SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA: Budget Travel Guide

A more updated version of this article can be found here: Siem Reap Travel Guide

 

Siem Reap was out of the way. Cambodia was actually not part of my original backpacking route. I would be flying in through Bangkok, and from there I aimed to head northwest to Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, crossing over to Laos and then turning east to Vietnam. But the call of Angkor was so loud and powerful, I just had to mess up my plan and take the bus for eight hours to the opposite direction.

     

Siem Reap – Gateway to Angkor

In native Khmer language, Siem Reap means “defeat of Siam,” another name for Thailand. The name was said to be bestowed upon the city by King Ang Chan, after a glorious victory over its neighboring kingdom. Thailand and Cambodia have a long history of conflict.

Angkor Wat in Siem Reap

Siem Reap used to be a small village until an expedition into the surrounding forest began in 1901. It was also the year the Angkor was rediscovered, thus changing the fate of the quiet town. Siem Reap gained worldwide attention as the gateway to the archaeological heaven. Since then, the city has enjoyed rapid development. Accommodations from budget hostels to high-end hotels and restaurants from sidewalk eateries to lively dance clubs mushroomed along the streets of the city,Β lodging, feeding, and entertaining tourists, who are eager to lay eyes on the ancient structures.

Finding a Place to Stay in Siem Reap

Check Hotel Rates Here

Unless peak season, looking for cheap accommodations in Siem Reap is easy. There are just too many of them. My go-to site for accommodations are HostelWorld.com for hostels and AirAsiaGo.com. I have tried them and they have never failed me. However, for this trip, I had to trust Bebs, a college friend who decided to go with me to Siem Reap. (He’s now based in Bangkok and we thought it would be best to catch up while traveling together at least to Siem Reap. I would be alone for the rest of the trip, though.)

It was my friend’s fourth time in Siem Reap and he highly recommended Mandalay Inn, a budget hotel with rooms that are as low as USD7 for solo and USD10 for twin or double. My experience at Mandalay was quite pleasant. The place was clean, the location was excellent, and the staff was helpful and warm. Here’s my full review of the hotel.

Mandalay Inn, a budget hotel

While biking around the city, I noticed that most of the high-end hotels lie along the road going to Angkor from the city proper. But the more budget-friendly ones are just around the Old Market area. Aside from the budget, another thing to consider when picking a place to stay is how you plan to spend your time in the city. If you’re the type who likes getting drunk and dancing at the club at night (like me), you might want to consider choosing a hotel or hostel near Pub Street. Actually, I highly recommend this location (around the Pub Street area) because there’s so much to do. The Angkor Night Market is also just around the corner.

Exchanging Currencies

The official currency in Cambodia is the Riel (KHR) although US dollars are widely accepted in Siem Reap. Most of the restaurants I dined at displayed USD instead of KHR although they accept both. Siem Reap was supposed to be a cheap destination. While it remains cheap and many of the attractions, food, and accommodations are still affordable, I ended up spending waaaaay too much because I carried Philippine pesos (PHP). Many money changers in Siem Reap accept PHP but the rates are terrible, soooo far from the real forex rates.

Bottomline, if you’re visiting Siem Reap, bring US dollars. (Or just withdraw from your ATM but I’m not sure about the charges.)

Building a Siem Reap Itinerary

Like most tourists visiting Siem Reap, my guess is that the primary reason you want to go here is the Angkor Wat so let’s focus on it first. Angkor Wat is such a humongous site that it will take half a day (if not the whole day supposing you’re into the smallest details) to see all its galleries, libraries, corners, and towers. But that’s not the whole picture. It is just the centerpiece of the vast UNESCO inscribed Angkor Archaeological Park that hosts dozens of other temples that are equally captivating and interesting. Thus, the first question you should ask yourself is: How many days do I want to spend exploring Angkor.

As for me, the answer was “just one.” As much as I wanted to see all the structures at the archaeological part, I also wanted to experience the other places around the area such as the Tonle Sap Lake.

Since I did not want to cram my schedule and just have an easy, more relaxed time in Siem Reap, my initial itinerary was very simple:

Day 1: Arrival in Siem Reap
Day 2: Siem Reap City Tour (am), Pub Street and Angkor Night Market (pm)
Day 3: Angkor Tour
Day 4: Tonle Sap Lake Tour, Leave Siem Reap at midnight

Places to Visit in Siem Reap

The following photos will lead you to specific detailed posts containing more information about the place and narrating my personal experiences. Feel free to browse like you’ve never browsed before.

Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple
Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple

Ta Prohm
Ta Prohm

Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda
Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda

Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap Lake

Preah Prom Rath Pagoda
Preah Prom Rath Pagoda

Angkor Night Market
Angkor Night Market

Pub Street
Pub Street

Old Market
Old Market

Angkor National Museum
Angkor National Museum

 

Additional Tips

That’s a lot of temples, yes? Temple fatigue is not uncommon while exploring Siem Reap so you need to pace yourself. Here are some other tips that I highly encourage you to consider.

10 Angkor Tour Tips
10 Angkor Tour Tips

Biking Around Siem Reap
Biking Around Siem Reap

Budget

Update (Feb 2017): Cost of Angkor One Day Pass is now $37.

Before I break down my total expenses, here are the usual prices that I saw during my stay in Siem Reap. Note that these are just based on my personal experience (so this list depends heavily on the establishments I tried):

  • Angkor entrance fee: USD20/person (one day pass)
  • Angkor tour by tuktuk (3 temples): USD12
  • Usual cost of a meal (rice/noodles): USD2
  • Usual cost of a drink (shake/coke): USD0.75-USD1

Here’s the detailed breakdown of my expenses during the 4-day trip. Since I came from Bangkok, I’m not including the bus fares into and out of Siem Reap. Also, how much I spent on booze, medicine, and pasalubong is NOT covered by this list.

  • USD 20 – Mandalay Inn (USD10 per night for 4 nights, divided by 2 pax)
  • USD 20 – Angkor one-day pass
  • USD 12 – Tuktuk tour of Angkor
  • USD 3 – Tip for tuktuk driver
  • USD 1 – Bike rental
  • USD 31 – Total meal expenses
  • USD 8 – Incidentals (bottled water, junk food, etc)
  • USD 95 – TOTAL

That’s how much I spent in US dollars. But I lost a lot of money in the conversion. The PHP-USD and PHP-KHR rates at most money changers were so far from their real value.

Nevertheless, my visit to Siem Reap was a rewarding experience, a realization of a life-long dream to see Angkor Wat and the other ancient structures in the area!


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Comments

  1. Max says:

    Thanks for this review of our city! You mention that you went to the floating village, but which one did you go to. The experience really varies depending on which one you visit, as Chong Kneas is infamous for its many scams and tourist traps.

    • I actually failed to go to the floating village because of my biking injury. But I’ll be back in Siem Reap in Q1 2014. I’ll definitely go to the floating villages this time. Which one do you recommend?

  2. Maria Angelica Espaldon says:

    Hello! I am going to follow your itinerary. May family and I are going to Siam Reap this Sept. We will be coming from Bangkok and taking the bus. Did you take the bus or via air? Can you give me an advice on which bus company to take? the fastest way to get there? Help po. Salamat!

    • Hello! I took the morning bus from Bangkok to the Cambodian border. I forgot the name of the bus company but I just picked the bus leaving soon when I was at the terminal in BKK.

  3. Hi! I’m planning to go there in a couple of weeks. I would like to know what bus schedule is best to take since I’ll be moving from siem reap to bangkok. i can’t find any reliable info in other websites re the bus scheds.

    thanks!

    • Hi Stacy! Not sure about schedules but I took a 2am bus to the border and then we switched to a van to Bangkok. We arrived at around lunch time. You’ll find plenty of bus info in Siem Reap though. They’re displayed prominently. I just didn’t take a second look.

  4. Katsie says:

    Hi there! Im in an emotional roller coaster as of now, Im so down and depressed i have already lost appetite in life. This morning, an idea came to me.. maybe travel backpacking might help me find myself again.

    Do you have a suggestion on how or where to find a travel buddy or a group to travel with? Or do you have any tips and suggestions on how to travel alone?

    Your reply will be very much appreciated. πŸ™‚

    • sunshine says:

      hi katsie ! ditch the depression and explore the world.Life is too short to dwell on negativity and sadness. get ready w/ your backpack and i’ll meet you in Mandalay Inn (as highly recommended by yoshke here) last week of September.I will immerse myself in yoshke’s zest for travel and adventure! see ya in Siem Reap.

    • Hi Katsie! If you’re feeling blue, I strongly recommend solo backpacking. This way, it’s easier for you to meet more people on the road. Stay at hostels, not hotels, to save money and to have more chances to get to know other travelers. πŸ™‚

  5. jenjen says:

    hello! this blog is very informative thank you for sharing all your escapades!
    we will be going to siem reap on january but its just for a day, (Bangkok the next day) so what would you suggest the best place to visit for our limited stay? thanks in advance! πŸ™‚

  6. Mary says:

    Our trip to Siem Reap is next week. Thanks to your blog, we’ve laid out our itinerary and budget already. By the way, how was your Tonle Sap Lake experience? I saw Tara Boats offering a tour package of 32$/person for a half day. It’s quite expensive but I don’t know any other better option. How did you go about your own trip to the lake? I would really appreciate your response. Again, thanks so much for your very informative blog!

  7. quiti2x says:

    i super love this particular post on siem reap. will follow ur itinerary when i get there next november.. xoxo poor traveler

  8. Alex Sta Cruz says:

    Hi! How about your Tonle Sap Lake Tour? How much did you pay for it? Thanks!

  9. mj says:

    planning a epilepsy awareness trip to siem reap but will have a few days to look around where would you say is best to visit…

  10. joylani san juan-samson says:

    Ur blog was so informative, lessen my anxiety, and aniticipate what will comes along for my trip. Well will be travelling this 5th of april .. siem rep then phnom pen and ho chi minh. β˜ΊπŸ˜ŠπŸ˜€

  11. Wayne says:

    Nice blog… Will have a trip at Siem Reap early next year… Very Informative. Thanx…

  12. Raisa Mae Fernandez says:

    Hi there! I have a couple of questions for your Siem Reap visit. What time of year is the best place to visit and did you have to apply for a visa being a Filipino passport holder? Thank you and hope you can share your insights soon. =)

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