Siem Reap is one of the world’s most astonishing cities, without a doubt. With so much to offer, from 900-year-old temples (the most unbelievable one being Angkor Wat, an ancient wonder of the world) to the local markets and rickety tuk-tuks, Siem Reap is a place I’d definitely recommend to visit. The city overflows with history, tasty food, and much more. But seeing temples aren’t the only thing that will fill your trip. We also explored a remote fishing village as well as a crazy circus!
After staying in Siem Reap for three days, all of us kids were a little tired of walking around the temples in the blazing sun; we were desperate to get to the beautiful Cambodian beaches. I think 3 days of sightseeing is enough- it was for us. This blog post will cover what temples to visit, what activities to do, where to stay, what restaurants to eat at, and extra tips for getting around the city. Enjoy!
Three Days In Siem Reap
Where to stay.
Siem Reap is certainly not the biggest city, but your location is definitely key when traveling there. Our family and friends stayed at Viroth’s Hotel, a beautiful, boutique hotel that was centrally located in Siem Reap. On top of it being one of the coolest places I’ve stayed, it was voted the #1 hotel in the world on Trip Advisor. They set the bar high when they picked us up from the airport in an old Rolls Royce!
Sights and activities.
Angkor Wat, the world’s biggest temple, is a place many dream of visiting in their lifetime. The temple itself takes up a total of 1,626,000 m² and consists of many ancient ruins to explore and wander around. Though the main parts of Angkor Wat were filled with many tourists, we found it very easy to get away from the crowd and find an entire secluded part for ourselves. I recommend getting to the temple for sunrise. Standing on the edge of the lake while watching the sun illuminate the sky with varying shades of pink was one of the most magical moments of my whole life. In total, we spent about 3-4 hours at Angkor Wat exploring the beautiful stone architecture, looking over the temple through multiple watchtowers, getting blessed by Buddhist monks, and learning about the complex history and how they built the temple. After visiting it, I truly understand why people come from all over the globe just to visit Angkor Wat.
Ta Prohm. The famous abandoned temple, looks like it is getting swallowed by its natural surroundings. Wherever you look, huge tree roots are growing over the moss-covered roofs, walls, and ground. It may be one of the smaller temples in Siem Reap, but it’s definitely the most mysterious and fascinating one. Tiny hallways lead to hidden courtyards, where you can find yourself gazing at collapsed walls and piles of ancient stones. There are a few photo spots that are flooded by tourists, to the point where you can’t even move it’s so crowded, so I’d recommend finding your own path away from the rush or going when it first opens in the morning. Ta Prohm was without a doubt, a highlight of our trip to Cambodia.
Unlike the previous temples, the Bayon Temple seemed well-kept, as practically no parts of it are crumbling and breaking down. No trees or moss were taking over the walls and there was no scenic lake to watch the sunrise over, but there were incredible amounts of secret rooms to explore, many secluded courtyards to stumble upon, and a huge staircase of really steep steps that lead to a tall lookout. Everywhere you looked, you could find ancient carvings of soldiers and elephants in the stone walls. Compared to Ta Prohm and Angkor Wat, not as many visitors fill every square inch of space. I would easily recommend exploring the Bayon Temple and learning about the history of it.
Scattered in between the major temples are smaller monasteries that usually aren’t filled with many people. Our guide, who we got from our hotel, led us down a trail that took us to multiple monasteries, and we spent about 20 minutes at each, exploring and climbing to the top of them. We enjoyed wandering around without a plan and slightly off the beaten path; that’s definitely the best way to get the most of your adventure in Siem Reap.
Kampong Phluk Village
Like I stated earlier, a visit to Siem Reap shouldn’t just be filled with seeing temples. For us, we spent our last afternoon in the city exploring a remote floating fishing village by the name of Kampong Phluk. We arrived in the middle of nowhere on the edge of a river after an hour drive, only to get on a speed boat that led us closer to the village. We rode past many floating shacks held up over the water by pieces of wood, young boys helping their fathers fish, kids jumping in and playing in the murky water. Eventually, we were hustled onto a smaller boat where a lady rowed us through the jungle to look for monkeys. I was so scared because everywhere around us were snakes, monkeys, and even crocodiles. By the time that ended, I was sweating like crazy!
Visiting the village was one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced. We got the chance to hand out pencils to kids who were ecstatic to see us, we got to say hi to fathers and mothers working hard on the water, we could peer into a few houses to see what living in a floating village in the middle of Cambodia was like, and overall, we got to see a very different way of life.
The Phare Circus is a program that finds kids in poverty or other bad situations and helps them by providing them with new skills. The organization teaches them about the circus and how to do all sorts of flips, tricks, theater, and dancing. We got to watch them perform and it was incredible. It was an hour of straight excitement; seeing these kids, now grown ups, put on a show full of fire, strength, flips, and teamwork. The Phare Circus program is a really great thing to support, so I would recommend going to one of their shows for sure.
Where to eat.
Cuisine Wat Damnak
I have to admit, out of every restaurant I’ve eaten at when traveling around the world, Cuisine Wat Damnak was one of the most memorable and tasty. The restaurant is in a beautiful, old wooden house and has a very refined, yet relaxed atmosphere. I was able to meet the French chef, who was super talented and very cool. I got the fixed course meal which was filled with the most amazing scallop amuse bouche, crispy duck, spicy eel, pork cheek with rice cake, all followed by a chocolate ganache. Words can’t explain how good those French- Cambodian dishes tasted in my mouth. I would honestly do anything to have one more meal at Cuisine Wat Damnak.
Like many restaurants in Siem Reap, Embassy served a pretty good course meal. Mine included fried rice, steak, and macarons for dessert. Compared to Cuisine Wat Damnak, it wasn’t quite as flavorful, but I would still recommend it for sure.
Vibe is a totally vegan spot not far from Viroth’s Hotel. I found that their Buddha Bowls were the best items on the menu, but my friends got the smoothie bowl and enjoyed them as well. Vibe is a sweet place to have a quick breakfast or lunch, especially before a day of exploring the temples!
Aside from the times we ate out at restaurants, we found ourselves eating really good food at our hotel. I loved their breakfast with fresh croissants and the poolside lunch menu was great too. I highly recommend the local style noodles and when it came to drinks, my friend and I couldn’t get enough of the Mandarin orange juice they gave us as a welcome drink!
Get a temple guide
For our family, it was really helpful to learn about Cambodian history through our guide, Ponleak. Our hotel arranged for him to take us around the temples and to the floating village. Having a local pointing out things along the drive was insightful too.
The Cambodian language may not be the easiest language to speak, but locals always love when you try to learn. Some simple words include “saum arkoun” which means thank you, and “suostei” which means hello. I hope this helps!