Siem Reap, the capital city of Siem Reap province located in the northwest part of Cambodia, offers wonderful Khmer temples which date back from the 9th-15th century and only a few minutes away from the center. Around 400 kilometers away from Bangkok and 319 kilometers from Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, it draws millions of tourists every year admiring the country’s pride.
To help you plan your trip, here are some quick facts and budget friendly suggestions about sightseeing, transportation, hotel and food.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Angkor Archaeological Park covers 400 km2 and boasts wonderful temples from the Khmer Empire which includes Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Preah Khan, etc.
Ideally, a full three days and two nights stay in Siem Reap is enough for someone to visit all the temples around but if you have more time, I suggest you stay here longer to avoid temple fatigue and absorb local culture.
Entrance to Angkor Archaeological Park requires an admission pass worth $20 per day. If you plan to do a three day tour, I suggest you pay for three days at once. It will cost you $40, equivalent to a two day visit paid per day or if you have longer time, purchase $60 admission pass valid for seven consecutive days. This includes entrance to all temples.
Sad to say, Angkor Wat draws a lot of crowd especially during peak season. It is hard to take beautiful pictures so I suggest you visit very early (or not. There are also a lot of tourists during those times for sunrise watching). Operating hours start at 5 am and ceases at 6 pm.
Most temples are located in the northern part of the center, where you are probably staying if you are a backpacker. Roluos Group is somewhere southeast. It is best if you check temples’ location first. However, your tuktuk driver will help you plan it all out.
Be prepared for some climbing as some temples require strength and endurance to reach the top.
You may fly from Bangkok via Bangkok Airways or Cambodia Angkor Air.
If you are on a tight budget and have lots of time, cheapest way to get there is by train. Take the State Railway from Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok going to Aranyaprathet which costs 48 THB. Travel time is 6 hours. First trip leaves at 5:55 am and the next one is at 1:00 pm. If you take the 1:00 pm train, you might still catch the border gate open. It’s open from 7:00 am-8:00 pm. Take a tuktuk from Aranyaprathet to Poipet border for around 100 THB. You may share with other passengers to pull the cost down. Have your passport stamped out of Bangkok, process your visa, etc. Give an hour for the entire process. There’s an official free transit bus to Poipet Tourist Passenger International Terminal for 10 minutes for free. From there, you have four options: take a bus for $9, minivan for $9, shared taxi for $12 a seat or $48 for the whole car to Siem Reap. Travel time is 2 ½ hours.
You may also take a bus from either Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal (northern terminal) or Ekamai Bus Station (southeastern terminal). Cost is 200-250 depending on bus class. First class buses include snacks. Tell the driver to drop you at the border, not in the border market because you’ll end up taking a tuktuk from the market just like when you take the train. See the table below for bus schedules.
There’s also a direct bus from Mo Chit 2 Bus Terminal to Siem Reap. Daily schedules are 8:30 am and 9:30 am. It is operated by Transport Co. on the Thai side and Nattakan on the Cambodian side. Bus fare is 750 baht. You may purchase tickets at the ticket booth on the ground floor. The bus is big, comfortable and equipped with a toilet. Lunch is included. You don’t need to change buses at the border. Expect someone to collect 5 baht each person for police bribe (in our case). I’m not sure though if it’s for the checkpoint or the police at the border. You will be dropped off at Nattakan Bus Terminal in Siem Reap. They will take care of your tuktuk going to your hotel, free of charge.
Getting around Siem Reap
There are two options: Hire a tuktuk. They cost $25 per day with an additional $10 if you plan to go to farther temples, or more if you want to see the sunrise. They will pick you up at your desired time in your hotel. Second, rent a bicycle from $1-$5 per day depending on the type of bike you want. If you have someone to share expenses with you, I suggest you take a tuktuk. US dollar is widely accepted everywhere so there’s no need to exchange your money to Riel, Cambodia’s currency. However, you might get a few riels for your change
Concentration of bars and restaurants is in Pub Street, very close to Old Market. This is the place to hit at night for partygoers! Haggle at Old Market if you want to do some shopping.
The area near the Old Market is packed with cheap hotels, hostels and guesthouses. I went to Mandalay Inn and I was really impressed with the room and the price. I got a double bed with fan for $12 a night! Most hotels offer free pick up if you book with them. However, there are also high end hotels around. Most of them are near the airport.
Tourist spots are far from the city. That’s the advantage locals took to rip off tourists in terms of food. There are available restaurants just outside almost every temple in Siem Reap especially in Angkor. Average price is $5 for a meal and $2 for a drink. Standard price prevails so there’s no point in wasting time looking for the cheapest deal in town. However, you can use some skills to get special discounts. Food served in these kinds of places is (for me) average. Maybe that’s the reason why I didn’t like their food very much, or maybe it’s because of my always upset stomach. I still don’t know until now. You can get a more decent meal in the center for a lower price. So if you want to go cheap, pack something or buy food somewhere in the center before going. Also, bring lots of water. Everything they sell near temples is ridiculously high priced!
By the way, here are some photos taken during my trip.