Thanks to TV documentaries and history books, some of us still have jitters when we think of Cambodia. But Siem Reap City, the capital of Siem Reap province, has become an international destination and proved to be tourist-friendly. Hotels, restaurants, businesses sprawl over the city.
Siem Reap may be a far cry from Las Vegas that comes to life at night, but midnight touchdowns at the airport are safe. From the Angkor International Airport, you can hire a tuk-tuk to reach the city proper. Most hotels offer a free pick-up service, so you may book in advance. If the tuk-tuk driver offers to be your local guide for the duration of your stay, ask first your hotel if the price is, well…reasonable.
If you’re one who prefers proximity to nightlife, pick a hotel or B&B near the famous Pub Street and the Old Market. My three-night stay at the Golden Butterfly Villa was worth every dollar — cheap rates, cozy rooms with ambient light where you can take crazy selfies at a spur of the moment, uber friendly staff and good Khmer food.
The driver can take you to the Small Circuit – the famous largest temple of Angkor Wat, Banteay Kdei, the Tom Promh where Tomb Raider was filmed. Then the temples at Angkor Thom. Small temples won’t take much of your time, unless you’re perfecting your snapshots of Boddhisattva’s faces (which you could find in all the temples). Tip: Wear proper clothes for Angkor Wat and Baphoun Temples. Or at least bring a shawl. Too much skin exposure is a no-no.
If you’re like me who has included taking the perfect sunset shot in the bucket list, take a chance on the heart of Tonle Sap Lake. But make sure your tuk-tuk driver knows, so he can plan ahead what time he is taking you to the lake.
If at daytime the tuk-tuk driver suggests you visit the Tonle Sap floating village, be wary of scams. You will be taken to a floating store by a local guide. He would suggest you buy goods for the orphans that you would visit later on. Know that it’s your choice on how much worth of goods you would give out to the children. Many clueless tourists get ripped off by the end of the tour. I was told not all the donated goods or money go to the orphans.
Not to miss is the lok lak (stir-fried chicken, beef or pork). You can find it in most restaurants offering Khmer food.
Most establishments prefer US dollars, but they will give you change in Cambodian Real. ATM machines are all over the city. Just check with your local banks if they allow international withdrawals in case you need extra cash (in Cambodian Riel).
If you’re a fan of street dining, Pub Street is the place to go at daytime and nighttime and in-between. It has a wide selection of Asian and non-Asian cuisine. And when the dark hits Pub Street, do not miss the local beer and exotic must-tries like fried snakes, crickets and cockroaches.
Take a quick stroll and get either a body massage or a fish foot massage.
Several restaurants and hotels offer cultural performances during the evening. Prices usually include a buffet meal. For souvenirs, your best bet are the markets or the Artisan Village.
Siem Reap is surprisingly a friendly city. My tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Hak, said the locals do the best they can to put in a good name for the community. The more tourists coming in, the more jobs the locals gain. So when you’re in Siem Reap, return the favor – be friendly!