Siem Reap – Gateway To The Ancient Khmer Empire

Siem Reap

Who would have thought that Cambodia has so much to offer as far as tourism is concerned? What’s still imprinted in the minds of many people is a country that was almost reduced to ashes by the notorious Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled with an iron fist for almost three decades. When democracy was eventually restored in the nineties, this Indochinese nation that constitutes one of the four countries of the Mekong River Basin, quickly came out of its hibernation and opened up to foreign investment. One of the by-products of this effort was the burgeoning tourism industry with Siem Reap as its foremost beneficiary.

Siem Reap was almost alien to me until a couple of years back when AirAsia first ventured into Cambodia. Since then, many advertorials have featured the lost jewels of Siem Reap – Angkor Wat, which piqued my curiosity all the more. I was hell-bent on exploring this wonder of the ancient world after watching the movie, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider which I’m sure many of you’d remember because of Angelina Jolie. Well, not only did she make Angkor Wat famous through her film, she also adopted a Cambodian child as part of her humanitarian effort.

One thing you must not miss when you’re in Cambodia is to pamper yourself with spa and massage.


Hubby and I explored Siem Reap and Angkor Wat way back in 2012. Our tickets to and from Siem Reap via AirAsia was extremely cheap, in that we only paid for the taxes as our tickets were completely free (one of those special discounts given out by AirAsia annually). How can I not be loyal to AirAsia?  Approve


Better still was our accommodation which hubby booked through Booking (yup, he’s been its ardent fan from time immemorial). Hotels are aplenty, with the upscale ones sprawling along National Highway 6 from Siem Reap International Airport all the way to the town centre. As such, a standard room at Viva Hotel costed a mere US$16 (RM64) per night inclusive of taxes. The hotel was actually very comfortable and convenient for us as its situated at the Old Market Area also known as Phsar Chas. This right triangle area that’s delineated by Sivatha Boulevard and Pokambor Avenue (along Siem Reap River) is Siem Reap’s focal point, where it’s most vibrant with activities. What’s interesting is that most hotels will deploy a tuk tuk (what a three-wheeler is called in Indochina) to pick up their guests from the airport free of charge. However, you have to pay for your return trip to the airport.

Siem Reap map

When we arrived early in the morning, our driver was already waiting at the arrival hall and holding a placard with our names imprinted on it. He introduced himself, offered to carry our luggage and led us to his tuk tuk. I must confess that I’d rather take the tuk tuk than a limousine, as it was really exciting to be driven on it with the wind blowing on my face. Furthermore, it could bypass most of the traffic congestion along the journey. The experience was simply indescribable.

Siem Reap tuk tuk

It took about 20 minutes for us to arrive at the Viva Hotel. The weather was excruciatingly hot and humid with the temperature approaching almost 40°C during the day. While waiting to be checked in, each of us was presented with a cold glass of cordial to quench our thirst. This hotel also has a fantastic Mexican restaurant on the ground floor, which was where our breakfast was served for the next 2 days.

Viva Hotel Siem Reap


Without wasting much time, we ventured out in search for lunch. We walked along 2 Thnou Street (Market Street) and turned into a small alley, The Passage where most eateries are located. The unique thing about eateries in Siem Reap is that their tables are beautifully adorned à la French, legacy of Cambodia’s past. However, they also incorporate local Khmer cuisine in the menu besides French cuisine. We ended up having lunch at Champey and ordered only Khmer food, which was exactly what we were looking for.

Siem Reap The Passage

You need not worry so much about converting to the local currency as Cambodia accepts the US dollar. However, the merchants might return your change in riel instead of in US dollar, which may not always favour you. The difference is probably negligible, but it means a lot to the locals.


One thing you must not miss when you’re in Cambodia is to pamper yourself with spa and massage. Not only are they affordable, they are actually very good. There are many joints all around town and you just gotta make some comparisons to know which one suits you best. Haggling is tolerated here, so the better you are at it, the better your deal will be. We spreaded our schedule for body massage, foot massage as well as spa over the next few days. These were essential particularly when there were a lot of walking involved throughout our adventure.


Before the day was over, we negotiated for the best rate with a couple of tuk tuk drivers for our transportation to Angkor Wat the next morning. Generally, they charge between US$12-15 for a full day, but you can try asking around for cheaper. The ones arranged by the hotel are usually more expensive, so try to avoid them. Our best price after bargaining was US$10.

Right after our scrumptious breakfast at the Mexican restaurant, we went on our tuk tuk to Angkor Wat. The journey took approximately 20 minutes to the main entrance of Angkor Archaeological Park. You have to purchase an entrance pass which comes in blocks of one-day (US$20), three-day (US$40) and seven-day (US$60). Upon purchase of your pass, you’ll have your photograph taken and imprinted on your ticket, perhaps just to make it easier for the rangers to identify you in the event you go missing.

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We reckoned a one-day pass would be sufficient for both of us to explore this magnificent monument of the ancient world. Our entire exploration took almost 6 hours to complete. To follow our adventure in Angkor Wat, please read here.


The most happening of all places in Siem Reap is none other than Street 8 which is popularly known as Pub Street. This street offers a variety of restaurants and pubs, which makes nightlife in Siem Reap all the more vibrant. Your vacation at Siem Reap is never complete without spending some time at Pub Street.

After a long day at Angkor Wat, we figured that it would serve us good to have a nice dinner here. Following which, we just relaxed at one of the pubs and listened to a live band playing mostly contemporary music until almost midnight.

Pub Street


The temperature in Siem Reap can be extremely hot and you might wanna cool yourself down with cold beverages or indulge in ice creams and desserts. My favourite place is The Blue Pumpkin, which is just about 5 minutes walk from Viva Hotel. The beauty about this place is that you get to laze around on a bed-like sofa, while enjoying your drink, dessert and the free WiFi.

Blue Pumpkin Siem Reap

Blue Pumpkin Siem Reap

One evening, we decided to venture a little bit out of the Old Market Area and we discovered a cosy little cafe with just a few tourists in it. So, we ended up spending a few hours there enjoying a drink and just doing nothing else. Oh, by the way, if you’d like to try out Cambodia’s local beer – Angkor Beer, it only costs US$1 a bottle.



If you are into traditional and cultural stuffs, you might be interested to watch the Apsara dance performance, which is prevalent in Siem Reap. Apsara dance is an ancient traditional Khmer dance, heavily influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism; and constitutes it an important part of Cambodian culture.  This show is offered as a package combining a dinner and a dance spectacle in many theatres, restaurants and upscale hotels in town for a very reasonable price. If you are lucky, you might even catch this show for free while exploring Angkor Wat.

Apsara Dance at Angkor Wat


Well, shopping in Siem Reap isn’t like the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris or the Fifth Avenue in New York. You might not be able to get genuine luxury merchandise but it does offer a wide range of handicrafts and good quality imitation products. One of the most popular places where these are available is the Old Market. Other than that, you can also pay a visit to the many night markets within the Old Market Area, one of which is Night Market Tany Khmer. If you love bargaining, these are the places to perfect your skill and get the best of out it.

Siem Reap Night Market


A visit to such a place is definitely not for the faint-hearted. The Wat Thmey Temple is notable for being a killing field during the evil Khmer Rouge regime, a grim reminder of Cambodia’s past. It is an active pagoda that serves as a memorial to the 8000 Cambodians who died in that spot. The most gruesome spectacle of course is none other than the glass case which houses hundreds or possibly thousands of human skulls. Entrance to this venue is free of charge.

Wat Thmey temple Siem Reap

Wat Thmey


Since Cambodia’s emancipation from the Khmer Rouge regime, it had embarked on the process of rebuilding its ruined economy. Be that as it may, this country still relied on as much assistance as it could possibly get from the outside world, especially in healthcare.

When we were there, we went for a one-hour charity performance by Dr. Beat Richner, a Swiss pediatrician, cellist, and founder of children’s hospitals in Cambodia. The Beatocello concert was held at the Kantha Bopha Academy for Pediatrics (KBAP) every Thursday and Saturday. Entrance was free, but the audience were at liberty to offer a token of appreciation which went to support the running of the hospital.

Beatocello Siem Reap

Oh, before I forget, there’s one more attraction which might interest you – Tonlé Sap Lake. It is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. We thought we’d just give it a pass, dissuaded mainly because of the excruciating heat. All in all, we had an awesome 3D2N vacation in Siem Reap. I’d not be doing enough justice to this charming and historic city if I don’t recommend it to you guys. It’s also a reasonably safe and clean town. So, what are you guys waiting for? Go ahead and pack your bags for Siem Reap.




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