Couples Guide: Top 10 Things to do in Siem Reap Cambodia

I can’t believe Angkor Wat has never been considered one of the wonders of the world. It doesn’t have to be a wonder of the world to leave you lost for words. You know, I am a big history buff and I am never happier than when I’m walking in the footsteps of history, tracing my fingertips along the hard, cold stone or trekking through the doorways of ancient & often mysterious monuments.

Top 10 Siem Reap Cambodia (1)

Siem Reap did not disappoint. It’s one of those places that you’ve heard about for years. Backpackers have been blogging about it for years. But it’s still mysterious and relatively undiscovered by people like me who prefer a suitcase and a private bath. I plan to share a couple of short stories about the particular experiences we had in Siem Reap. For now, here are my TOP 10 things to do in Siem Reap.

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Siem Reap’s Sarai Hotel a four-star hotel, restaurant, and spa located downtown minutes from the restaurants and shopping in the Night Market and Pub Street and a quick tuk-tuk from the airport and the entrance to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex

Top 10 Siem Reap Cambodia

We arrived at Cambodia’s Siem Reap International Airport an hour from takeoff from Hanoi’s Noi Bai International Airport in Vietnam. We were promptly greeted by the FREE Sarai Resort & Spa hotel shuttle service, a ★★★★ hotel on one of the city’s numerous hard-packed dirt roads. I would totally recommend the hotel if you are looking for a hotel close to Pub Street and backpackers digs. The hotel was also close to the night markets. The temples and the airport are a quick tuk-tuk ride away too.

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Angkor Wat’s reflection in the pond

Siem Reap

And speaking about everything. I’ve wanted to visit the temples of Angkor Wat ever since I was a little girl. I can’t believe Angkor Wat has never been considered one of the wonders of the world. It doesn’t have to be a wonder of the world to leave you lost for words. You know, I am a big history buff.  And I am never happier than when I’m walking in the footsteps of history. Tracing my fingertips along with the hard, cold stone. Trekking through the doorways of ancient & often mysterious monuments. And at Angkor Wat, trust me… I was a big kid over and over again.

Siem Reap is a dusty city in the developing country of Cambodia. It’s where you’ll see Mercedes Benz next to bike carts and modern buildings across the street from one of its numerous temples. Years of civil war and unrest have given way to political changes that have created economic development, extremely loud construction, and tourism because the cost of living is extremely cheap.

1. Angkor Wat

It should surprise no one, that Angkor Wat is #1 on the top 10 things to do in Siem Reap.  Angkor Wat is the main temple and the temple most people think about when they talk about Angkor Wat. Most people don’t realize Angkor Wat is a complex of many temples until they get here… a massive complex spread out all over Siem Reap. Angkor Wat may not be the most striking temple but it’s one of the most revered and easily recognized as one of the most iconic temples in the world. However, it is the only temple at Angkor that was built facing the west. Thousands flock to its pools in the wee hours to catch a glimpse of the sunrise over its three lotus bud shaped towers.

It is also the best-preserved temple at the site, it is the only one to have remained a significant religious center from its Hindu now Buddhist beginnings. And the only temple I visited where you must wear appropriate clothing that covers both your shoulders and your knees. The higher temple is closed on religious holidays. You will need at least 2 hours to really see it.

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Angkor Thom Temple or the four-faced temple is beautiful and up in your face looming above the ruins of Bayon Temple
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Beautiful columns and rubble at the entrance to Angkor Wat’s Bayon Temple outside of Siem Reap Cambodia

2. Bayon Temple and Angkor Thom

Bayon Temple was probably the temple I was least knowledgeable about, but that doesn’t mean you should skip it. It is quite striking with all the moss-covered sandstone blocks, four-faced Buddha statues, and detailed bas relief carvings. It is much smaller than the Angkor Wat and can be thoroughly investigated in one hour.

If you are looking for a temple that is both beautiful and away from the backpackers lugging heavy bags, try Neak Pean Temple, it’s got a different vibe than the other temples.

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Colossal tree trunks and roots at Angkor Wat’s Bayon Temple outside of Siem Reap Cambodia

3. Ta Prohm

To say I was excited to see Ta Prohm is a HUGE understatement. I’m embarrassed a little that most of the anticipation was due to Angelina Jolie, but oh, well. She made that temple popular with Western moviegoers and it is now referred to as the Tomb Raider Temple. And it is amazing. I still can’t believe I saw it and touched the ancients roots and the walls and blocks of sandstone that they sprang from. All three of the above temples stay pretty busy, but with a great tour guide, you’ll be able to avoid the massive crowds that come with the Temples. Like Angkor Thom, an hour or so is enough time to walk the temple grounds. You may even be lucky to get a few pictures with no one in them like I was.

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Stunning lotus towers and red claystone at Angkor Wat’s Banteay Srei Temple outside of Siem Reap Cambodia

4. Banteay Srei Temple

I saved the best for last–in my humble opinion. After you see Angkor Wat TempleAngkor Thom Thom, and Ta Prom Temple-ប្រាសាទតាព្រហ្ម, you really REALLY HAVE to visit the Banteay Srei Temple. The Banteay Srei Temple, made out of red sandstone you’ll probably track into your hotel room each night. It was built in the 10th century AD but was only recently re-discovered in 1914. It is also the only major temple not constructed by a monarch. Steven was templed out the day before, so I hired a tuk-tuk (tuk-tuk #9 through your local hotel for $20 USD) and went on a solo adventure– something I have come to look forward to when we travel. It gives us both some “alone” time while we pursue different interests. 

My Favorite Temple

The temple’s modern name, Bantuãy Srĕi—the citadel of the women, or citadel of beauty—is probably related to the intricacy of the bas relief carvings found on the walls and the dimensions of the buildings themselves which are almost miniature when you compare it to the Angkor temples. Located approximately 37km from the town and accessible by hired car or tuk-tuk. I took the later, and it took roughly, and I mean roughly– it was not a smooth ride, an hour each way. Combine it with a visit to Banteay Samre and watching the sunset at Pre Rap Temple with a few hundred of your favorite friends to round out your tour of the Angkor Wat complex. Make sure to tip your driver well. In Cambodia, the average income is about $950 per year.

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duffelbagspouse travels enjoy a local favorite called Fish Amok

5. Fish Amok & Lok Lok

Amok is one of the most popular specialties and considered the essence of Cambodian cuisine. The special ingredients of this dish must include catfish, lemongrass, garlic, turmeric, red dried chilis, peanuts, and coconut milk, and of course, banana leaves.

Lok Lok is a beef dish that is simple but delicious.

Looking for a good and easily transportable souvenir? Pick up some Kampot Province peppercorns. Kampot pepper is rare and considered some of the best pepper on the planet.

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duffelbagspouse travels hubby explores the Siem Reap craft beer scene at Brewpub

6. Siem Reap Brewpub

It was just by chance that we happened upon the Siem Reap Brewpub. We were stopped near Angkor Whom and I saw an advertisement on the back of a tuk-tuk. Steven had templed out and I had hired a tuk-tuk to visit the three remaining temples on my bucket list. Steven decided to check out the brewpub. It turned out to be a great decision because he said it was one of the best ones he has been to in all of Asia. They had stout, lagers, IPA’s and every glass was $3. He had a huge piece of salmon for $16 which is quite expensive in Siem Reap, but he said it was really good. The brewpub is located Corner of Street 05 & Shinta Mani, Phum Mondul II, Sangkat Svay Dong Kom, Siem Reap City, Cambodia, 05 Street 05, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia

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Siem Reap’s Kaya Spa offers amazing massages and local essential oils

7. 90 Minute Massage

You cannot come to Cambodia without getting at least a foot massage, but I suggest you go even further and get a full body massage– every single day. The price is right even for the backpacker’s wallet. It’s that cheap and if you go to the right spa, it’s worth every Riel or American dollar, since you’ll probably see more of those than the local currency. The only time we saw the Riel was when we need to change back.

Where else can you get a great massage in Asia: Phuket, Thailand

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Siem Reap’s Pub Street lures tourists of all ages to its neon-lit streets by tempting them with both the familiar and foreign in foods, shopping, and cultural experiences

But I digress… The average 90-minute massage should cost about $24. Don’t waste your time and go to one of those sleazy spas on Pub Street for $10, you won’t get your money’s worth. My favorite spa was Kaya. It is located across from the Night Market. It’s beautifully done and the staff is very professional. In addition, they sell some of the products they use. I just wish one of them was the jasmine mist I got at the end of my massage.

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Siem Reap’s Flight of the Gibbon zip-line tour soars high above Angkor Wat’s treetops

8. Shopping the Local Markets

Shopping in Siem Reap is a lot of fun. A lot of people find it very stressful, but I love to haggle over prices. Matter of fact on this last trip I didn’t utter a word and got a $5 pair of pants for $1.50. I entered a stall and started looking for a cute pair of wide-leg pants you see everyone wearing in the city. How much are these? I asked. Five dollars, the store proprietor said. I just let go of them and walked around the stall looking at other things. $4 she said. I said nothing. $3… then $2 and I said nothing. She then followed me around the bin and suggested I pay $1.50 for them. Ok, I said and she bagged them up. I bought a few pairs of pants, a couple of paintings and jewelry for next to nothing without really trying.   The shopping is great in Bali too.

9. Zipline with Flight of the Gibbon

I had no idea I would have so much fun zip lining. A gibbon is a monkey, yeah, I didn’t know that until recently either. lol. I booked the tour over Angkor Wats temples on before leaving South Korea, but you can book them once you arrive. Matter of fact you can book most of the trips at your hotel front desk or kiosk all around the city. But I’d be careful. Flight of the Gibbon has been operating all around Asia since 2007. It is now the leading global eco-adventure tour operator with its phenomenal rainforest zip-lines that are the longest, highest, and fastest in the world. Maybe, you’ll even get a glimpse of the gibbon family as you swing along the zip lines in Chiang Mai.

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An extensive buffet breakfast at the Hanoi Intercontinental includes made to order omelets, pancakes as well as many other tasty delicacies.

10. Chocolate, banana, and coconut crepes/ pancake

Do I need to say any more? Eating a crepe street side is one of the finer moments of life. Enjoy!!

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21 thoughts on “Couples Guide: Top 10 Things to do in Siem Reap Cambodia

  1. This looks and sounds like it was an amazing adventure! I love history too and the just the architectural beauty and history of the temples is absolutely stunning! I would love to see them in person!

    1. It is a wonderful adventure. I felt like a little kid walking and climbing over those ancient stones. I highly recommend if you are thinking about visiting.

  2. Wow, it looks like you had so much fun. I am a big fan of carving and I would love to see Angkor Wat temple in person. I will definitely add this to my bucket list. I will love to try zip line as well.

    1. If you go anywhere in the world I would recommend Angkor Wat, Great Wall of China, Halong Bay, in that order of the places I’ve visited. Zip lining is an awesome thrill that once you realize you won’t fall is a ton of fun, just make sure you go with a company that has a great safety rating.

  3. I can’t wait to go here and see the history too. It looks like you enjoy yourself to the fullest. I like the idea of going off and doing some things on your own. I enjoy traveling solo but bringing the hubby is always better, until he drags me to some video game hot spot ? I might suggest this on our next trip.

    1. Lol. I really enjoy hubby’s time too. But yes, it allows us both to do the things we are interested in for an afternoon and we have something new to share when we get back together.

  4. Hey when were you there and what was the weather like? We were there in I think August and it flooded and rained most of the time! I feel like all we got to do was Angkor Wat! I would love to go back and do the other things you suggested like the flight of gibbon!

    1. We started our trip on September 24th in Vietnam arriving in Siem Reap a week later and we had excellent weather. It was actually really hot and never rained. We had friends that went the same week last year and said the weather was perfect and fortunately we experienced the same.

  5. Beautiful! Sarai Resort looks divine and I don’t think it was there when I visited Siem Reap in 2007. I hope to go back there in 2017 and do the Angkor Wat at a leisurely pace this time. I remember only purchasing a 1 day pass and was rushing to tick all the temples. Not fun!

    1. Hi Michelle, you are right. The Sarai’s grand opening was on May 13, 2015. Its a very pretty hotel, I would definitely stay again. But we got a chance to see a few very pretty hotels in the city we would have been just as comfortable with too.

  6. When exploring Siem Reap, it is indeed important to remember that it’s impossible to see all the temples in the areas so a guide like this really does come in handy. It’s not all about Angkor Wat after all and when it gets dark, Pub Street is a lot of fun although some of the cuisine there is rather questionable

    1. This trip has moved into my top 10 trips of all time. I knew it would be special, but I ha don idea how much I would love the rawness of Cambodia. It’s still an undeveloped country in everything except the service industry.

  7. My passport was stolen when I was living in Thailand and I never made it to Cambodia. Still sad about it, Angkor Wat looks incredible. This is inspiring though, might start looking at flights 🙂

    1. That’s awful. From a person who had their passports stolen in Spain, I know the feelings you went through. I hated the idea of someone going through my personal belongings, ripping our pictures out of the passports and disposing of them. But I think the fact I had medication for my two kids in the purse and they didn’t leave that for me to find was the worse and inexcusable theft. I hope you get to Cambodia one day, you won’t regret it.

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