Cambodia is a small country nestled in-between Thailand and Vietnam in the heart of SE Asia. This country is a hidden gem and one that I never thought would be a destination for me, until I was planning a trip to Thailand and (true to form) wanted to add another country to our trip because, well, why not? I researched where was best to go and after a quick search on the internet I stumbled upon Angkor Wat, the largest religious memorial in the world, and one of the wonders of the world, just minutes from downtown Siem Reap. I booked us for one night in Siem Reap and got to planning.
What is really incredible about Cambodia, is that in order to obtain a visa, you must prove that you are spending the night. They are dedicated to building tourism and encouraging guests to truly experience a night in their country, and we are so happy we did! We only had 24 short hours in Cambodia and it is still one of the most incredible places I have ever been in my entire life. The people are humble, friendly, and approachable, the temples are breathtaking, enchanting, and a labyrinth of history, and the culture is vibrant, peaceful, and filled with life. It was an epic experience from the moment we stepped off the airplane to the moment we hopped back on one to head to our next destination. Here’s a quick guide to how to really utilize your 24 hours but I definitely encourage to expand your trip if you get the chance and embrace the culture!
Where to stay
Siem Reap has a pretty small city center. That being said, it’s super easy to walk through the whole city so everything downtown is accessible. If you stay a bit outside, a tuk tuk is a really affordable way to get back down! Stay near Pub Street for bars and nightlife, stay along the Siem Reap river a bit north for more luxurious hotels, or enjoy the best of both worlds just across the river from Pub Street for a 5 star feel with a 5 minute walk to the center.
- Viroth’s Hotel: this 5 star hotel is absolutely gorgeous. The restaurant is in an open atrium and the pool is in the center of the complex with amazing palm trees and lounge chairs. All rooms are comfortable and modern and right out front they have vintage cars that you can even have come pick you up at the airport! Overall well worth the investment!
- Jaya House River Park: Although we didn’t stay here, this was at the top of our list! A little more expensive than Viroth’s Hotel, it’s like a massive private resort, right in Siem Reap. The luxury of this resort and its reputation are enough to make it the perfect spot for a romantic getaway if you’re up for splurging.
- 1953 Siem Reap Hostel: For a crazy cheap price and the best location for a fun night out, this hostel has an amazing reputation and the best price tag!
What to do
- Angkor Wat: DO NOT miss this. Sunset and sunrise are equally beautiful and if you can make it to both I highly recommend you do! Pro tip- book a private tuk tuk (details below) and have them take you to the top sights. If you have more time, ask them to take you to hidden gems. These guys are proud of what they do and where they come from and make the whole experience worth it! (You’ll need to get an admission pass to get in. Your driver can take you to the ticket office upon arrival. They sell them in 1-day, 3-day, and 7-day passes. Also, the temples have strict rules for dress code. Make sure to cover your shoulders and knees. Flip flops are ok, scarves as “sweaters” are often allowed but sometimes not so it’s best to opt for a t shirt)
- Phare Circus: WOW these performers are absolutely incredible! I read on a blog to check it out, and we had our driver take us to the show and booked tickets ahead of time. It was mesmerizing. Talent and energy were both booming the entire show and we left with massive smiles on our faces! We opted for tickets without dinner and went with the section B tickets for an awesome view. Buy tickets ahead of time!
- Pub Street: The heart of the city thrives on pub street with bars and restaurants lining the streets and amazing street food! If you’ve ever been to Phuket this is a super similar vibe to Bangla Road, but the ping pong shows and Muay Thai are replaced with fun bars and street performers. Take a stroll, grab a bite to eat, and enjoy some delicious cocktails on pub street for a truly local feel.
- Hire a Tuk tuk! Hiring a private tuk tuk driver is surprisingly easy and affordable! You can either arrange one ahead of time on the internet through blogs (or message me for the contact info to our incredible driver, Sam), or arrange for one at the airport! You can either hire a driver for a single journey, or for the day to tour you through Angkor Wat. We ended up hiring Sam for the day and he was able to take us everywhere we needed to go and even came back for us at night to take us to and from the circus and pub street. They will show you back roads or just take you from point A to point B and they all take their jobs seriously so do make sure to tip!
- Apply for your visa ahead of time online. It’s super simple to do, and our selfies with a white wall behind us were all that was needed for photos. It takes up to a few weeks to go through so make sure to plan in advance and go on their official website.
- The Cambodian currency is Riel and is ridiculously difficult to do the conversion in your head. Most places (and tuk tuk drivers) accept USD and we were able to pay for the temples and circus with a credit card so the small amount of riel we took out really wasn’t necessary. You can even take money out of the ATMs in USD.
Enjoy your trip to Siem Reap, and be prepared to dive head first into incredible culture!