Visiting Siem Reap
I first came to Siem Reap in October 2014 as my first ‘big’ (read: far away) solo trip to visit the temples of Angkor after Google image searching the temples and being amazed by what I saw. I’d travelled plenty by myself around Europe before but I’d never been this far from home in my life full stop, nevermind on my own.
I have such strong memories of that trip, the unique smoky smell that lingers everywhere, the ruined temples half-consumed by jungle and the kind and helpful people I met.
As much as it made me want to return, it made me reticent to come back for fear of ‘overwriting’ my memories of the first trip or finding things changed for the worse or not as I remembered.
Three years later I returned and found the place even more charming than I remembered, the food more delicious and the temples endlessly mesmerising as though I was seeing them again for the first time.
Below are my recommendations for where to stay and where to eat- these recommendations are based on my combined experiences from both trips, one in October 2014 and another in January 2018. You can also read about my recommended one week Angkor and Siem Reap itinerary here.
My recommendations are aimed towards those wishing to travel in comfort or luxury, although my suggested itinerary for visiting the temples would be helpful for anyone visiting Angkor.
How to get to Siem Reap
If you’re flying from the UK (and many other places) there’s no direct route and you’ll need to go via an Asian hub. You can fly in from Kuala Lumpur (2 hours), Bangkok (1 hour), Hong Kong, Singapore and various Chinese airports. You can also fly from several places in Vietnam, which makes Siem Reap easy to combine with a longer trip around the region.
Once you arrive at the airport you’re only about a 20 minute ride by taxi or tuk tuk into Siem Reap and a lot of the hotels will offer a free transfer.
Where to stay in Siem Reap
There is nowhere you can stay in Siem Reap that is going to put you in walking distance of the temples. The closer you get to town, the further from the temples you are and the closer to the temples you get, the further from town you are. I find you’re better off just booking a hotel you like and that fits your budget and making sure you factor in the cost of tuk tuk rides back and forth.
With a whopping 9.9 review score on Booking.com and number 1 spot on TripAdvisor currently (and a price tag to match), this is the place to be if you’re looking for luxury experiences in Siem Reap. There’s a restaurant and spa on site, free minibar and laundry and free tuk tuk rides into town (with a loan phone to ring them for pick ups).
There are two pools to choose from which give you varying degrees of shade during the day and these can be used 24 hours a day as long a you are respectful and don’t make too much noise out of hours.
Service is excellent with attentive and friendly staff. With only 36 rooms and suites you need to book early to get a space. There are two types of suite, the junior suite and junior pool suite, which comes with its own private plunge pool.
The rooms are beautiful with the bathroom designed as a huge wet room area for the shower next to a bespoke sandstone bath. A coffee machine is provided along with a selection of homegrown teas. Décor is minimalist and tasteful and my absolute favourite touch was the beautifully folded fresh lotus flowers decorating the room, bathroom and everywhere else around the hotel.
The hotel is part of a number of social and eco initiatives including ReFill not Landfill, which aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic bottles by supplying guests with aluminium bottles which can be filled at a number of sites around Siem Reap. They also created the Made in Cambodia Market (daily 12 – 10pm) which aims to create jobs for local people by helpful Cambodian craftsmen sell their products to visitors.
The hotel can also organise tours and excursions (extra charge) or simply supply you with a tuk tuk driver for the day if you want to follow your own itinerary. The hotels tuk tuks are slightly more expensive than what you might be able to arrange with a solo driver, but they’re convenient you get water and cold towels throughout the day which will save you a few dollars.
Breakfast is buffet and a la carte (both included in the rate) offering up western and Cambodian options as well as plenty of fresh juices, fruit, salad and amazing breads and pastries. The baked goods could easily rival any Paris hotel.
Rooms start from around $300 per night
I stayed here for my first trip to Siem Reap in 2014 as well as my first night of my second trip this year. The hotel has expanded since its proper boutique days, with a new five storey building added next door boasting a rooftop bar and pool for sunrise and sunset views.
There are two pools and a pretty solid restaurant on site as well as spa facilities. Massages are very reasonable (I think around $10) and you can get great Cambodian Fish Amok and Khmer Curry at the restaurant for a good price.
Rooms are clean and nicely designed with comfy beds and spacious bathrooms. Staff are helpful and friendly. The hotel is between Angkor and Siem Reap town and just about walkable to the National Museum and mall (if you like to sweat!) and it’s always straightforward getting a tuk tuk- just ask the staff to help if there’s no one there. They also hire out bikes for free on a first come first served basis.
Rates are around £50 a night for a double room which includes breakfast and airport transfers.
Eating in Siem Reap
What to eat in Siem Reap
I absolutely love Cambodian food and so does everyone else I know who’s tried it. It’s near impossible to get in London (and you can eat everything here)- I’m totally shocked that it’s not yet a ‘thing’ here and I’m sure it can’t be long until people wake up to what a delicate cuisine it is.
Cambodian food contains a lot of fish, both as the main ingredient and in the form of fermented pastes, due to the abundance of fish in the Mekong River and Tonle Sap lake. Rice is eaten with every meal and pork and chicken are also widely eaten.
Some of the most popular dishes you’ll see on restaurant menus include noodle soups, stir fried dishes such as beef Lok Lak (fried beef on a bed of salad with a delicious kampot pepper sauce), Amok (fish and aromatic herbs cooked in a banana leaf), and various curries.
Cambodian food tends to be fragrant and aromatic rather than spicy and takes influence from a number of neighbouring countries and from its colonial past. It is truly unique and my absolute favourite cuisine I’ve tried anywhere in the world.
Where to eat in Siem Reap
During my 2014 trip this was number 1 on TripAdvisor and I was lucky enough to turn up early for dinner and sneak a table for one for 45 minutes before their first cover came in. This was the best meal of my life and I can still remember every minute and every mouthful of the spicy friend corn starter, beef Khmer curry and fresh coconut I had that evening. I ventured back in 2018 and it was every bit as good in its new location in the Wat Damnak area.
The restaurant serves all the Cambodian classics; lok lak, amok and Khmer curry. You can sit indoors or outside in a charming leafy garden.
Haven (as with many other restaurants in Siem Reap) is a social enterprise and training restaurant for young adults who have left orphanages or safe shelters. It also takes on young adults from rural, poor areas and teaches them skills to work in the food and service industry.
Make a reservation, you will likely not get a table if you just turn up. Expect to pay around $20 for a three course meal with drinks.
Enjoy a tasting menu that changes every two weeks to fully showcase Cambodia’s seasonal produce. Food served here is almost exclusively produced in the surrounding villages or foraged from the local area. The restaurant is in a traditional Cambodian wooden house in the Wat Damnak village area of Siem Reap but you have the choice of eating outside in the garden, downstairs in the modern, air-conditioned restaurant, or upstairs in the fan-cooled traditional wooden room (my choice).
Cuisine Wat Damnak serves traditional Cambodian dishes cooked with French culinary techniques by owner-chef Joannès Rivière who hails from the Loire area of France. The restaurant was recently voted one of the 50 best restaurants in Asia.
Reservations required. Five course $27, six courses $31- yes, you read that right.
A cheap and cheerful option on Pub Street which, despite being vast inside, is always full. An extensive menu including all the classics and options from slightly further afield, it gives you great choice at a good price. There’s a pleasing hustle and bustle due to its position on the corner of Pub Street making it a great option if you’re having a night out exploring central Siem Reap and the various night markets.
Brisk and pleasant service, no reservation required. Expect to pay around $10 – $15 for a three course meal.
Head to Blue Pumpkin for great ice cream, cakes and pastries. They also had the best coconuts we tried in Cambodia. They started out in Siem Reap but now have 14 different sites across Cambodia. It’s a great place to stop in if you need some air-conditioning and a cold drinks when exploring Siem Reap’s markets.
Twice I ate here in 2018 and twice I finished what I was eating and then ordered the same dish again. The food here is excellent, service fast and friendly and it is super cheap, perhaps owning to its slight out of town location.
The Khmer curry, garlic fried rice and their smoked eggplant dishes are amazing. They also offer excellent value fresh juices (get the papaya).
Get there early or late if you don’t want to queue. Expect to pay around $10 a head for a three course meal.
Chanrey Tree is set in beautiful leafy surroundings and serves up a great selection of Cambodian classics. It’s hard to beat the atmosphere here and is worth the additional price.
Serving refined East meets West cuisine and open all day, FCC Angkor offers an elegant setting for a delicious meal. The refined surroundings will see you paying more than on Pub Street, but it’s sometimes worth the extra money to step out of the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap’s town centre.
Marum is another social enterprise and training restaurant and serves up great Cambodian classics in a relaxed environment. It also offers vegetarian and vegan options.
For more cheap eats, cafes and bars, head to pub street for a few drinks in the local bars to explore the various markets; the Night Market, Art and Craft Market and Old Market.
Map of places to eat and shop in Siem Reap