If you are in Siem Reap chances are you made all your way here just to see Angkor Wat. We get you, it’s a must-do when in Southeast Asia and one of our favorite places on Earth too! But since you’re already here, you may as well spend some time exploring the second-largest city in Cambodia, right?!
Despite being one of the largest cities in the country, you won’t find any tall buildings or busy roads in Siem Reap. Instead, you can expect eccentric colonial architecture, a thriving food scene, and exciting nightlife!
Best time to visit
December to February is the best time to visit, with the sunniest and dry days, while April to May is not recommended for being too hot and humid.
June to November is less crowded and cheaper but it’s when you’ll see the most rain. Everything looks green and beautiful during this time, so don’t rule it out completely!
Where to stay
The Old French Quarter is the best place to stay in Siem Reap. It’s close to the main attractions in the city and it’s well connected to Angkor Wat. Some of our recommendations are:
If you’re on a really tight budget, the neighborhoods of Wat Bo and Wat Damnak are close enough to the city center and offer the best budget accommodation deals.
Siem Reap is very compact and easy to explore on foot, but if the heat is too much you can always hop on a local tuk-tuk or rent a bike to get around.
Tuktuks are the main mode of transportation and they are supposed to be very cheap. We visited Siem Reap in January 2023, and the first thing that happened to us was to be scammed by a tuk-tuk driver (never been so angry in our lives!). They will mumble a price for you and when you get to the destination they will add a couple of zeros at the end making it your fault that you didn’t understand what they said in the first place. Our ride was supposed to cost 6 thousand Riels (around $1.5) and he charged us 60 thousand at the end (around $15!).
To avoid this from happening, we recommend using the Grab taxi app, which offers tuk-tuk rides and fares are set.
We don’t recommend renting scooters in Siem Reap as it’s illegal for foreigners to drive in Cambodia unless you hold a Cambodian driver’s license. Instead, we highly recommend renting bicycles! They can be as cheap as $5 a day and you don’t have to worry about getting fined by corrupt police officers.
Top Things to Do in Siem Reap
1. Angkor National Museum
If you plan on visiting Angkor Wat without a guide, then this is the best way to grasp a bit more about its history. Make sure to separate at least 2 hours to see it all!
Cost: the entrance fee to the Angkor National Museum costs $12 per adult plus a $5 fee for the audio guide which is highly recommended.
If you’re on a budget but still want to learn more about Angkor Wat’s history before visiting the temples, here are some Podcasts we liked:
- Cambodia’s ancient Khmer Empire (BBC The Forum)
- Angkor Wat – In Our Time: History (BBC 2022)
- Episode 49 – It’s Never a Collapse: Angkor Wat (The Dirt Pod)
2. Made in Cambodia Market
Lovely little market with some of the most exciting examples of craftsmanship in Cambodia today, all made by Cambodians. Made in Cambodia Market is free and open to the public every day from 12 PM to 10 PM, with live traditional Khmer dance or acoustic music shows taking place every Friday – Sunday at 6 PM.
3. Wat Bo Pagoda
One of the oldest pagodas in Siem Reap! Inside the main temple, you’ll find wall paintings that date back to the 19th century and are still in very good condition. Despite being a Buddhist temple, some of the paintings recreate the ancient Hindu love story of Rama and Shita – the strongest man and the most beautiful woman of all time.
Fun fact: to this day royal families all around Southeast Asia claim to be descendants of Rama.
Wat Bo is free to visit, although a donation is expected to keep the temple running. Whenever visiting a temple, make sure to follow Temple Etiquette (take your shoes off, speak softly and dress modestly).
4. Wat Preah Prom Rath
One of the most beautiful pagodas in Siem Reap, Wat Preah Prom Rath is actually a functioning Buddhist monastery with a history dating back to the turn of the 16th century.
Its courtyard is filled with statues depicting different Buddhist beliefs, and the main building houses a reclining Buddha that celebrates the miracle that brought a monk back to safety after a failed adventure on the local rivers.
Just like Wat Bo, Wat Preah Prom Rath is free to visit (small donation expected).
5. Wat Damnak
Wat Damnak served as a royal residence before becoming a Buddhist monastery in 1927. The grounds feature a center of study for monks and children and the Center for Khmer Studies, which is open for the public to study and research documents.
You will see many monks walking around here and it is always so fascinating to have a glimpse into their lives.
Wat Damnak is free to visit (small donation expected).
6. Sunset by the River
One of our favorite things to do in Siem Reap is to walk by the river in the afternoon, right before sunset. Here you can see locals enjoying the area, kids playing around, and food stalls being set up for the night… all while the sun is getting ready for its daily farewell show.
Make sure to wear some mosquito repellant at this time of the day here.
Fun fact: the Siem Reap River was originally an offtake channel constructed during the Angkor period.
7. Old Market
The Old Market, or Phsar Chas, is both a local wet market and a souvenir market. The wet market is located in the heart of Phsar Chas and if you visit early in the morning, you might see some of the chefs from the city restaurants shopping for produce here. It’s a great place to try some traditional food!
The souvenir stalls are also very affordable and great to buy cheap gifts but clothes and scarves should be avoided as they’re not of good quality.
8. Pub Street
The famous Pub Street is where Siem Reap exciting nightlife takes place: this neon-lit avenue is filled with bars and restaurants with $1 beers and exotic bites such as ostrich and crocodile skewers!
The vibe here is great and it’s easy to get carried away but you should keep your wits and not get too drunk as some bars are famously known for trying to overcharge and scam tourists (check the reviews before you go).
You may also find establishments offering Fish Massages, which consist of dipping your feet into a fish tank and letting them nib on your feet. One hour of this peculiar “massage” will cost you only 3 dollars.
9. Night Markets
As the sun goes down the night markets start to pop up and our favorite one to grab some cheap and tasty street food is the one right next to the river, in front of the Old Market. Here you can find $1 fried noodles and smoothies, and $2.5 traditional Fish Amok.
For souvenirs, Siem Reap Art Centre Night Market on the other side of the river is a great option. Make sure to haggle here to get the best prices!
10. Cooking Classes
If you want to learn more about Khmer cuisine, then this is the perfect activity for you! The experience usually starts with heading to a local market to buy fresh produce and discover Cambodia’s signature ingredients. Then you’ll dive into a hands-on cooking class where you’ll learn how to cook traditional Cambodian dishes and finish the experience sitting down together to eat it all.
Day Trips from Siem Reap
While all of the above options are walkable attractions within the city center of Siem Reap, there are some attractions on the city outskirts that are definitely worth a visit on a day tour:
Kampong Phluk Floating Village
Kampong Phluk is a floating fishing village of stilted houses built within the floodplain of Tonle Sap Lake – the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It’s located about 16 km southeast of Siem Reap and it offers a close look at the mangrove forest and lakeside village life. We visited the village as part of a day tour with Get Your Guide and would highly recommend it.
Book this tour: Kampong Phluk Floating Village Tour with Sunset >
Located about 1.5-2 hours away from Siem Reap, Kulen Mountain is a sacred site with multiple temples such as the Preah Ang Thom Pagoda with its giant reclining Buddha and the revered River of a Thousand Lingas with its carved riverbed displaying Hindu Gods (believed to date back to 800AD).
Book this tour: Kulen Mountain: Full-Day Private Waterfall Tour >
Kulen Mountain is also home to several spectacular waterfalls you can swim in, some of which have been featured in the Tomb Raider movie.
Note: the entrance fee to Kulen Mountain is $20 per person. Since it’s a sacred place, you should note that even whilst swimming, you should dress conservatively – shorts and T-shirts are ok.