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.
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.
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.
The Old Market
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.
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.
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.
Backpacker confession: One day I got a $4 massage. And then I got another one directly after.
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.
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.
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.
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?)
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.