Coming: From Bangkok- There are two daily buses (8 am and 9 am) that leave from Mo Chit (the main bus terminal in Bangkok). The nice thing about this bus is there is no changing buses between borders- which means there is no dealing with any luggage transfer.
This blog can explain it in much more detail than I can. It’s a very easy process- buying tickets online, what to do at the bus station, leaving Thailand and crossing into Cambodia.
If you’re coming from the rest of the country, take a bus that your accommodation can help set up for you.
Once here you should be able to walk most places. Otherwise grab a tuk tuk for cheap.
Sleeping: HI Siem Reap– really enjoyed this place. There is a Deluxe version of this hostel down the road that has a pool, but you still have access to use the pool from the older one and we liked the location of this hostel a bit more. It’s very centrally located- literally across the street from the night market and very easily accessible to Pub Street. The 6 bed mixed dorm had large comfortable beds and the staff is incredibly friendly and extremely helpful. The free breakfast is a BUFFET of scrambled eggs, toast and fruit. As in, YOU CAN EAT AS MANY SCRAMBLED EGGS AS YOU WANT. Not a party hostel, but with sunrise temples in your future it’s nice to stay at a quieter place and hang out at the party hostels when you want to go out.
Overall: 9/10 Price: $5 for mixed bed dorm Cheap/Average for Siem Reap
Eating: Haven – Awesome food and impeccable service! But not only that, it’s for a great cause! Haven is a program that provides housing, training, health care, clothes and anything else needed and is COMPLETELY free for participants. The aim is to help those in poverty break the cycle and have chance for a future. Have your hostel call and make a reservation ahead of time. We were lucky and got in the same night, but usually you have to call farther in advance. While tipping isn’t customary in Cambodia, make sure to leave them a good tip since it’s for such a great cause.
Doing: Visit temples, explore the streets, drink beer and take a hot air balloon ride
Explore the streets- Siem Reap is a small town- a little under 200,000 people and it is set up for tourists coming through to see the famous temples. There is a river running through the center and- like all great Asian cities, a night market full of a lot of things I want to buy but don’t have room for in my bag. Bargain the price down by 50% if you’re going to buy anything. Even for being a tourist town I was impressed at how high their level of English was. Have a night out on Pub Street where you’ll find a bunch of backpackers and a great time.
If you want a little context about Angkor Wat before heading there, pay a visit to the National Angkor Museum. Angkor is actually an entire complex of a mix of different temples that were capitols from back in the day. It is the largest religious monument in the world at 1,626,000 sq meters and was originally built for the Hindu god Vishnu. You’ll learn about the culture of the people as well as the background stories behind some of the art you’ll see depicted at the temple.
Hire a driver for the day (or two) to take you to the temples. There are a lot, so you’re going to have to strategize which you’d like to see. To be quite honest, many temples start to look the same after a certain point, so don’t stress out about having to see them all. Spend a day seeing the surrounding temples and hire your driver back the next day to hit Angkor for sunrise. We saw Preah Kahn, Preah Neak Pan and Ta Prom on Day 1 and Angkor Wat and Bayon Day 2.
There is an option to rent bikes to ride to and around the Angkor complex but it’s a bit far away from town and pretty spread out once you get there and it’s just so hot out you’re not going to enjoy biking around.
I didn’t get a guide. After having basic information from the museum I decided I’d rather have the freedom to look around the temples at my leisure. With the high temps and so much to see, standing around listening to someone talk wasn’t something I wanted any part of. Plus I’m cheap.
There is no good time of day to visit the temples. Many people will tell you that it’s better to go at sunrise or sunset because of how hot it gets during the day, but the ENTIRE day is extremely hot. The afternoons usually have less crowds though.
Hired Sokha as our driver and he’s the bomb. He drove us to the temples we asked, but also pointed out a few things along the way we hadn’t originally asked to see. He was helpful in his suggestions rather than pushy- genuinely wanting us to get the most out of our experience. He spoke amazing English and we were able to get to know a little about his story and how he ended up where he is now.
Here is his info (as of March 2015)
Facebook: Sokha Nguon; Line: Sokha Nguon; email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (+855) 89 777 393 or (+855) 97 979 0095
Angkor Wat- This is what people come to see. If you want to see sunrise you’ll be picked up around 5 am. Grab a quick bite outside the temple for breakfast and head in to find a spot. Despite the pictures you see on Instagram, this place is PACKED. Set up somewhere and take your pictures but make sure to wait until the actual sun rises. This sounds obvious, but many people (myself included) started going into the temple once daylight came and miss the sun rising over the temple. It’s beautiful. Take your pictures, but don’t forget to just sit and watch. It’s spiritual and amazing if you drown out your surroundings and just live in the moment.
Spend the morning walking around the temple complex and snapping pics- make sure you’re dressed appropriately! There is a climb inside the temple that is extremely strict with their dress rules. I wore a maxi dress and had a scarf to cover my shoulders which is fine, but not good enough to climb up. Men were sometimes not allowed if their shorts were above the knee.
Price- Entrance to Angkor Complex $20 for 1 day, $40 for 3 days (to be used within a 7 day period), $60 for 7 days (to be used within a 1 month period)
Tuk Tuk to the temples- Day 1 $20- 3 temples; Day 2 $17 plus tip. We tipped him a fair amount because we loved him so much. 🙂
Take a hot air balloon ride- This is another bucket list item for me. I decided to do it here because other more iconic place such as Myanmar and Turkey will be over $350 USD at minimum. While the Cambodian countryside leaves something to be desired, with Bakong Temple below us and the sunset as the backdrop there were zero complaints about the view. We cruised at around 1,100 feet and dropped candy down to the local Cambodian children who chased after us in hot pursuit.
Chat with your pilot! We found out that our pilot happens to be the 31st ranked hot air balloon pilot in the world! Dude has flown from China to South Korea in an open air hot air balloon. That is the most badass thing I’ve heard in a really long time. He has reached altitude of 26,000 feet and been up there with an oxygen tank. Too late to pick up a new hobby….?
Price- Around $100 for sunset ride including transportation. Note the $20 option you’ll be tethered down over Angkor Wat. Not the same.
Staying: 3 days was good. Two for temples one to wander around, visit museums and have a night out.
Going: If you’re headed east head onto Phnom Penh via bus or if you’ve already been there then take the bus west into Bangkok.