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[GUIDE] The best things to do in Siem Reap for the responsible traveler

[GUIDE] The best things to do in Siem Reap for the responsible traveler

This article contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase I will make a commission at no extra cost to you. This article was first published on Jan 31, 2017 and updated in February 2018.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world, a world wonder that’s history is still shrouded in mystery and begs to be explored. Every year, travelers from around the globe visit Siem Reap to discover the hundreds of Angkor Wat temples to visit in the complex and experience Cambodia’s vibrant culture and stunning beauty.

Cambodia’s most famous site draws in tens of thousands of tourists annually and has created booming business in the city of Siem Reap, with hundreds of options for travelers to choose from for accommodation, dining and activities.

Monks in Angkor Wat

Monks in Angkor Wat

For this itinerary we’ve chosen to focus on businesses with a responsible, socially minded focus. Whether it’s preserving and sharing Cambodian culture, supporting Cambodians to further their job skills, or utilizing local ingredients to create healthful and ethical products, your patronage of these businesses will ensure that you have a top notch travel experience and support great causes for the betterment of Cambodian society.

Note that US dollars are widely used in Cambodia. Large bills are accepted at hotels and most restaurants, however you will need smaller bills on hand for tuk tuks, bottled water and snacks.




Day 1 long weekend in Siem Reap, Cambodia

If you arrive at Siem Reap in the morning, you’ll have the day to leisurely explore Siem Reap before heading to the temples for sunset.

Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel

Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel

After checking into Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel and enjoying your welcome drink, it will be time for lunch. You can dine poolside or in the garden, or venture into town.

12pm Lunch

Our recommendation for lunch is Spoons Cafe, run by EGBOK Mission, one of Cambodia’s leading hospitality training schools. Since 2009, EGBOK has been making an impact on the lives of underprivileged young adults in Cambodia through their hospitality training program. Students who have passed through their program go on to work in four and five star hotels and restaurants in Siem Reap.

Spoons Cafe, opened in 2016, serves as an extension of the classroom for students to develop their skills under an expert team where they can learn everything from food and beverage service to cooking, waiting tables, and event management.

You will be impressed by the variety of Cambodian dishes on offer, the level of service, and attention to detail in the presentation of the food and the decor of the restaurant. You can request a tour of the facilities to learn more about EGBOK.

1:30pm Shopping for a cause

Made in Cambodia Market

Made in Cambodia Market. Source

Most visitors in Siem Reap end up shopping at the well known Old Market and Night Market, but few know about the Made in Cambodia Market. This market was created to support local artisans and non-governmental organizations in Cambodia, and only sells products that are, as the name suggests, made in Cambodia. In contrast, the other markets sell mostly generic souvenirs produced in Vietnam, China and Thailand. 

The Made in Cambodia Market has a bohemian, flea-market vibe with live performances, food stalls, and unique products that you won’t find anywhere else. Stroll around at your leisure and enjoy your afternoon browsing, sipping a cool drink and shopping for a cause.

4:15pm Bonus temple time

Gates to Angkor Thom

Gates to Angkor Thom

To best utilize your weekend in Siem Reap, you’ll want to take advantage of your Angkor Temple Pass which is needed to gain access to the temples. Few visitors know that if you purchase an Angkor Pass after 4:30pm you are able to gain entry to the temples that same day for sunset without it counting toward your total temple days.

Around 4:15pm take a tuk tuk to the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat (click here for out complete Guide to Siem Reap). You can purchase a 1-Day Angkor Pass there for $37 then continue into the temple grounds for sunset. If you are staying longer, 3-day and 7-day passes are available at $62 and $72 respectively (prices at January 2017).  

The most popular place for sunset in Siem Reap is Phnom Bakheng, which has 360 degree views, but tends to be crowded. Another option is Angkor Wat, the main temple, which is usually less crowded in the evenings. You can get some incredible shots during the golden hour there.

Our personal favorite best place in Siem Reap for sunset is Sra Srang, a 1,000 year old man-made lake that served as the Royal swimming pool. The colors of sunset reflect across the lake, making for an idyllic sunset experience away from the crowds.

7:30pm Cuisine Wat Damnak

Cuisine Wat Dam Nak, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Cuisine Wat Dam Nak, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Source

Dinner at Cuisine Wat Damnak is an absolute highlight of a trip to Siem Reap and it is one of the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia.

The restaurant serves two tasting menus each featuring six dishes, which change every week to reflect the seasons. Chef Joannès Rivière brings together authentic Cambodian flavors with French cooking techniques, sourcing locally grown ingredients. He crafts each dish with diligent care, and every bite is a burst of flavors and textures, not to mention stunning presentations. The restaurant is located in a traditional wooden home with simple, elegant decor.

At the time of writing (January 2017), the six course tasting menus are $28. Reservations are required and can be made up to 90 days in advance through the Cuisine Wat Damnak website.

9:30 Nightlife

If you are in the mood for a stroll or fancy some nightlife, take a walk around Siem Reap’s famed Pub Street. Over the years the street and surrounding areas have exploded with bars, restaurants and shopping.

You can stumble into just about any place along the street for 50 cent beers or tasty cocktails. If you are looking for live music, check out Laundry Bar, just off the main drag. The bar is a popular expat hangout and usually brings in live entertainment on the weekends.

If flashy neon and backpacker crowds aren’t your thing, head a block north of Pub Street to Miss Wong, a stylish 1930’s Shanghai themed bar with signature cocktails, also popular among Siem Reap expats.

Day 2 long weekend in Siem Reap, Cambodia

5am Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

Sunrise at Angkor Wat is a once in a lifetime experience that is worth the 4:30am wake up call. Your hotel can book a tuk tuk driver to bring you to the temples in time for sunrise, which varies based on the time of year you are visiting. They will also pack a breakfast box, included with your room rate.

7:30am Tour of the Angkor Temple Complex

The Bayon

The Bayon

Although Angkor Wat is the most famous temple in the Angkor complex, there are hundreds of temples that made up the historic “temple city” of Angkor. We highly recommend hiring a guide in addition to your tuk tuk driver who will take you through the temples to explain the history of each place and unlock the symbolism of the intricate bas-reliefs and carvings. The staff at your hotel can recommend and arrange a guide for you. Guides also tend to know which areas to go to and which to avoid at certain times based on the crowds. So the best way to explore Angkor Wat and all the other temples is most definitely through a guided tour. 

There are two main routes to take through the temples, known as the Small Circuit and the Grand Circuit. Both bring you to the most impressive and well maintained temples within the complex, the Grand Circuit adding in a few more temples a bit further afield.

If you plan on only visiting a few, then the best temples in Siem Reap are Angkor Wat, Bayon temple and Ta Prohm, where Tomb Raider starring Angelina Jolie was filmed, are the most famous. Ta Prohm is definitely one of our best things to do in Angkor Wat. However, we recommend taking at least a half day tour to experience the grandeur and variety of architectural and religious styles of the lesser visited temples.

Whether you choose the Small Circuit or Grand Circuit, you can get lunch somewhere inside the temple complex. Your tuk tuk driver and guide will take you to the best spot based on your food preferences and where you are around lunch time.

Afternoon

If you choose to do a half-day temple tour then you’ll have the afternoon to relax and rejuvenate for the evening. You can lounge by the pool at your hotel, book an in-room or poolside massage, or chill out in the garden. The poolside bar menu has a great range of small bites to choose from. We recommend the deep fried taro spring rolls along with a cocktail or a fresh coconut.

Baby Elephant White Bicycles

Baby Elephant White Bicycles

If you have the energy, you can rent one of the White Bicycles from Baby Elephant and head into town to explore. All proceeds from White Bicycle rentals support clean water, education initiatives, and other projects in Siem Reap. At US$2 per day, it is one of the many cheap things to do in Siem Reap that also is good for the heart. 

Baby Elephant can book you a tuk tuk to take you around for the evening.

5pm Dinner at Marum

Tonight you will dine a bit early at Marum for an unforgettable meal that is both filling and fulfilling. Happy hour is from 4-7pm. Arrive early to relax in the lovely outdoor garden with a uniquely crafted cocktail. The Sinn Sisamouth with honey scented rice whiskey, chili, kaffir lime and galangal is a favourite.

Marum’s food menu was created for sharing, so you can try a variety of creatively prepared Cambodian and International dishes, all utilising local ingredients. We recommend the slow cooked Khmer-style pork ribs and the vegetarian rice paper rolls with green pepper, goat cheese and tamarind dip. If you’re feeling adventurous, beef with red tree ants, a traditional Cambodian dish, is also on the menu.

Marum is run by Kaliyan Mith, a non-governmental organization that has been working with street children and other marginalized young people since 2005 in Siem Reap. Marum’s staff are trained on-site and you will often have a trainee alongside your server.

Before you leave, stop by the Friends ’n’ Stuff shop next to the restaurant. Families and caregivers of the children and young people Kaliyan Mith works with earn an income through making products sold in the shop. Proceeds from sales help keep children in school while giving their caregivers transferable skills and stable employment to support their families. Friends is dedicated to keeping families together, and you are supporting their work by dining and shopping.

You’ll need to leave Marum by 7:15pm to get to the 8pm performance at Phare, the Cambodian circus.

8pm Phare the Cambodian Circus

Phare is an internationally acclaimed circus based in Siem Reap. Their mission is to revitalize the arts in Cambodia and create meaningful and financially sustainable employment opportunities for Cambodian artists. Phare has several rotating productions that combine theater, music, visual arts, dance and modern circus techniques to tell historical and modern Cambodian stories.

Phare’s productions are simultaneously captivating and humbling to witness, especially when you know what the performers have experienced to be where they are today.

Phare performers are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA), a non-governmental organization based in Battambang, Cambodia. PPSA was founded in 1994 by young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

During their time at the refugee camp they found art to be a powerful healing tool, and upon their return to Cambodia they began offering free drawing classes to street children. They eventually opened a K-12 school that included professional arts training in several mediums, including circus. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school in Battambang daily and all programs are offered for free. Nearly 75% of the profit from Phare’s shows goes directly to PPSA. Watch the short video below to learn more about PPSA and the performers.

You can purchase tickets on Phare’s website. It is recommended that you book online in advance to ensure you get a good seat, as performances sell out almost every night. Tickets can be picked up at the venue. We recommend booking Section B for the best view of the show.


Day 3 long weekend in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Depending on your preference, we’ve given two options for your final morning in Siem Reap.

6am Breakfast

Breakfast at Baby Elephant Hotel Siem Reap

Breakfast at Baby Elephant Hotel Siem Reap

Baby Elephant serves up a filling and delicious a la carte breakfast every morning, included with your room rate. There are plenty of options to choose from, and each meal comes with a bowl of fresh seasonal fruits with honey and bottomless coffee and juice.

7:10am-12pm Grasshopper Adventures Countryside Ride Bicycle Tour

If you are an adventure seeker and enjoy cycling in nature, take the Countryside Ride tour with Grasshopper Adventures. This half-day cycling tour takes you along the Siem Reap river, down dirt paths through the scenic Cambodian countryside and into villages outside of Siem Reap city. You’ll interact with friendly people in the villages, see local production of palm wine and palm sugar, farming and general daily activity in the countryside.

Grasshopper Adventures believes tourism should have a positive impact on the local community. They supply refillable water bottles to reduce plastic waste and support local projects in Siem Reap, which they are happy to inform you about during your tour. Quality imported bicycles are provided, and tours are led by passionate, experienced guides.

Book the Countryside Ride tour on the Grasshopper Adventures website. The tour is $25 (as of January 2017).

OR

8am-12:30pm The Siem Reap Food Tour

Siem Reap Food Market

Siem Reap Food Market

If you’ve got a penchant for trying authentic food when you travel, the Siem Reap Food Tour will be right up your alley. The morning tour from 8am-12:30pm takes you through one of Siem Reap’s local food markets for a glimpse into the daily life of Cambodians. After the market you’ll head into the countryside through rice paddies and temples for a traditional breakfast in a village and a visit to meet noodle makers and farmers.

The Siem Reap Food Tour has been featured in the New York Times and has rave reviews from customers on TripAdvisor. The chance to safely sample authentic Cambodian cuisine, possibly a bit out of your comfort zone, and to connect with food vendors and chefs is what sets this tour apart.

Reservations need to be booked in advance through the Siem Reap Food Tour website. The tour is $75 (as of January 2017).

12:30pm Art, Shopping and Coffee in Kandal Village

Mademoiselle Thyda

Mademoiselle Thyda in Kandal Village

After your bicycle or food tour, head over to Kandal Village, a walkable neighborhood with businesses focused on the arts. About 25 businesses ranging from galleries, spas, fashion, homewares and cafes are in the area. Many have a cultural or environmental mission attached. It is one of the greatest things to do in Siem Reap besides Angkor Wat visits. 

Constable is an art gallery that promotes young contemporary Cambodian and international artists inspired by Cambodian culture, history and the spiritual.  

Saarti sells ethically produced home and body products using natural, high quality ingredients, free of chemicals. They also have a glass recycling project and sell reusable bamboo straws.

The Little Red Fox in Kandal Village

The Little Red Fox in Kandal Village

The Little Red Fox Espresso not only makes what is arguably the best cup of coffee in Cambodia, they also focus on supporting and celebrating Cambodian artists and musicians by organizing art related events in Siem Reap throughout the year. Inside the cafe there is a rotating art gallery from local and international artists.

Mademoiselle Thyda and Azahar Yoga Studio. The ever so lovable Thyda Sek has opened a small boutique that sells only locally produced produce. You can purchase herbs and spices of all kinds and rest assured that the farmers are getting what they deserve. Thyda is also running Siem Reap’s wing of Azahar Foundation’s yoga project. They take in-trouble or less fortunate Cambodian youth and teach them the mindful practice of yoga. The students are then invited to teach at the studio where they are provided with a salary. After becoming yogis in their own right, the students pay it forward and teach others, usually children, how to do this spiritually uplifting practice. Graduates can also leave and try make it on their own with their new skills, the choice is up to them. It is also important to know that the older generation believe that yoga is not for girls, or boys actually. They say that it is too feminine for a man to practice and also too manly for a woman. So the students are in some cases defying their parents’ wishes by doing yoga. If you are a yogi and want to practice in Siem Reap, this should be your choice, as it is the only studio that has an all Cambodian staff in Cambodia, quite ironic

1:30pm Lunch at Sister Srey Cafe

After strolling through Kandal Village, it’s time for a bite before your flight.

Sister Srey Cafe, a well-run social enterprise, is a 5-10 minute walk from Kandal Village. Located on the Siem Reap river, Sister Srey serves a wide variety of freshly prepared meals made from locally sourced produce.

Sister Srey was created to help and support Cambodian students and have a sustainable impact on the community. 20% of profits from the Sister Srey Cafe, as well as donations, go towards Hearts to Harmony to support individuals through education, health and hygiene, and to support rural families. Not only will you have an excellent meal, you’ll be helping Cambodian students and families at the same time.

Afternoon

Pool at Baby Elephant Siem Reap

Pool at Baby Elephant Siem Reap

Depending on your flight time you can take a tuk tuk back to Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel to lounge by the pool. The staff can book you a tuk tuk to take you to the airport.

This long-weekend itinerary is packed full of a variety of experiences to ensure you will get the most out of your visit to Siem Reap. By choosing to spend your tourism dollars with businesses focused on having a positive, sustainable impact for the community, your trip will surely be one to remember.

Cocktails at Baby Elephant

Cocktails at Baby Elephant




Places to stay in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap has a lot of options for accommodation so you might be overwhelmed with choice. We have selected a few of our favorites.

HotelType of accomRating on TripadvisorPrice per nightMore Photos & Availability
Siem Reap HostelBudget4,5S$20
Mad Monkey HostelBudget4,5S$30
Baby Elephant HotelMid5S$35

Anusa Residence and SparMid5S$45

Golden Temple ResidenceMid5S$115

TemplationHigh5S$195

Jaya House River ParkHigh4S$200

AmansaraHigh5S$1,900

Affordable

Suite at the Baby Elephant

Suite at the Baby Elephant

Our top recommendation for affordable luxury accommodation in Siem Reap is Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel. Located in a peaceful and convenient location within walking distance of the Night Market and Pub Street, you will be close to the action while avoiding the chaos of staying directly in town.

The hotel amenities are gorgeous, with spacious, comfortable rooms, a beautiful pool and gardens, an outdoor gym with various class offerings, delicious dining options, and professional friendly service. They also offer complimentary airport pick up service.

Baby Elephant is focused on having a positive social impact in Cambodia, starting with their staff and extending to the wider community. The owners are dedicated to supporting the local community in Siem Reap by partnering with ethical and responsible Cambodian organizations.

Value for money luxe

Templation Resort in Siem Reap

Templation Resort in Siem Reap

There are several mid-range options in Siem Reap but, for a generous dose of romance and a pool villa to die for after a long day threading the crowded paths of Siem Reap choose Templation. They have pool villas with lush greenery, great service and friendly staff ready to help sort out any logistics for a temple visit or alike. The hotel also has a spa and is well known for it so make sure to book a massage. Templation is part of MAADS Asia, a local Cambodian company focused on sustainability with several other properties in the country.

Splurge

Amansara main pool

Amansara main pool. Source

Siem reap has no shortage of luxury hotels. Amansara tops the list with its well known invisible hands which provide top notch service without customers even realising.

Getting to Siem Reap from Singapore

There is a one hour time difference between Singapore and Cambodia. A direct flight from Changi Airport to Siem Reap International Airport takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes. There are several flight options to choose from.

Flights from Singapore to Siem Reap

On Fridays, Silkair has a flight leaving at 8:40am, arriving in Siem Reap at 9:50am. Jetstar also has a Friday flight leaving from Changi at 2pm, arriving in Siem Reap at 3:15pm.

Flights from Siem Reap to Singapore

Jetstar has a 4pm flight from Siem Reap, arriving at Changi Airport at 7:25pm. Silkair has a flight from Siem Reap at 6:55pm, arriving at Changi Airport at 10:10pm.

Other important notes

Time difference

Cambodia is 1 hour behind Singapore.

Best months to visit

This will depend on your likes and dislikes. Some say any time is good, as the different weather characteristics provide for some amazing photo opportunities and experiences. If you prefer hot and dry weather then April or May will be your choice, with temperatures reaching a blistering 40°C!

The dry season between November to April will mean less rain and more comfortable temperatures. While December to February have cooler temperatures, making it a popular time to visit, it is also a popular time for tourists.

As the days are longer between March and September, you will have more opportunities to capture the sunrise. If you want to avoid the occasional flash floods and intense rainfalls, we suggest not going during monsoon season, which is between May and October, with the heaviest rains starting in June.

Helplines

  • Tourist Police – Siem Reap: 012 402 424
  • Traffic Police – Siem Reap: Phone: 012 896 628 / 012 402 424

For more articles on Cambodia read the following:

A weekend of romance in Phnom Penh

4 Days in Rejuvenating Kampot, Cambodia

A weekend in Phnom Penh with kids, things to to in the Cambodian capital

3 days in Kratie Province – spotting the rare Irrawaddy dolphins

11 days in the Wild East of Cambodia – your full itinerary

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