Is Siem Reap Worth Visiting? Exploring Beyond Angkor Wat

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 29 August 2023 |

Is Siem Reap Worth Visiting? Yes! Siem Reap is definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than the temples at Angkor Wat deserve to be seen.

However, before you plan your itinerary, do remember that there is more to Siem Reap than these historic wonders, so allow plenty of time for exploring.

Is Siem Reap worth visiting?  Yes, if no no other reason that watching the sunrise over Angor Wat temple.  In this picture the sky is a soft apricot in the early morning.

How Many Days Do You Need In Siem Reap?

Siem Reap is renowned for the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex; considered one of the great wonders of the world. Like so many other travellers, we chose to visit Siem Reap because we wanted to explore the temples, but we quickly realised that there was more to see.

  • If you only have one day, it is definitely possible to see the highlights of the temples and catch the sunrise.
  • We spent two full days exploring the complex with a private guide and tuk-tuk and we felt that we had seen enough of both temple circuits. A guide is definitely helpful.
  • We had three full days in Siem Reap. The extra day allowed us to explore beyond the temples.
  • If I was planning this trip again, I would allow four or five days to enable visits to other nearby sights like Tonle Sap Floating Villages and the Kulen Waterfall.

Top Tip : Add an extra day or two into your itinerary, like most of Cambodia there is always more to see.

Visit one of Siem Reap's many markets for a glimpse of local colour and life.

Why Is Siem Reap Famous?

Siem Reap is famous for its majestic Angkor Wat temple complex, the largest religious monument in the world and considered the eighth Wonder.

In more recent years the town has gained a reputation for its busy nightlife at its famous Pub Street, although honestly we didn’t find it too crazy, but we also didn’t stay out too late. 

You can also explore the floating villages on the Tonle Sap and some of the more remote Khmer temples in the jungles above Siem Reap; if you allow the time in your schedule.

Visiting the temple complex at Angkor Wat

Angkor Archaeological Park

Nestled just 5.5 kilometres north of Siem Reap is the incredible Archaeological Park at Angkor. A UNESCO World Heritage Site that houses some of the world’s most spectacular and intricate, ancient temples.

Most people are familiar with the iconic Angkor Wat temple and might even recall scenes from Tomb Raider with Angelina Jolie.  However most folks, like me, are not aware that the archaeological site covers over 400 km2.

Within this vast area lie 72 major temples and several hundred minor sites, making it impossible to explore every inch of the ancient city that was once home to over a million people.

To make the most of your visit to the temples :

  • Book a tour.  The site is vast and you will enjoy your visit much more under the guidance of an expert who can help you make sense of all that you see. A private guide is very affordable.
  • Dress appropriately.  Wear clothes that cover your shoulders and your knees, you will be refused entry if you’re not dressed appropriately.
  • Make sure you buy your entrance ticket from the official Angkor Wat website.  Your ticket is checked often and our guide explained that more than 30% of the people he guides have purchased ‘fake’ tickets online.
  • Make sure you have sunscreen and a sun hat and water (and an umbrella if it’s the rainy season).
  • Wear good walking shoes. You’ll be on your feet a lot!  Whilst the area is flat there are a great many uneven pavements and steps.
Colleen exploring the main temple in Angkor Wat during our Sunrise Tour.  The walls are 250 long and intricately decorated

We recommend the following great tours. They’ll help you make the most of your time at the temples :

WE Recommend

★★★★★

Watching the sun rise at Angkor Wat. It is worth the wait to see the sky change colour from pink to orange to apricot

Full Day Tour with Sunrise

  • Without a guide you miss the best of the temples
  • Choose small group or private tour
WE Recommend

★★★★★

Temples overgrown with trees at Angkor Wat

Two Day Angkor Wat Tour

  • Explore Temples in the Inner and Outer Circuits
  • Experience incredible Sunrise and Sunset

Is The Sunrise Worth It?

Yes. We almost didn’t bother as we’re really not morning people. But a little voice in my head said that we’ll maybe only get one chance to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat and perhaps we should make the effort.

The guides and drivers are expecting a sunrise tour so there is not problem arranging a 4:30am start; they will tell you the best time to be collected.

Our guide took us to a spot in front of the lake. We were early and so secured front row seats, albeit that there are no seats.

Was it worth waiting for the sunrise? Oh yes. We watched the sky turn from inky blue to pink to a warm apricot. And we got to explore the temples in the cool of the early morning before the late-comers arrived.

Top Tip : be prepared to sit on the grass for an hour waiting for the sunrise and do make sure that you apply bug-deterrent; I forgot and dawn is prime biting time!

Watching the sun rise at Angkor Wat.  It is worth the wait to see the sky change colour from pink to orange to apricot

Beyond Angkor Wat : More Gems To See In Siem Reap

We only had one spare day in Siem Reap, because of a flight change, but we loved the town and we do plan to return and explore more of what we missed; which pretty much sums up our entire trip to Cambodia.

Take A Khmer Cooking Class

Next to walking tours, this is perhaps our favourite activity. We’ve been to cooking classes from Bordeaux to Bali and Marrakech to Malta. It’s a great way to learn about local customs and traditions and you get the added advantage of a great home cooked meal.

This cooking class is by far the highest rated class in Siem Reap and sadly we had to cancel ours because of our flight change. Make sure you book this well in advance as it fills quickly.

My Choice

★★★★★

Cooking Class in Siem Reap

Khmer Cooking Class

  • Prepare and cook a 4-course meal
  • Shopping at the market for ingredients
  • Small group of no more than 6
  • 1300 ***** star reviews on Viator

Receive a Traditional Water Blessing

I was looking for something a little more unusual to do and despite Gerry’s misgivings, this tour was one of the best!

We met our guide at a fabulous local coffee shop (Common Grounds) and spent the following few hours exploring a corner of Siem Reap that we would have otherwise never seen. We were guided around the local residential area and a small market known as beeswax; because it melts away as the sun rises.

We explored the temple complex as the guide explained it’s history and it’s significance. The water blessing is performed by one of the senior monks and you have an opportunity meet and talk to the monk beforehand.

Top Tip : You’ll sit on the floor with your guide and the monk, make sure you either sit cross legs or if not, ensure your feet are pointing away from every one.

You can have a full blessing or a shorter blessing. We choose the full and I recommend you do the same. You are provided with a sarong, remove all of your clothes as you will get wet. The sarong is elasticated so there is no danger of any mishap.

The guide had explained beforehand about the significance of the blessing and how to make the most of the ceremony. I found the entire process delightful and very special. If you have the chance then take this tour. It’s an experience that I will treasure and offers a glimpse of this beautiful culture.

We Loved This

★★★★★

Our water blessing in Siem Reap; one of my favourite tours

Traditional Water Blessing

  • Experience a tradition as ancient as the temples of Angkor
  • Receive a sacred Buddhist water blessing

Visit The Kulen Waterfall And The 1000 Lingas

The incredible Kulen Waterfall is a stunning natural attraction located 50 km from Siem Reap. It’s the perfect fully inclusive day trip and offers an alternative view of this glorious area.

Take this full day tour and you’ll trek in the Phnom Kulen National Park with breathtaking views at the Rocky valley. Visit the mystical River of a Thousand Lingas, an important historical site where sculptures are carved in the river bed depicting Hindu mythological scenes and symbols. And you get to swim in the crystal clear waters of the Kulen Waterfall

We definitely recommend this day. It is an active day but it’s a very popular full day tour for good reason.

Great Tour

★★★★★

Buddhist monk arriving at the Kulen Waterfalls near Siem Reap

Kulen Waterfall and 1000 Lingas

  • Visit the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen
  • Explore the sacred River of a 1000 Lingas
  • Receive a Buddhist water blessing
  • Swim in Kulen Waterfall Pools

Tonle Sap and the Floating Villages

I really wanted to see the floating villages of the Tonle Sap but sadly we had no time. Make sure you leave a space in your itinerary as this is well worth the visit.

The Tonle Sap is a vast freshwater lake and the floating villages offer visitors an insight into the way of life for traditional Cambodian fishermen. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world; designated as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1997.

If you’re choosing a Tonle Sap tour, make sure you avoid the tourist traps. We recommend the following visit because it makes a point of avoiding them (and the reviews back this up).

Avoid Tourist TRaps

★★★★★

floating villages on the Tonle Sap in Cambodia

Floating Village of Tonle Sap

  • Trust the reviews and avoid overrun tourist destinations
  • Explore Cambodian landscapes, mangroves and stilt houses.
  • Watch the sunset at the floating village of Kampong Phluk.

The Landmine Museum

The Landmine museum really is worth a visit if you have a few hours spare. It’s both extremely sad but also incredibly uplifting. You don’t need to take an organised tour as you can visit independently and hire a tuk-tuk. Our tuk-tuk driver introduced us to the museum and it’s a must-see if you wish to learn about the darker side of Cambodia’s history.

Cambodia remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world after decades of conflict. Dozens of civilians are injured or killed every year by landmines and it’s estimated that Cambodia won’t be entirely free of landmines for several decades.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum was founded by former child soldier. It shows the horrors of this national curse but also shows the measures being taken to clear the mines using trained rats!

The landmine museum in Siam Reap is worth visiting

Hire a Tuk-Tuk for the Day

We had so little time in Siem Reap, we wanted to make the most of every moment. As our Angkor Wat tours started early each day, we were free in the afternoons. One afternoon we hired a tuk-tuk and asked the driver to show us the sights.

It was a really affordable way to travel and explore; we paid 20€ but I’m sure you could pay less if you negotiated down. (our driver was so helpful that we happily paid the 20€).

We explored temples and museums, we stopped at the Made in Cambodia Artisan Market and we explored the rural life outside of the city. We even got to visit a lotus farm and watch how they turned the flower stems into fabric!

I would recommend this option for everyone; it’s a great way to see a lot in a short space of time and it’s very cool in the back of a tuk tuk!

Driving around Siem Reap on our private tuk tuk tour, passing locals going home from the market, like this guy with a trailer full of fresh fruit

Siem Reap Markets

If you’re like us then you love to visit local markets; they offer a fascinating insight into local life and every market has a different flavour.

There are several markets in the city. Central Market and Old Market merit a visit and the Angkor Night Market is great for an evening visit.

Whether shopping or browsing it’s worth visiting at least one market during your time in Siem Reap:  

  • Angkor Night Market : one of the most popular markets in Siem Reap, it opens daily from 5pm
  • The Central Market : the largest of Siem Reap’s markets in the heart of the city.
  • Psar Kandal Market : an outdoor market selling all kinds of goods, from souvenirs to clothing to fresh produce and furniture
  • Old Market (Psar Chas) : a bit of an institution as a tourist destination in Siem Reap
  • Made in Cambodia Market : a dedicated space for both recognized artisans and designers and young local talent. It’s a wonderful place to look for unique souvenirs.
Beeswax Market in Siem Reap.  This is an early morning market selling food and clothes and used predominately by locals who live nearby.

Siem Reap At Night

We thought that Siem Reap was a party town and never gave much thought to what to do at night.  We were wrong. There is more to Siem Reap than Pub Street.

Having said that, you should visit at least once to soak up the atmosphere.  We’re not night owls so we probably left before the party started but we enjoyed wandering through a few times.

The Elephant Bar at Raffles

I’ll tell you why you should resesrch in advance because we never knew there was a Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap and I’m gutted that we missed their signature cocktail!

Visit the Elephant Bar at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor and try their signature cocktail, the Airavata; a blend of rum, coconut passion, lime juice, crème de banana, pineapple and coconut juice.

Visit Raffles in Siem Reap; the Elephant bar has a signature cocktail of it's own

Cambodian Circus by Phare

Don’t miss the Cambodian Circus by Phare. You’ll be captivated by contemporary and traditional performing arts. This really was an incredible performance presented by young local artists. Phare is contemporary but hints of the Khmer culture are woven into each performance.

Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) is a Cambodian charity dedicated to helping disadvantaged young people and families. It was founded in 1994 with a goal of providing educational opportunities for children and this event is just one of many aspects of the charity.

Must See This

★★★★★

do not miss Phare: The Cambodian Circus Show in Siem Reap.  A fabulous display of performance art

Phare: The Cambodian Circus

  • Be WOWed by circus arts, dance and music of this young talented theatre troupe
  • Choose open seating or upgrade for preferred seating

Best Areas to Stay in Siem Reap

Siem Reap has accommodation to suit all pockets; whether you’re looking for luxurious resorts, budget-friendly hostels, or like us, you’re simply looking for comfortable, clean accommodation in a good location.

Old French Quarter

The Old French Quarter is a great choice for a first time visitor and offers a great central location. It’s the perfect base for those seeking a calmer environment but still not too far from the action.

The area is known for its unique architecture which reflects its colonial past. The streets are lined with colourful buildings with plenty of places to eat and shop and many sights are within easy walking distance.

Old Market 

Old Market is the place to go if you want to be in the thick of the action.

Of course, Old Market is on your doorstep but also many restaurants offering authentic Cambodian cuisine and a number of historic landmarks close-by it’s a great spot to base yourself and there are accommodation choices from bunk beds to luxury hotels.

We stayed in Old Market and opted for Uncle Sam Villa. Exceptional value for this hotel and we thoroughly recommend this as a mid range choice.

Our Top pick

Wat Bo

Wat Bo a charming area on the north-eastern side of the city and is popular for those looking for good quality low cost accommodation.

The area is also well known for its cultural attractions including the Wat Bo Temple. You’re also just a short walk from Old Market and Pub Street.

Our top pick here offers incredible value for the facilities and the reviews are amazing; I think we might choose here next time!

Our Top pick

Out of Town Spa Resort

If you prefer to find a little oasis out of town, then our top pick would be the Sabara Angkor Resort & Spa.

The resort is just a short tuk-tuk ride away from Pub Street but could be a million miles if you want peace and quiet. It’s the perfect spot for indulging yourself and at a very affordable price.

Our Top pick

How To Get To and From Siem Reap?

Siem Reap has an international airport but if you’re travelling around Cambodia, flights are not your only option. Gerry wrote a great post on getting around Phnom Penh and much of the information would be relevant for Siem Reap too.

Flights and Airports

It is possible to fly in and out of Siem Reap from worldwide destinations and of course to and from Phnom Penh.  We arrived by bus in Siem Reap, as we’d travelled from Mondulkiri, but we flew out from the airport to Bangkok.

If you plan to arrive or leave from the Siem Reap – Angkor International Airport then do consider the flight route that you take.  We flew with Singapore Airlines (who are great) from Paris, but we flew via Singapore which added hours to our flight. Singapore is amazing if you’re planning to visit but as part of a long-haul flight, you might wish to consider Bangkok instead. Google Flights and Skyscanner are great for checking your flight options.

The airport in Siem Reap is a simple tuk-tuk ride away from the centre; use GRAB to book your ride when you arrive. Although, most hotels and accommodation offer this service.

Buses

Cambodia has an extensive bus network especially for Sihanoukville, Mondulkiri and Phnom Penh and almost any reasonable sized town. There are also buses to Bangkok, Laos and Vietnam. We used 12GO to book our buses as it’s a convenient way of keeping your travel arrangements in one place.

Giant IBIS is one of the most popular bus companies operating in Cambodia.  It offers a range of services including express buses, sleeper buses and minivans. The buses are well-maintained and some offer features such as reclining seats, air conditioning, USB charging ports and curtains for privacy.

getting around Siem Reap is easy.  Locals like the guy in this photo use motorbikes.  I changed the colour to black and white and it  could have been taken 50 years ago.

Express Mini-bus

We used the express mini-bus with Virak Buntham. We used Virak twice from Phnom Penh to Mondulkiri and then again from Mondulkiri to Siem Reap.

These were long journeys; Siem Reap was in excess of 9 hours but cost us less than €20 and we’d recommend this journey and the bus company. Booking your ticket is easy using the 12GO app or website.

Top Tip : Don’t choose to sit immediately behind the driver. You have less leg room but also hot air comes up from the engine and your feet get really hot.

Private Transfer

If you have the budget, or there are few people sharing, there are many options for a private transfer between Siem Reap and other onward destinations within Cambodia. 

Choose wisely as you’ll want to be sure that your driver and car are insured and registered to offer this service.

Private transfer offers excellent value for groups but also a touch of comfort for one or two people travelling too.

Premium pick

★★★★★

enjoy private transfer between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh

Private Transfer in Cambodia

  • Perfect for sharing
  • Perfect for comfort

Cruise Between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh

If you’re looking for something special there is an option to cruise between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh by boat. We learned of this choice during our Mekong River Cruise in Phnom Penh; our fellow travellers raved about this option.

I love a boat trip so this is on my itinerary on our next visit to Cambodia. We found two highly rated options :

Premium pick

★★★★★

Premium cruise from Siem Reap

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh Cruise

  • Travel in style on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers on a 9-hour sight seeing cruise.
comfort pick

★★★★★

Travel in comfort from Siem Reap

Siem Reap to Phnom Penh Ferry

  • Seamless transfer between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Getting Around Siem Reap

Getting around Siem Reap is both easy and inexpensive. The most popular way to travel around the city is by tuk-tuk. Download and use the GRAB app to book your tuk-tuk or ask your hotel for their recommended tuk-tuk driver.

Many hotels will pre-arrange a tuk-tuk driver to collect you from your bus or flight, ours did at no cost.

We found several fabulous tours. The choice of drivers and guides can be a little overwhelming and we loved that the tours we chose. We knew in advance when we booked that they had thousands of 5* reviews.

Our hotel did offer guides but we opted to book via Viator (and Get Your Guide) as we prefer to read the comments from other travellers before booking.

Best Time To Visit Siem Reap

Siem Reap can be visited at anytime of year but if you wish to visit during the dry season, November to April is better. The most popular time is December and January when the weather is dry and cool;  but it is also the busiest time of year. 

weather chart for Siem Reap

From November through March, the weather is driest but October is a good choice as the rains are ending, humidity begins to drop down and the crowds are smaller. 

It was very hot during our visit to Siem Reap.  Make sure you take sun protection, I forgot my hat! You can see that I was very happy to be back in the tuk-tuk and the shade
we visited in February and it was very hot!

Volunteer Opportunities In Siem Reap

Siem Reap is always worth visiting but if you have plenty of time and you’d like to help make a difference, you can do more than visit the temples.

Volunteering in Siem Reap, is a great way to experience the local life and culture of this beautiful country. From teaching English to helping with community projects, there are both short or a longer term volunteer opportunities available. Well known charities that seek volunteers include :

These organizations provide valuable support to the local population by offering educational programs and other services and offer a meaningful experiences for volunteers.

We also met one of the workers at HUSK during our time in Siem Reap and whilst not offering a volunteer program, they are a great charity and worthy of a donation or contact if you are in the area.

Siem Reap is worth a visit because of Angkor Wat.  This photo was taken on the upper level, I managed to capture a monk walking through the corridors in the early morning light

FAQ

We posted daily on our social media when we were travelling through Cambodia and received many many questions from folks who are considering a visit to Cambodia but had no idea about where to start. If you’re wondering if Cambodia or Siem Reap is worth visiting, these answers might help.

Which is better Phnom Penh or Siem Reap?

Both destinations are very different; we’ve also written about whether is Phnom Penh is worth a visit. We feel that they are both fantastic destinations and both worthy of a visit.

Is it Safe for Tourists in Siem Reap?

We walked alone in Siem Reap both night and day and never felt unsafe.

As with any city you should take care with your belongings.  There have been reports of bags being stolen from Tuk-Tuks so just be careful and keep things out of reach and under you care.

Are the Temples busy again?

COVID hit Cambodia badly and locals talk about how difficult it was when tourists stopped coming.  Thankfully numbers are rising and the temples felt busy.

The temples at Angkor Wat are busy but there are always opportunities to find yourself alone at the temples; like this temple covered by a huge Banyan trea

Is Phnom Penh Cheaper Than Siem Reap?

We didn’t notice much difference between the two. I suspect Phnom Penh was a little less touristy and perhaps a little cheaper.  However, by western standards, prices are still offer excellent value for money.

Does the GRAB App Work in Siem Reap?

Yes.  We used GRAB a great deal whilst in Cambodia and thoroughly recommend that you download the app; Gerry provides a little more background information in his post about Getting Around Phnom Penh.

Do You Need A Visa?

Yes.  Coming from France with a UK passport we did need a visa.  You will need to check with your own government website and also the official eVisa Kingdom of Cambodia- Official Government Website.

Please also check that your port of entry is included in the e-visa scheme; most major hubs are.

Are There Tuk Tuks In Siem Reap

Yes.  Download the GRAB app.  It’s very easy to use, it’s like UBER for Tuk-tuks.  We never entered our bank-card details and we always paid cash. Paying cash was never a problem for us.

What Currency Do You Use In Siem Reap?

You can use US dollars or the local Cambodian currency.  We paid for most things in dollars but we’re given Riels back in change. 

It’s important to remember that old USD notes or damaged notes will not be accepted. 

Most larger restaurants do accept card payment but always check in advance and not assume that this will be the case.

Will I Find A Sim Card?

When we started travelling our first stop at the airport was always at the SIM-card booth.

In Cambodia we used Metfone, as it offered a good price and good coverage.

However recently we discovered Airalo – an online eSIM provider. You can buy country-specific and regional eSIMs in advance of your arrival.

The eSIM will only work on a compatible smartphone, but we have been using this company now for many months and we’re very happy. They offer good value, particularly if you are travelling through several countries.

Musicians performing at a temple in the centre of Siem Reap

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel overseas it’s imperative to travel with a good travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve had the mis-fortune to end up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal and Ireland; every time my insurance took care of everything.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy now for an extended global trip and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

So Is Siem Reap Worth Visiting?

Yes. Siem Reap is worth visiting! Siem Reap is an unforgettable destination and should not be missed on any trip to Cambodia.

If you’re planning on extending your visit in Cambodia then take a look at our other posts :

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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