Siem Reap: the home of Angkor Wat, a bucket list item and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What used to be a small, dusty backwater town was suddenly thrown in the limelight when Angkor Wat was restored in the early 20th century, and drove far more tourists to the site than anyone could have predicted. I suggest a few tips on how to survive Siem Reap and enjoy your trip to the temples (and more).
Wear appropriate clothing
You have to remember that Angkor Wat is a temple and a place of worship. Before you can enter certain temples, you’ll need to be appropriately dressed: with long pants that cover your knees and shirts that cover your shoulders. Ladies and gents, you can wear tank tops but only if you put a shirt or a jacket over it. There are attendants that check your attire before you enter certain spots, so if your clothing does not pass you cannot get in. If you forget to pack appropriate items, there are plenty of clothing shops where you can easily buy a sarong or long pants within Angkor Wat (a bit more pricey), or within the town itself. If you are to wear a shirt, make sure it is the dry fit kind, as the climate in Siem Reap is hot, humid, and dusty. Say no to cotton as it will make you more sweaty.
Don't bother to cycle around – do yourself a favor and hire a tuk-tuk
If you are a group of four, the best way to go around Angkor Wat is to hire a tuk-tuk. For around 20 USD a day, you can hire a tuk tuk to take you and your party around the temples for a whole day. How’s that for a great deal? Cycling can be a bit of a bother, depending on the time of the year you visit, you can either get stuck in the mud after a rain, getting soaked in the process, or be sweating buckets the entire time during the humid weather. Hiring a tuk tuk is more convenient, plus you can see more for the time you’ve spent cycling. This is an especially good option if you don’t have much time to explore the temples or the city, small as it is.
Expect to see a lot of child beggars, and learn how to haggle
Within Angkor, expect to see children asking you for a dollar. You obviously cannot give all these children a dollar each, but if you do give them something, make sure it’s something that they will need: be it food, a candy bar, or school supplies. Giving money to a child just encourages them to skip school and get money from tourists instead, so try to help the local non-profits who want these children to go to school to get a brighter tomorrow. Note that Cambodia is quite a poor country, so a dollar can go a long way. You will also see a few children and locals trying to sell you souvenirs. Make sure you are willing to haggle for these goods and only pay a price you are willing to pay. Research prices beforehand so you can be comfortable that you are not being ripped off.
USD is widely accepted, not just the Cambodian Riel
As travelers, we all hate being stuck with too much local currency when we fly off, as that means we’ll have to go to the trouble of exchanging it back to what we need. In Siem Reap, US Dollars are widely accepted, so you don’t need to go to a money changer just to pay your tuk tuk driver. Heck, even the entrance fee to the Angkor complex is priced in US Dollars (20 USD for a 1 day pass, 40 USD for a 3 day pass)! At Pub Street, expect prices to be in dollars as well. And yes, most establishments take credit cards, so no need to worry about running out of cash!
Learn in the morning, party in the evening.
Siem Reap has an excellent party and bar scene, and the best place to visit is Pub Street – where foreigners go to Angkor Wat and other local pubs along the street. You can eat local fare too, such as the lok lak, thinly sliced beef with rice that is served with a side of vegetables, and, of course, happy pizza (which has ingredients that do make you happy — but may not be legal where you are from). Try the buckets, a concoction of Red Bull and some other alcoholic drink that changes daily, or get a dollar beer. It’s all happening here. We know you’ll have a great time regardless of what kind of night life you’re after.
Fun and peace within an ancient city
Now that we have shown you what to expect from Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, it’s time to start planning your trip to this famous site. Be sure to go before they limit the number of tourists: overcrowding has become a problem, so they might stop tourists from being able to climb the temples. As always, the best time to go is now, so book your tickets, pack your bags, and just go!
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