At a Glance
When to Go
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.
Food and Drink
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.
What the Locals Know
Lara Dunston lives in Siem Reap. She is a food and travel writer, filmmaker, educator, and author with her writer-photographer husband of some 70 guidebooks. Her writing appears in The Guardian, The Independent, National Geographic Traveller, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Delicious, Feast, Wanderlust, and Travel + Leisure Asia, among scores of other publications. She also blogs about local travel, experiential travel and slow and sustainable travel at Grantourismo.