Siem Reap

Cambodia’s riverside city is best known as the departure point for exploring UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat and other atmospheric ruins in Angkor Archaeological Park. Temple Town, as it’s fondly called, is an engaging destination in its own right, with an abundance of things to do, from bird-watching on Southeast Asia’s largest lake to horseback riding through rice fields and zip-lining through forest canopies. Hands-on travelers can learn to dance like an ethereal Apsara or master the medieval martial art Bokator, while foodies might discover the secrets of cooking Cambodian cuisine or learn to shake a killer Khmer cocktail.

Angkor Wat Temple at sunset, Siem reap in Cambodia.

Photo By Guitar Photographer/Shutterstock


When’s the best time to go to Siem Reap?

High season is from December to February. It’s the coolest and driest period and the most popular time to visit. While the weather is loveliest, the city and temples are crowded, so you’ll need to rise in the darkness to start exploring the temples at sunrise, before the tour groups arrive. March and April are the hottest months and best avoided if you can’t handle the heat. The days cool a little in May when the early rains come. June, when monsoon really kicks in, is wet, yet the countryside quickly greens and remains lush through to November. For many, the wet or green season is the best time to visit.

How to get around Siem Reap

As the gateway to Angkor Archaeological Park, one of Asia’s star attractions and Cambodia’s main tourist destination, Siem Reap’s international airport is busy, with frequent flights arriving from around Asia. The petite airport is not equipped to handle large long-haul flights, so you’ll likely fly via Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, or any number of Asian capitals, before transferring to a smaller jet. This means you can take advantage of low-cost airlines like Air Asia. If traveling overland, good bus services exist between Hanoi and the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh (5 hours) and from there to Siem Reap (7-8 hours), and from Bangkok via the border town of Poipet to Siem Reap (8-9 hours). It’s also possible to take a train from Bangkok and then a bus from the border.

Taxis (US$7) or tuk-tuks ($6), pre-arranged with your hotel, are the main wheels from the airport to your hotel, but once in town, it’s tuk-tuk all the way. Expect to pay $1–$2 for short journeys around town, while day trips to the temples can cost $10–$20 depending on the duration and distance. If you’re not afraid of chaotic traffic and reckless unlicensed local drivers, you can rent bicycles for as little as $1–$2 a day for a basic bike, and up to $5 a day for a top quality mountain bike. Foreign tourists are prohibited from riding motorbikes for safety reasons.

Can’t miss things to do in Siem Reap

Spend a Sunday evening on Road 60 on the edge of town, tucking into street food and sipping cold beers on roadside picnic mats. Cambodians call it “the local’s Pub Street,” although it has much more of a family vibe and fun-fair feel, with its few simple kids’ rides, than the backpacker party street—also known as Pub Street—in the center of town. It should not be confused with another “Khmer Pub Street,” a gritty street off Airport Road (National Highway 6), lined with local beer gardens (no signs in English) and karaoke or “KTVs.” If you feel like singing karaoke, head to the Corner bar instead.

Food and drink to try in Siem Reap

Cambodian cuisine is one of Asia’s most misunderstood. The better-known Royal Thai Cuisine of neighboring Thailand was actually born from Royal Khmer Cuisine. Restaurants such as Sugar Palm and Chanrey Tree serve up refined renditions of home-style Cambodian food, while Cuisine Wat Damnak, recently voted Best Restaurant in Cambodia among Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, is renowned for its creative contemporary Cambodian cuisine. Markets, roadside stalls, mobile carts, and roaming vendors offer tasty street-food treats such as soups, barbecue skewered meats, noodle dishes, and pork and rice, while countless international restaurants serve up everything from authentic Korean and Indian to Italian and French cuisines.

Culture in Siem Reap

As you’d expect from a civilization that built the Angkor temples, the Khmer Empire was artistically rich, with talented sculptors, artists, dancers, and musicians. Art and sculpture are on display in the elaborate carvings and bas-reliefs on the temple walls and at Angkor National Museum. Nightly Apsara dance performances, accompanied by classical Khmer musicians, are held at dozens of venues around the city. Wat Bo Pagoda is the location of twice-weekly shows of traditional shadow puppetry and musical ensembles, while the Bambu Stage showcases contemporary dance and the big top behind the Museum is home to nightly performances by the quirky Phare Cambodian Circus.

The biggest party of the year for Cambodians is Khmer New Year, celebrated around the same time as Thailand’s Songkran, though less about water fights and more about pagoda activities such as making offerings to the monks, worshipping ancestors, and washing Buddha statues. While the main holiday lasts over three days, Cambodians will take a week to 10 days off if they are able to return to their hometowns. In Siem Reap, it’s the only time of year that Pub Street and Angkor Archaeological Park teem with groups of Cambodian friends and families. Traditional games, dancing, and concerts take place around the park, including in front of Angkor Wat. It’s a wonderful time to visit.

Local travel tips for Siem Reap

The average three-day stay in Siem Reap isn’t nearly long enough. Try to spend a week to explore the best of the Khmer Empire archaeological sites and more off-the-beaten-path ruins, as well as to experience the city beyond the temples.

Guide Editor

Read Before You Go
With mass tourism kept at bay by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is the best time to be in the Cambodian city and gateway to Angkor Wat.
Resources to help plan your trip
Three days will give you a taste of Siem Reap and its archaeological sites with time for a handful of other engaging experiences. Spend the first day focused on the star sights at Angkor Archaeological Park, like Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom, home to Bayon and Ta Prohm. On day two venture out to lesser visited temple ruins such as Koh Ker and Beng Mealea. On day three, do a cooking class and walking tour or floating village cruise. Spend your evenings seeing cultural shows, shopping and dining.
The gateway to the ruins of Angkor, Siem Reap draws temple tourists from around the globe. From Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, and Banteay Srei, the temples of Angkor date back to the 12th century, if not farther back.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t start the day without a hit of caffeine and you know your ristretto from your espresso, then fortunately Siem Reap has a decent selection of cafes, the best being Little Red Fox Espresso on hip Hup Guan Street. In the old quarter, Cafe Central and The Sun make good coffee, do reasonably good food and have loads of colonial-era atmosphere. New Leaf Cafe and Sister Srey are good spots to meet expats while Peace Cafe is a favorite with vegans and vegetarians.
From sunrise over Angkor Wat and scrambling the Khmer Empire temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm to cruising the floating villages and learning to cook Cambodian cuisine, Siem Reap offers some must-do experiences that are essential no matter how touristy they may be. The star archaeological attractions shouldn’t only occupy you. Also allow some time to eat and drink—in Cuisine Wat Damnak and Miss Wong respectively—and kick back in atmospheric spots like Cafe Central.
Shopping in Siem Reap can be a delight—from watching artisans at work in ateliers before you purchase their crafts, to getting fitted for affordable couture fashion, to buying handcrafted gifts at the Made in Cambodia market. We even enjoy the guilty pleasure of bargaining for tacky tourist trinkets at the markets. Start in the morning at the Old Market for the people-watching as much as the shopping, spend the day browsing boutiques and galleries, then finish at the lively night markets.
A cotton checked krama, the scarf worn by locals in myriad ways, is probably the most quintessential of Cambodian souvenirs for travelers to Siem Reap, however, a number of other locally made objects have become must-buys for many visitors to Temple Town. These are my tips as to what you should buy, including everything from colorful lacquered elephants made by the artisans at Theam’s House to a soft silk scarf or silk ‘fur’ handbag by Siem Reap-based designer Eric Raisina.
Siem Reap is home to Cambodia’s finest restaurants, including the outstanding Cuisine Wat Damnak, named Cambodia’s Best Restaurant when it crept onto the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants list at #50 in March 2015. The town’s Khmer restaurants should be your priority, including Sugar Palm and Chanrey Tree for outstanding traditional food, served in beautiful spaces. However, Siem Reap also boasts an abundance of restaurants offering international cuisines, from Italian to Indian.
For the ultimate grand tour of Southeast Asia, sail down this iconic waterway on one of a growing number of boutique river cruises.
Before you set off to Angkor Wat, use this guide to plan your trip.
AFAR chose a destination at random and sent writer Alexander Chee, with 24 hours’ notice, to a Southeast Asian country where he encountered headless Buddhas and naked hotel guests.
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.