Cambodia was one of our favourite countries visited during our world tour. We went to Siem Reap to visit the famous ruins of the Angkor temples, we found so much more in Cambodia. Thus, we regretted we did not stay more than a week in this touching country and especially not having time to visit the villages on the coast.
Some travellers spend two or three day in Siem Reap, just to visit the ruins and the city. We loved Siem Reap and there is so much to do around, one week wasn’t enough for us!
If you are looking for information about Angkor Wat and the other temples, find more details in our article: visiting the temples of Angkor!
In this article you will find:
- Market and temples to visit in the city
- Where to eat in Siem Reap
- The best evening shows
- Our experience of a Cambodian cooking class
- Activities to do around Siem Reap
- Museums to visit
- The trip from Thailand and the border crossing
Visiting the city of Siem Reap: the markets and temples
If you are not yet bored of temples after a few days in Angkor, the visit of Wat Preah Prom Rath interesting is one we found very interesting.
In the city centre, there are a few diverse markets to visit:
- the old market located next to Pub Street where the nightlife is concentrated.
- Made in Cambodia market where you will only find local products. We loved it and it is less crowded than the old market.
- Siem Reap Art Center Night Market and its beautiful lights. You will surely find beautiful souvenirs there.
If you want to reward yourself with a cheap massage you will find plenty around. We got ourselves a foot massage. Most of the spa and massage facilities are located in Sok San Street.
Where to eat in Siem Reap?
There are many choices of very nice and very affordable bars and restaurants in the city centre. We loved Burger Gourmand and New Leaf Eatery, two restaurants offering a lot of options for Clémentine who is lactose allergic.
For a more local and economical experience, we recommend Pot and Pan. Moreover, there are many Cambodian barbecues around pub street. It is a street where you will meet very few locals but which has many touristic restaurants including barbecues with exotic meats (be careful that what is offered on the menu seems ethical).
Where to stay?
We spent all of our nights at the Nagara Angkor Boutique Hotel which we enjoyed. The hotel is located 10 minutes walk from the city centre and 15 minutes from the Phare circus. The hotel has a very nice pool and the breakfast is included all of it for a very reasonable price.
There are many offers for accommodation in Siem Reap for competitive prices and high quality. If you want to meet people we would recommend staying in hostels. Indeed, the other guests at our hotel were mainly in tourist groups and did not stay long.
Evening shows in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a very active city at night and we watched two very different shows.
Phare, Cambodian Circus
We started with the Cambodian circus Phare. This NGO is training young Cambodians from disadvantaged backgrounds. We had a great time watching this very funny show with sensational acrobatics.
Angkor Dynasty Show
The second show we attended was the Angkor Dynasty Show. We were very surprised by this show, it was more grandiose and qualitative than the London musicals we are big fans of. It is a breathtaking show with stunning special effects and gorgeous dancing. In addition to all this, the show tells the (romanced) story of Cambodia until the construction of Angkor Wat.
It is possible to include a buffet (mainly Chinese food) before the show but we have not tried it.
Champey Cambodian Cooking Class
Do you know Nicolas loves to cook? He even wanted to be a chef when he was a kid. We took part in a Cambodian cooking class. Clémentine loved the tasting part.
Right in the city centre, we took the opportunity to participate in a cooking class with a complete meal to taste at the end. With Champey Cooking Class we learned to cook delicious local food. A real treat! In addition, we were surprised to be able to take with us the recipes and spices necessary to make these dishes at home. On the menu: fresh spring rolls, Khmer fish amok and fried bananas.
We took our class in the afternoon but we recommend to do the morning session so you can also visit the market and pick your own ingredients.
Activities around Siem Reap
Angkor Zipline: adrenaline and nature
We decided to go on a day of outdoor activities with Angkor Zipline. They offer different zipline tours (with varied number of ziplines and height). We enjoyed walking up the trees and watching the nature. We were surrounded by butterflies. It is also possible to encounter bigger animals such as gibbons or hornbills but did not had this luck.
The safety level is very impressive and we were 100% comfortable throughout the course. Clémentine was not scared for a single second even though she is usually not comfortable with this kind of activities.
We chose the Gold Eco-Adventure Canopy Tour which includes all ziplines, suspended sky bridges and an abseil descent (really easy one). Finally, the included meal was really good and the shuttle from and to the hotel was perfect.
Kompong Phluk Floating Village Tour with Siem Reap Shuttle Tours
Being at the beginning of the rainy season, the village did not have its feet in the water but it does not make it less interesting to visit. Indeed, we went on a little boat trip before arriving on the mainland to walk in the middle of meters high houses on stilts.
The inhabitants bravely adapted to the very difficult conditions. Water rises very high in this village by the lake and their means of transports are transformed during the rainy season. The boat are replacing the bikes because the water covers the whole village except for the small island of the temple.
We had time to walk around and see the schools in addition to the temple. Then we took another boat to go to the Tonle Sap Lake (a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve). The lake is so big we could not see the other end.
It was a very interesting half-day of cultural visit and we learned a lot about the local lifestyles in this region bordering the Tonle Sap lake.
Local life countryside bicycle tour with PURE!
We went on a bike tour, the PURE! Countryside Bicycle Tour Experience, to visit Siem Reap surroundings and discover its inhabitants lifestyle.
The tour included a visit to a Buddhist temple, a market, a farm, a village and a meal with a lovely family. We really enjoyed our guide, Chork, who gave us a lot of information and nicely shared about his and the country history. Thus, it gave us a good overview of Cambodian culture as well as life in the countryside.
The NGO organising this tour, PURE! Dream Center, offers training programs for women in disadvantaged areas and also run a school for children. This charity creates jobs in rural communities by teaching women how to make souvenirs sold in the markets and in their store in Siem Reap. We met three of these women who showed us their knowledge. Thus we tried traditional medicine and massage, visited markets, learned how to weave a dried grass roof and cooked our lunch with a mother directly at her home.
The tour, on bikes similar to those used by locals, starts from the city centre. The tour is accessible to all and the bike ride is not difficult. However, do not forget to wear appropriate clothing (shoulders and knees covered), a hat and wear sunscreen.
An absolutely unique experience we will never forget.
Museums near the archaeological site of Angkor: Angkor National Museum, Cambodia Landmine Museum, Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity
In our article about Angkor we mention the excellent museums not to be missed which are located between the city of Siem Reap and the archaeological site of Angkor.
Finally, if you love nature and animals, we really appreciate the visit of the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity. It is a beautiful sanctuary and your visit help for their conservation and education work.
Tips for the temples of Angkor visit
Find all of our tips and daily itineraries to make the most of the Angkor temples (a marvel that you can not miss if you are passing through Siem Reap) in our blog article. We also talk about when is the best time to visit and how to organise your transport.
How to get to Siem Reap from Bangkok?
Bus from Thailand
We went by bus from Bangkok and tested 2 different companies: Travel Mart and Giant Ibis. First, to go to Siem Reap, we took a night bus to avoid wasting a day on the road. In general, we do not recommend night buses because we usually don’t get much sleep and the next day is often lost because we are too tired to do anything.
We had a negative experience with Travel Mart. To begin with, the meeting point was at 1am at the Mc Donald’s on Khao San Road. It is a very lively street where people go to party and after midnight it doesn’t look very good and safe. Having no place to go that night, we went to the meeting point in the early evening and saw a lot of people having drunk a little too much.
Finally, when we arrived in Siem Reap, tuk-tuk drivers claiming to belong to the company entered the bus to “offer” a free transfer to the hotel. We used this so-called service and realised it was a scam once we arrived at the hotel, it wasn’t free and we had to pay.
The return with Giant Ibis went off without any worries and we would therefore recommend this company. If you had any other experience which could be useful for future travellers please share with us in the comments.
Border Crossing Thailand-Cambodia
The journey from Bangkok went smoothly up to the border with Cambodia. The visa costs $30 but we were asked to pay $40 to the Travel Mart agent. After negotiation, we still paid $ 35 for service fees but ended up doing everything ourselves. We think we should not have had to pay more than the Visa price, it was all unclear and we blame the bus company for this.
Note that a photo ID is needed for the Cambodian visa. We advise to always have some ID pictures on you for this kind of situation.
Moreover, we were shocked by the poverty difference between Thailand and Cambodia, which can be seen right from the border. Sadly, the first thing we faced in Cambodia were naked babies lying on the ground with a cup to beg for money.
If you want more information about Bangkok, check out our list of things to do in this amazing city in our blog article Thailand: a trip to Bangkok.
Our feelings about Cambodia, the conflicts and their consequences up to nowadays
Our visit to Cambodia is for sure a highlight of our world tour. The recent history of Cambodia, and in particular the conflicts with the Khmer Rouge, shocked and moved us. We were all the more shocked by the lack of knowledge we had on this subject. Indeed even though the French colony, or protectorate, lasted nearly 90 years it was not part of our school education.
This country, victim of its neighbours’ wars, suffered from political instability even before the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot took over in the 70s. This was an absolutely traumatic period where all Cambodians were displaced and forced to work. According to sources, human losses reached a quarter of the population. All intellectuals (doctors, teachers and even people wearing glasses) were systematically killed. After the Vietnamese army offensive, the country still lived many years of armed conflicts. In addition to the bombings, landmines have been scattered and there are still victims today in the forests and the countryside. The country’s reconstruction, only in relative peace for the last few years, is truly breathtaking.
Although it is one of the poorest countries we have crossed, we have been touched by the Cambodians kindness. We had a lot of talk with them about the horrors they went through under Pol Pot and the following wars, it is truly amazing to hear such testimonies.
Clémentine’s reading list about Cambodia
- Lonely Planet Pocket Siem Reap & the Temples of Angkor or if you visit other places in Cambodia the travel guide Cambodia.
- A very moving movie about the regime of the Khmer Rouge, hard to watch even at times, and produced and directed by Angelina Jolie: First they killed my father. This film tells the true story of Ung Loung, her and his family experience told through her eyes as a little girl.
- This superb movie is inspired by a book, First, they killed my father written by Ung Loung herself.
- The Rent Collector by Cameron Wright, about a family living in a Cambodian dump, is a beautiful reading I really enjoyed. However, it is clear through the reading it was wrote by an american author.
- Cambodia’s Curse, The Modern History of a Troubled Land, by Joel Brinkley. Joel Brinkley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist reporting on the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Later, in the late 2000s, he returned to see how the country is rebuilding.
If you are looking for titles on Angkor please visit our article on visiting the temples of Angkor.