My Thoughts On Visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia

Hello from Siem Reap, Cambodia! We’ve been here for a couple of days now, and I’m slowly starting to form an initial opinion about the place. I’ve been all over Southeast Asia, though amazingly enough this is my first time in Cambodia.. I’ll have more detailed thoughts after the trip, but figured I’d share my initial thoughts on the destination. In no particular order, here’s what stands out to me most:

The people are friendly (and honest)

The Cambodian people have been so friendly and hospitable across the board. It doesn’t matter where you go, just about everyone has a sincere smile. I was sort of expecting that, but what has impressed me the most has been the lack of scams. While I know there’s government corruption, I was expecting to deal with the typical “scams” I usually face in many cities in Thailand, etc. Perhaps it’s just our luck this time around, but everyone has been remarkably honest.

Things are CHEAP

Nowadays Siem Reap’s economy consists mostly of tourism, which can certainly lead to a huge increase in the cost of just about everything. While that’s probably true for locals, as a tourist I’ve seen some of the lowest prices I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

We went to a place in town yesterday and had the most amazing $6 hourlong massage.

Four martinis at the Park Hyatt cost $11 plus the tax and service charge (admittedly that was during the 50% off happy hour, but the normal price for cocktails is $5.50, which is amazing for a Park Hyatt). So Siem Reap is still extremely cheap for a western tourist.

park-hyatt-cocktails

park-hyatt-siem-reap

Siem Reap is comfortably touristy

Cambodia as a tourist destination is neither off the beaten track, nor the first destination that comes to mind when considering Southeast Asia. Siem Reap’s economy is clearly all about tourism, and if you’re in town you’ll basically see the streets lined with hotels.

At the same time, I’d say it isn’t overrun with tourists. That’s to say that going to Angkor Wat isn’t like going to the Taj Mahal. Perhaps that’s largely a function of how big the area is and how many different temples you can visit.

angkor-wat

Our guide told us it was a good time to visit, because they have five million visitors per year, and by 2030 are hoping to have 70 million visitors per year. While I’d question those numbers and think that’s highly optimistic, I can certainly see tourism growing rapidly here to the point that even visiting the temples loses its charm.

Siem Reap is all about Angkor Wat…

The town of Siem Reap is very similar to many secondary cities in the region, and filled with tuk-tuks, restaurants, street vendors, etc. So while there are things to do in the actual city, Siem Reap without Angkor Wat wouldn’t be on the map as a tourist destination.

I’ve written in the past about my travel philosophy, and how I consider certain places to be “Google Images” destinations. Before my visit I feared Angkor Wat might be like that. That’s to say that I feared I’d arrive there and say “meh, this isn’t much more interesting than the pictures I saw on Google and what I read on Wikipedia.”

The good news is that Angkor Wat is insanely impressive and worth seeing in person. The scale of the ruins is mind-boggling. At the same time, I also tend to think there’s a diminishing marginal return in seeing the ruins.

siem-reap

That’s to say that after your first multi-hour tour, you sort of lose the sense of awe when you see subsequent ruins and learn about their history. There’s only so much you can learn (and retain) about demons vs. gods, even vs. odd numbers, etc.

All of this is simply to say that Angkor Wat as such impressed me, and seeing it in person was worthwhile. However, with my personal travel preferences, I couldn’t imagine spending a week exploring the ruins. That’s just my perspective, though I know others could probably spend a month exploring and not be bored.

Bottom line

I’m so happy I finally made it to Cambodia, and I can’t believe it’s my first visit. Angkor Wat exceeded my expectations, and is absolutely worth seeing in person. The friendliness of the people and prices in Siem Reap don’t hurt, either. So if you’ve been to many other places in Southeast Asia I’d highly recommend visiting Siem Reap, and I think it’s a place that can be seen in just 2-3 days, assuming the weather cooperates.

If you’ve traveled to Siem Reap/Angkor Wat, what was your experience like?

Comments

  1. I loved Angkor Wat and loved the hotel we stayed in where we got great service, awesome massages, and easy access to town. I’d also recommend visiting Phnom Penh. Great city on the river, sad but intriguing and worthwhile history, and amazing food scene. Agree – 2 days maximum for Siem Reap unless you REALLY love temples and the history. I’d have liked maybe 2-3 full days in Phnom Penh to do everything there – I only had one night and about a full day.

  2. Hi Ben/Lucky: you should also see Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, and Banteay Srei. You can also ride an elephant near Angkor Wat, on a hill overlooking Angkor Wat, to see it at sunset. Enjoy.

  3. I went to Siem Reap at Christmas and agree with everything you’ve said. I’ve travelled extensively around Asia, and Cambodia was without doubt the cheapest place I have EVER visited. 80 US cents for a beer, $2 for a meal etc. I could live for a month on what you would spend on a week in Japan, Hong Kong etc.
    Sunrise at Angkor Wat was as expected – rammed with tourists, impressive, but something you only need to do once etc. I just kept thinking of the movie Tomb Raider the whole time – certainly wasn’t some spiritual awakening.
    People lovely, the entire town exists for tourism (because of Angkor Wat) and they know exactly what tourists want – it’s a very ‘easy’ place to visit.
    Did a quad bike tour which was I loved – the guides were loads of fun.
    Highly recommend Siem Reap for a very easy trip. Have heard Phnom Penh is very grim in comparison.

  4. Angkor Wat is the ultimate highlight of South East Asia. Bagan in Myanmar is a close second. Two days are not enough to do this place justice. I would like to echo what one of the commentors mentioned, Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom and Bantay Srei are all equally breathtaking. The history and archaeology in this part of the world are extraordinary. Enjoy!

  5. Ben, what are your thoughts on the PH Siem Reap? In line with all the hype, and typical service/product standards of the PH brand? Thanks for sharing!

    Was considering SR vs. Chiang Mai as an upcoming destination.

  6. I love Siem Reap and was lucky to visit twice.
    First time, I focused on the main sites.
    On a second trip, I hired a driver to visit some sites further away from Siem Reap. Hardly any tourists there so it was much more enjoyable.

  7. Tend to agree with all your comments. I went a few years ago and was very happy that I went… particularly since I had always wanted to see Angkor Wat… but it was a bit *too* “comfortably touristy” for me. In the central part of Siem Reap where most of the tourists are… all the restaurant menus were in English, everyone working at the restaurants and stores spoke English, and I didn’t even have to exchange my US dollars for local currency. Yes, it made everything super easy and convenient… but in a sense it was too comfortable and I didn’t feel like I was getting any sort of authentic experience at all. (Because I wasn’t, and I realize now you don’t go to Siem Reap to get that type of experience.) It definitely did make me want to return to Cambodia, however… perhaps I will do PP next time.

  8. Thanks for the post! I’m visiting SR soon. Do you recommend your tour guide? Would you mind sharing the tour guide info? Thanks!

    Matthew – is there a specific massage place across the street from PH that you recommend? Thanks!

  9. I had the same feeling about Cambodia on the whole– time and tie again I expected someone to scam me or take advantage, and never once did I have an unpleasant experience in my entire week there. Phnom Penh is also a fantastic experience, though much less touristy. There are some huge things to notice, such as the lack of traffic lights (I’m not sure there’s more than 5 in the whole capitol) but the hotels and food are stunning, and drinks at most mid-range bars are $2 throughout the country… Cambodian people are also genuinely warm and nice to talk with. Make sure to visit Angkor Thom in Siem Reap if you haven’t seen enough of the amazing Khmer ruins!

  10. I’d disagree a bit about the touristy-ness. Did you go into the main part of town? I feel like it’s an example of what happens when a town gets overrun by tourism. It was difficult to find local food when we wandered around there. Everything is catering to tourists.

  11. Glad you enjoyed Cambodia. While 2 full days of temples is probably enough there’s so much in the surrounding area. We took a full day atv tour into the countryside which is easily the most amazing thing I’ve done in any of my travels.

    Wonderful country wonderful people insanely cheap.

  12. Siem Reap/Angkor Wat complex was a bit too touristy for my taste and I went in the low season! The people are lovely, and the ruins interesting enough, but much preferred PP for a taste of Cambodia.

  13. This February was the second time I’ve been to Cambodia (and Siem Reap), looking forward to my next trip sometime in the next five years. It’s a cheap and fun country…especially since I speak the language.

  14. I think 3 days is what you need for Angkor Wat and you need a personal guide and driver to take you through the temples takes 2 days. It is well worth it as you drive in an AC car and see what you want as fast as you want and it was cheap for what you get. There is allot of art to buy and a great Artisans d’Angkor Artisans Angkor was created in 1999 to help young people find work in their home villages, allowing them to practice their crafts while providing them with a vocation. It was created as part of a three-year project to integrate young artisans trained by the Chantiers-Ecoles de Formation Professionnelle – whose objective is to revive traditional craft skills (stone carving, wood carving, lacquering, gilding and silk processing). Also buy art from around the Watt and in Siem Reap

  15. Did you visit the landmine museum while you were there? I thought that was one of the more unique and interesting attractions in the area. It sounds like the town itself is much bigger than when I was there in 2007. That was a fantastic trip, I need to get back there sometime soon.

  16. I am visiting Siem Reap and Singapore in one month. Flying first class suites on Singapore Airlines for the first time ever. Thanks to the Citi Premier and Prestige and Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card. I am going to be staying at Le Meriden Angkor for 5 days. Fourth night free thanks to the Prestige card. Should I just visit the temples the first two days and get them out of the way? Where is the best place to get a massage? I was looking to do a helicopter fly over. Is it worth it, if anybody here did it? Also book an atv tour. Also spending 5 days in Singapore at the Conrad Hilton free thanks to a bunch of points from the Citibank Hilton card signup bonus. Taking a private VIP tour of Universal Studios thanks to my Citibank Premier card. Some times you just have to treat yourself. Now if only I would work out while taking these trips. Oh well. Any ideas or suggestions on making this trip special would be greatly appreciated.

  17. I agree, the people are genuinely nice and the prices are insanely low. When we went there about 4 years ago, our taxi driver commented on how expensive some new apartments were. When we asked, what expensive was, he said something like $50,000 to a brand new apartment! I think maybe the prices are higher than that now, but still cheap. If only it wasn’t so hot!

  18. My wife and I are headed to Siem Reap in February! Perfect timing on this post to help build the excitement even further!

  19. Spend some time in Phnom Penh and visit any of the coastal islands (we visited Koh Rung near Sihanoukville).

  20. Was there two years ago.

    My suggestion is to do the temples over three mornings, arriving early, before it gets hot and, more importantly, before the tour groups can muster themselves and take over. Doing it all in one day breeds temple fatigue and everything starts to look the same quite quickly.

    As for afternoons, I just enjoyed pools, went into Siee Reap town or relaxed, which was just fine.

  21. In a few months it will have been 50 years since Jackie Kennedy made her famous visit to Angkor and PP: the timing of it was unusual, in the midst of the Vietnam war and just a couple of years before Cambodia’s terrible descent into darkness.
    When in PP, it’s worth considering a stay at Raffles Le Royal ( where Jackie stayed and there are still some mementos of her visit). It was the first of the fashionable colonial hotels in town and has been extensively renovated. Unfortunately very over-priced. It was the hotel used by most journalists covering the war, including the recently deceased Sydney Schanberg ( NYT, The Killing Fields film).

  22. One of my favorite visits. (Did not read any of the many previous posts.) We rented bikes (not electric bikes) each day and spent 8 hours touring on / off road areas. Spent 2 nights there. We could have died in the jungle and no one would have noticed for years. It was rich. Had an issue with a bowel thing after drinking a beer from a side vendor miles away from the main street- but 10 mins later survived (one of those holy MOTHER moments). Made it each night to temples for the sunset view. This is ONE place that is so rich…. you do it once, realize that life is in-the-moment…. and then you try to take as many happy memories as you can home. This is one of my happy places. But, sadly, can’t go back again. Would never be the same.

  23. I visited Siem Reap for Angkor Wat early last year and it was one of the highlights of my trip. The hospitality was exceptional. My hotel rate included a tuk-tuk driver each day I stayed there. The city is very manageable by walking and there are plenty of restaurants and shops. I had a hard time finding authentic Cambodian food, especially anything made with prahok which I wanted to try. I did have plenty of fresh peppercorn dishes which was refreshing. Also, when flying in, be weary of immigration agents shaking you down and not honoring your pre-paid visa. I flew in and sat next to two chaps from Colombo which were on the same return flight with me later on who said they spent a good 4 hours negotiating their release into Cambodian soil, I think they each paid $100 bribe down from $1,000. Other than that, it was a memorable trip. Nice post!

  24. I found Siem Reap to be one of the more expensive cities I’ve been to SE Asia… mainly because the US dollar IS the preferred currency, and almost everything is calculated in dollars. I thought the city itself was generally a tourist trap, and that’s evident walking down “Pub Street” and seeing all of the signs for pizza, pasta, and french fries; local cuisine is harder to find and often has been Westernized to some extent. I thought the temples were amazing, and loved every minute of the 2 full days we spent exploring… though, contending with crowds and 40+C, that was our max. I can’t imagine not having Angkor and the surrounding sites on one’s bucket list. Well worth the trip.

    We also went to Phnom Penh during the same trip. We didn’t get to experience much during the day, as it was 45C the 2 days we were there… but the evenings were enjoyable. PP is very much a city of have and have nots, though — it’s either insanely cheap, or it’s rather high end and expensive. Did 20 cent beers on the streets and $20 cocktails at night.

  25. Been to Cambodia a few times. Siem Reap is amazing, but there has been a VERY noticeable increase in tourists since we were first there about 8 or 9 years ago. The last time we went there were so many tour groups running around it was a little annoying. Agree with Jason, you should check out Phnom Penh as well — not quite as touristy and really great food. Seriously… one of my top 5 meals in the world was at a French restaurant there called Van’s. Simply amazing.

  26. 2 days is not enough in Siem Reap. 3 possibly, 4 better. I appreciate reviewing chain hotels with loyalty schemes is your job (and ultimately the purpose of this site) – but I think this is a prime example of you missing out in your work travels sometimes. There are some fantastic boutique/local properties in SR which are amazing value. I wouldn’t dream of staying in a chain hotel in SR – most of the locations of the bigger hotels are not great in any event. PH is probably the best of them. I do usually stay in 5* hotels in SE Asia so I’m not being precious. Like I say – I know it’s your day job but for ordinary travellers you can do better than the PH or Accor hotels etc in Siem Reap. Which I would definitely go back to even having seen most of the temples.

  27. Agree it is a great place. I stayed at the Shinta Mani Club last December and had a fantastic time. That was my second visit to SR. My first visit was 9 or 10 years ago and it was nothing like what it has become in the intervening years.

    Getting to the sites that are a ways out of SR is worthwhile. But most of it is a lot of temples. Phnom Kulen is nice for a day out though at the waterfall with a picnic.Last time I went to visit Preah Vihear on the Thai border. Gorgeous setting, but the drive from SR takes a few hours.

    I find that hospitality is pretty great most places in the world. For sure all of SE Asia has excellent hospitality.

  28. Angkor Wat is just jaw-dropping, and Cambodia is a wonderful country with many warm and friendly people. I went there a few years ago with my family and we had a blast – we hit Siem Reap/Angkor (including a 3 hr guided horseback ride through the beautiful countryside to one of the ruins), Phnom Penh, the beach (Otres Beach/Sihanoukville – the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen!), and the jungle (http://www.rainbowlodgecambodia.com/), and every one of them was just amazing.

    Lucky, you’re missing out by staying at a western hotel like the Park Hyatt. In Siem Reap we stayed at a placed called Hanumanalaya, and it was almost magical – beautiful decor, very spacious rooms, wonderful pool, friendly staff, and SPOTLESSLY clean. In Phnomh Penh it was another boutique hotel called Villa Paradiso – a bit more expensive, but just a lovely experience. (To give you an idea of how genuinely eager to please the Villa Paradiso staff were, when my phone plan ran out of minutes on our last day and I needed to call the airline, a staff member lent me her personal cell phone to make the call.)

  29. You shouldn’t have stayed in a Hyatt , I stayed in a gorgeous hotel with a concierge service and lounge on the 4th floor than included our own private transportation in the hotel rate! Siem Reap is full of scams. Biggest scam is the “formula for my baby scam”. They want you to buy them formula so it’s seems so harmless. Then they return the formula to the store and split it with the cashier. Either way. Great city. In the future put away the points and elite Status and all that silk stuff when your in a city like Siem Reap and experience something else

  30. @Ang and anyone else heading to SR: I highly recommend the guide I hired last spring (originally recommended by Travis of Extra Pack of Peanuts). He was a fantastic guide, a super nice guy, spoke great English, and had a car with AC! You can email Bunthy at bunthy_me [at] yahoo [dot] com to ask about his availability.

  31. have to disagree. Actually i found Angkor Wat to be one of the lower point of the Angkor complex, because of crowd and the state of repairs. The other temples are way more interesting, especially when you get out to the more remote one…

    i woudl recommend at least 5-7 days, to not get templed out and take some breaks

  32. Yeah – agree what some others have said about the hotels. While yes you make your living evaluating chain properties, there are lots of places where the chains are either not as good as local places or simply do not exist. I stayed at the Pavillion d’Orient hotel, and it was one of my best stays anywhere, for all the right reasons. Some time you should go to Nantucket or maybe Mustique. No chains in either place but well worth it

  33. I can not believe you stayed at a Hyatt hotel in SR (?#@#@!!)….. wow. I like reading your posts and do not want to be one of your haters but that Hyatt touch is embarrassing.

  34. I visited Siem Reap in June. I would recommend that you get out of Siem Reap for a day to see the countryside. For example, hire a guide to visit a “wild” temple like Beng Mealea and the Kompong Khleang floating village (that one is a real working village, unlike some of the other ones that the tuk-tuk drivers favor because they are closer to Siem Reap). We used Happy Angkor Tours to take us around for 3 days in a private air-conditioned van with our own guide. The price was very reasonable and the guide did a good job explaining things and also customizing the tour according to our interests. No scams like requiring us to visit a local handicraft shop either. He was also a good photographer and knew all the good spots to take great shots. We probably have more “whole family” pictures from him than we’ve taken in any previous trip. I echo other posters, there are many great inexpensive local accommodations where you can enjoy 5-star luxury+space for the price of a night at a Hampton Inn in the US (or less). I’m glad we did not stay at Le Meridien. It’s a nice property outside of the city center, but unless you are a Platinum and getting free breakfast, you’ll pay for that “free” room via their expensive breakfast buffet.

  35. Lucky did you use a guide through the hotel or another company? Any tips on a guide. Heading there in February.

  36. you should check out a website huskcambodia.org and take one of their tours. They work to help improve the lives of the hardworking Cambodian people who get no help from their government. We took the day in the life of a Cambodian village tour to see the daily lives and participate in some of the activities. We also donated to Husk and bought a water filter for a family. Definitely worth doing and seeing. We have also attended Dos that donate to Husk.

  37. @Gaurav “USD is the functional currency of Cambodia”

    But is it the actual currency? If a bill says Dollars, is it charged directly to your bank in Dollars, or is it charged as Riels, then run thru the Dynamic Currency Conversion scam?

    This last Summer in Europe I found it very annoying that most everyone, including every single Starbucks, suggested I do the charge in Dollars ie ‘would you like to be charged 5% more’? ;(

    So if the entire tourist system in Cambodia uses a Dollar figure as the default, but then charges it in Riels before ‘converting’ it to Dollars, then the whole system is a scam.

  38. My advice (having been to Siem Reap/Angkor Wat twice) is to split up your day – go to the temples in the morning, come back at mid-day for lunch and hang out by your hotel pool (it gets very hot at mid-day even when in the “winter” months), then go back to the temples for a sunset viewing.

  39. I too am confused as to why the receipt is in US dollars, and not really understanding Robert Hanson reply above (what does “functional currency” mean, anyway?). Lucky can you address this please? Why is the Park Hyatt charging in US dollars and do you have a choice? In other words, did they force dynamic currency conversion on you….or what?

  40. some ‘lesser’ visited temples/sites, about 1 hour, 1 hour 30 min drive from Siem Reap (1 day trip, my driver is angkorwatdaytour@gmail.com):
    Koh Ker area
    -Prasat Pram Black lady temple
    -Prasat Chen
    -Prasat Thom
    -Beng Mealea
    -Banteaysrei

  41. @Robert Hanson, that’s an interesting question. I’ve never allowed a DCC charge on my cards so unfortunately I can’t compare the charge on my card to a DCC charge to see if they look the same. The rest of my foreign charges outside of Cambodia for the trip show the foreign currency amount in the details but this particular charge (my only charge in Cambodia) looks like a direct USD charge.

    @Robert D, everyone uses USD in Camboida, even the locals. If you withdraw money from an ATM, you get USD. The default rates for hotels are quoted in USD. The only time I saw riels is when they needed to give change for a dollar (assuming because it is harder to get US coinage). When I was planning the trip I was aware of everything working in USD so I didn’t even consider the DCC aspect which I would normally be careful about.

  42. YES…YOU ARE BEING SCAMMED.

    While Thailand is the “land of smiles”. I found you are scammed a LOT in Cambodia. it’s just that, for Americans, it’s cheap, so you don’t realize that you’re being scammed.

    On my 2 days in SR I encountered the following scams:

    scam 1:
    took train to border from bkk, the tuk tuk from train to border was $15USD for 3 of us. It was ~ a 3 min ride. Should have been about 50 cents (locals)…so even at $1…ok…but $15?? SCAM

    scam 2:
    we already had our cambodian visas….the tuk tuk still took us to a scam building which said we didn’t have our visas.

    scam 3:
    at their scam bldg, they upcharge you another $10 over the visa’s cost…which is $30…so a 33% scam rate

    scam 4: crossing the border to get your visa stamped, they have COUNTLESS ppl directing you AWAY from the real bldg to get stamped. and to a line they fill w/ randoms and then come up to tourists and say it’s an hr plus to get stamped, BUT for $15, they’ll “expedite you”…they make you wait 10mins while they take your passport and go to the bldg and get it stamped for you

    scam 5: the taxi from border to SR, suppose to take you to your hotel, they take you to a “taxi stand” where the tuk tuk takes you to the hotel..BUT charges you again for what you already paid.

    scam 6: tuk tuk to airport s/b $1…they tried to charge $5

    Once at the hotel, the scams aren’t *quite* as egregious, but still in full-effect, as the hotel person gets a kickback for every tuk tuk ride you take for allowing the driver to sit outside your hotel.

    BUT…I think that’s enough typing for now…to say you aren’t being scammed is to say you aren’t paying attention and based on your previous posts of how you spend $$….you just don’t know what it SHOULD cost. I.e. that drink…well, consider the DAILY income is ~ $2/day. So imagine spending a day’s salary on ONE drink….and you’ll get an idea that, yes, you ARE being ripped-off…no matter how cheap it is.

  43. If the ATM’s give out US Dollars, without a fee, when using debit cards from financial institutions like Fidelity that never charge an ATM fee, and you can pay with those dollars for your martinis at the PH, then that is indeed what I meant by ‘functional currency’.

    However, I do prefer to pay my travel, dining, and entertainment charges with my Citi Premier to get the 3X points, rather than pay cash. So if anyone has paid their dollar designated charges with a credit card, and compared the charges on the card to the actual bill they signed, I’d like to know if there were any fees added in or not.

  44. ” I’m slowly starting to form an initial opinion about the place”

    “which can certainly lead to a huge increase in the cost of just about everything. . While that’s probably true for locals”

    THANK YOU. This is responsible, respectable travel writing. Not jumping to conclusions, not making broad judgments on the basis of a few hours, and thinking from responsibly about the impact of travel, indeed, of life, from the perspective others. I really appreciate this, and wish we saw it in more travel writing, in print and online!

    (As for “scams,” I recall with slight amusement (amusement at my impotent, 20-year-old backpacker rage) whenI was told at the border my visa would take 6 hours to process, though US $20 could cut that processing time down to 30 seconds.) 🙂

  45. My favorite “scam” in Cambodia was the border agent who was stamping passports at the airport. He had a pile of dollar bills in front of him, and he winked and smiled at me while gesturing to it. I thought it was so blatant that I had to give him a dollar for his chutzpah.

  46. @Robert Hanson:

    All my CC charges were in USD and were what was quoted when I booked months prior, so no DCC at all.

    The place is nice, the poor ppl are nice and “happy” b/c tourists are spending BIG MONEY there. There are a LOT of scammers there and should NEVER give money to children b/c the local gangs, etc recruit them to beg for $$ and take most of it from them anyways. It also keeps the kid out of schools learning so they don’t turn to a life of begging/panhandling/etc.

    Another scam was the money changers saying you couldn’t use USD and would charge 3% to convert to their currency…when indeed, as stated above, the USD is the de facto currency. Also, make sure no tears in your bills, they won’t take them otherwise.

    Finally $2 bills are “lucky” and great as tips, though they’ll be SUPER happy w/ a $1 tip all day long.

  47. Aha! A preview of what will be a side trip during my upcoming 2016 Year-end Asian Escapade(TM), which will see me visiting the Kingdom of Cambodia twice: first, the Capital and largest city in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, and then Siem Reap, which will be my 4th visit there in as many years, staying each time at the Park Hyatt. People are great, Angkor Wat as a very older and the largest Hindu/Buddhist temple is a magnet, and, of course, there is “Khmer” in everything, all of which make Cambodia irresistible, at least to me. In Phnom Penh, I booked a hotel right on the famous or infamous Mekong River and can’t wait!

    It’s a place tailor-made for an Encore excursion…Angkor what? 😉

  48. @Robert Hanson, like Brian mentioned, hotel rates are quoted in USD and yes, they match up with the charge.

  49. I’ve been to Cambodia 4 times and found Siem Reap to be too touristy, more so than Phnom Penh. For a great experience, travel by bus or van to Battambang, Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville. Stay in hotels owned by locals, even if they’re less luxurious than what you’re used to. You’ll find great people, hospitality, and food.

  50. I just got back from SR end of September. Had a fantastic time, stayed for 5 nights. That seemed about right – we didn’t feel pressure to race through the archeological park and beyond. We actually did the pool in the AM then temple hopping in the afternoon. It wasn’t busy or crowded except … I have to say one thing …. and I don’t have a racist bone in me – but the Angkor park and surrounds are very spiritual and incredible places to sit and reflect. Also – one of the most photogenic places i’ve ever seen in the world. That being said, there is nothing like sitting in a temple complex listening to the jungle and sounds, then a pack of Chinese tourists coming through screaming at the top of their lungs and pushing/shoving for pictures.
    That is why we went Temple hopping in the afternoons.

  51. I had an enjoyable time in Cambodia around Christmas time 2015. It is an insanely cheap place to visit. Apart from visiting the ruins (which is must-see world site), I also enjoyed the hospitable Cambodian people. I recommend the boat ride from SR to Phnom Penh. Although not luxurious, we had a good time on the ride.

  52. Thanks to everyone who cleared up the dollar question.This makes going to SR even more appealing than it seemed already. Hard to beat the combination of tourist friendly, English speaking, low prices (by First World standards), nice people, World Class Temples, and no currency problems. Plus I found that SQ flies non-stop into SR. The only question now is how soon can I go? 😉

  53. Visited SR two years ago and stayed at the Park Hyatt.
    Had a power outage both nights but Park Hyatt ran their generator.
    It appeared the grid was overloaded and they have rolling blackout like Kathmandu.
    Also got scammed entering at the airport with prepaid visa but the bribe was only $20.

  54. Was in SR about 4 years ago. Yes, it is cheap, yes they are very hospitable. Infrastructure for the hotels is good, because they build their own. Water, electricity, internet, etc. In the rest of the area, not so good.

    I would recommend this place to any traveler. It is well worth the visit. Also, keep in mind that a $5 tip to a bellhop is more than most folks make in a week.
    My $5 tip to the maid at my Hampton Inn hear is a way to say thanks. There it is food for a week.

    Again, this is a very affordable country.

  55. Two comments on scams against pax arriving with prepaid visas. Shall I infer it’s better to simply get them on arrival? Or does that present its own set of scams?

  56. I visited for about 7 days and saw pretty much everything. To avoid the heat and fatigue I would spend 3-4 hours each morning on a tour, spend the afternoon by the pool, go for a massage, sleep for a bit, work through the night, and sleep a bit before the morning. I otherwise agree with the sentiment, just think it was nice to not rush the experience. There are a few interesting places further out from the city (the boat city, and one temple that’s about 70km that was still very much in ruins).

    The French cuisine was also surprisingly nice.

  57. @Seattle Eric

    Just a different scam. Though getting at the airport is probably the least “scamy” in terms of cost. If crossing the border…There will be multiple spots for scams. If you take a bus, it’ll “conveniently” break-down on the way near a hotel or restaurant (where the driver gets kick-backs on all purchases). Also, while “fixing” the bus, anything stowed will summarily be searched/stolen/pilfered.

    To give an idea of “how cheap”…the 5-ish hr train ride from BKK to Cambodian border..$1.42. You also get to see all the country side (rice fields get boring at hour 2).

    If you read flyertalk on either country, I believe I counted 21 different scams which were talked about more than once. I encountered on a 10-day trip 17 of them.

    Sooo, when lucky says he isn’t encountering them…I call B.S. It’s just that his tipping and other habits he just doesn’t notice it. Nor has he done the typical research to see what prices *should* be. I.e. if in Thailand, tipping is NOT part of their culture…yet you get americans exporting their tipping culture and have hiked prices accordingly b/c of their behaviors….it’s quite annoying.

    LEARN THE CULTURE before you visit a country…

  58. If you lose your sense of awe at these ruins after a couple of hours then something is wrong with you.

    Is that even a real complaint?

    “Yeah they were great but I lost my sense of awe after a few hours”

    God you’re annoying.

  59. With Visa on arrival, the people at the counter literally took a picture of my passport with an Android phone and then produced a visa for my passport ( visa without a photo ). The “officer” working the line told us it would be $80 USD each to get the photos taken. I just ignored him – seems he was trying to get our cash before we made it through the line closer to the counter.

  60. Enjoyed reading all of your comments, but when referring to hotels that you stayed please list the name of the property.

  61. Last time I went to Cambodia, I as a reflex changed by currency to the local Riel. Big mistake. Every transaction is done in USD.

    I endorse others comments about the morning/afternoon split of time and the need to take rests from ruin viewing. I also agree that some of the lesser visited temples are stunning, and in a way more exciting – although it is hard to beat those faces at Ta Prohm. Phnom Penh is also worth visiting – it has changed an extraordinary amount in the 12 year gap between my visits.

    Strongly suggest you try and get to Kep. Beautiful and relatively undeveloped especially compared to Siem Riep. Its really a bunch of crab huts along the beach and then mansions built in the 50’s and 60’s in the modernist style in various stages of decline, or restoration. Stay at Knai Bang Chatt – http://www.knaibangchatt.com/ in one of these restored and extended mansion. Great restaurant, and Yacht club next door. One of my most idyllic holidays ever.

  62. I was in Siem Reap earlier this year. Loved it. Loved the people, food, history and soft soft energy. 3 nights was good, although I could’ve stayed longer. After 4 hours of Temples, I’m done.

    I missed the flooded forest…will check it out on my next visit.

  63. “That’s to say that after your first multi-hour tour, you sort of lose the sense of awe when you see subsequent ruins and learn about their history. There’s only so much you can learn (and retain) about demons vs. gods, even vs. odd numbers, etc.”

    I sort of expected that @Lucky would have such a take about a real, ancient, historic, UNESCO World Heritage Site, but not glitzy place like Angkor Wat and Siem Reap. Why? Just because that’s not just his gig, which is usually reporting about the insides of “luxury” business or first class cabins of middle eastern airlines ad nauseam and never “losing the sense of awe” when he sees the next luxury cabin, even though its only “history” is that it’s offered by a different airline. I do not read such reports on the insides of luxury airplanes anymore because I lost “my sense of awe” about airplane cabins a long time ago.

    On the other hand, I always find something I can appreciate about Siem Reap and the “historic articfacts” that draw millions of people and I never tire of: the taxi driver who takes you from the tiny REP airport to the decrepit city of SR will offer to pick you up very early in the morning to take you to Angkor Wat and other archeological sites where he’ll be with you ALL DAY for a grand total of…$35! (I usually feel guilty and give them $50 or $70). But, there is also the “human element” in the absence of glitz (did I say that SR is actually run down “village”) that makes some of us come alive on our travels. It could be just bartering about the price of a great rug at the night market, or having a drink and playing pool with the locals and other traveling souls at Mickey’s tiny and sweltering Night Pub or hanging out on Pub Street and shooting the breeze with a total stranger from Cardiff in Wales, UK! That’s the sort priceless “human experiences” that enrich my “Escapades”, for which I cannot escape the confines of a “luxury” airline cabin fast enough to begin enjoying!

    Clearly YMMV sort of thing… 😉

    G’day!

  64. Wow. I was in Siem Reap in February for one week. That wasn’t long enough. I hope I can make it back again. I spent three half days looking/hiking the temples and could have spent more time there. One day I went to Phnom Kulen and swam under the water fall. One day was touring the floating villages. The other days was walking in the community and having the Tuk-tuk driver take me to the non-tourist shopping areas.
    One of the highlight of this week was the Phare Cambodian Circus.
    Yes, I would agree with Lucky, a few days in siem reap would be enough if you just stay in the tourist area.
    But get out of the tourists area and try the food where not another person speaks english. The Cambodian people are very kind and friendly. In one restaurant where their didn’t appear to be a menu – I pointed to a fragrant dish that another person was eating – and was served a wonderful meal. The banks in the main area easily change American money for Cambodian. I stayed at Angkor Orchid and would recommend it to anyone.

  65. Angkor Golf resort is one of the best in Asia. It’s in SR fantastic golf course.

    Hyatt is OK nothing special. A lot better places for 75% of the cost to stay at. Do some research.

  66. DCS – I think you sum up the SR experience very well, so thanks for that. I wanted to add that just because Siem Reap is dirt dirt cheap, I agree with DCS that its important to greatly increase the tip. Most of my tips were in the 75-100% range and I was still below LA prices. I felt I was contributing to the well being of Cambodian families and would not have felt good having a $8 massage and only giving 20%.

    Also I meant to say 4 hours PER DAY of Temples…it was just too hot when I was there to keep going. I can still feel the heat, the smell, the smiles…the everything.

    Siem Reap IS everything…magical. It is what is referred to as a heart-based society 🙂

    Peru = heart-based
    Boliva = head-based
    USA/UK etc = head-based in the extreme
    Chile = heart-based over flowing

  67. First visit was early 90’s flew in on a big Russian helicopter with mostly UN troops, from Penom Penh. My wife struck up a conversation with UN Chief of police from Czechoslavokia, he and his buddy drove us around in UN truck for three days. No one was in Ankor except some French Archeologist and no one period at any of the other surrounding ruins/sites. Went back around five years ago, good for the economy, but now it’s a zoo.

  68. @Jordan. I hate people like you. The cost of living in Cambodia does not equal what it is in LA. Most societies world-wide do not tip nearly the amount the US does, and that is a good thing. Is a waiter at Applebees or Ruth Chris’s really do that much more work/is that much better than a waiter at Dennys? No but the tips are incredibly different. Tipping excessively leads to workers getting lower wages. In some countries it’s insulting.

    Excessive tipping is a bad thing. Didn’t someone say that the average wage in Cambodia was $2/day? Well, your massage was 4X that. That’s a fantastic rate.

  69. Tipping 100% of the quoted cost eventually utterly screws up the local economy.

    Just try to get a tuk tuk driver in BKK to directly take you somewhere for an honest fare. They won’t do it anymore. They are totally spoiled by the commission they get from delivering you to their “sponsor”, whose commission is so much greater than the fare would be. They’d rather sit there and wait for a clueless tourist to take for a “ride”. 😉

    Pay that tuk tuk driver in SR twice the quoted price, which is surely much already higher than they would charge a local, and soon they will ignore the locals just looking for a ride somewhere, figuring they would rather wait for a rich tourist who will overpay them.

  70. @Seattle Eric

    We just came back from a trip to SR this past April and experienced none of the scams that have been mentioned regarding the pre-arrival visas (granted, we flew into Siem Reap from Bangkok). If you are flying, just get the pre-arrival visa online and make sure to bring the paperwork the email you. We took the photos with our iPhones and used an online tool to get them to be a passport sized photo. Once we landed at the airport, we were officially in the country within 10-15 minutes, while the line to get the visa on arrival seemed to be over an hour long. I think the comments about visa scamming are way overblown and essentially non existent at the airport, as we experienced none of it while in SR nor saw others being scammed (compared to a ton of it in BKK and USM).

    Also highly recommend the Privilege Floor @ Borei Angkor. Definitely not the cheapest place but we got a package deal with free breakfast, dinners, and messages, free A/C car to and from temples with a guide. When it is 110 degrees out and humid the car was a must, and our guide was fantastic. It was on par in price with the Park Hyatt.

    Finally – I would not recommend riding the elephants in and around Angkor. When we were there one group had worked the elephants so hard in the heat that a poor young elephant keeled over and had a heart attack. They don’t treat them well, and responsible tourists should not continue to support such cruelty.

  71. LOL. Such nonsense. 100% tipping screws up the local economy, except maybe in the US where over-tipped service industry workers can appreciate it, unlike those savages in far away places with strange-sounding names? It also sounds to me like someone who believes that “austerity” and “belt tightening” are the solutions to jump-starting a depressed economy. Au contraire, the person who is given that “huge” tip of $5, which you deplore, in a place like SR will spend it immediately in the local community [no checking or savings account], thus spreading some of that “wealth” in a manner that can positively affect real live, flesh and blood human beings who toil for very little. One person’s spend is another person;s income!

    T.I.P. stands for Thanks In Payment and it is always DISCRETIONARY, meaning that each person is free to compensation according to how much they appreciate the service rendered, and “guilt” [read: commiseration] for having so much when others toil for so little is a valid consideration in deciding how much to tip. If in the process, one can help people in a poor country who struggle to afford basic necessities (e.g., a soap bar so that they can be poor but clean and healthy) that you and I take for granted, what’s the harm in that?

    G’day.

  72. I agree with @David. Three times in SR and I have not been scammed for anything, except when I was leaving after my first trip when a passport control guy asked me for a tip. Now, that’s illegal and could be considered coercion for someone in his position, so I told him that if he asked again I would report him. He stamped my passport and I went through.

    I always get an eVisa online, ever since I ran into a long line at SGN trying to get a Visa On Arrival. Getting an eVisa for Cambodia is painless but one must apply very close to arrival date (within 3 week of arrival)…I would already be on the road when I will apply this time.

  73. Great review of a place close to my heart! The friendliness of the people is what brought me back to volunteer and stay on with a great US registered non-profit called EGBOK, egbokmission.org. We are supporting underprivileged young adults out of poverty by providing them hospitality training and jobs. Siem Reap has many organizations with socially responsible business models ensuring that the local communities benefit from the tourist dollars. Something to keep in mind when travelling here where lots more work needs to be done to help recover from a sad past. In about 2 weeks EGBOK will be opening its training cafe called Spoons – come check us out and make a difference a-meal-at-a-time.

  74. We visited a friend who has a compound there so no idea with the cost of hotel. We typically stay at Four Seasons, Aman, etc. Amansara looked quite nice and had we not had a local friend here, that’s where we would have stayed. Had dinner at Raphaels hotel next door. Fabulous food. I get both are insanely expensive for SR standard but we like our service and have everything planned out for us. Our friend had hired a tuktuk/ air conditioned van for us so no idea of the cost. We also flew in via Dragon Airline from HK with Cambodian visa in our passports. We didn’t encounter anyone asking for a bribe at the airport. Angkor Wat was huge and beautiful. But to me, is overly restored. I prefer other less restored temples. Quite a few temples were built before AW and one should see those first before AW to get a sense of architectural progression. Our friend arranged to have a professor came in from PP to teach us about the history about Cambodia and show us what we needed to know about the temples that he had studied for decades. We were surprised at the huge amount of influence Indian culture had on Cambodians and that what I typically associate Thai style originated from Cambodia! Go to Neak Piem temple. The lake it is in was actually artificially flooded by the government. It had dried up centuries ago and became farm land. Cambodian government decided to return it to the ancient time so they flooded the rice field. The path to the temple (which sits in the middle of this lake ) is long but the walk is enjoyable. The lake is basically an instagramer’s paradise. We hope to be back to SR someday…. too many countries to visit in the world and so little time (#firstworldproblems).

  75. Thanks for posting about Angor Wat – it’s a refreshing addition to the airline/hotel reviews – and it is one of my favorite historic destinations worldwide.
    I have been to Siem Reap multiple times over the last 15 years and the comments on scams are completely overblown. Yes, some people will try to take advantage of inexperienced travelers, but it’s not the rule and easy to avoid:
    – bring photos and forms for your visa, get it at the airport, know the fee you have to pay – I’v not once had an issue at the airport.
    – ask your hotel to arrange pick-up at the airport – it’s usually free at nicer hotels or less than $10
    – any tuktuk ride around town should be $2-3 – confirm the price up front and just smile and name the correct price when somebody asks for more.
    – get a good driver to take you around – it’s inexpensive and many know how to avoid the crowds by going to back entrances or at less popular times!
    – there are plenty of good independent hotels that are better value than the international chains. If you want to stay on points, the Le Meridien is a little older but usually great value on points! (review here: http://dreamtravelonpoints.com/2015/03/le-meridien-angkor-great-base-to-explore-the-temples-of-angkor/)
    – the outlying temples are worth a visit, offer unique experiences (like the carvings in the river bed at Kbal Spean) and have much fewer visitors!

  76. SAH Angkor Travel and Tours is an Angkor tours, Angkor Wat tours, Siem Reap tours, Phnom Penh tours and tours in other province provider based in Siem Reap Cambodia. The visitors who wish to travel to Cambodia with us will get the most prominent and cutting edge Cambodia tour, Cambodia tour package, professional driver, licensed tour guide, accommodation and luxury transport, car and minivan service during your visit in Cambodia. The most interesting destinations are Siem Reap, Phnom Penh, Battambang, Preah Vihear and other provinces. Cambodia and Siem Reap travel is the most common subject that matter the most to travellers who wish to travel in Siem Reap and Cambodia.

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