Siem Reap, Cambodia is the main access to visit Angkor Wat. Backpacking Siem Reap here is one of the main stops for travelers through the region. Even if you aren’t a backpacker, chances are you’ll travel here because it will be your base while you visit Angkor Wat.
The center of the city still feels like a rural old town, with French style houses and lots of shops. The area around the old market is crowded with locals and foreigners all day long. A few steps more and you are in the middle of the nightlife area where the fun lasts till the sun shines again.
Other than going to see Angkor Wat, there isn’t much “to do” in the town itself.
It’s just another city.
While the city has become more popular with expats in recent years (and there’s a lot better food scene now too), I personally wouldn’t recommend spending much time here.
This Siem Reap travel guide will give you all the practical information you need to plan your visit to the destination.
Table of Contents
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Siem Reap
1. Angkor Wat
2. Banteay Srei
3. The Water Festival
4. Angkor Silk Farm
5. Tonle Sap Lake
Other Things to See and Do in Siem Reap
1. Landmine Museum
Landmines have devastated the country, maiming and killing thousands. They still cause destruction today as remaining mines from the Vietnam War (which spilled over to this country) as discovered every year. The Landmine Museum has an in-depth exhibit and dormitory residence for up to 30 amputee children. This is very worthwhile cause to check out so you can broaden your perspective. Admission for foreign visitors is $5 USD per person. I can’t recommend it enough.
2. Apsara Dancing
Though this can seem like a tourist trap given the number of people offering this to you, the dance is very much a part of modern Khmer culture. Dancers are authentic and talented. There are several places where you can see this style of dancing, but Apsara Theatre is one of the best. It’s about $25 USD for a show.
3. Happy Ranch Horse Farm
This ranch offers countryside trail rides by horseback. Rides that last anywhere from 1-4 hours. Wander in and out of the various villages, rice fields, and Buddhist pagodas during sunrise or sunset. It is an awesome adventure. Prices begin at $38 USD for an hour ride.
4. Learn in a Cambodian cooking class
There’s never a bad time to learn to cook. The class sizes tend to be around 6 people, and you will learn to cook 3 entire meals, as well as get recipe cards at the end. Prices start around $20 USD per person and local guesthouses can help arrange a class.
5. Wat Preah Prom Rath
A “newer” temple within the city, Wat Preah Prom Rath is only 500 years old. There are beautiful reliefs depicting everything from man-eating crocodiles to the ever-tranquil Buddha figure. Supposedly, the site of this temple was chosen by a man who landed here while his boat was sinking. Entrance is free, but be sure to wear respectful clothing.
6. Day Trip to Koh Ker
For a fun day trip from Siem Reap, head to Koh Ker, located around 2.5 hours from town. Koh Ker was briefly the capital of the Khmer Empire, and many of the temples here are over 1,000 years old. It’s a massive archeological site located in the jungle, and it sees far fewer tourists than Siem Reap. There are no public buses that go there (the roads were only paved a few years ago), so you’ll have to arrange transportation via your hostel or hotel.
7. Take a food tour
Traditional Khmer food is often overlooked compared to other Asian foods, and a Siem Reap Food Tour is the best way to sample this culture’s amazing noodle dishes, fresh seafood, sweets, and street food. There are several tours to choose from, including morning tours into the market and evening tours perusing food stalls. Tours start from $65 USD.
Siem Reap Travel Costs
Note: Cambodia uses USD. There’s no real need to carry the local currency, Cambodian Riels (KHR), unless you paying for really small things on the street, but for the most part, use USD.
Hostel prices – A bed in a dorm room starts around $3 USD per night for a 12-bed dorm, while a smaller 4-6 bed dorm will cost between $5-6 USD. Some dorms in the more luxurious, European style hostesl can reach as high as $9 USD. A standard single private room begins around $5 USD (bare, bare bones), but the average rate is more like $10 USD. Free WiFi is standard and many hostels also include free breakfast.
Budget hotel prices – You can find basic 2-star rooms for as low as $6 USD, but it likely won’t be overly close to the city center and you’ll likely have a fan in your room instead of air-con. Hotels with air-con, hot water, and TV will cost around $13 USD per night for a twin and $16 USD for a double. Many places also have pools but, for those places, expect to spend close to $20 per night. Airbnb is available in the city and prices are comparable to hotels.
Average cost of food – Food here won’t break the bank. You can eat rice and noodle dishes for $1.50 USD, and lunch meals at restaurants for around $2 USD. Even mid-range restaurants for dinner will only cost $6-9 USD. During dinner time, outdoor markets and street restaurants have dishes for as little as $2 USD. I’d stick to the street food, though, it’s cheaper and tastes better than the restaurants. There are plenty of good options in the Old Market. Food around Angkor Wat will be more expensive, with a simple meal of traditional amok (like green curry in a coconut) costing around $6 USD. If you plan on buying groceries and cooking your own food, expect to spend around $15 USD per week. The food is so delicious and cheap, however, that you might as well eat out as often as you can!
Backpacking Siem Reap Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking around Siem Reap, you’ll spend about $55 USD per day. The vast majority of this budget is the day ticket to Angkor Wat — which, let’s face it, is likely the reason you’re in the city. Besides the ticket, this budget will get you a bed in a dorm at a quality hostel, food from the street stalls, a few beers, and a shared tuk-tuk (with two other people) around Angkor Wat.
A mid-range budget of $80 USD will get you a private hostel room with air conditioning, or a basic room at a 2-star hotel. You can eat at more mid-range local restaurants for all your meals, enjoy more drinks, and pay for your own taxi to and from Angkor Wat! (This budget also covers the daily entry fee for Angkor Wat.)
On a “luxury” budget of $147 USD or more a day, you’ll live the high life! In fact, it’ll be hard to spend that amount unless you’re treating yourself greatly. You can stay at a nice 4-star hotel with all the amenities (including a pool), eat out for every meal, drink all the beer you want, get a message, hire a private taxi to take you around Angkor Wat, and even take more tours (like a guided tour around Angkor Wat or a street food tour).
Note: Cambodia uses USD. You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might spend less every day).
Here’s a suggested breakdown of your daily budget:
Siem Reap Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
There really aren’t any big money saving tips here. Food, accommodation, and transportation are all dirt cheap but, if you really want to pinch some pennies, here are a few tips on how to save extra money in Siem Reap:
- Negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers – Make sure you negotiate the price ahead of time. Moreover, don’t take the first number they give you — it’s inflated. If you’re not sure what price you should be aiming for, ask your hostel/hotel staff in advance. They can usually help you book a trusted driver, as well. The same applies to motorcycle taxis.
- Minimize your drinks – Every drink is a dollar and before you know it, you’ve spent more money on beer than on food and accommodation.
- Work for your room – It’s pretty common to get a job in a hostel in order to stay longer in Siem Reap so if you stay at a hostel and like the vibe, ask if they’ll let you work there.
- Book tours and day tours as a group – You have more negotiation power when you’re with a group of people buying multiple things. Traveling alone? Meet a friend at a hostel and see if they want to join the same tour as you.
- Enjoy 50 cent beers at Happy Hour – If you want a night out, start off at The Last Call bar before heading to Pub Street. They have 50 cent beers early in the evening!
- Use a water bottle with a purifier – It isn’t safe to drink the tap water in Siem Reap, and although buying bottled water is cheap, it does add up — pick up a LifeStraw (it’s good for the environment too!)
Where To Stay in Siem Reap
Accommodations in Siem Reap are incredibly cheap. If you’re looking for some of the best places to stay, here are some of my recommended places:
How to Get Around Siem Reap
All the main attractions in Siem Reap (other than Angkor Wat) are easily reached on foot, especially in the historical part of the city. There are some transportation options, though.
Tuk-tuk – For trips around Siem Reap, tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis should cost around $2 USD for short trips and under $6 USD from the airport into town. Negotiate your fare up front to ensure you don’t get ripped off. A day’s hire of a tuk-tuk from the town around the major temples at Angkor Wat and back should cost around $15-25 USD. For a guided day, expect to pay closer to $25 USD. Be sure to find some friends to share the ride so your costs are lowered. Naturally, visiting temples further out will cost more.
Taxis – Most of the taxis in Siem Reap don’t have meters, so the cost of your journey will vary. In general though taxis are more expensive than tuk-tuks. A taxi to the airport will cost about $7 USD. You can also hire taxis for the day to take you around Angkor Wat, which costs from $25 USD. If you want to get to other temples like Banteay Srei the cost can be as high as $50 USD per day.
Bicycle – You can rent a bicycle here for less than $5 USD a day. You can find rental shops in the Old Market. Some hotels even have free bicycle rentals.
When to Go to Siem Reap
The dry season in Siem Reap is from November to early April, which is generally the best time to visit Angkor Wat. It’s busiest here during December and January, when the weather is most pleasant. January is the “coldest” month, with temperatures sometimes dropping to 70°F (21°C).
April can be unbearably hot, however; the average daily temperature in April is 88°F (31°C) but the humidity can be extreme. Angkor Wat won’t be as crowded, but spending a full day exploring the temples can be overwhelming in the heat.
The monsoon season lasts from June through October but this often just means an hour or two of rain per day. It does make Angkor Wat very muddy, but there will also be very few other tourists around.
How to Stay Safe in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is a safe place to backpack and travel. Violent attacks are super rare. Petty theft is the most common type of crime here, especially in the Old Market (and even at Angkor Wat). Beware of pickpockets!
One common scam: you might be approached by shady police officers, or fake police officers who will demand to see your passport. Chances are, you’ll be asked to pay a fine to get it back. Deny the request and tell them the passport is back at your hotel in a safety deposit box.
Read about these 14 major travel scams to avoid in Siem Reap and be in the know!
Always trust your gut instinct. If a taxi driver seems shady, stop the cab and get out. If your hotel is seedier than you thought, get out of there. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID. Forward your itinerary along to loved ones so they’ll know where you are.
Overall, locals are really nice and helpful and you’re unlikely to get into trouble. The people who do tend to get into trouble are usually because they are inolved with drugs or sex tourism. Stay away from that stuff and you’ll be fine.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it when you’re in Siem Reap. Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Siem Reap Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
Below are my favorite companies to use when I travel Siem Reap. They are included here because they consistently turn up the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are always my starting point when I need to book a flight, hotel, tour, train, or meeting people!
- Momondo – This is my favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engline which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Agoda – Other than Hostelworld an Airbnb, Agoda is the best hotel accommodation site for Asia as it has the largest inventory and offers the best rates. If you want a guesthouse or hotel, book it via this website!
- 12Go.asia – 12Go.asia is the best website for booking transportation around Southeast Asia. You will be able to research your journey ahead of time and figure out the best schedule and prices.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Southern Asia, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Grassroots Volunteering – For volunteering, Grassroots Volunteering compiles a list of good local volunteer organizations that keep the money within the community.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Siem Reap Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Siem Reap Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
First They Killed my Father, by Loung Ung
This is the real life story of Loung Ung, one of seven children of a high-ranking government official living in Phnom Penh until the age of 5. When Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge army invaded the city in 1975, Ung’s family had to flee and eventually separate. Loung became a child soldier while her siblings were sent to work camps, and this book recounts the devastating horrors she encountered along the way. The documentary of the same name (directed by Angelina Jolie!) is also amazing.
In the Shadow of the Banyan, by Vaddey Ratner
Raami is just seven years old when her father comes home early one evening, bringing news of the civil war in the streets of Phnom Penh. Not long after, Raami’s world of guarded royal privilege is turned on its head, as the Khmer Rouge moves in to attempt to strip the entire population of its individual identity. As a method of survival, Raami turns inwards and clings to her childhood stories and poems as told to her by her father. This book has tons of international acclaim. It’s a heartbreaking read, but well worth it.
Survival in the Killing Fields, by Haing Ngor
It’s true that so many of these books are about the Khmer Rouge reign of terror, but some of these reads just can’t be overlooked. This one is the true-life story of Haing Ngor, a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. Ngor was a doctor, and so he witnessed firsthand his country’s descent into brutality, slavery, squalor, and starvation – all of which are recounted in his book. It can be difficult to read at times. Since having first published this memoir, Ngor’s life ended with his murder. The perpetrator was never found.
A Woman of Angkor, by John Burgess
Here’s one that takes place during the 12th century, right in the middle of the Angkor civilization. Sray is a young woman who lives behind Behind a stone temple in a little village. Sray has a dangerous secret, and so she lives a quiet life away from the spotlight – until she is summoned to the royal court, where her loyalties are tested by king Suryavarman II. In the background is her husband Nol, struggling to keep her devotion. This is a fun, imaginative piece of historical fiction that will transport you right into the ancient civilization!
Siem Reap Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more information on Siem Reap and Cambodia? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Camodia travel and continue planning your trip: