For many travel enthusiasts Siem Reap is high on the list of “must-see” destinations; not simply because the town is charming and Cambodia is intriguing, but because it is the home to the incredible Angkor Wat complex. Originally built as a Hindu temple, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. Construction of the monuments was completed by 1150 AD. Later in the 12th century, it became a Buddhist temple and monks still visit Angkor Wat today. Motivated travelers who are short on time in Cambodia (as I was) can see the best of Siem Reap in just 24 hours. If you only have time to see one place in Cambodia, Siem Reap is the best choice.
Getting to and around Siem Reap
Non-stop flights to Siem Reap can be found on Asian carriers and it is very popular to fly from Bangkok. Both Bangkok airports (BKK and DMK) offer short one hour flights to Siem Reap throughout the day. Choose one that allows you to arrive in the late morning and be sure to obtain your Cambodian visa using the Cambodian Visa application so that you can save time on arrival. There is a way to obtain a visa on arrival in Siem Reap but you will waste at least 1-2 hours in this process. If the clock is ticking on your visit in Siem Reap then it’s in your best interest to get a tour guide with a driver. The driver will remain with your luggage in the car while the tour guide will show you the main attractions. While there, I was able to go directly from the airport to Angkor Wat without making a stop at the hotel to drop off luggage, which saved me a significant amount of time.
Visiting Angkor Wat
Arrive at the Angkor Wat entrance by midday and stop for some pictures in front of the enormous moat surrounding the complex. With the help of your hired guide, tour the main temple of Angkor Wat for the remainder of the afternoon. It will be very hot, so carry water and wear loose but modest clothing. An hour before sunset, make your way to a tethered hot air balloon. Although, it is tethered (meaning it won’t fly directly over the Angkor temples), it will give you a great vantage point for taking in the city of Siem Reap. There are normal hot air balloon services but they cost 100 USD per person, rather than 20 USD per person for a tethered ride.
Where to Dine in Siem Reap
After sunset, head back to your hotel to freshen up. Make your way to dinner in the small town of Siem Reap. We dined al fresco at Chanraytree and then made our way to the Night Market. Test your bargaining skills here and do not leave without a selfie stick (about 5 USD after some bargaining). After some lively shopping in the Night Market, head back to your hotel to rest up for your early morning.
Catch the Sunrise at Angkor Wat
Sunrise is one of the more popular times to be at Angkor Wat. Be sure to arrive well before the sun rises to get a great spot in front of the northern reflecting pool. Your selfie stick will come in handy here as the crowds are massive and you can use it to take photos above people’s heads. After sunrise, spend another hour exploring the main temple at Angkor Wat before heading to the other temples in Siem Reap.
Where to Go Besides Angkor Wat
One of the most fascinating temples in Siem Reap is Ta Prohm, which was made very popular by the Tomb Raider movie. Ta Prohm is famous for having massive tree roots that have grown into and around the temple structures. Spend an hour exploring here before heading to Bayon Temple. Bayon Temple, located in the ancient city of Angkor Thom, has massive smiling faces carved on stone towers. Spend another hour here before heading back to your hotel to collect your luggage.
And don’t forget…
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