Where we stayed: Cycle Siem Reap Hotel
How we got there: DMK to REP
Money: USD cash is preferred. Make sure your dollars are in fabulous condition (tears and over worn bills won’t be accepted) and that you have a lot of small bills. Change is usually given in local Cambodian Riel. Visa credit card is sometimes accepted.
Craziest things we saw: The cyclo drivers would sleep in the cyclo outside of wherever they took you to make sure they would take you on to your next location.
Siem Reap can be found in northwestern Cambodia and has a local airport. Visited mostly as the gateway to Angkor, the city itself is very charming and makes for a wonderful weekend getaway.
Our itinerary was originally for 3 days, but it was actually cheaper for us to fly in the night before (even with the extra hotel night) so we switched our Friday and Saturday plans to what you see below. We recommend at least 2 days in Siem Reap, with a 3rd day as an added bonus.
Friday: Angkor Wat, Nap, Night Market and Pub Street
Saturday: Shopping, Old Quarter, afternoon cooking class
Sunday: Horseback riding tour, afternoon flight back to Bangkok
We took the very short (and cheap!) flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap. Once we arrived, we were picked up by a cyclo (Cambodian version of a tuk-tuk). We were a little wary at first about 3 people and bags fitting, but it was a very cheap alternative to the taxi and also had plenty of room for us and the rolling duffel.
Once you’re in Siem Reap the main source of travel is walking or cyclo. A cyclo is a cross between a buggy and a tuktuk and we loved it. We quickly discovered that our cyclo driver would be happy to take us anywhere we wanted, wait for us, and then take us to our next destination. When the girls went out one morning, the driver dropped them at breakfast, waited and then continued to taxi them between shopping destinations and after tip we spent a total of $5. We also did this upon leaving: the driver sat in the cyclo with our bag as we ate lunch before our flight out. These drivers are fantastic. Make sure you have single dollars to pay them, it’s hard to get change.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Cyclo Siem Reap Hotel just outside of Siem Reap Center and found it very accommodating. This is not a luxury stay, but we would stay here again. Unfortunately for us, the hotel did not have an elevator and we were housed on the top floor. This wasn’t a problem after we got the bag up the stairs. The bed was on the hard side, but pretty typical for our Asian travels. The hotel served breakfast and had a nicely-sized pool for sunbathing and relaxation. Make sure to look around to get a good look at the nod to Khmer culture in the hotel’s design.
The hotel is situation close to both Old Town Siem Reap and the airport. There was always a cyclo parked outside ready to take us wherever we wanted to go for a few USD. We did find it easy to walk most places we wanted to go, but similar to Bangkok, the sidewalks are not always in pristine condition so wear some sturdy shoes.
Celiac/Gluten Free Notes:
Our hotel was great, but a no go for gluten free breakfast. On our first day we attempted to order eggs and nothing else. We were very dramatic on the explanation of the allergy (something that we’ve learned to do in Thailand): “If eat then die.” Well it didn’t work. The eggs came served on the toast we said we didn’t want. So fruit for breakfast it was.
What to do:
This is the gem of Siem Reap and why you will quickly find yourself in a sea of tourists in the otherwise charming city. Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples you will see when you visit Angkor. The Khmer architecture is beautifully preserved. Angkor is a must see if you’ve never been, and can easily be experiences a few times over. If you’re looking for information on visiting Angkor check out our post here.
One of our favorite activities in any new country is to take a cooking class. We say look no farther than Lily Secret Garden Cooking Class with Market Tour. We opted for the afternoon class. This tour starts with Lily’s husband, Chris picking you up from your hotel in an open air truck. He is a foreigner that speaks both English and Khmer. After collecting everyone for class, Chris takes you on a tour of the local outdoor market and gives you an introduction to the ingredients that frequent traditional Cambodian food. After picking up whatever his list request everyone hops back into the truck and off to the cooking school which is attached to a family house just outside of Siem Reap. There is a Lily Secret Garden restaurant in town as well.
The class is $25/adult, kids 8-12 $22, and younger children can share a meal for $5. It takes about 4 hours, 4.5 if you opt for hotel pick up.
Once arriving you are quickly introduced to Chef Darwin. From there you are guided through the set menu. Although they provide you with bug spray, we suggest you lavish up prior to arrival. There are fans around the table to help prevent mosquito bites and overheating.
Our afternoon menu (1430-1900) included green mango salad with chicken, Cambodian chicken red curry, and Banana or pumpkin in coconut cream. We 100% enjoyed everything we made. Don’t forget a few dollars to tip your chef with.
The website says that after class there is a free drop off at Hard Rock Café, but we were deposited back at our hotel.
Celiac/Gluten Free Note:
We emailed and confirmed with Chris that gluten free options were available prior to booking. He was very helpful and let us know the only thing he was worried about was that local Cambodian soy sauce does not have wheat as an ingredient, but it also do not say “gluten free”. As we mentioned in previous posts, gluten free is not always well understood in many Asian countries so the lack of labeling may have been done so just because they didn’t know. Chris said he had had other gluten free requests and no one reported any reactions. We decided to bring him a bottle of gluten free soy sauce from Thailand. We donated what we didn’t use to the school and Chris said he was going to attempt to get more. We suggest you reach out the Chris prior to your class to confirm there is a gluten free soy sauce available and be prepared to bring your own if not. The fish sauce was gluten free, but we decided to skip out on the shrimp paste. We didn’t have any problems with the food and all food is prepared at your own individual stations. There are also vegan and vegetarian options!
Get a Massage
We live in Thailand, land of cheap and amazing massages. We weren’t 100% sold on needing a massage while visiting, but we looked at a bunch of different spas or parlors before arriving. Glad we did because a few of us had some time to kill and we found Seeing Hands Professional by Blind was all we needed. We did step into another facility for a quick hour foot massage when we were out shopping, but can’t remember the name.
Still looking for some great massage options? Check out this post on Travel Fish.
Want to get out of the city? We recommend a horseback ride through the countryside. The Happy Ranch was founded by Mr. Sary Pann. He is a local who spent a good deal of time in the USA. When he retired, he decided to return to Cambodia and shortly after opened the ranch. They have grown over the last 5 years and have a large variety of horses for every kind of rider.
There are a lot of different options for what kind of ride you want to do, but we decided on the 2 hour ride because our travel companion (little sister) had never ridden before. They offer 1 to 4 hour trail ride options and packages through the village, countryside, or temples. Prices start at $38 /hr and they accept cash payment. The Happy Ranch can also arrange pick up for a $3-5 charge.
During registration we recommend that you are very honest about your abilities, as the ranch attempts to match you to a horse. You have the choice between English or Western saddle. Our teenage sister had never ridden and was a little scared of horses. She was placed with a very gentle horse. On the other hand one of us is a very experienced rider and was given a troublemaker who didn’t like one of the guide’s horses. There was some bucking and biting at the other horse, but nothing that our rider couldn’t handle. We mostly walked, did some trotting and very little cantering because of her lack of experience. Again, just be honest with your abilities. We had two guides with us the entire time to keep us safe.
We really enjoyed our time. If we return it would be nice to do a longer and more difficult ride with a better matched riding partner.
For families, The Happy Ranch also has cart rides available for up to 4 people for 1-2 hours.
Night Market and Pub Street
A visit to Siem Reap isn’t complete without a walk around the night market and a drink on Pub Street.
We decided to walk over the Angkor Night Market. There are some 200 + shops and our sister, of course, wanted to experience all of them. The great thing about this night market is like Bangkok it is home to some massage bars for a post dinner foot massage. We spent more than an hour roaming around and honestly we only bought 2 things, a shirt for each of us (little sister on the other hand spent a chunk of her trip money). The problem for us was that everyone was very pushy. We personally, don’t enjoy when people touch us to try to get us to look at their products. In addition, everyone wanted to overcharge us. Now it’s not expensive by any means, but after living in Bangkok and having our experience of more than a few markets/night markets it is very hard to justify buying something for double the cost of what we would normally pay. You can definitely negotiate prices, as we did for our little sister’s purchases, but it really wasn’t worth it for us. At this point we had already purchased our paintings and don’t really buy additional trinkets. Do we recommend going? 100%. Just be prepared for a lot of bodies in very close proximity.
A very short walk from the night market and you will find yourself at Pub Street. There are bars, clubs, and restaurants that are packed into the short street. You can easily find both local and Western dishes, or find a place with some very loud music (looking at you Angkor What?). While you’re there you definitely need to grab a drink (or 5) at Banana Leaf. If you’re looking for a quieter place to grab a drink, give Miss Wong a try (just a little walk from Pub Street). No matter what, you’re bound to be entertained from people watching as tourists can often be found dancing in the street. Once you’re done for the night go ahead and choose from one of the many cyclo drivers waiting to whisk you back to your hotel.
Shopping/Explore the Old French Quarter in the Old Market
There are a lot of beautiful local shops along the Siem Reap River that are home to ceramics, paintings, clothes, and jewelry all made by local artists. We suggest that if you have the time to take a cyclo to The Hive Café grab yourself a latte and begin a walk around the area. There are a handful of shops within walking distance or have the cyclo come with you (ours stayed with us all morning for just $4) so you have a place to help with the bags as you begin to collect your Cambodian treasures. Make sure to stop by Vibe for a refreshing Kombucha.
Not wanting to shop? No worries, use that dose of caffeine and explore the Old French Quarter with its colonial architecture, see the Royal Residence, local temples, food, or maybe stop by the Angkor National Museum for a history lesson.
Other options we didn’t get to try this time around:
Cambodia Landmine Museum: for the history of landmines in Cambodia, their devastating impacts, and how they are working to clear them today.
Open 07300 to 1730 every day. $5 for adults, free to children under 12
Cambodia Quad Bike: An ATVing trip through the countryside was another great option. Ultimately we decided against it for this trip. There are a lot of interesting packages available with both single or tandem bikes .
Phare The Cambodian Circus: This performance came highly recommended to us from friends, but we did not get the chance to see it during our first visit. To read more about the circus please visit their website. What they are doing for the students and graduates of their vocational training center is very honorable. There is an option of dinner with the show at the location’s cafe. Our friends returned with some art pieces that you can purchase at the boutique. These items are made by the students. It was HIGHLY RECOMMENDED that you bring a hand fan.
Nightly at 2000. Tickets ($38, $28, $18)
Artbox 3D Museum: Need something to do when it’s raining? Artbox 3D museum allows you to take photos of yourself in their large 3D drawings.
Open 0900-2000. $9.90 /adult, $6.60 for children
To wrap this up…
As we have told multiple friends, we are happy to go back to Siem Reap whenever they want. Without visiting Angkor, Siem Reap itself is an underrated gem. It was refreshing to have such beautiful little shops, great food, and just an overall relaxing atmosphere.
Gluten Free/Celiac Note:
There are a lot of options for gluten free eating in Siem Reap, more Western in style, but with a few local options. We did find at a few places that some of the waiters did not understand our gluten free requests even if they were marked on the menu. We were able to easily make assurances about the items by speaking to a manager, so don’t be afraid to ask to speak to someone else. There is a great deal of variety here and we hope you get to take advantage of that during your trip. For more information check out our post on Eating Gluten Free in Siem Reap.