Siem Reap is the most touristy city of Cambodia. In fact, it’s not hard to understand why, because the Angkor Temple Complex is something unique in the whole world. Many people come here from all over the world to see the temples, but I think that they deserve to be savoured and not rushed. If you’re planning to visit this amazing place, please allow yourself at least 3 full days.
Angkor Wat has 3 different price ranges depending on how much time you want to spend there. I bought the 3-day ticket for 40$ (as of November 2016, 1 day 20$ and 7 days 60$) and the ticket allowed me to go in/out whenever I wanted. The ticket is valid for 1 week and the days don’t have to be consecutive. I fully recommend you to spend more than 1 day there to fully enjoy everything that this gigantic complex of temples has to offer. Despite being far more impressed by the temples in Bagan - Myanmar, I still got blown away by some temples in here. It is a different experience.
Battambang was very disappointing so I came to Siem Reap after just 1 day. Baphuon Villa was the place I booked for the next 4 nights. The hotel is run by an expat living there and the staff is very friendly. If you get there by bus like me, one of the tuk-tuk drivers that works for the hotel will pick you up and will be designated your guide for the whole duration of your stay.
This is a very smart way to do business, because in a place cramped with tuk-tuk drivers and where it can be difficult to get clients, if you’re able to be part of a hotel it will be easier to get your costumers and they are more likely to trust you. They work on a fixed price rate for the day (~15$) and since it’s their reputation and their spot on the hotel that is on the line, they provide an OK service. They just don’t have the historic knowledge to assist you at each temple, they’re more like a taxi.
On my first day exploring the temples I arranged the tuk-tuk service for the entire day, but in retrospect I wouldn’t do it again. I felt that exploring this gigantic complex of temples by tuk-tuk, although faster and a lot less tiring, takes a bit of the excitement and adventure out of your trip. Your driver will first take you to the ticket booth where you’ll face a long line of people buying tickets like you and then he’ll take you to every site that you want to visit.
I felt that I was being part of a gigantic circus, a bit like those groups of tourists that only leave their buses to visit something, take some pictures, come back inside and repeat… This is something that I personally don’t enjoy and don’t recommend at all.
I did the big circuit on my first day by tuk-tuk. This circuit has none of the major attractions such as the mysterious Bayon or the impressive Angkor Wat, but has a plentiful of temples that should in no way be ignored. I decided to see these first, because I was afraid that if I saw the big ones, these lesser known temples would not make an impact on me.
The big circuit can be done in half a day if you go with a tuk-tuk. You’ll probably start by visiting Banteay Kdei followed by Pre Rup, East Mebon, Ta Som, Neak Pean and finally Preah Khan. All of them are worth a visit, but don’t expect be so impressed by them as you’ll be by the other big 2.
I spent around 5 hours to complete this so called big circuit and I was stuck for maybe half an hour in Preah Khan because it started to rain. It’s possible to combine this circuit with the smaller one in just 1 full day, but you really shouldn’t do this because you will be in a rush to fit them all until sunset. There are 2 considerable options; if you have the 1-day ticket just skip these temples, but if you bought the 3-day ticket you will be more than fine in spending 1 full day exploring this big circuit.
My second day was a very tiring one. I grabbed a bicycle in the morning and only returned to the hotel right before sunset. I think I must have cycled ~20km all day and visited Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Bayon (my absolute favourite), Angkor Thom and finally the magnificent Angkor Wat, along with other small ones since I was passing by them anyway.
This was when I confirmed what I thought the day before while exploring by tuk-tuk. Riding a bicycle is a lot more fun and rewarding while also giving you the freedom to just stop whenever you want and taking your time without worrying about someone waiting for you outside.
I was exhausted at the end of the day. I did not wait for the sunset because I didn’t want to come back at night. I was afraid of not having enough lights on the street to find my way back, something that I would find out to be the truth the next morning. However, be aware that you’ll have to cycle through heavy traffic, but the roads in good condition.
On my last day in Siem Reap I wanted to see the sunrise at the Angkor Wat temple, so I had to leave my bed and cycle there at ~5-6 in the morning, with minimal light and only my phone’s lantern to light me the way. If this is something that you also want to do, please be careful because it is a little bit dangerous and it’s easy to fall if you’re not cautious.
Finally, at the end of the sunrise, I could see with my own eyes that the number of tourists that Angkor Wat gets every day is really high. During the day, while you choose the temples you want to visit, you won’t see so many people around (except in Bayon and Angkor Wat that seem to be always crowded), because the masses gather at the big 2 mostly. Many people just visit the temples in 1 day.
The rest of the day was spent wandering around downtown, while also resting from these 2 tiring days. I bought my tickets in Asia Van Transfer office for the next day trip to Don Det (4000 Islands) in Lao. The service is not so good as the one I experienced between Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) and Phnom Penh (Cambodia), but was efficient. The ticket costs 25$ and you’ll have a pick up from your hotel, you’ll be briefed about the journey you’re about to go on and then you’ll have transportation assured until you reach Don Det / Don Khon.
The journey is, in fact, quite simple. You’ll leave Siem Reap in the morning, around 8am, you’ll stop for lunch at a pre-designated place affiliated with the company where you’ll meet the travelers doing the opposite journey, and then you’ll be taken to the border. There you’ll have to take care of your Visa On Arrival by yourself. You’ll have to pay the stamp fee both on Cambodia and Lao side of the border (1-2$ each). This is a clear rip off, everyone knows about it, even the guy from the Asian Van Transfer warned us about it, but he also said that the van would not wait for us if we wanted to brag this price. It’s up to you really. Just bear in mind that the fact that it is illegal won’t give you the upper hand from someone that is holding your passport in no man’s land.
Once you’ve been stamped, a guy will be waiting for you on the other side of the border to take you to Nakasong pier, where a boat will take you to your destination island. By now it should be already sunset/dark. The only problem (and this was a big one) that I had on this journey was a tourist old man that was coming in the van with us, passing out due to the aggressive driving and the scorching sun on all of us on a van without air conditioning. He asked the driver to stop in the middle of nowhere to get some fresh air and then collapsed. He eventually recovered from it, but it was a real scare…
How to get there and away
- From Battambang to Siem Reap it's only a ~3.5 hours bus journey.
- From Siem Reap to 4000 Islands I used the Asia Van Transfer (AVT), and for 25$ I had everything arranged from Siem Reap to Don Khon. Expect 1 full day on the road.
What to do/see
- Explore ALL the temples that Angkor Wat has to offer! My favourite was the mysterious Bayon!
Where to sleep
- Baphuon Villa, 12$ double bed per night. The young staff is very nice and you've trustable tuk-tuk drivers working for them, as well as bicycles to rent.