Our latest guest post is by Matt Preston from Travelwithamate.com – an online magazine full of travel advice, destination reviews and lots more. You can also keep up to date with them on Twitter and Facebook.
One of the wonders of the world, the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia are quite breathtaking in their surreal beauty. It’s a place that’s captivated my heart not once but three times now and I’m sure I’ll be going back there again someday. With over 50 temples to explore, some hidden in forest, others standing majestically in open fields, there’s a lot to take in here and you’ll never fit it all in to one trip.
While you may have heard of Angkor Wat you may not have heard of the town nearby called Siem Reap. This is where you’ll be staying when you visit this region of Cambodia and there’s plenty of accommodation to choose from here. In fact Hostelworld has 120 hostels and guesthouses! It’s a fast growing and bustling town filled with plenty of tourist traps as well as local life. So here’s my short guide to making the most of your time in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.
1. Head to Pub Street to get your bearings
Every tourist town has one – a road filled with bars and restaurants, lively entertainment and night-clubs too. Some people choose to stay away from areas like this but personally I highly recommend heading straight to Pub Street on your first night in Siem Reap. Not only does the road have a great atmosphere it also has many side streets worth checking out for cuisine from all over the world. The real reason I recommend going there is because the night markets surround this area and are one of the main attractions of Siem Reap. The markets are great fun to walk around and you’ll find absolute bargains around every corner. In order to know where you are in Siem Reap use Pub Street as your starting point and walk out from there. You’ll always be able to find your way back.
2. Get a tour guide for at least one day
This applies to Siem Reap as well as your days at the Angkor Wat Temples. There are many friendly and knowledgeable local guides that can meet you at your hotel and guide you for an entire day. Usually costing around $15. Not only will you learn a vast amount more than any guidebook could offer, you’ll also get the chance to learn more about the life of real Cambodian people. I’ve hired guides on more than one occasion and it’s always a delight to share cultural anecdotes and ask questions about everyday life. I would definitely recommend a guide for the main temples of Angkor Wat and Bayon where the detailed carvings deserve full explanation to appreciate their splendour.
3. Always haggle for your souvenirs
With an abundance of night markets and street sellers in Siem Reap you’re constantly surrounded by some great bargains and curious trinkets. There’s the usual mix of dodgy copies and lovingly handmade craft products. Pretty much everything is ludicrously cheap compared to the prices you’d pay in Europe or America so this is a great chance to get those gifts for loved ones. Just remember the price they tell you is always higher than the price they’ll accept. Usually by at least half more. Part of the fun in night market shopping is haggling for a great price, especially when you’re buying more than one. There’s a few tricks to haggling. Name your price and walk away when they say no. Name a low price, wait for them to laugh at you then up the price a little at a time, or my favourite, claim you’re leaving tomorrow and only have a dollar left. If you’re buying hand crafted items remember you need to get them home somehow. Shipping from Cambodia can take weeks, sometimes months.
4. Stay somewhere central
While the sprawl of Siem Reap can sometimes be disorientating, you’re never short of accommodation. You’ll find great guesthouses and hostels on nearly every road. There is an intense group of them in the downtown area where you’ll always get a good deal on a decent quality guesthouse or hostel. The town’s traffic is fed by two main roads, the National Highway 6 and route 63. This makes getting about very easy and you’ll never wait more than a minute before a tuk tuk driver will spot you and take you where you need to go. Most journeys cost between 2 and 4 dollars but you can haggle for a bargain if you have the patience. With cheap and reliable transport you won’t need to worry if the downtown accommodation is full. You’ll find more places to stay north-west of the town in a maze of streets and alleyways. There’s more along the highway roads too.
5. Avoid the fish massage
Sounds like a strange piece of advice but you’ll soon see why when you arrive in Siem Reap. They’re everywhere! If you’ve never seen it before it’s a basically a large fish tank you dip your feet in to while hungry Garra Rufa fish nibble at your dead skin. It’s an unusual sensation and something of a tourist fashion in Siem Reap. Unfortunately, while it’s a fun novelty for humans it’s really not good for the fish. It’s banned in the US and Canada for sanitary reasons and the tanks in Siem Reap are typically badly maintained with fairly bad filtration systems.
You’re sure to have a great time in Siem Reap and exploring the Angkor Wat temples. It’s a place I always long to return to and always love when I’m there.