Do you have a few days in Siem Reap, Cambodia and are wondering what there is to do there? Not sure how to organize your stay around the temple visits to Angkor Wat? Read along. Siem Reap is a great place, and you should plan in some time away from the temples as well to really make the most of it. I recently spent five nights and four full days in Siem Reap, here’s what I did and what I recommend.
Arrival Day in Siem Reap
If you get to Siem Reap early enough on your arrival day, consider heading to the temples for sunset and to get your pass: Tickets sold after 5pm are made out for the next day and essentially give you free entrance to the park for sunset. You’ll also get a few more zzzzs and avoid standing in line for tickets and sunrise the next morning.
Check out my Basic Guide to Angkor Wat for everything you need to know about the Angkor Wat temples, as I’ll be skipping the details on that below.
Spend your evening on Pub Street, exploring the food stalls and bars and grab a bite to eat. Try some Chicken or Beef Lok Lak (stir fried chicken or beef with garlic on a bed of tomato, cucumber and onion, optionally with rice and a fried egg), or Fish Amok (white meat fish cooked in coconut milk) to get a first taste of the great Khmer cooking.
Day 1 in Siem Reap: Angkor Wat, a Beautiful Sunset and a Relaxing Dinner
Chances are, if you’re going to Siem Reap, you’re going to see Angkor Wat and the rest of the Angkor temples complex, so start your day with Angkor Wat and prepare to be amazed. If you’re not horrified by getting up at 4.30 while you’re on vacation, head out early and be at Angkor Wat for sunrise. Continue your tour of the temples with the “Small Tour”, covering Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm (the Tomb Raider temple!). If you didn’t see the sunset the previous day and still have enough energy in you at the end of the day to hike up a hill, head up to Phnom Bakengh for great sunset views. My recommendation would be to ask your tuk tuk driver to recommend a good sandwich stall on the way, get yourself a small picnic and head up there early, as it can get quite crowded and sitting there enjoying the view with a snack and a drink clearly beats standing in line.
Back in town, as you’ll be completely exhausted, treat yourself to a nice dinner while supporting a good cause by going to one of the restaurants run by students in training. Check out Haven Training Restaurant or Marum Restaurant.
Day 2 in Siem Reap: The Big Tour of the Angkor Temples and the Siem Reap Night Market
Sleep in a bit to recover from your day of touring the temples and have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel (hotel tip: pick one of the many boutique hotels that will serve you breakfast in the Garden. We stayed at Les Bambous Boutique, which has an absolutely beautiful garden). After breakfast, head out for the “Big Tour” to discover some of the temples further out from the city.
Lounge by the hotel pool in the afternoon if your hotel has one and enjoy a sneaky mid-afternoon cocktail or a fruit smoothie. In the evening, head into town towards pub street and take a stroll around the night market for a bit of people watching, indulging on local street food like crispy insects if you dare or banana pancakes and buying a traditional Cambodian scarf (called “Krama” in Khmer).
Day 3 in Siem Reap: Cycling in the Countryside
If you’re not an archaeologist or otherwise extremely interested in temple ruins, even Angkor Wat can give you a bit of temple fatigue after two full days. Take a break from it. Hire a bicycle (from your hotel or one of the many travel agencies, cafés and other places in the city that rent them out) and explore the countryside around Siem Reap. Ask your hotel to help you plan a route that avoids major traffic if possible, Cambodian road rules can be a bit… unusual… at times. There are great areas around Siem Reap where you’ll get to see rice fields, temples and ruins within a short bike ride. Plus, the terrain is pretty flat so you have no excuse not to go. If I made it, so will you!
If biking isn’t your thing, try a local cooking class, a tour of the Tonle Sap lake or see Angkor Wat from a different perspective with a Zipline tour. New offers for activities are popping up every month, so check TripAdvisor for what’s currently getting high ratings.
Day 4 in Siem Reap: Beautiful Baneay Srei Temple and a Visit to the Landmine Museum
Finish up your temple tours with a visit to Banteay Srei, a small but absolutely stunning temple about 30km outside of Siem Reap. Banteay Srei is made of red sandstone, and the very intricate wall carvings have been well preserved, so a visit is absolutely worth the journey.
On the way there or back, stop by the Landmine museum to learn more about Cambodia’s tragic past. The museum will tell you everything about land mines in Cambodia and the ongoing efforts to clear the country of mines. It’s a sobering experience to learn about the history of land mines in Cambodia, but it’s worth a visit. The museum is also home to over 30 children who were victims of land mines, and your visit to the museum supports them.
Back in town in the evening, head out for a nice dinner (try Old House Restaurant, my favourite during my stay in Siem Reap) and enjoy your last evening in Siem Reap with a drink on Pub Street.
Heading out of Siem Reap? Take a look at my post on Giant Ibis vs. Mekong Express buses.