Backpacker's Guide to Siem Reap: Gateway to the Famous Angkor Wat of Cambodia

1:00:00 PM Pinoy Boy Journals 4 Comments

Siem Reap, Cambodia
"The name Siem Reap literally means "Siam Defeated". These days, however, the only rampaging hordes are the tourists heading to the Angkor Archaeological Park. This once quaint village has become the largest boom town and construction site in Cambodia. It is quite laid-back and a pleasant place to stay while touring the temples. It is a nice compromise between observing Cambodian life and enjoying the amenities of modern services and entertainment, thanks to a large expatriate community." As Wikitravel says.

Siem Reap is a loving city. It's a quiet and laid back environment is perfect for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. If Phnom Penh is madness, Siem Reap is warm and chill out. As soon as you arrive you can feel the warmth of the people, the sun shining, the cool breeze of provincial life and the innocence of the place.

How to Get to Siem Reap?
From Manila, i flew in via Cebu Pacific to Saigon as previously posted. From Saigon you can go to any travel agency and book your ticket to Cambodia, we stopped over for a day in Phnom Penh and proceeded to Siem Reap the next day. Tickets cost about $10 up depending on your needs. If you want an air conditioned more superior bus service with free lunch and snacks plus a toilet inside the bus, chances are you'll be riding the Mekong Express Limousine Bus. I highly suggest you go with this one, a few dollars and you're sitting comfortably onwards your destination. 

Tip: Usually, the limousine bus doesn't get full, just say you're not feeling well and if possible, make a transfer to another seat where there's no one sitting so you can stretch your legs and get comfy. That's what i do. 100% i get two seats all mine.

Backpackers/travelers either do Vietnam and then Cambodia coming in from Laos. Some cross the border from Thailand to Cambodia. Others fly from either Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Singapore via Air Asia and other airlines which cost about $80-100 one way. Whichever is more practical for you, go to Siem Reap.

Where to Stay?
I've done a couple of researches via Google, forums and Lonely Planet and it was suggested i try out this hostel by the Tonlesap Lake near the market. So we did. It's our top priority. You'll know why later.

In the website, it says luxury living at comfortable prices. For about $8/night or it may go lower if you stay longer like weeks or months, you get full amenities and superior living. Trust me this place is rockin' Siem Reap.

You can rent a bike or motorbike for a few dollars/day so you can roam around the province breezy and comfortably. Some travelers opt to visit the Angkor complex via bike. But after spending long hours going to temples and climbing the steep stairs, i worry about their condition going back home.

If you're feeling hungry, you can grab a bite from their menu, get a bottle of beer, order pizza to your room. I love their burgers and fries, their tuna melt and cheese sandwich, too.

Internet is free of use. There is a special room assigned with about 3-4 laptops so you can update your friends through Facebook, send e-mails or Skype.

This is a photo of the room where i stayed with, about six people can sleep in these bunks. It is air conditioned, with its own terrace. There's a bathroom and toilet inside the room so you don't have to go outside. Siem Reap Hostel has three floors, and more private and family rooms are upstairs. 

The icing on the cake is it's the only hostel in Siem Reap with a swimming pool. So after a day walking around or visiting the temples of Angkor, you can cool off in the large spacious swimming area. If you're not up to go swimming, there's a pool table, darts and several gaming equipments all for free to use. There's a big television upstairs with DVD, newspapers and magazines. Trust me, they give everything to those who are staying. I just roam around the hostel when I'm bored. There's always something to do.
There's a sign on the second floor that says above. 

The next day after a night of partying on pub street, it's very nice to relax for a bit, do some reading, listen to your music on your iPod. This is where i meditate, a day before i leave, i promise myself to relax and enjoy the cool breeze. Right at the back of a hostel is monk's temple where they bury the dead. It's calming to watch the monks do their chores. I wave at them and they were smiling the whole time.

I highly recommend this hostel to anyone who's planning to go to Siem Reap and visit the Angkor Wat temples. For sure this is where i will stay the next time I'm here..

Where to Go?
Walk around the market area. It is littered with shops along with restaurants. So as you walk for sure you will see something you fancy. Shop for Khmer souvenirs, perhaps?
Art, souvenir items, Cambodia shirts, Tintin merchandise, quite the selection of numerous finds so you can bring stuff to your family and friends.

There's tons of canvass paintings you can buy. Don't worry, you can ask for the canvass only and just leave the frame if its hassle to bring it home with you.

Sample Khmer Food. Forget about dining in overpriced restaurants, go to the little corners and order hot, steaming Khmer food like fried rice, chicken and vegetables.
Whether you like noodles dry or with soup, it's your choice, say "moi" means more for more serving.

What is a night in Siem Reap if you're not drinking. Angkor is the more expensive beer, Anchor is like it but cheaper. Don't ask me why and how. But be sure to visit Angkor Wat bar as it is the most happening bar along Pub Street. Party starts late and ends up around 3am.

The club/bar plays assortment of pop, house, hip-hop tunes via the iPod docked in the speakers. The waitress is Filipina and wanted to share her story so i can write about it for TV.
Meet the Israelis. Really cool people. Met up, joined for drinks, met up again, joined for food. Walking along Pub Street drunk. What a way to end the night err morning.

There's usually a buffet with a special show in one of the restaurants. The traditional dance is called Apsara where the men and women signal courtship. Correct me if I'm wrong.
What i realize after backpacking around Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is a poor province, if not for the Angkor Wat Complex, hundreds of thousands won't flock to this destination. But aside from the obvious poverty, this place has so much more to offer. I met the friendliest Khmer people here, tops. I think the essence of traveling to Siem Reap is discovering a culture so rich, it's about time we give glory. Khmer people are warm and hospitable people. I love the quietness of the monks, the friendliness of the bystanders, the eagerness of the people to converse, the picturesque scenery of Siem Reap and the calmness of people amidst the troubled times.

And for foreigners like us visiting this destination, we have to respect the traditions. Walking along Pub street with your smokes a joint, and your bullshit confidence isn't giving the much needed respect this place should have. I actually felt bad when i asked for a cheaper price for a tuk-tuk ride. Imagine the drivers said yes to $1 trip to the bus station. I gave him $2 because worrying about loud, rude farangs isn't an easy job. No pun intended.
As i was walking along in the middle of the night, i came across a couple of locals in a store. I bought a pack of Marlboro and talked with them for about an hour. These people were so friendly. They gave me their e-mail addresses and numbers, and offered me a tour around the next time i go here. I was leaving the next day as this photo was taken. Sometimes i think about the khmer people, and wish distance wasn't something i have to worry about. 


yuli said...

Hi Pinoy Boy,
I found your blog is really really helpful. Thanks so much for sharing about these.

Hi Yuli, so nice for you to visit my blog. Siem Reap is a really really nice place and i've been thinking about it a lot. Its my pleasure to be sharing my experience when i went here.. have you been there? if not yet you will surely have a lot of good time there, come back again so we can message some more.


Anonymous said...

hi PinoyBoy...i want to go to siem reap with my bestfriend it possible to travel it in one day via Mekong express from saigon?

okay to be honest anon! its not, sorry. the bus ride from saigon to siem reap takes about roughly 10-12 hours with a stop-over in phnom penh. if you're keen on siem reap because of angkor, its best to see the structure from early in the morning till afternoon so its a whole day affair. although its possible, i highly suggest atleast you give the trip to siem reap 2-3 days to fully appreciate the place.

can you give me further details of your trip, so i can help out fix your itinerary?!