Siem Reap Travel Guide: 2 Days of Culture and History

Siem Reap Travel Guide: 2 Days of Culture and HistorySiem Reap is one of those places in the world that everyone should see, not only because of the incredible Angkor temples that reside there, but also because of the history and culture that has survived for thousands of years through war and conflict and finally now, peace. While Siem Reap itself is fairly small, it’s a bustling town and comes alive particularly at night when the temperatures drop. The area of Siem Reap is also a broad term to cover the landscape around the town that houses the massive and ancient ruins of the Angkor temples and their subsequent complexes. So when you head to SE Asia, make sure and schedule a couple days to stop in this ancient and complex part of the world. Here is how to make the most of your time there and how to spend 2 days in Siem Reap.

Stay in Siem Reap proper.

When my husband and I visited we chose to stay outside of town thinking it would be closer to the temples, in reality I wish we would have stayed within the borders of town to be able to walk to restaurants and markets more easily. 

DAY 1

Angkor Wat

Start your first day in Siem Reap bright and early to beat the intense heat in this part of the world, and grab a tuk tuk from your hotel. You can easily (and cheaply) hire a tuk tuk for long periods of time, which means they’ll take you wherever you want to go, then wait for you, then take you to your next stop. It’s a convenient way to get around and don’t worry, they’ll remember you and wave you down when trying to find them again in the seas of tuk tuks that circle all the major tourist sites. Have them take you to buy your tickets and then just after sunrise, head to Angkor Wat. (Note: You can buy your tickets the previous day around 4pm if you want to take in the sunset for free at one of the temples.)

When you arrive at Angkor Wat, the crowds that were there to watch the sunrise will just be dispersing, so instead of following the masses for the main gate, head around the temple and make your way through the side entrances that will have less people. Wander around and take it all in, there is lots to see. 

Ta Prohm

When you’re feeling ready to move on, go back to the entrance and find your driver. Have him drive you the fifteen minutes or so down the road to Ta Prohm, the temple made famous by the movie Tomb Raider. This temple is much different than the rest, it’s intimate and small in size, except for the massive rooted trees that have built up inside the walls of this ancient space. It’s eerie walking around here, shadowy and feels like there is a bit of magic within those walls.

By this point in the morning, you’ll be feeling drained from the intense heat and humidity, so be sure to drink lots of water and stay in the shade whenever you can. I would suggest finishing your morning tour of the temples around 10am and returning to your hotel. Your driver can take you back and if you’d like to rehire him, you can arrange to have him pick you up again later in the day. You’ll want to spend the mid part of the day in your hotel with AC after the heat starts to escalate.

Spend the rest of the morning and early afternoon resting, having lunch nearby, or with a dip in the hotel pool. You’ll want to be well rested for the evening to come.

About 4pm, pack up your gear again and head back out to meet your ride. Have them take you to Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex. This temple was my favorite of them all, a place that exudes a total sense of place, a temple that you can almost feel the history within its stones. The surreal faces in the rocks here that stare down upon you, smiling, transport you to a different time and place. Take in the sunset here, as the long shadows fall throughout the complex, creating surrealistic edges in the face carved from stone. 
Next, have your driver take you to the East Gate of Angkor Thom. Yet another scene location from Tomb Raider, this long abandoned gate in the middle of the jungle about ten minutes drive from Bayon is a quiet spot in the middle of the Cambodian jungle. This spot is not in the guidebook but it’s beyond worth it. When you’re ready to go, head back to your hotel to grab dinner near your hotel, perhaps street noodles from a vendor nearby, and then rest for the night.

DAY 2

Angkor Wat
Wake up early again, but this time make sure to be awake about two hours before sunrise and grab a tuk tuk. Have them take you back to Angkor Wat, but this time you’re there for a different reason.

Follow the crowds to the lake in front of the complex, where the temple towers reflect on the surface of the water.

Be prepared for the crowds, as people swell around the lake for this. Watch the sunrise over the water and take in the perfect symmetry of the ruins.
After the sun rises and the crowds head into the temple, go back to your hotel after the morning spectacle and spend the morning relaxing and taking a dip in the hotel pool.

After a quiet day of rest, head out around 4pm for downtown Siem Reap. Check out the famous Night Market just off of Pub Street, wander the stalls and pick up souvenirs from your trip. Then wander up and down Pub Street and the surrounding areas, grabbing street food as you go or sit down for Cambodia BBQ, one of the best things I’ve ever eaten anywhere in the world. Enjoy it with a coconut milkshake and spring rolls for a taste of local ingredients. 

Watch the night (and the temperatures) fall as you watch dusk turn into gleaming city lights around you. Siem Reap will make an impression on you; it’s an up and coming destination in Asia that more and more people are realizing is out there. So get there fast before this quirky little Cambodian town becomes a staple in every travel guidebook.

For more tips on Siem Reap check out my article here.

Photo Credit : Nick Nieto

Author Bio: Casey is an avid traveler, exploring the world as much as she can every year.  She runs the travel blog True Colours, which focuses on showcasing locations all over the world as well as her background growing up as an expat kid in the Middle East and offering advice and tips for travelers today.  She is passionate about exploring the world and seeing as much of it as she can.

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