired rats, who no longer works in the field. Similar to COPE in Laos, this visitor centre is small but is excellently put together, fascinating and, at times, harrowing.
We’d highly recommend a visit, our Angkor Wat tour finished at about 2.00pm and they were happy to drop us at Apopo on the way back to the city centre. Alternatively, a tuk tuk to the centre should cost $2-$3.
3. Learn to Cook Khmer food
There are plenty of cooking classes around Cambodia but we opted for Siem Reap Countryside Cooking Class. The reason for this is that Countryside Cooking Class is an NGO, proceeds from the cooking classes goes towards the running costs of an orphanage and so, this seemed like the best place.
We were picked up from our hotel and met with the other couple doing the class (private cooking classes are available too but are more expensive, obviously). We were then taken to the outskirts of the city where we met with our guide/teacher at a local market.
The market was extremely interesting. Our guide took us around, explained the different ingredients that were available, and how each ingredient should be prepared. I know this sounds basic but, being from England, the only time I’ve seen turmeric is when it has been dried and powdered, and usually the only aubergines we see are purple and uniformly shaped. This was a change of pace.
After exploring the market, we were driven a short way into the countryside where the cooking class began. We had pre-picked the menu we wanted to make, it had been amended slightly for us so that it was vegetarian, we began.
The whole process was great fun. Cooking is fun anyway but getting to see the dish build up under some expert tutelage was exciting. We got to smash ingredients with meat cleavers, cook over an open fire and, once all was done, tuck into a delicious meal.
4. Wander down Pub Street
Pub Street – there’s not too much to say really. It is a street, there are pubs.
It is fairly interesting in it’s own way. This part of town is characterised by old colonial french buildings and feels a little like being in france. There are lots of pubs and restaurants to choose from and, if you’re interested, more than a few different pub crawls that you can engage in which will provide you with some free drinks, a t-shirt and a hangover.
We didn’t love pub street but it is short and worth a wander through. Also, once you get out of the other side, you will start heading into an area of some genuinely lovely restaurants with food from all over the world. We recommend the hummus wrap at Elia Greek Restaurant, it’s incredible.
5. Drink yourself blind
We don’t endorse this but it is an option. Most hostels seem to offer a pub crawl and, at breakfast in the hostel restaurant you can see the palid vacant stares backpackers as hover at the edge of sobriety until someone wonders over to them and says something like:
“How did you get back yesterday, we couldn’t find you at that last place?”
“Did you’re phone survive your fall into the pool?”
“I hate your face.”