I wake up at 5:30am on the overnight bus arriving in Siem Reap, Cambodia. As soon as I step out, I’m intrigued. The streets are empty, aside from a couple of tuk-tuk drivers cycling by, trying to give us a ride. I notice that the city seems to be half way built up with lovely new restaurants, modern coffee shops, and grand hotels. The other half is left in its grungy state—dirt roads, small huts and unkept buildings. It’s what gives it character!
With three days to explore, I was I able to get a good taste of Siem Reap, hitting all of the main attractions. Here is what I would recommend:
1.Visit Angkor Wat
Many people spend several days at the temples, though I only did one and felt satisfied. We hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us around for the day—a worthy investment. He took us from temple to temple, making sure we hit the most important ones, and waited for us at each place. Be aware that they tend to take tourists to the expensive restaurants for a lunch break, where they have a deal with the owner.
At the central Angkor Wat temple, we hired a guide for a couple of hours. We learned so much about the history, it was well worth it. We were skeptical at first, but in the end, the tour guide was outstanding and really knew his facts. Don’t miss climbing the highest tower inside the main temple. The line may be long, but the views are amazing.
Ta Prohm is another must-see. It is the only temple that has been left in the same condition it was found. Here, you’ll find enormous tree roots growing right into the temples and beautiful ruins of the stone buildings.
Make sure you see an Angkor Wat sunrise or sunset. We did not wake up early, but we returned to main Angkor Wat after our day of touring to watch the sunset over the temples. It’s a peaceful and spiritual experience to be present in such a historical wonder during the golden hour.
2. Pub street and the Night Market
You’ll find so many places to buy practically everything you could want for cheap. It’s a lively town with a lot of energy! When the sun goes down, the action starts. There are many different kind of bars: clubs, live music, reggae bars and more. There are also street vendors selling crepes and ice cream and all kinds of treats—even fried scorpions for the adventurous ones! My favorite street food was fried banana in rice wrapped up in a banana leaf. I’ve never had anything like it.
3. Get a fish foot massage
Out on pub street at night, you’ll find fish tanks where you can relax and let the dish eat the dead skin off your feet. It feels pretty odd, and is almost unbearable at first, but give it a chance! It’s actually relaxing.
4. Eat at Genevieve’s
Genevieve’s was my favorite restaurant in Siem Reap. Not only was the food incredible, but it also had a great story behind it. It was founded by an Australian man, Phil, who wanted to help the local community by helping them grow in the restaurant business. He trains his staff, coming from no previous experience, and offers them help in starting up their own businesses. Part of the proceeds at the restaurant go to them. Because of the positive community there, the staff is so friendly. I loved the veggie curry and amok.
5. Breakfast at Vibe Cafe
Eat Vegan in Cambodia! It’s not exactly the local cuisine, but after eating fried rice and noodles for weeks, I was ready for some fresh ingredients. Vibe is a healthy organic cafe that serves fresh quinoa, salad and acai bowls. We went here twice in our short three days to try both breakfast and lunch.
6. Support the Community at Happytite
When I came across Happytite, they offered me free samples of their homemade jam, so I sat in the cafe and enjoyed the jam and a vegan pitaya bowl. The jam is expensive but they work with local NGOs to support the community with education and employment. The staff was so sweet and enthusiastic about what they were doing.