Siem Reap, Cambodia: Top Ten Must-Do’s

Some people on Braden’s team decided months ago that they were going to travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia to complete a half marathon at the beginning of the December. That was just the motivation he needed to decide to run his first half marathon, and just the motivation I needed to decided it would be a bit lame to just cheer at the finish line, so I signed up for the 10km option. What a great extended weekend! Braden’s brother flew in from Kuala Lumpur, a bunch of Braden’s coworkers were there, and a few friends from Hong Kong came too. In addition to the race we did a fair bit of exploring and adventuring in and around Siem Reap. The only downside to our trip was we waited to long to book flights and, due to the popularity of the Half Marathon, there were no direct flights left. We had to fly via Vietnam both ways, which was very Hanoi-ing (see what I did there?) The only thing I would have changed with this trip is to have been on top of our booking to ensure we got direct flights. Read on to hear about our Top Ten for Siem Reap.

10. $0.50 Draft Beer

This is, of course Braden’s addition to the list. On the Beer Index, Cambodia rates very high (or low) depending how you look at it. Braden couldn’t get enough of the cheap beer and since the official currency is basically the US Dollar (with a bit of local currency – the Cambodian Real -peppered in as change) it was easy to navigate prices.

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Never one to turn down a beer; Braden’s favourite in Cambodia was the classic “Angkor” lager.

9. Wandering Pub Street

We quickly realized we are too old for Pub Street when we sat down in a restaurant next to a club on our first night. The walls were literally shaking and our ear drums were ready to explode. Though it’s an absolute “must see” and hard to avoid, it wasn’t our thing. We enjoyed, instead, the streets approaching Pub Street and running parallel. Some of the favourite places we checked out were Laundry BarGelato Lab (so amazing, and $1.50 for a delicious scoop), and Sister Srey Cafe for delicious brunch. Food and drinks are so cheap in Siem Reap.

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In case you weren’t sure.
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Pub Street is backpacker central as soon as the sun sets.
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Our way-too-loud spot next to the club.
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$1.00 smoothie stands abound.
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Pub Street is pretty quiet during the day.
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Fun street to walk down and people watch.
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Our preferred stroll, which runs parallel to Pub Street.
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Our nice Italian restaurant (any excuse to carb-load).
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The local market was a couple blocks from Pub Street…how many different varieties of rice can you see?
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Inside the market each person had their own little section.
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Shopkeepers in their “shops”.
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Little fish for sale?
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Dried meat options at the market.
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Dried and seasoned snails for a snack.
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We didn’t try these.
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Traditional Khemer cuisine.

8. Hanging out at the Pool

Our hotel had a beautiful outdoor pool on their grounds. I would say it’s a “must” to have a pool at your hotel here to cool down and relax in the afternoon. We would have liked a bit more sun on our pool in the afternoon, but who can quibble about a detail like that?

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Our little corner of paradise. Do you love the umbrellas?!
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The water was super salty but so refreshing.

7. Going for Massages

Cheap cheap cheap massages abound in Siem Reap! We treated ourselves to a pre-run foot massage for $3 on the street, and a post-race body massage in a shop. The foot massage on the street was not excellent, but provided some of the best commentary of any of our trips. The girls speak minimal English and only that required to complete a massage. My conversation went something like:

Girl, “Missy, you like?”

Me, “Yes, very nice.”

Girl, “Pressure okay?”

Me, “Yes, thank you.”

Girl, “Where you from?”

Me, “Hong Kong.”

Girl, “Your face no look Hong Kong.”

Me, “Ummmmm! You’re right!”

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Smoothie and massage combo – can’t be beat! (Braden is getting acupuncture with a stick).

Ever wanted to go for a massage with your brother-in-law and husband…in the same room? Hahaha! Just a little bit weird, but we made it work. Only issue: Braden kept falling asleep and started to snore.

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We really liked the service at Lemongrass Garden.

6. Stay in a Boutique Hotel

The attentive service we received at Mane Boutique Hotel and Spa was second to none and the grounds were lovely. The staff were so lovely and willing to do absolutely anything to make us happy. The breakfast included was full of options and delicious.

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What’s not to love? Look at that blue sky!
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Welcoming open air lobby.
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The entry to our room.
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The grounds.
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The sweetest decorations.

5. Hiring a Personal Tuktuk Driver

Braden’s parents were in Cambodia a few years ago and met Ton, a tuktuk driver, as he was taking them to see some temples. They took a shine to him, asked him about his goals and, before they knew it, had helped him purchase and refurbish a used tuktuk. This helped Ton make more money, as it’s his own and no longer needs to pay rent to use one. Braden’s parents have stayed in touch with Ton and had told him we would be in town. He was so excited to see us, and met us at the airport with a “Welcome Alison & Braden” sign. So sweet. We loved being able to call him to take us places. If you find a tuktuk driver that you like, get his number or make plans for the next day right away.

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Us with Ton and family tuktuk.
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Ton and his tuk.
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Ton’s was one of the nicer tuktuks we saw…clean and well cared for.
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Daren departing from our hotel in a tuktuk.
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View from the tuk.
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Tuktuk selfie on our way to the airport.

4. Bike Riding

Our hotel was awesome and had bikes we could use for free, which was amazing and another perk. The frames were made from bamboo, which seemed novel at quaint at the time. When we got on and started to ride, we realized they were difficult to adjust and the bamboo had so much flex that we were wobbling all over the place. It took a few blocks to adjust, but we settled in and got used to them pretty quickly. We just went up and down the streets and found ourselves on a dusty trail in the local village. We loved seeing the more authentic side of Siem Reap.

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Our sweet little bamboo bikes.
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Yup, that’s meat being sold on the side of the street.
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Typical street in Cambodia.
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The river is not a place you want to go for a dip.
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One of the favourite dirt lanes we found.
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Dogs sleeping in the shadows did not stir as we rode past.
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One of the higher-end streets.
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Daren cruises down the road. It took us a while to figure out which side of the road the traffic was supposed to go down…everyone drives everywhere. It’s not as chaotic as it sounds, as everyone drives cautiously and proceeds with caution at intersections.
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Hahaha! Braden’s seat was way too low for him.
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More local Siem Reap scenery.
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Some of the local little huts.
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Daren checks out the scenery.
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We took turns leading and following each other.

3. Temple Exploring

We spent a day exploring temples and opted for a one day ($20USD) pass. We saw Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Tah Prohm. Angkor Wat is surely the most well known as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but I think my favourite was Tah Prohm, as it felt like something out of Indiana Jones being so overgrown with trees and vines. There are scores more we could have seen, but knowing we would be running through temples too we decide not to temple ourselves out. We also heard it’s spectacular to see the temples at sunrise, which many people do, but since we already had one pre-dawn wake-up planned on race day we gave ourselves a bit of a break.

In hind-sight we probably should have hired a guide for at least one of the temples to learn some history and hear some details. We would have loved a few educational notice-boards to help explain more about what we were looking at.

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Our tickets to get in to Angkor Wat.
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View of the expansive 400km grounds.
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Temple example.
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Incredibly detailed structures, parts of which have been restored.
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The intricate carvings depicted scenes from historical events (mostly fighting).
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Entrance to Angkor Thom, which was part of the running route that we did.
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One of the many overgrown areas at Ta Prohm.
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This temple was in considerable more disrepair than Angkor Wat, giving it a mysterious feel.
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Pieces of the crumbled temple lay in piles waiting for restoration.
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Depictions of gods and the carved column-style details were everywhere.
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A nice little altar in a corner of one of the buildings.
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Trying to show how massive some of these trees are.
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View from outside the temple gates.
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Angkor Wat sunset.

2. Run Though the Temples

What a highlight! We loved completing such a unique run in a beautiful setting. This was Braden’s first half marathon and he loved having so much to look at. The course was so flat, which obviously made it easier, but man oh man was it hot. Even though we started at 6am, we were sweating by the first kilometer.

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Happy, pre-dawn,non-sweaty, pre-race photo (with Angkor Wat in the background).
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Approaching the temple gates.
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Incredibly picturesque and inspiring route.
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So many locals came out to cheer.
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Such a scenic route. Neither of us were in a hurry to finish and stopped to take a few photos along the course.

 

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Braden’s temple selfie.
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These kids were telling Braden to “run faster” and were so cute he couldn’t resist stopping for a photo.
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Another incredible temple along the route.
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My favourite photo from the race, a scenic glimpse off the bridge, which was adorned with Buddhas.
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What could be cooler than running past elephants?
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Happiest once the race was over.

1. Quad ride at Sunset

Our friends suggested doing a quad tour, something we hadn’t considered and signed up for last minute. It turned out to be one of the highlights of our weekend! We booked a sunset tour with Siem Reap Quad Bike Adventure on the recommendation of our hotel which was an excellent suggestion. We spent a solid two hours out and about, traveling to a Buddhist temple, through villages and rice paddies with a view of the sunset, with the last leg being quite dark getting back to their office. Aside from my slight mis-steering in to the middle of a huge mud puddle everything went super smoothly. We loved that it was just the four of us with two guides. And for $60 per person we thought it was money very well spent.

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Dusty scenic tracks.
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First time taking an ATV out on the road!
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Sharing the road with locals on bikes.
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Quick stop at a Buddhist temple.
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Temple.
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Little girl at the temple – trying to catch her not posing.
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These kids loved the camera and raced to see the photo as soon as I took it. I don’t imagine they have many, if any, photos of themselves.
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The most beautiful fields and scenery.
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Could have spent hours longer rolling through these flats. It was gorgeous.
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Kids on their way home from school.
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Three kids commute home from school sharing a bike.
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Riding off toward the sunset.
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Our stop along a dyke to admire the sunset.
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Aimee, Mike, Braden and I.
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Love this photo as a local farmer herded his cows past us.
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Our view.
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The sky reflected in the rice paddies.
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Photos don’t do this sunset justice.
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Even after the sun set, the sky looked gorgeous.
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One last glimpse.
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The aftermath of my slight detour through a huge puddle.

Bonus Tip:

If you’re concerned about space in your passport / don’t want to wait in a line for 45 minutes, and don’t mind paying an extra US $10, you can apply for an e-visa here in advance. You can print out a piece of paper, fly through the line-up (like I did) and then wait for your husband to wait in line, thus actually saving no time. I ended up with two small stamps in my passport, whereas Braden has a full page occupied with a sticker that was only good for one visit.

We loved seeing a new part of Southeast Asia and exploring Siem Reap. We highly recommend visiting if you’re in the area!


2 thoughts on “Siem Reap, Cambodia: Top Ten Must-Do’s

  1. Hi guys. We love your pics and blog. You guys are SO FORTUNATE to have the opportunity to take this journey. Keep smiling and having fun!!
    Love uncle Dave & Cheryl

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