The following is a guest post by Danny Newman, a travel enthusiast with a passion for writing and inspiring others to live fully. He runs a travel blog called Coddiwomp, which is dedicated to helping aspiring travellers travel for the first time. For Danny, the essence of travel is found in the feeling it elicits. He wants to inspire and support as many people as possible to experience this ‘travel feeling’.
Siem Reap should be a compulsory stop on any Cambodia itinerary. Indeed, as the gateway city to the famous Angkor temples, you’ll almost certainly pass through it during your travels in the country, even if it’s only for 3 days. After all, the sublime ancient temples simply should not be missed and are the reason why many people travel to Cambodia in the first place!
However, there’s more to Siem Reap than just temples. This is a buzzing, bustling city that boasts a fascinating blend of culture, food, history and nightlife. As a result, tourists are drawn to it in their droves and, though it’s true Siem Reap can feel overly touristic at times, the atmosphere created is definitely worth experiencing.
Moreover, there’s a lot to see and do in this scintillating city. From world-renowned temples and floating villages to endless bars, clubs, markets, and restaurants, you could easily spend a significant amount of time here. But all is not lost for anyone with limited time on their hands!
A few days in Siem Reap will allow you to experience the very best bits without becoming overly annoyed by the tourist-heavy vibes about town. So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at what you can get up to with this Siem Reap itinerary in 3 days.
Siem Reap Itinerary: 3 Days
Three days in Siem Reap isn’t a huge amount of time when you consider how much there is to see in the area surrounding the city. However, it should give you just enough time to experience at least some of the temples, markets, and the nearby floating villages.
See the Floating Villages
Another major tourist attraction in Siem Reap are the floating villages that grace the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake. These incredible places are entire stilted villages of some considerable size, built over the water.
You hire a boat to take you through them, witnessing the waterlogged lives of local people going about their daily routines; exploring the hidden recesses of ancient petrified, water bound forests; eating on floating restaurants and generally drinking in a landscape and lifestyle that are utterly unique.
There are three main villages: Chong Kneas, Kompong Khleang, and Kompong Phluk, where Kompong Phluk is most accessible. With limited time this may be your best bet. It’s positioned on the northeastern side of the lake, which makes it a short tuk-tuk ride from Siem Reap town centre.
Consider visiting the floating villages on the afternoon of your first day, after arriving in town.
Visit the Angkor Temples
The Temples of Angkor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are honestly like no other place in the world. Uniquely Cambodian, this breathtaking archaeological site offers a portal to an ancient world. Masonry and jungle collide, weaving past with the present and providing an astounding insight into a lost world.
There’s a lot to see here and in 3 days you’ll be pushed to see everything. I recommend spending a full day on site, despite only having 3 days in Siem Reap in total! I promise you it’s worth it; any less and you won’t even scratch the surface.
Follow what’s known as ‘the Small Circuit’ of the main temples. A sunrise to sunset tour is popular, where you begin in the dark to experience first light at Angkor Wat (the best-known temple of all), before exploring throughout the day and ending at sundown at one of the many well-known sunset spots. Other popular temples include Bayon (the temple of the faces) and Ta Phrom (used in Tomb Raider). However, there are plenty of other temples to explore too! You can hire a tuk-tuk driver for the day who will take you between all temples, and even a guide if you want to know more.
You could mix things up and experience sunrise with fewer people at one of the other temples (Bayon for example) and end with sunset at Angkor Wat, or consider two half days so that you don’t get “templed-out”.
The day pass you’ll need will cost USD$37. Buy your tickets from the ticket office just outside of town.
See a show at the Phare Cambodian Circus
Every night there is a performance at the Phare Cambodian Circus. It is run by a social organisation working with the youth of Cambodia, many who have had difficult or underprivileged experiences, and have been taken in and taught performing arts. Proceeds from the show are reinvested into activities the organisation runs, and no animals are used in any performances.
Explore the Markets and Sample the Street Food
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to markets in Siem Reap. You’ve got the Old Market, the Night Market, the Food Market, the Art Night Market…everywhere you turn there’s another market!
Take time to wander through the stalls and between the isles, trying on the clothes, bargaining with the shop owners and buying souvenirs for loved ones back home.
Likewise, street food is everywhere too! Delicacies are all cooked and prepared on the streets: from meat, fish and vegetable options to different desserts and drinks. If you can stomach it you could also sample the delectable assortment of cooked insects that tourists delight in while staying in Siem Reap (and other parts of Cambodia). Insects aside, street food in Cambodia is a great way to save money, while eating amazing, fresh dishes of a wider variety than you’ll often find in the restaurants. Try things like Fish Amok (fish curry), Lort Cha (egg fried noodles), Num Pang (Cambodian sandwich), Bamboo Sticky Rice, and barbequed skewers with pork or seafood.
Both the markets and the street food should definitely be experienced during your time in town and both constitute fantastic late evening activities.
For an added experience and if you have time in your 3 day Siem Reap itinerary, try a cooking class and learn how to make some of this delicious food yourself!
Visit the War Museum
This open-air museum includes tanks, planes, leftover landmines and guns from the war. You can take a tour with an ex-soldier who will give you a unique perspective on their time during the Khmer regime.
Party on Pub Street
If you want a good night out then Siem Reap is the place to be! The city sprung up after the discovery of the Angkor Temple complex and so has always been somewhat of a resort town, however, in recent years the huge drive in tourism has given it the atmosphere of a party resort. Music blasts into the early hours, streets are lined in the evenings with drunken tourists, local vendors and tuk-tuk drivers are everywhere, trying to score customers.
It’s almost a shame- this most definitely isn’t authentic Cambodia!
Nonetheless, it is certainly party central and the aptly named Pub Street is the place to be to experience it best. After long, tiring days of exploration and culture, this is a great way to unwind and let loose. Join the thousands of other people enjoying the cheap drinks and loud music; the open bars and pool parties. Eat, drink, dance and be merry into the early hours.
How to get to Siem Reap
Thankfully, access to Siem Reap is fairly straightforward. Indeed, Cambodia is well set up to accommodate the huge number of tourists that flow through this part of the country every year.
Firstly, approximately 7km outside town is Siem Reap International Airport. Both internal and international flights come and go from the airport, making this a prime access point to the city.
However, there are also daily buses and boats from Phnom Penh, the capital city, in the centre of the country. Prices vary but expect to pay around USD$20 for the ferry and USD$10 for the bus. The trip will take around 6 hours. It is also around 6 hours to travel by bus from Bangkok, which has a large international airport.
It is worth noting that the bus station and ferry docks are both situated just outside Siem Reap centre. So, be prepared to pay extra for the moto/tuk-tuk to take you to your final destination.
Tip: From the station/dock (and in general) be careful to avoid unscrupulous tuk-tuk drivers. You’ll be met by dozens of drivers trying to get your custom and they will often quote unsuspecting tourists far more than they should. As a rough heuristic, a 5-minute trip should cost USD$1-1.50 (4000-6000 riel), meaning USD$5-7 should get you where you want to go.
Where to stay in Siem Reap
You’re never short on places to stay in Siem Reap- accommodation for all budgets is literally everywhere.
However, for a budget backpacker who enjoys a party, I recommend staying in the Mad Monkey Hostel. There’s a pool, cafe, and bar on-site, as well as 100 beds in both dorm and private rooms. They can also help you organise tours from their travel desk.
For a more chilled out vibe, I’ve also read good things about The Living Quarters. It’s reasonably priced with all the same amenities as the Mad Monkey. However, it’s a 7-minute walk from the centre, which makes it slightly further away from the main tourist hubs, while remaining in easy walking distance.
If you’re looking for a bit more luxury, there are plenty of suites and resorts in the area as well.
Day trips from Siem Reap/Where to go from here
Siem Reap is a great place for a day trip! If I were to suggest just one though, it would be to venture further north.
North of Siem Reap you enter typical Cambodian countryside and it is absolutely beautiful. Away from the madness of the centre, the atmosphere feels entirely different, with a laidback, sleepy quality and relative lack of people. The individuals you do come across tend to be locals, which is a nice change from the masses of tourists in town.
There are more incredible temples here too though, including Banteay Srei (the “Citadel of Women”, so named as the ornate carvings there were said to be too fine to have been completed by those of men) and Kbal Spean (“River of a Thousand Lingas”, a special place where stunning carvings can be seen under the flowing water of the river).
It is easy to spend a day north of Siem Reap exploring sights such as there, revelling in the change of atmosphere and relaxing in the rice paddies of the surrounding countryside.
If you’re travelling further around South East Asia, then from Siem Reap you can head north to the 4000 Islands and Laos, south to Phnom Penh, more of Cambodia, and Vietnam, or west to Bangkok and more of Thailand.
I hope this piece has given you some ideas for how to spend your 3 days in Siem Reap! As a gateway to the Temples of Angkor it really shouldn’t be missed from your Cambodia itinerary, but as you’ve read, there is far more to experience here than just this.
Whether you explore the ancient temples ruins, visit the floating villages, peruse the market stalls and sample the street food, or simply party the night away on Pub Street, you’re sure to have an incredible time!
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2 thoughts on “Siem Reap Itinerary: 3 Days in the City + Surrounds”
Oh Siem Reap, how I miss you! Your article reminds me of the trip I had. Touring around the best temples in Angkor in one day was no easy (because I combined some temples in the small and grand circuit to maximize my tour) but it was all worth it. I love the carvings and the overall atmosphere of the temples. It was tiring but a quick rest was enough before I went out to the Pub Street. Siem Reap is small but it can surprise you of the delights it can offer, even when you are on a budget. I no longer had the chance the visit the museum and the floating village but I think my experience was enough, I hope so. Siem Reap really is one for the books! 🙂
Same here! I loved it so much I really really want to go back.