7 reasons Siem Reap is Surprisingly Charming

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After arriving on a ten-hour bus journey from Bangkok which included a scam-ridden border crossing, pothole-riddled country roads and okay fine, the hangover from hell, the last thing I expected when I opened my bleary eyes was to find a charming Cambodian city. From what I had heard from other bloggers as well as travel guides, I assumed that Siem Reap was just a shabby city used as a jumping off point for Cambodia’s number-one tourist attraction, Angkor Wat.

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It’s a shame that Siem Reap has such an unfavorable reputation because it is actually quite a lovely city. Here are some of the reasons I loved it.

The Riverfront

Most of Siem Reap’s attractions are grouped around the Siem Reap river. The bustling riverside, while is undoubtedly lovely during the day, is even more beautiful at night. I particularly adored the nearby colonial architecture that was some of the best I’ve seen in Southeast Asia.

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The Old Market

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While Siem Reap’s main market sells most of the same trinkets that you’ll find at all Southeast Asian markets, the goods are a lot, lot cheaper. On my visit I purchased an elephant ring that damaged my skin so much I now have scabs on my ring finger and amazingly soft sleep-shirt that reads “CAMBODIA” that I will wear forever.

The Cafés

My travel buddy Victoria and I spent many afternoon chatting over $2 glasses of merlot while people-watching in Siem Reap’s many cafés.

(In Southeast Asia, sometimes you just need a break from beer. And boys.)

We also discovered lots of hole-in-the-wall restaurants serving up inexpensive and tasty Khmer food. Though I’m not a huge fan of Khmer food (it’s basically just Thai food without spice, in my humble opinion) there were plenty of international dining options as well.

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The Inexpensive Prices

Siem Reap is decidedly the cheapest city I have ever visited. From 50-cent draft beers at Temple Bar to $4 massages, I was in broke-girl heaven.

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Backpacker confession: One day I got a $4 massage. And then I got another one directly after.

The Nightlife

For a small town, Siem Reap is not lacking in hopping nightlife. Our group headed to Pub Street every night and had an absolutely amazing time.

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And while Pub Street only boasts two main bars, they’re kind of incredible: from the brilliantly named Angkor What? to Temple Bar, which plays lots of cheesy club hits like ‘I Just Had Sex” and “Danza Kuduro“). It also has a pool table for when you’re sick of swinging your hips.

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Playing a German card game at Angkor What?

Proximity to Angkor Wat

While the fact that Siem Reap is located near Angkor Wat is neither charming nor surprising, it is incredibly convenient- don’t come to Siem Reap and miss these amazing temples! While there will be a full post up on my visit to Angkor Wat shortly, I will say now that the temples impressed me entirely.

Downtown Siem Reap Hostel

I couldn’t write a post on Siem Reap without mentioning one of the highlights of the trip- Downtown Siem Reap Hostel.

Siem Reap                              The coolest kiwi bartender and a jug of spangle juice. (Warning: DANGEROUS.)

This no-frills, $3 hostel offers a pool, inexpensive restaurant and chilled-out, thatched roof bar. Staying at Downtown seriously made the trip and I would recommend it to any backpacker.

It was here I learned the for-life drinking game that’s popular in England and Australia: if you break any of the ridiculous rules (such as drinking with your right hand [buffalo!] or saying “mine”, “ten” or “drink”) you have to do ten push-ups on the spot. (Is it just me or is that more of a fitness game than a drinking game?)

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As you have probably concluded, I had a fantastic time in the deeply underrated city of Siem Reap, and someday I really do hope to return.

Have you been to Siem Reap? What were your thoughts?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

22 thoughts on “7 reasons Siem Reap is Surprisingly Charming”

  1. Siem Reap actually looks quite pretty in your pictures! I love photos you took during Golden Hour! And I could get totally lost among all that jewelry!

  2. i enjoyed my time in siem reap. while it wasnt my favorite city because it was just too aimed at tourism (rightfully so, though), it had a cool feeling to it and it wasnt hard to escape the hustle and bustle. it was really cheap and i found the food to be pretty decent, as well!

  3. I can’t believe Siem Reap—unusual name–unusual place–so colorful!
    Wish I could be there to experience it. The energy looks good in the photos.
    What a find and what a memory!

    Love,

    Gamma

  4. I definitely enjoyed Siem Reap a lot more than I thought I would. I intended to stay 2 days for the temples but ended up staying a week because, as you noted, it’s very charming!

    I had a great time at Angkor What? And partying there on Pub Street in general.

    The most heartbreaking thing I ever saw was in Siem Reap. A woman with a toddler who was just crying hysterically and begging … literally on her knees begging me, to buy some food for her son. I gave her some money, she went and bought food.

    I had lots of conversations with the taxi driver that drove me around all week. He had grown up as one of the kids that sells postcards and stuff outside the temples, then when he was a teenager he led tours for tips and had learned English, Japanese, and German. He was so grateful and excited that he accomplished his life long dream… to have a car (it was a beat up old 1993 Toyota or something too).

  5. It looks so cute! I don’t know why people would give it a bad rap, but I’ve never been there. I trust your judgement! And I’m very intrigued by Khmer food…being allergic to peppers means I’m terrified of starving in Thailand. Maybe Khmer food in Cambodia is the answer :)

  6. Oh I simply love the way you describe Siem Reap. It sounds so appealing! The last time I went to Siem Reap, I absolutely loved Pub Street and was amazed w e chill atmosphere. Though Im not a big fan of crowds, it felt comfortable in the hustle and bustle of Cambodia. With everythin around being so cheap, its fantastic. So glad you loved it there ;p

  7. I really enjoyed Siem Reap as well (even though I had a fever for a few days…). I loved the little artist shops and galleries I ran across too – they seemed really fresh and unique trying to support a growing artistic community.

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