What’s On Tour: 48 Hours in Siem Reap
Heading up to Siem Reap for the weekend? Here’s how to pack in the highlights to your flying 48 hour visit.
Heading up to Siem Reap for the weekend? Here’s how to pack in the highlights to your flying 48 hour visit.
From Phnom Penh, the most common choice is to grab a coach and take the 5 – 7 hour journey north.
Already know how you’re getting there? Skip straight to guide on Siem Reap
Traffic is a big factor, with congestion in Phnom Penh often causing problems leaving the city, especially if you’ve opted for one of the bigger coaches.
You can book a coach trip directly from most hotels and hostels, and there are various ‘travel’ shops around the city. Boom Boom travel on Street 278, BKK1, being one example of an easy place to sort a bus.
Tickets typically range from $10 – $15. Most hotels or travel shops will organise a complimentary tuk tuk pick up for you, indicating what time you need to be ready and waiting.
Giant Ibis is an expat favourite as it offers WiFi and power sockets plus various overnight services. Mekong Express is mildly cheaper, at $13 compared to $15, but the buses are older. If there’s not enough passengers, Mekong often downsizes to minibuses. Minibuses will get you there faster but in less comfort.
My favourite is PSD Xpress as they seem to be the newest and most comfortable I’ve experienced. Complimentary water, WiFi, power sockets and a pack of biscuits keep me happy- they’re also around the $15 mark.
Whilst times are subject to change extremely frequently and without too much rhyme or reason, these are roughly the departure times to expect.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 8:45 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m., 11:30 p.m.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 8:45 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m., 11 p.m., 11:30 p.m.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2:25 p.m.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 9:45 p.m., 12:30 p.m.
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap: 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m.
Siem Reap to Phnom Penh: 8 a.m., 10:30 p.m.
There are a whole other list of bus companies that run the gauntlet between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, it’ll depend entirely on the travel shop or hotels preference as to whom they offer.
Most buses will stop at least twice for toilet breaks and snacks. Although the roadside restaurants capitalise on your lack of choice and will over-charge you for fairly basic options.
I decided I couldn’t be bothered with this coach. So I found another option.
Phnom Penh airport to the city centre can only take 30 minutes in a tuk tuk, and the flight to Siem Reap takes less than an hour. With lots of budget airlines popping up and closing down in Asia, it’s never too difficult to find a reasonably priced domestic flight from the capital to Siem Reap.
With one way flights as low as $20, I decided to treat myself and booked up with Bassaka air.
On arrival in Siem Reap, you can purchase a tuk tuk ticket to the town centre for $9. If you want to attempt to get it cheaper, you’ll need to leave the airport entirely as all tuk tuks waiting at the airport are part of this centrally organised deal.
Where to stay
Rounding up potential hotel choices.
OUR PICK: Damnak Villa Boutique
I opted for the charming Damnak Villa, a short walk over the bridge from the travellers hub of Pub Street. At around $23 a night, I was treated to a large room with a big stone bathtub right next to the bed.
There was a balcony (for one) overlooking the pool, and a comfy corner seating area. Whilst lying in the bath, drinking red wine and watching repeats of Indiana Jones, I congratulated myself on finding my ideal accomodation.
Wat Damnak Village, Salakamreuk Commune
Looking for a good Instagram post on your travels?
Get ready for neon backdrops and a lush pool that’ll make all your friends jealous. Funky Flashpacker is a great place to meet party animals ready to invade Pub Street and consider a hungover (drunk) visit to Angkor Wat for Sunrise. (Psssst… don’t do it hungover or drunk, you won’t appreciate it enough!)
319 Funky Lane, Steung Thmey Village
Siem Reap Hostel
Rainy season worries? Don’t worry, this hostel has a covered pool!
It’ll undoubtedly be hot hot hot, but now you don’t need to worry about flash floods or thunderstorms ruining a cool off.
7 Makara St
The ever popular Mad Monkey brand has a fun fuelled Siem Reap location. Whilst they are synonymous with catering for great parties, they’ve an extremely admirable commitment to corporate social responsibility.
You can learn more via their Community section.
Much like its Phnom Penh counterpart, Raffles offers the peak of indulgence in Siem Reap. If you’re living the high life then checking in to Raffles will serve a reminder of just how great life is.
Stunning. It’s also situated next to the Angkor national museum, giving you culture and history on your doorstep.
1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Khum Svay Dang Kum
Seize the Day (7am – Midday)
Whilst I like to offer a guide that splits up your day into digestible, easily manageable chunks, please be aware that some of the biggest site-seeing attractions of Siem Reap can be more time-consuming.
Grab a quick bite for breakfast wherever you’re staying, and await your ride to some truly awe-inspiring sights.
Usual reminder, Short shorts and sleeveless shirts are forbidden in holy places. You’re not even allowed to buy the temple pass unless you’re dressed appropriately, even if you’re going the next day.
It’s a place of holy worship, and despite the new tourist price-tag of $37 to visit, it is still very much a place that requires the utmost respect. No shouting, laughing, screeching. Don’t get your bum out for a photo (you can be deported!) and don’t smoke either.
Angkor Wat is open from 5am until 5pm, a quick Google will tell you when sunrise is – which is highly recommended.
There’s a website filled with really handy tips on how to get the most out of your experience named Visit-Angkor.org which I’d highly recommend browsing through prior to your visit.
Phnom Kulen National Park: Reclining Buddha and Chasing Waterfalls
My excitement peaked for this excursion, which cost me $20. Getting up at 7am I quickly grabbed breakfast and awaited my pre-booked minibus. The journey out to Phnom Kulen was fairly time consuming as it climbing the winding roads up Kulen Mountain, probably just over an hours ride.
First stop, was climbing the steps up to Wat Preah Ang Thom. The most noticeable feature here being the famous reclining giant Buddha statue lying proudly at the top of this place of worship.
I had an experienced guide with me, that explained in great detail all the significant points of history and culture – AND – bought me some banana filled steamed rice treat.
Our next stop was to retreat 5 minutes down the hill, and visit the penis river. They don’t call it the penis river, but that’s what it is. The river of 1000 lingas was bypassed quickly by our guide in favour of more time at the waterfall, but many guides will take you along the riverbanks and even walking into the river. The reason for the phallic worship is out of spiritual worship, to ask the gods to provide strong fertility in the family. Definitely ask lots of questions about this Penis river.
Thirdly, we were set loose upon the waterfall, which you may recognise from the Tomb Raider movie.
It could be easy to splash about at the first, small, waterfall and feel generally bewildered at the mild reality versus the grand expectation. Have no fear. There’s a bigger waterfall. Just keep venturing downwards.
The huge cascading waterfall looks epic. Truly epic. Partly unbelievable that the calm gentle penis river is linked to this beast of nature.
You can pay a dollar for a locker, and get in your swimming clothes, you just have to experience it.
There’s a few quirky rope swing seats covered in flower garlands. These are ideal for a photo opportunity and even come with a flower crown to wear, like a real-life Snapchat filter! (Woo). However, you will be asked to pay if you take this photo opportunity, I gave over 2000 riel and thanked the Khmer lady in Khmer – which was fine – but I then overheard her ask others for $2.
Finally, our tour guide insisted we have lunch at a nice restaurant he knew en route home. He admitted that the restaurants next to the waterfall are a tourist trap and super expensive, but upon arrival at his recommendation I realised it was also well overpriced and likely in cahoots with our tour company.
This did take up a large portion of the day, leaving at 8am and returning around 4pm. Well worth it.
Lunch (midday – 1pm)
On the edge of the old market you’ll find Cafe Central. It’s a charming urban coffee shop that wouldn’t be out of place in New York. Whilst the interior might make you forget your location, you can sit by the window and watch the haggles and heckles from shop owners and tuk tuk drivers to passing tourists.
Corner of Street 9 and Street 11
Lily’s Secret Garden Restaurant
Nestled near Damnak Villa, I stumbled across this relaxed restaurant. The menu mixes various other Asian cuisines with tradition Khmer recipes, with a focus on freshness.
Lily also offers cooking classes at a secondary location about 10 minutes walk away, which have attracted fantastic reviews from content customers. You’ll be taken to the local market to source all the local, fresh ingredients needed to learn the delicious recipes so that you can take home your own taste of Cambodia.
It’s $24 per person, and you have to book at least 12 hours in advance to give them notice.
Malteser Lane, Salakamreuk Village, Krong Siem Reap
Excursions (1pm – 5pm)
Lemongrass Garden Spa: Massage
The air is fresh, the lifestyle is chilled, go on relax some more. Have a massage.
You deserve it.
Lemongrass Garden Spa is one of the highest rated spa’s in Siem Reap, with excellent customer service to make sure you slip into your own zen mind-frame while they help you unwind.
If you’re travelling as a couple, you’ll likely be shown to the same room and be asked to strip off into tiny see-through netted underwear… so be comfortable with companions or perhaps check up front that you aren’t sharing a room.
Their speciality is the four-hands synchronised strokes massage. Treat yourself!
202, Sivatha Blvd,
Old Market (Psar Chas)
Leave behind your visions of glitzy shopping malls and immerse yourself in the Old Market.
Less chaotic than some of Phnom Penh’s haunts, but still wall to wall with everything you didn’t realise you needed. An ‘official’ Dr Dre Beats speaker for $5? Sure, why not. Elephant pants for $3? Now you’re embracing it!
Whether it’s some local noodles, a taste of stinky durian, or some souvenirs you’re after, a stroll through Psar Chaa can unearth some great finds.
Dinner (5pm- 7pm)
While I’m not sure where you’ve been, where you’re going and what you like – one thing is universal. PIZZA.
Il Forno is situated in between two of the busy Pub Street streets (How many streets can a Pub Street Street?), and offers a retreat from the wild vacationers. The small rustic setting feels more authentically Italian than the grand, slick Phnom Penh branch – but the pizza quality is equally fantastic regardless of city.
I was also able to position myself in view of the wall-mounted TV at the neighbouring bar, to catch some European football while I ate. Delightful.
Pari’s Alley, 16 The Lane
With it’s name honouring the most traditional Cambodian dish, you can expect to be in for a treat of local Khmer flavours at Amok. They are meticulous to include recipes and homages to as many of the provinces of Cambodia as possible, providing a culinary masterclass of the tastes of the Kingdom.
Try their Cambodian discovery set for $14.25 to sample a popular mix of the must-have meals.
Amok Restaurant, Street 9
Tuk Tuk Tacos
Whilst there are a couple of awesome tuk tuks parked around Pub Street selling tacos, there’s also a fully fledged restaurant named ‘Tuk Tuk Tacos’. It’s a quirky little eco-friendly venture with an adorable interior. Tacos are priced at only $2 each, with chunky Burriots at $5.50.
Tuk Tuk Tacos, Sok San Road
Embrace the night (7pm – late)
Infamous for backpackers. Pub Street is the epitome of the Cambodian travellers party scene. Despite being singular, Pub Street is actually a large network of streets lined with bars and clubs.
Tuk tuk bars are especially fun, as you get to choose the youtube soundtracks via open laptops facing the customers. Cocktails are especially cheap.
Temple is one of the larger dancehalls within this grid of indulgence. Party until the late hours to energetic pop, dance and hip hop. I smirked at the aptly named ‘Angkor What?’ bar directly across from it.
At the top of my recommendations, is Phare. If you make a point of experiencing anything in particular, choose this. The jaw-dropping circus show is often sold out, so reserving tickets in advance is highly recommended.
The shows rotate, on my visit it was the story of Sokha – a child haunted by war. The innovative social enterprise provides Cambodian children with wonderful education and training.
Their website describes itself as:
“More than just a circus, Phare shows are unlike any in the world: dance, theater, original live music and breathtaking circus arts are used to tell uniquely Cambodian stories from recent history, folklore and modern society.”
Shows start at 8pm each night and are $35-38 for adults and $18 for children, infants go free.
Book tickets and gather more information here: https://pharecircus.org
Temple Container Pub Zone
Jet’s container market in Phnom Penh blew me away, you can read about that here: Can’t Contain Our Excitement: Jet’s Container Market.
Siem Reap also has it’s own container market, on a much smaller scale, but equally seeming to be a local hot-spot. The various bars scale three floors high and provide a zany, upbeat electro soundtrack as the small hours of the night kick in.
Sok San Road
Angkor Night Market
From 5pm until Midnight, Angkor Night market is home to over 200 shops and is within stumbling distance from Pub Street.
A huge ‘island bar’ at the entrance of the market is an ideal place to leave behind any grumpy non-shoppers as you delve amongst the shelves. The Island bar’s enormous thatched roof makes it a great homing beacon should anyone get lost amongst the bargains. Be prepared to haggle, it’s still Cambodia after all.
Whilst there are plentiful options above, I’d like to give a special nod to Asana. This bar is full of character, in an old wooden house offering Khmer Cocktail masterclasses 6pm – 8pm, and open until 1am.
It’s advertised as the only house still existing in the Old Market area, so whilst you enjoy boozy creations you can claim it’s cultural.
The Lane, Old Market Area
I didn’t have the luxury of a flight home… unfortunately prices had flown up.
That meant a five hour minibus back to Phnom Penh (only $9, but other passengers paid $15… bizarre).
Back home? As always, find out what’s going on in Phnom Penh from our home page, or if you want a 48 hour guide in this format, check it out here: 48 hours in Phnom Penh (Day 1) and 48 Hours in Phnom Penh (Day 2).
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