Siem Reap, Cambodia in 60 Seconds - What you need to know

How to visit Siem Reap, Angkor – Things to do and must see sights. From a Cambodian cooking class to fun at the circus and traditional Apsara dancing.

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Gateway to Ancient Angkor

View of the Siem Reap countryside coming into land

View of the Siem Reap countryside coming into land

Gateway to Ancient Angkor

Gateway to Ancient Angkor

Siem Reap is the gateway to the temples of Angkor which is just a 4 mile tuk tuk ride away, we stayed here for 4 nights to explore these magnificent man made wonders.  After filling out our immigration forms, we handed over a passport photo and US$35 each and we were all set with our visa on arrival, the queues were nice and speedy too.

Siem Reap is now a major tourist hub and caters for all travellers all year round from chic 5 star resorts to budget conscious backpacker hostels, it even has PGA golf courses, this is a busy resort town which is still expanding.  Garth was surprised how green it was, there’s lovely Frangipani trees everywhere.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Streetlife in Siem Reap

Streetlife in Siem Reap

Street life in Siem Reap

Street life in Siem Reap

The Cambodian people refer to themselves as Khmer, a reference to the past kingdom. People greet you with their hands in prayer position called Sampeah, similar to Thailand, but there is etiquette. The higher they hold the hands the more important you are, Phil did the hand greeting back and then changed it to a nod in fear of offending, we never did find out what the best thing to do was!

 

Getting Around

Getting around is fun and easy by tuk tuk

Getting around is fun and easy by tuk tuk

Crossing a snake bridge in Siem Reap

Crossing a snake bridge in Siem Reap

Getting around is easy with the plentiful supply of tuk tuks in Siem Reap. Find a driver that speaks a bit of English and negotiate a price up front. Expect to pay US$2 for short trips around town, and around US$15-$25 for a round trip to the Angkor Wat temples.  Most tuk tuk drivers will also offer to be your guide for the day around the temples for around US$30, bargain!

 

Khmer Cooking Class

Phil taking the cooking class

Phil taking the cooking class

We took a cooking class with Cooks in Tuk Tuks which was a brilliant experience, we’d highly recommend taking a cooking class if you have the time.  Our chef started the class with a visit to the local food market where she explained what were the most common vegetables and herbs used in Khmer cooking.  She then showed us which ingredients we would be using to create our dishes during her lesson. The indoor market was ridiculously humid, even some of the vendors were laid flat under electric fans. It’s not for the faint hearted, especially when the odd cockroach wanders by your feet!

Foods on sale at a Siem Reap food market

Foods on sale at a Siem Reap food market

Siem Reap food market

Siem Reap food market

This vendor cooling off under a fan

This vendor cooling off under a fan

The meat counter

The meat counter

Loads of fresh vegetables and herbs

Loads of fresh vegetables and herbs

Siem Reap food market

Siem Reap food market

We found Khmer food neither hot or spicy, just very fragrant and tasty. Our chef showed showed us how to prepare and cook the classic Khmer curry dish – Fish Amok and a banana flower chicken salad.

Our raw ingredients

Our raw ingredients

Our chef spoke great English, and was really engaging answering lots of questions, like explaining what herbs and veg we could use instead if something wasn’t available to buy back in England. The outdoor setting was great too, we even got to enjoy couple of beers whilst cooking!  Phil enjoyed all the small details learning how to chop things in different ways, using the little tools she had to chop ingredients. Garth is not exactly a cook but joined in with preparing lemongrass, Phil learnt how to take out baby banana seeds from the flower of a banana.

Our prepared ingredients

Our prepared ingredients

The finished Fish Amok dish

The finished Fish Amok dish

Our finished Fish Amok dish, absolutely delicious!

 

Pub Street 

Pub Street, Siem Reap

Pub Street, Siem Reap

For evenings out start with Pub Street to get your bearings, and then explore the various markets all around here like The Angkor Night Market which has over 100 stalls selling the usual tourist tat.

Pub Street is packed wth foreigners and backpackers and lots of cheap beer, yes it’s gaudy and looks like a street from Magaluf but thankfully no brits behaving badly here, instead a very nice atmosphere. There’s tons of food options here from popular Khmer barbecues to cheap street food, aswell as plenty of Western dishes.  If you’re feeling adventurous on the other side of town you can chow down on deep fried snake, locust or chilli cockroaches, try Bugs Cafe that specialises in bug tapas, eek!

Banana pancakes - delicious! and chewy as they're made with condensed milk

Banana pancakes – delicious! and chewy as they’re made with condensed milk

Ice cold Angkor beers

Ice cold Angkor beers

Souvenir shops galore in Siem Reap

Souvenir shops galore in Siem Reap

No Tuk Tuk Today T-shirts

No Tuk Tuk Today T-shirts

Evening in Siem Reap

Evening in Siem Reap

 

Cambodian Circus

The big top tent of Phare Circus

The big top tent of Phare Circus

A tuk tuk ride away from Pub Street and we arrived at the Phare Circus. Garth was a bit sceptical about seeing this, but as soon as it started was captivated by their energy and speed of the performance, this is not a boring show, you can’t help but smile at their performance.

Dazzling acrobatics at the Phare Circus

Dazzling acrobatics at the Phare Circus

The artists of Phare Circus

The artists of Phare Circus

The show tells the story of a disabled boy rejected by a village, we won’t say anymore as we don’t want to spoil it, except the message they want you to take away is quite deep.  It’s modern and full of stunts, acrobatics and dance it’s very impressive and quite funny at times.

Set in a traditional big top tent, it’s hot, really hot, there’s some air conditioning and they gave us hand fans as we went in.  The Phare Circus is run by an arts charity who help and transform the lives of young Cambodians at a school that provides education and arts training. Donations and profits from the circus go back to the school, so they can continue their work training the next generations of artists.

 

Apsara Dance & Dinner

The Apsara Theatre

The Apsara Theatre

Apsara Theatre meal

Apsara Theatre meal

Another evening we had dinner at Apsara Theatre opposite the Angkor Village Hotel. The evening started with a meal – lots of different Khmer dishes, the fish amok in banana leaf was lovely. The traditional Khmer dances were excellent 40 dancers, singers and musicians performed various apsara dancing, who tell stories referred to as palatine dances.  The girls with their stunning headdresses were dressed as Apsaras, dancing girls from Hindu mythology, we also saw them depicted in bas-reliefs on the walls at Angkor Wat. They performed various hand gestures and were fascinating to watch as they bend back their fingers almost to their wrists, these apparently have different meanings.

The Apsara Theatre

The Apsara Theatre

The musicians are part of a traditional Khmer orchestra called a “pinpeat” with a strong emphasis on percussion. Drums, gongs, xylophone and oboe are just some of the instruments used. It’s completely touristy, but the dancers and extremely talented and the dance is authentic, so worth seeing. Tip – get into a comfortable position after eating and before the show starts.

 

Our 5 Star stay

The Borei Angkor hotel

The Borei Angkor hotel

We paid for a stay at the Borei Angkor which was a fabulous 5 star hotel and spa resort, we couldn’t fault anything, in fact the hospitality was the best we’ve ever experienced in all of our Asia trips.  If you’re visiting in November like we did, then a hotel pool is essential and a welcome escape from the heat and humidity, especially after a hard day of temple sightseeing!

 

Phil and Garth’s Top 5 Siem Reap Tips

Garth & Phil in Siem Reap

Garth & Phil in Siem Reap

  • Tip #1: Buying souvenirs? haggling is always expected, so don’t settle for the first price offered.
  • Tip #2: For responsible tourism try a meal at charity run restaurants like Haven.
  • Tip #3: Remember water is unsafe, don’t use those fishy foot spas as they’re not hygienic.
  • Tip #4: Even though the official currency is Cambodian Riel, US Dollars is what tourists should use.
  • Tip #5: Got more time? See the spectacular floating villages at Tonle Sap Lake.

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13 Comments

  1. Sandy N Vyjay
    16th July 2017

    Loved reading and looking at the stunning pictures. A different perspective of Siem Reap as most posts focus on the Angkor Wat temples.

    Reply
  2. Travel4lifeblog
    13th July 2017

    Wow have we been to the same Siem Reap? Your post made us want to go back and do all the things that we missed! You did a lot more than us and it sounds amazing:) Thanks for sharing your experience with us. We loved Cambodia so hopefully we can go back there one day and follow your awesome tips! Keep up the good work. Patrick and Cécile 🙂

    Reply
  3. Kreete
    8th July 2017

    I am surprised how green it is as well! It really brings back memories of my recent travels in Asia. Unfortunately didn’t make it to Cambodia this time, but you two have convinced me to give it a go next time! All the fresh food looks amazing! I saw quite a bit of that in Bali, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia as well, but 90% of the times it gave me a sore tummy! How much was it for a beer?

    Reply
  4. David
    7th July 2017

    Looks like you had a fantastic time in Siem Reap. You did a lot more in the actual town than I feel I did, using it really only as a base for Angkor. It came across a bit too touristy, particularly pub street, but you seem to have found some more cultural spots and activities than I did. Always good to see contrasting experience to your own. That aerial shot is perfect by the way!

    Reply
  5. Only By Land
    7th July 2017

    There is plenty going in Siem Reap, I know I would spend at least one night on Pub Street. The Kymer cookery class looks interesting too, the food looks very fresh and organic. You’ve photographed the markets wonderfully with so much detail. I’ve never heard of the Cambodian Circus but I’ll check it out next time I go over there. That’s an important tip about haggling for souvenirs, tuk tuks etc.. they will charge more than double otherwise. I’d love to stay in the Borei Angkor, it looks absolutely stunning.

    Reply
  6. Siddharth and Shruti
    7th July 2017

    The cooking class looks amazing and so does the dance! We had never heard or tried Khmer curry dish. We love how you have explored the city! The apsara theatre meal is making us hungry!

    Reply
  7. Carmen Baguio
    7th July 2017

    You guys always seem to do the kind of activities we enjoy, like the cooking class and theater shows. Love all of the culture that you share!

    Reply
  8. By Land and Sea
    6th July 2017

    This post made my stomach grumble! What amazing food – the cooking class and market sound like great experiences and I’m dying to try a banana pancake now. This sounds like a great place for a wonderful experience at bargain prices ($30 for a whole day guided tour?!?) One day, I hope we can make it over to Asia to explore great places like this!

    Reply
  9. Angie (FeetDoTravel)
    6th July 2017

    I love the handshake etiquette story … I did not know that! I also didn’t know there would be such awesome entertainment, the circus and dance shows look amazing and I would absolutely love to attend them. I have heard a lot of good about the food as well, but then again, that’s SE Asia all over isn’t it lol. I do intend to visit Pub Street as there is a roof-top bar that has been recommended but it’s good to have a review of it from someone who has been. Pinned to my Cambodia board for when I visit. #feetdotravel

    Reply
  10. Scarlett Begonias
    4th July 2017

    You guys are always so cute. I loved the cooking class and the circus, however I may be weary of cockroaches crawling by while I’m cooking! Beautiful pics as always 🙂

    Reply
  11. Travel Lexx
    3rd July 2017

    You guys really have made the most of your time in Siem Reap. We pretty much just spent our nights there in between exploring Angkor and didn’t do as much as you guys! We explored a bit but doing a cooking class would have been awesome! Lovely photos as always and I even saw a tshirt in one of them that I bought there 4 years ago and still own today!

    Reply
  12. Stephanie (1AdventureTraveler)
    3rd July 2017

    A wonderful video which captures Siem-Reap in 60 seconds. Stunning photos and what a luxurious hotel you stayed at while there. I did love walking down Pub Street and also do some shopping while there. I did not have the chance to see the acrobats or have a dance and dinner show. Great tips at the end for travelers to Siem-Reap especially taking US dollars. I made sure to take a stack of single dollar bills which worked well for tips and to pay for my haggled purchases. Thanks for sharing! #feetdotravel

    Reply
  13. Midori
    30th June 2017

    As usual, AMAZING PICTURES! You always make every destination a dream destination! xxx

    Reply

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