I left my heart in Siem Reap
I regret only spending 4 days in Siem Reap. But we were forced to book flights by a dumb FlyDubai agent (never fly on FlyDubai) who wouldn't let us onto our flight to Thailand (when we were leaving Tanzania) without proof we would leave.
We landed at Siem Reap International Airport on March 20th 2018. We got in around 8:15pm and there was a bit of a wait to get through immigration. We found out on our flight in that Canadians are not visa exempt (unlike almost every other country). We had a bit of a panic that we haven't applied for a visa and hoped that it would be easy to do it on arrival. Thankfully, the visa on arrival application process went super smooth. We paid $30 USD and were in! They didn't even care that I didn't have passport sized photos of myself for the application. We even made some Canadian pals in the lineup!
Everyone in Siem Reap says the airport is "far" from the actual city, but they obviously don't have the same standards of distance as Canadians. It took us 20ish minutes to get to our hotel riding in a tuk tuk going 40 km/h. And when we arrived at our place, we were instantly blown away! We stayed at the River Bay Villas in Siem Reap (Click here for 10% off your next booking on booking.com!)
We paid $69 USD for 4 nights... that's SUPER affordable when split between 2 people. Especially considering this is a 4 star boutique resort. We booked this place a week in advance, and were dreaming of getting there the whole time. The Villa is just as beautiful in the photos as it is in real life. I was getting French Riviera/Balinese vibes from the style! It was honestly heaven. We had a private room and bathroom, on the top floor with floor to ceiling windows. A king sized bed, fridge, safe and coffee. The bathroom even had a bathtub! There was a pool, reastraunt and spa on site too. Our room was cleaned for us everyday while we were out, with new sheets and towels.
This place was so incredible, but to be honest there are so many places in Siem Reap with these same amenities for the same price! But I would STRONGLY RECOMMEND River Bay Villas to anyone I know going to Siem Reap. The staff made our stay extremely easy and enjoyable and took it to the next level. They were very helpful with any questions of requests we had.
The monetary system in Siem Reap was very interesting... I don't know if it is the same in the rest of Cambodia though. The majority of the economy here is based on the US dollar. Everyone pays for everything in US cash. Even though they have their own currency, the Riel. The Riel is only used in place of US coins. 1,000 Cambodian Riel is equal to .25 US cents. I found the use of the US dollar had a deceivingly cheap effect on the prices. Everyone says how cheap Cambodia is, and maybe we were just in the wrong part or going to the wrong places. And I think the people who were saying that weren't Canadian... The Canadian dollar SUCKS compared to the US dollar right now. So when you see something for $3 in Cambodia you think "wow, $3 is so cheap!" but convert that in Canadian dollars and $3 US dollars turns into $4 Canadian dollars. I didn't find it to be that cheap. I guess yes, if you think about buying a coffee from a super fancy, modern coffee shop in Cambodia for $3 USD. Then that is cheap in comparison to buying a coffee from an equally nice place at home. But I could buy a coffee that was just as good in Thailand for less than $2 USD.
We were in Cambodia for almost 4 full days. And we spent 3 of those days visiting the temple’s at Angkor Wat. We got a 3 day pass into the park (its a UNESCO site and a archaeological park) for $62 USD each. The prices increased dramatically just months before we went, which was a shame but it was still so worth it! They take your picture so you end up with your own personalized Angkor Wat pass that can serve as a nice souvenir when you're done! If you buy your pass in advance, you are allowed to enter the park the evening before the pass begins for free! So you can watch the sunset over gorgeous ruins while getting more out of your money. We didn't do that, because we were able to spend so much time in the park we didn't feel it was necessary.
We visited about 7-8 temples in the 3 days. I say 7-8 because one place we went was just a pile of ruins in the jungle we stopped at to take pictures. There was a magnificent tree growing from the still partially standing structure! We visited Angor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, Ta Som, Ta Keo and Ta Phrom, as well as the 2 smaller unknown ones! If you would like to read more about the temples we visited, see my post on 3 Days in Angkor Wat!
Now, I'm going to be honest here. I didn't really try any true Khmer style food.... I KNOW its so horrible but I just chickened out and didn't push myself. I stuck with asian fusion style food, which I don't regret. We ate at so many really great places during our stay.
For breakfast on our fist day we went to The Hideout Barista & Lounge. It was a super western and modern coffee shop/restaurant in downtown Siem Reap. We had a little splurge breakfast, but in saying that the total for our two meals was $8 USD. I paid about $3 USD for eggs and bacon and $2.50 USD for a latte. I knew, from the first sip of that latte that I was in heaven. Africa and Thailand use a lot of Robusta coffee beans which i'm not the biggest fan of (my coffee consumption during this trip has drastically decreased because of this reason) But in Cambodia I found my good old friend Arabica again and was ecstatic.
One night we went to Zooma's for dinner. This is a western asian fusion restaurant run by one of the sweetest men we have met! The place was a little hard to find though because it is located in a box market. Box markets are these outdoor shopping/entertainments malls they have built in Siem Reap. The stalls are constructed from old, brightly colored shipping containers and they look really fun and industrial! If you ask any one working in the box market they will kindly point you in the direction of Zooma's! Upstairs, there is a beautiful "rooftop" patio with dining tables. The owner was sooo kind and wanted to make sure all of his guests had the absolute best experience (A trend I really noticed here in Cambodia). He always checked on us and our food to make sure it was perfect, and while he was serving our main dishes he even offered to remake our food if we didn't love it! The food was sooo delicious and my $4 giant Mai Tai pulled it all together nicely. We really wanted to go back there a second time, but our schedule got too crowded so sadly we couldn't :(
One day, after exploring ancient temples in Angkor Wat we went to New Hope for a late lunch. New Hope is a beautiful restaurant located in the courtyard of a children's school. Now, I know that may sound weird but it will make sense. New Hope is an organization in Siem Reap started by a local man and his wife. They saw the poverty that is very present in the country and wanted to help. So they began New Hope Cambodia. They now have many branches that help so many different aspects of need in Cambodia. Including education, heath, sponsorship and outreach. The restaurant is set up to help train adults in Siem Reap about the food and service industry, so they can gain careers and support their families with a stable job. With the proceeds going toward the organization! The service was very good and the food was fantastic! They offered a set menu (which our friends got) and they also offered a la carte dishes. You are welcome to tour the school and learn more about the organisation.
Another day, again after wandering the temples of Angkor Wat we stopped into Sister Srey. It's a beautiful Aussie cafe started by two sisters! They serve delicious wholesome food and coffee with so many GF, Vegan and paleo options. We just stopped in to grab a pre-dinner snack while walking around town. And I couldn't help myself when I saw the raw macadamia brownie. Now I’m not a sweets person, and I don't have a sweet tooth at all. But give me a raw dessert or anything with macadamia nuts and I’m down! Raw desserts are, in my mind, the way to go. They have just the right amount of sweetness and I always love all the textures they have going on. My friend got the chicken salad and said it was amazing!
We did try a few places that were smaller, local establishments we chose while we were walking along the road. They were all delicious and slightly cheaper than the restaurants we were going to. I didn't get the names of the places, but there are so many like them around. They served the typical Asian fusion foods you find all over South East Asia, as well as local Khmer cuisine! A lot of places serve Chinsese food too, since FLOCKS of Chinese tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat temples.
Getting around Siem reap is pretty easy. There are tonnes of tuk tuk's to drive you around! We paid between $1.50-$2.00 USD each way to get into town. The drivers will ask for somewhere between $3.00-$5.00 a ride initially but its easy to barter them down. One day we went on a visit to the Camodia War Museum in Siem Reap, and organized a round trip ride on a tuk tuk for $5 USD. The driver waited for us outside the museum till we were done. To read about the museum see my post here! We didn't rent scooters, we didn't really see any options to rent here. They also drive on the right side of the road here (which is the correct side) but after 2 months of driving on the left side in Africa and Thailand we were worried about getting confused haha.
There were many great shopping options in Siem Reap. There is a big duty free store called T Galleria. We didn't go there because I didn't think I could afford to buy brands like Moshino, even at duty free prices. And the parking lot was always swarmed with Chinese tour buses. If you head downtown there is a great Old Market selling your classic cheap souvenirs and clothes. I purchased an Angkor Wat t-shirt for $3 (which I later found out was still expensive) and a book on the Khmer rouge for $4! At night near Pub Street downtown, there is a night market. There you will find more options for the same stuff you see at all the stalls, but more selection and surrounded by yummy food vendors!
I really regret not buying some of the beautiful paintings of Angkor Wat we saw in Siem reap. They are mass-produced, no matter how much the seller insists her brother or friend painted them. I still thought they were extremely beautiful. But Greg convinced me it would be too hard to get home. Especially since I wanted a huge 3x5 foot one! The prices can start around $150 USD for the large ones, but I bartered one down to $35 USD quite easily. Smaller ones start at $20- $75 USD. The paintings are usually displayed on frames, but the vendor can remove it from the frame for you, and wrap it tightly in a nice tube. Making transport wayyy easier and it wont damage the paint. I am so sad I didn't buy one. I thought I would be able to find a similar print I could order when we got home. I looked into prices already and they are $250+ :(
Siem Reap was honestly one of the top places I have visited IN MY LIFE. That's saying a lot coming from me. I know one day I will return to this amazing country. I am already planing the trip in my mind!
I hope you enjoyed reading this post about spending a few days in Siem Reap! I hope it can serve as some guide to anyone wanting to visit.
Thanks for reading <3