I’ve met so many traveler’s in Laos and Thailand who are going to Siem Reap, Cambodia for a few days. I feel overwhelmed when they ask me for recommendations of what to do or where to eat because after spending 8 months in the country, there is much to experience beyond temples and food.
But to save you some hassle and research, here are my recommendations to enjoy the lovely town of Siem Reap, including non-tourist activities short-term visitors would likely not know about. This will be an evolving post, so if you have any must-see suggestions to add to this, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. All of the costs are in US dollars.
You can click on your section of choice:
- Day activities
- Night activities
- Eating and drinking for good causes
- Eating on a budget
- Recommended restaurants for food between $2.50 to $8.00
- Recommended food between $5.00 to $25.00
Budget ($10.00 or under per night)
I don’t know anyone who has stayed at the following budget guesthouses but they’ve gotten some decent reviews on TripAdvisor.
Mid-range ($13.00 to $40.00 per night)
I highly recommend Golden Temple Villa or their other guesthouse Golden Butterfly. Both buildings are within the same block of each other if you have budget for about $13.00 to $25.00 per night. My friend and I lived at Golden Temple Villa for a week and we ended becoming great friends with the staff. The service is fantastic, people are so friendly and you get the following services for free:
- Bicycles: You can easily get around the centre of Siem Reap on a bike and this will save you tuk tuk money (tuk tuks are small motor taxis)
- 30-minute Khmer massage
- Tea, coffee, bananas and wifi
- Picnic basket to take with you on your day trip to Angkor Wat (only at Golden Butterfly, not Golden Temple Villa)
While it may seem lame to eat at the restaurant of your guesthouse, I have to say, the food is amazing! For the price of $2.25 or just a bit more per dish, you get good quality, Khmer food with good flavor. I’d save a dinner meal to try your guesthouse dinner. You’ll definitely find me there on a regular basis.
Four and five star hotels ($40+)
I have not stayed at these hotels but you can find amazing deals at agoda.com. My friend’s mom stayed at a four-star hotel for $40.00 a night when she booked through Agoda and the regular rate is $120.00.
Bicycles is the second cheapest and easiest way of getting around the small city of Siem Reap next to walking. You can find shops and rent bicycles for as low as $1.00 a day. Some guesthouses may provide you with a free bicycle.
If you want to get out of the city, you can hire a tuk tuk off the streets. To get within the kilometer or two costs $1.50 to $2.00. Of course if they know you’re a tourist, they’ll try to charge you more at first, but you can do a friendly barter to a lower price. Rides from the Siem Reap airport to the center of town is $5.00.
To save you some hassle though, you can use one of these two tuk tuk drivers who are also my friends. I used them because they always drove for a good price and very punctual, including days that needed a 5 a.m. call. You can ask the guesthouse to make a call to one of these drivers. I’ve also met with them to tell them I am sending people their way and they can charge a fair price.
- Tin Tin’s contact: 017865255 (Cambodian phone number), email@example.com
- Somroeun’s phone number: 0977528869 (Cambodian phone number), firstname.lastname@example.org
Of course, if you are happy with the service and have the ability to tip at the end, I would encourage it even it’s not a tipping culture. Please tell them Melissa from Canada says hello when you see them, I’d appreciate that.
Free Sombai tasting
If you have at least an hour and a half to spare in your day, take the time to treat yourself to a free tasting of Sombai, a rice wine that is produced in Siem Reap. This product integrates local spices, fresh fruits and the talents of Cambodian artists who hand-paint the bottles.
Sombai was developed by a woman named Joelle from my native country, Mauritius, and her husband. They took time to fine-tune the ingredients and the packaging and successfully grew the business. Have a drink and enjoy a conversation with this wonderful couple.
Took book a tasting session, call +855 (0) 95 810 890. You can have them talk to your tuk tuk driver to give you directions for the tasting at their welcoming home just a ten-minute drive outside the city centre.
Get your Cambodian wedding photos done
If you have a few hours to spare to get your hair and make up done (girls specifically), have fun doing the Cambodian wedding photo shoot. Most of the expats who live in Siem Reap do it, but you can get them done at many studios. Most of the costumes are $15.00 per person and $25.00 if you choose to be an Apsara.
Warning: If you are a guy and doing this shoot, know they charge $5.00 every time you change the jacket.
Get your Cambodian hair wash
Most tourists would never know about the relaxing and refreshing Cambodian hair wash while they’re in Siem Reap. After a day at the temples, bike ride or if you simply want an affordable treat for yourself, you can get a wash, head massage and blow dry that lasts 30 minutes. You can bargain for $2, or more if you have a good experience.
I always go to the salon that is on the same small road as Golden Temple Villa. If you’re coming down Sivatha Road towards the roundabout, turn right where the sign says “Golden Temple Villa.” You will see two salons almost side by side on your left side, go to the second salon with the nail polish on display inside the store. You’ll know not to go to the first one anyway because they will try and charge you $5 and no bargain room.
Baray in the Angkor Wat area (best in dry season between December to May)
Many local people hangout by the Baray and you can buy drinks, BBQ, fruits and other merchandise in the area. It will of course be a bit more expensive so you can stock up and buy snacks in town and bring it with you. It costs about $1 US dollar for one spot with three hammocks. It’s a great place to see sunset as well.
King Oudayavarman II built this human-made reservoir one to keep water in rainy season and dry season for the farmers and people who llive nearby.
You can share the cost of a tuk tuk to get there or you can rent a bicycle, go straight down National Road 6 (the way towards Thailand) and cycle 14 km to get there. You will make a right turn at a blue sign and go all the way down until you reach the Baray. If you’re not sure of the way, you can ask people along the way and just say, “Baray?”
If you can spare at least two hours in your day, I highly recommend visiting the Landmine Museum where you can learn about Cambodia’s inspiring founder Aki Ra and the organization’s work. He is a former child soldier who spent almost 20 years in war. After the war, he has dedicated his life to clearing as many landmines, unexploded bombs and artillery rounds as he could find. He started working alone and diassembled landmines with his own hands and homemade tools, up to an incredible 300 landmines a day.
He was named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes in 2010. Not only has he accomplished a lot, but he is an extremely modest man. I read an article about him in the museum and when the interviewer asked him what he will do once Cambodia is free of landmines, he said, “I will farm.”
Temple Club cooking class on Pub Street
As much as I try to avoid very touristy spots while I’m staying longer at a place, the Temple Club cooking class was well worth $10.00 when my friend and I went. Over the course of three hours, we walked through the old market, made spring rolls, several curries, soup, sauces and dessert, which was a lot of food! And we got to take the rest home. You can also sign up for the class through Golden Temple Villa or Golden Butterfly in addition to making a reservation at the restaurant.
Free tour of the Silk Farm
You can take a free shuttle bus daily from Artisans D’Angkor that leaves at 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. You can go there (on the same small road as Golden Temple Villa) and sign up for a bus ride. The ride is about 7 km away, the tour lasts for about 30 minutes then you can spend some time looking at all of he products made from the traditional methods of weaving. Getting there and back will be about 2 to 2.5 hours.
This nightly show is definitely a must-see performance. By going, you’re supporting this generation of artists, all of whom have come from disadvantaged backgrounds, including orphans and former street children. You can pick up tickets at the venue for $15.00 before the show starts at 7:30 p.m. every day.
Road 60: the local hangout
If you want to get away from the usual tourists spots, you can take a 15-minute tuk tuk ride to get to a popular Cambodian hangout called Road 60. Two big strips of the road are reserved for street vendors, carnival games, rides and BBQ. I love coming here with my Cambodian friends because not many tourists hang out there and it is a place where local people hang out with their friends and family. Road 60 is open from around 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night. Click here for more pictures.
Free ladyboy show at the night market
On Monday to Friday, between 8:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. the beautiful ladyboys put on a funny show at the Night Market with the rooftop on Sivatha road. It’s the only market with a rooftop on that road. Walk to the end of the market where the stage is and you can get a massage while you enjoy the show.
If you eat dinner at Golden Temple Club, price ranges from $2.50 to $7.00 per dish, you can see a free traditional Apsara dance show that runs from 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Rosana ladyboy show
This is the biggest ladyboy production in the city and a good show with costumes, lip-synching and beautiful ladyboys. The price for this show depends where you get the ticket, it can range from $12.00 to $30.00 depending on the agency or contact.
Clubs and Drinks
You can get in for free at the clubs Hip Hop (just over the bridge on the river) and Temple Club. If you want drinks and shots for $1.00, ask around for a place called Angkor Famous around the Pub Street area.
If you want to eat and drink while helping support valuable social programs, there are a range of options!
- Green Star restaurant serves mostly Khmer food and was set up to support the Green Gecko Project which works with street children in Siem Reap. The project provides an education, skills, security, and health initiatives for former street children and their families.
- Joe to Go is one of two businesses run by the NGO The Global Child that works with street children in Cambodia to give them and education and life skills.
- Sala Bai is a hospitality training school for disadvantaged children from the villages around Siem Reap. They train about 100 students a year on hospitality skills including skills like waiting tables, cooking and housekeeping, Sala Baï has a proud record of finding work for every single one of its 700 graduates.
- Soria Moria Boutique Hotel won a Condé Nast Traveler award for excellence in social and environmental responsibility. For deals at their restaurant, check on their $3.00 buffet breakfasts in the morning, their $1.00 tapas and drinks on Wednesdays, and 50% off their menu every Thursday. If you’re planning to go on Wednesday, though, call to book a reservation because it gets busy quickly. One of many impressive aspects of Soria Moria is all of their employees come from disadvantaged backgrounds and own 51% of the hotel. 14 of their staff have graduated from college thanks to their scholarship program. Check out more articles from Soria Moria.
- The Haven is a training restaurant for vulnerable young adults from orphanages and safe shelters, as well as underprivileged young adults from very rural poor areas. The food is delicious and the restaurant has a very homey feel to it.
My Cambodian friends opened up this fantastic restaurant that serves a variety of Cambodian and Western dishes as well as great cocktails. Brown Rice is a five-minute bicycle ride from the centre of town. You can tell the tuk tuk driver it is 200 metres after Pannasasra University of Cambodia (or just say PUC) if you are driving from Wat Bo road and it will be on the right side of the road. If the driver still has trouble, he can call one of the restaurants’ numbers for directions: 017886422, 0979064300, 092669645, 017370132. Click here to see the map.
Phai San BBQ
You can find small Khmer restaurants around the city that have great portions and prices. If you’re close to the centre of town, you can find about 10 of these restaurants side by side by the roundabout of Sivatha road on the same street as Golden Temple Villa.
I keep going back to my friends at Phai San BBQ, the second restaurant on your right if you are walking from Golden Temple Villa to Sivatha road. While I can’t comment on the food of the other places so much, Phai San makes fantastic fruit shakes for $1.00 and mix and match your fruits!
I love going to this café to relax with friends, use wifi and their delicious range of food from panninis, shakes and pizza. My friend Davann is Cambodian and he studied culinary school in France for a few years and returned to Cambodia to open this successful café. He makes fresh pastries for hotels as well with his well-trained bakers.
This restaurant was started by a Cambodian man who began as a dishwasher. He got a scholarship to study in Switzerland and opened this restaurant with high quality food. I haven’t yet tried the desserts but I hear fantastic things about them.
This has one of the best flavours of all the restaurants I’ve tried in Siem Reap. We tried the lasagna, steak, lobster and it was all good all the time.
The food at this restaurant has great flavour.