November 27, 2014

Siem Reap: Cambodian Silk, Angkor Wat and Great Thai Food?

Chances are, if youíre heading to Siem Reap, Cambodia, youíre going to see Angkor Wat. The subject of numerous documentaries and travel articles, this ancient and massive set of Khmer ruins is on the bucket list for many travelers. These helpful tips will help you experience Angkor Wat, and Siem Reap, as seamlessly as possible.

Book a driver.

Seriously, just hire a driver. For every day youíll be visiting the Angkor temples. Iím all for riding bikes to tour quaint, quiet towns in moderate climates. But thatís not what youíll find in Siem Reap. Itís . . . how shall I put it? Hotter than the hubs of hell. Donít get me wrong. We had a great time there. But cool and comfortable it wasnít. Besides, youíll want to save your energy for climbing up and down the various temples and planning the best angle from which to snap your Cambodia souvenir travel photos. Having a driver waiting with an open and covered place to ride will let you enjoy the breeze and plan the highlights you want to see at the next temple rather than worry about how to get there.

Stay at a place with a pool.

Youíll be eternally glad you did, particularly if you are traveling there with children. We found the most comfortable (and I use that term lightly) time to explore the Angkor Wat ruins each day was as early as possible in the morning. Weíd get up, enjoy a VERY early breakfast at the hotel buffet and head out before seven oíclock each day. By noon, we were usually toast. So knowing we could head back for an afternoon cocktail and a dip in the pool was our salvation. You donít have to dish out for the Ritz if you donít want to. We had our driver ask around at different places for their most affordable rooms, and one of the hotels had one with a lousy view that they usually saved for the out-of-town manager when he came to check in.

Fine with us! We got our view at the temples every day, and spent most of the afternoon by the pool. So a view wasnít high on our priority list. Certainly, there are times when it has been, like when we stayed in Ayampe, Ecuador. But for the purposes of staying in Siem Reap, it wasnít. So we jumped on the deal and were happy with our decision.

Have dinner at the Dead Fish Tower.

Say what? Thatís right. The restaurant is actually called the Dead Fish Tower. Donít let the name fool you however, itís some of the best Thai food youíll ever have and the atmosphere is part open-air loft and part beach restaurant. The prices are affordable, and the location is out of the hustle and bustle a bit, making it a great place to get away from honking motorcycles. Sure, you should try Khmer food while youíre in Cambodia too, but how can you pass up being able to say you ate at a place with a name like this?

Purchase the extended visitorís pass.

Some people come for one day, see the main Angkor Wat temple and squeeze in stops at a couple of others before flying back out. This is a shame. You could easily spend two weeks here, so picking up the ten-day ticket isnít exactly overdoing it, tourist wise. If you are on a mission for the ultimate travel photos, this is particularly important. After youíve seen the sites for a couple of days, youíll start to notice which temples are your favorites and which times of day have better light. This is also another good reason to hire a local driver. They know where to go, can find you a great deal on a hotel room and provide a level of convenience you wonít get with any rented bicycle.

Consider coming up from Battambang.

Taking the river boat ride up and crossing through Tonle Sap Lake is a phenomenal cultural experience, and makes arriving at Siem Reap seem even more adventurous. When you step off the boat, there will be numerous drivers there trying to pick up a fare, so getting a ride into town will certainly not be a problem. In all likelihood, youíll even be able to find a couple of other travelers to share a ride with. This of course saves more money for beer, a true priority for any backpacker.

Save some time for souvenir shopping.

Youíll find a decent selection of Cambodian silk and temple rubbings at the shops along the main tourist area of Siem Reap. After getting your late-afternoon foot massage at one of the countless places in this part of town to do so, step across the street and peruse the fabrics, artwork and other items. Youíll have to consciously avoid the bric-a-brac, but there are decent souvenir items to be found here, including some attractive beads to craft other items from.

Visiting Siem Reap and the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat is for many a once in a lifetime experience. Being armed with a few helpful tips will help you make the most of your time in this part of Cambodia.

Photo Credits: These pictures of Angkor Wat and others are available for use by online publications through a creative commons use agreement with our sister site, Pictures of Travel Places. Images were photographed by the Trek Hound team.