Siem Reap, Cambodia: Everything You Need to Know Before You Go

There is nothing like the rush of stepping off a plane into an unknown country. It’s a little scary and a lot of fun but more than anything, it can be addicting. International travel by U.S. citizens reached a record high in 2015 as more and more people are choosing to spend their money on experiences rather than stuff. In honor of this shift, we’re providing you with an inside look at some of the world’s top destinations. Our Travel Series provides you with a go-to guide of where to stay, what to eat, what to do, and any helpful insider tips that will help make your trip that much better.

Why you should go to Siem Reap, Cambodia

Jixin YU /

Go to Siem Reap for the same reason mostly everyone does: the temples of Angkor Wat. But unlike the mass of tourists who come in for three days, temple hop, and leave, stick around a few extra days to experience life in Cambodia today. The country has survived the recent and bloody history of the Khmer Rouge and the after effects of the Vietnam War, yet it’s moving forward with optimism. There are amazing nonprofits set up to help landmine victims, get people off the streets, and grow the economy, which means there are numerous ways to pitch in and help. Just by being a conscious tourist you can make a positive impact. While you enjoy $1 meals, hostel rooms that start at $2 a night, and $6 massages, you’ll be helping to grow their tourism industry.

Where to stay

raffles grand hotel

Raffles Grand Hotel | Source: Raffles Hotels & Resorts

You can find a hostel dorm room for a couple bucks, but if you’re not into the backpacker scene, there are plenty of Airbnb rentals, boutique hotels, and luxury resorts in the area. For a mid-range room starting around $45 a night, check out the Soria Moria, a boutique hotel near the downtown area. They have a pool, complimentary airport pick up, and an inclusive breakfast. If you really want to enjoy the good life, stay at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor. Not only does the property have an amazing, yet quiet location next to the Royal Palace, but they also have Cambodia’s largest swimming pool, which is key to surviving the heat.

What to eat

Cambodian food

Cambodian food | Source: Marum

Like the idea of grabbing a freshly made stir-fry for $1, sitting on a park bench, and people watching? Siem Reap is the city for you. The street food scene is amazing with everything from smoothies and noodles to deep-fried spiders and river snails. When you want the ease of restaurant dining, put your money towards a good cause and dine at Marum. The tapas themed restaurant is part of TREE, a nonprofit organization that trains street youth and people from marginalized and at-risk groups to work in their amazing restaurants. Don’t miss the taro and chive dumplings with citrus ginger soy. For a hip, riverside hangout, visit Sister Srey Café, which serves up delicious breakfast and lunch and a mean cup of coffee. Not only does the café hire and support young students, but 20% of their profits go to support Hearts to Harmony Foundation.

What to do


Circus | Source: Phare, The Cambodian Circus

Dedicate a full three days to the temples of Angkor Wat. The construction and detailing is beyond impressive, and you’ll get to see a bit of Cambodia’s countryside if you venture to some of the farther out temples. The Cambodian Landmine Museum will shock and amaze you as you see first-hand the affects of landmines on Cambodians today. Once you reach the point of temple and museum overload, spend a day meandering through the Central Market, walk along the river, and visit the colorful Night Market while snacking on kebabs, Cambodian pancakes, or a fresh fruit smoothie. Clear one evening to see Phare, The Cambodian Circus, for a night of dramatic entertainment for a great cause.

Insider tips

  • As a U.S. citizen, you can get a visa on arrival, but you’ll need one passport photo and $35 USD for the processing fee.
  • If your accommodations don’t have a pool, take advantage of one nearby. Many hotels allow non-guests to use their facilities as long as you pay an entry fee or buy food. Good options are Prince d’Ankor and the RiverGarden hotel.
  • Cambodia is a poor, developing country so you’ll see plenty of beggars. The key is to give money wisely. While it may be tempting to give money to that sweet five-year-old, it is much more ethical to give to that not so cute 80 year old. By giving children money, you’re keeping them on the streets and out of school, according to
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