This post on Siem Reap one-day itinerary is part of a series: Backpacking Indochina: A Guide for Filipinos – Crossing Borders, Tips, and Itinerary.
The circumstances we underwent upon entering the Kingdom of Cambodia was overwhelming because of a lot of offered free stuff. Ironic, yes. There were free tuk-tuk rides, free bus rides, free local sim card with unlimited data plus there were aggressive tuk-tuk drivers and ridiculously low exchange rates it felt like we were being robbed. Being a tourist and looking like you don’t know exactly what to do on the road makes you a clear target for scams. But out of all the 4 countries we visited, it is Cambodia that I would gladly come back to. There goes a paragraph laden with irony.
I will no longer recount the not so good experiences in detail. Because setting all the negatives aside, I can still say that I fell in love with Siem Reap and I’d rather we focus on that. But if you plan to go on your own Indochina backpacking trip or visiting Siem Reap alone I suggest you read our Indochina guide on crossing borders and some other tips to help you plan your journey.
SIEM REAP ONE-DAY ITINERARY
We arrived in Siem Reap on a late afternoon and only had one full day for the Angkor tour. The trip from Laos and Bangkok from the day before was exhausting that we chose to sleep in earlier than experience the nightlife in Angkor.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but it sure happened too fast.
Siem Reap only needed one day to show-off, no, scratch that, there was no need to show-off because it knows the spectators will look on, slowly uncover its beauty then quickly fall in. Life is unfair.
We met Mr. Chanty, the willing and excitable cupid that was waiting outside our hostel. He was the only tuk-tuk driver that gave us a considerable discount for a whole day tour of Angkor Wat. We booked the tour with him and the package included 2 dozens of bottled water and a side-trip at his recommended food place for our lunch. We got the package for USD3 per person. Other tuk-tuk drivers quoted us USD7 – USD12 per person without free bottled waters.
You can opt for a DIY walking tour or rent a bicycle for USD1 a day but if it is your first time to visit this city and if you only have 1 day, I suggest you go for the tuk-tuk option or a private tour from an authorized travel agency. The Angkor Wat complex is huge and the monuments are far from each other. It also gets too hot in the afternoon.
Contact our tuk-tuk driver, Mr. Chanty via Wechat +85517297990.
Admission to Angkor Wat
Buy your Angkor Pass at the Angkor Conservation Area ticket booth located in Charles de Gaulle Road. The tickets sold here are valid for all the temples and monuments in Siem Reap except for Beng Mealea and Phnom Kulen. These two are located too far from the main temples and the rates are higher.
TIP: Be sure to keep your tickets with you and make sure these are valid. Tickets are checked in most of the major temples.
Effective February 2017 the rates are as follows:
1 day – USD37
3 days (valid for 10 ten days from issue date) – USD62
7 days (valid for 1 month from issue date) – USD72
There are no admission fees for children under 12 years.
You have to buy personally because your photo will be taken.
Bask in the splendor of Angkor Wat
Entering the complex looked and felt like we were going in an entirely different country. Though the soil of Siem Reap is the same reddish hue everywhere, the vegetation in Angkor Archeological Park was noticeably lush. It plays in perfect contrast with the reds and browns that are abundant in Siem Reap.
The stone structures are massive, sculptures of gods and demons line the gate’s entrances, bas-reliefs are so intricate that it’s easy to get lost by just looking at them, and faces, you will see lots of it carved on stones it will give you an eerie feeling that you’re being watched anywhere you go.
To give you an idea and a bit of history, the Angkor complex occupies some 400 square kilometers of preserved monuments built between the 9th and 12th century A.D. The city is moated or surrounded by bodies of water to fend off attacks from the enemies. Aside from moats, the main monuments are surrounded by towers on each corner to add security to the walled city.
The many faces of Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom is another walled city with five impressive gates with giant faces. Transliterated, Angkor Thom means large city or great city that’s why it was made the new capital of the Khmer Kingdom after the destruction of its old capital, Yasodharapura.
Up to this day there are still discussions regarding the identity of the person whose face is carved in the temples but most believe it is the face of King Jayavarman VII and the carvings represent a sense of his omnipresence within the city.
Within Angkor Thom you can visit Bayon, The Royal Palace, Royal Terraces and other smaller temples. We were only able to visit the three because it was getting late in the afternoon. Most of the temples in the Angkor Complex close at 6 PM but they open as early as 5 AM for guests that want to visit and capture the sunrise.
There is another way of touring the temples that is in itself is an entirely different experience. You can ride an elephant during the day that will take you between the two points of Bayon and the South Gate of Angkor Thom. A 20-30 minute ride costs USD10-USD15. There are also sunset rides from Phnom Bakheng that will cost you USD25-USD30.
We did not however, tried riding an elephant because we thought that the act was too cruel. These animals undergo much strain during their training and are treated with cruelty in their “sanctuaries.” We mentioned about the practice on our Facebook page.
Angkor Night Market and Pub Street
We were lucky to find a hostel that was very near Angkor Night Market and Pub street. We had dinner at one of the food stalls in the market and did a quick souvenir shopping afterward.
The market stalls sell items that showcase the Cambodian culture in many ways. You will find paintings, sculptures, handwoven cloth made by local artists, there are plushies or cloth stuffed with cotton that form the shapes of an owl and elephants, small items like purses, key chain, magnets that are best as “pasalubong.”
Unlike other night markets that we’ve been to on this whole trip, Siem Reap’s managed to keep a Cambodian atmosphere feel to it and that makes this market very unique. It didn’t come across as a melting pot of different countries for everything retail. Of course, there are shops that sell bags from Vietnam, shirts from China and Bangkok but the organizers seemed to have intentionally dedicated a strip for local artisans to showcase their work.
Prices are relatively cheap for the souvenirs and haggling is okay. Purses, elephant plushies, small bags and keychains are items that you can bargain for. Paintings are a bit expensive though. You can buy shirts at USD1 or Php50 apiece. What a steal!
If you are in for a night of beer drinking and dancing then Pub street is the place for you. It is very near Angkor Night Market too and it’s impossible to miss it because of the heart-thumping sounds from this street.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP?
We stayed overnight at Sok San Hostel in Sok San Road, Steung Thmey Village that was very near the Angkor Night Market. We occupied a mixed dorm room at the top floor and each bed costs only Php180 per night!
For the entire trip that lasted 9 days and to over 4 different countries we only spent around Php2,000 on accommodation. For details check out our travel guide: Backpacking Indochina: A Guide for Filipinos – Crossing Borders, Tips, and Itinerary.
Sok San Hostel is a very basic hostel with the most basic amenities. Our dorm room was fully-air conditioned, have several bunk beds, power sockets on each bed, and separate mini lockers for our valuables. These lockers do not come with lock and key though, so you have to bring your own. Wi-fi connection is also available on the top floor.
The booking rate, however, does not include a complimentary breakfast but there are a lot of restaurants nearby and even the Angkor Night Market street has food stalls that serve food all day.
The hostel is also near the Angkor Wat complex and Siem Reap airport. All these contributed as factors that convinced us to book with them.
OTHER TRAVEL TIPS
1 | Bring your own padlock and key
There are small lockers available in most hostels but they don’t come with its own lock and key. Bring your own to secure your valuables like passport, wallets and other documents.
2 | Stay Connected
In our entire Indochina backpacking trip, we found out that some cities and hostels still do not have dependable internet connection like in Vientiane, Laos and some places in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We had a hard time communicating with our families back at home to let them know where we are.
It was too late when we found out that we can rent a pocket Wifi in each of the countries we went to. If you plan to go, check out your pocket Wifi options at Klook. They have quite a number of choices and you can even pick up the device at the airport.
3 | Bring USD or withdraw at local ATMs
The US dollar is widely accepted in all establishments in Cambodia and they also accept Cambodian riel. I recommend that you exchange your peso at the airport or at the bank before your trip and exchange your USD to the local currency of the country you are visiting. Peso to local currency rates is just too low.
Another option you can consider is withdrawing money in local ATMs. There will be charges from your bank and your visiting country’s local bank but these are minimal (depends on which bank you are with). Make sure to inform you bank ahead so that they can activate your account for international transactions.
Learn more about money tips in our full guide to backpacking 4 countries in Asia.
4 | Join groups and ask our fellow travelers for tips
Ask and it will be given. But some people readily offer information and help to groups of the same interest. I swear I found a treasure trove of information that greatly helped us plan our trip from this Facebook group – DIY Travel Philippines! Members of this group often share their itineraries and experiences on the road.
5 | Check for discount passes that you can get online
I also found out about discount passes from a Facebook group. If you’re the uber-OC type but traveling on a budget, you can get help booking your tours at popular attractions, activities or shows ahead of your trip also from Klook. They have wide choices for day and night tours at discounted rates.
6 | Wear comfortable clothes and shoes
Bring light clothes that cover well. Remember that you are visiting a lot of temples if you are doing the Angkor wat tour and wearing shorts or sleeveless shirts are not allowed. Bring a cover-up just in case and choose your comfiest shoes for walking.
No matter how stressful it was coming in and out of Cambodia by land, I’m sure you’ll find your mouths hanging open when you see the monuments. Okay, that was an exaggeration. Angkor Wat is magnificent and beautiful with its massive monuments, impressive architecture even in its destruction brought by time. Siem Reap is very rich in culture and history, that one thing’s for sure. Do include it in your itinerary when you visit Cambodia. I promise you won’t regret it!
I hope you found our Siem Reap one-day itinerary helpful for your future travels. If you have more ideas or would like to share something relevant to this topic please leave them below in the comments section.
Thanks for stopping by!