Siem Reap, Cambodia is a great place for beginner travelers, even if you’re solo. While Cambodia does have its own currency, all prices are shown in U.S. dollars and the bank ATMs dispense dollars, not riels. Also, everything you want to do is just a short tuk tuk ride away, which means you’ll have to work hard to get lost. Here are some of the best ways to fill your time in Siem Reap:
- Angkor Archeological Park – Of course you’re here to see the temples! Click here for an extensive post which details all the logistics of how to best tackle this huge, sprawling complex.
- Cambodia Landmine Museum – The 20th century were traumatic times for Cambodia, and the country is still recovering from decades of war. The Cambodia Landmine Museum, which is about a 30km tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap, is a fabulous way to learn about the country’s recent history and support a relief organization dedicated to removing landmines and nurturing those impacted by them back to health. Please read this post about the amazing work this organization is doing, and make time to visit the museum. You won’t be disappointed – this visit added a dimension of depth to my time in Cambodia that moved me in unexpected ways.
- Get a massage – For only $2 an hour, I was tempted to get three each day. If only I had more hours in the day!
- Fish pedicure – I’ll admit, this was on my travel bucket list, and even though I squealed like a little girl, I’m glad I did it. I’m not particularly ticklish, but this definitely tickled – except for that one little guy who liked nipping at my right calf. He almost became sushi. But in less than 10 minutes and only $2, my travel-weary feet were soft as a baby’s bottom.
- Pub Street – With scores of restaurants, this is your go-to place for good eats. At night it becomes a walking street market with cheap street food (including insects, if you’re inclined), local art, and clothing so inexpensive you can skip laundry and replace your entire wardrobe – including the ubiquitous elephant pants worn by every backpacker in Southeast Asia. Night time also brings out the live musicians and DJs, so grab a seat at an upstairs bar and enjoy a delicious frosty cocktail while you people watch the street below.
- Take a cooking class – There are dozens, if not hundreds, of cooking classes in Siem Reap. Unfortunately I did not have time to take one so I can’t make a personal recommendation, but I can say that I am disappointed I didn’t make time to do it. Learn from my mistake!
Things to think twice about
- Riding an elephant – It sounds so cool, but it’s really not. Elephants are strong, but carrying the weight of a human on their back causes their back to weaken and sway, causing substantial pain for the animal. They are just not built to support that kind of weight. Abuse of the animals is also rampant at many elephant parks.
- Orphanage tour – Wanting to understand and help the plight of unfortunate locals is admirable, but a local warned me that virtually all of the orphanage tours near Siem Reap are hoaxes. They pull local kids out of school when the tour bus rolls in and parade them in front of the unsuspecting tourists. Any donations of school supplies immediately get sold back to the local vendors for a fraction of their retail price. If you want to support a local relief agency, do your homework first. I suggest The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center.
Planning your trip:
- You’ll need one day for the Small Circuit at Angkor Archeological Park and two if you also do the more sprawling Grand Circuit
- Block out a morning for The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center
- Spend that afternoon at a cooking class, getting a massage and relaxing on Pub Street