A Siem Reap Angkor travel guide by the locals
Welcome to Siem Reap and to the temples of Angkor
Siem Reap is the provincial capital of Siem Reap Province. So when a Khmer says he's going to Siem Reap, or that he lives in Siem Reap, it could either mean Siem Reap City or anywhere in the province (and that could be a long way from the city).
Siem Reap is a relatively small city, even by Cambodian standards. It is nowhere near as big as Phnom Penh or Battambang. And it definitely has far fewer Khmer than Long Beach, California. There are a few international flights to Siem Reap, from as far as Japan. But most foreign visitors (and local tourists) would have come from Phnom Penh by road, using one of the many "fast" bus on bad road services.
Despite its typically audacious old school Khmer name (Siem Reap means victory over the Siamese), Siem Reap is a rather sedate provincial settlement. As you arrive in Siem Reap, notice the slower pace (it gets a lot slower in the countryside surrounding the city).
Visiting Siem Reap
Most people living in Siem Reap are not from the city proper. Hotel and tourism services employ a large number of Cambodians from Phnom Penh and the central provinces. How can you tell? The local twang is so thick and uses so many local words that it is easily distinguishable. Our Speak Khmer section will equip you with conversational expressions to break the ice.
The city gets swamped by foreign visitors during the high tourist season. Busloads of guided tours and charter planes from literally around the globe! We do get the loud thuggish harebrained types that drink all the cheap booze they get their hands on, drive quads in ricefields and walk around town bare chested aping their far more superior simian cousins. But fortunately for us, they’re an exception (mainly to be found on the infamous Pub Street that locals would dutifully avoid unless they work there). People who come here for fast paced night scene are in the wrong place. Siem Reap is merely the gateway to the Khmer soul, Angkor, the city that once was.
The Temples of Angkor
People come to Siem Reap (and to Cambodia) for Angkor. Those who seek beauty in arts, architecture, old temples and local Cambodian traditions (and the occasional Tomb Raider selfie of course).
Despite the throngs, you don’t need to squeeze between Chinese and Korean tour groups to experience the majesty of Angkor (the Japanese all visited Angkor more than a decade ago it seems). After all, Old Angkor was the size of present day Los Angeles and was home to a million people. Think of the City of Siem Reap as a small district in a large metropolis...
There are dozens of well preserved temples besides Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prom. Our section on Siem Reap Angkor Walks will guide you through less travelled temples and the oft overlooked pagodas (wat).
For Cambodians, entrance to the temples is free, and local expatriates usually get into the Angkor Archeological Park after five when the ticket office has closed down. Grilled bananas, green papaya salad, roast meats, fresh fruits and a few cold drinks as the sun sets is part of the local routine. Some people do jog and cycle around the temples when the sun is less harsh, but they must be from Phnom Penh... Days go by and we bask in the magic of Angkor.
Best hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap
We often get asked why we only suggest a handful of establishments in our picks of the best hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap. We don’t think it would be very useful to list pages of restaurants you shouldn’t go to, or hotels you should avoid at all costs.
We only recommend restaurants that are tried and tasted by our ruffians’ palates on a weekly basis. There are certainly dozens more places we go to, but they’re not worth writing home about, especially when you’ve travelled across continents to have perfect holidays.
As for the hotels, we do occasionally (often at the height of the dry season) check in during 45 degree Celsius nights with power cuts (thus no fan or air conditioning at home). We’ve put up our relatives and friends at all the guesthouses and hotels we list, which represent a fraction of the 30000 rooms available in Siem Reap.
Travel tips for Siem Reap and Angkor
In our travel blog, we write about things to do, places to see in Siem Reap and in Angkor, but also we share some local tips that will make your stay among us more comfortable.
Should you bring your children? By all means do! Angkor is a wonderful playground for the little ones (and the bigger ones). What about daily shopping? You will probably find a close substitute of your favourite shampoo (made by the same multinational firm under a different local name). Is palm wine safe to drink? What about rice wine... Should you rent a Tuk Tuk, a van or a car? What about hopping on a motorbike or a bicycle? Those are some of the questions you may have, just click on the relevant posts!
If you like our tales and want to treat us to a freshly squeezed watermelon juice, consider purchasing a copy of our Angkor guidebook for Kindle.