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What to do and what to avoid in Siem Reap
We viewed the temples with a 3 day pass. You can also purchase it day by day. Get to the park, the day before - at 4:30PM and you can get your pass in advance for the following day and get a free sunset visit if you'd like.
a) Bayon (giant faces - my favorite) - we viewed it twice - once at sunrise, and then next day in the afternoon. At sunrise, we were the only ones at the temple which made it memorable. Get there early between 6:30AM - 7:00AM.
b) Ta Prohm (trees/Tomb Raider movie) -can be viewed when the sun is high as the trees keep it nice and shady. Very atmospheric.
c) Angkor Watt (most famous and most crowded)- best viewed in the afternoon if you want to avoid the crowds, very popular at sunrise due to West orientation. There are a ton of tourists!
d) Elephant wall and King Lepar
**to see any of the above you will enter the SouthGate, Angkor Thom (walled city that contains the above temples).
e) Banteay Srei (small, but detailed/well preserved) comes with a drive out to the country side (see wooden houses, rice paddies, etc.), a whole day, but combined with other temples. Stop along the way, and purchase sugar cane candy from the locals.
f) We did not go to Kbal Spean (in the jungle) but I hear it's spectacular. The jungles contain land mines, so I avoided this site, although I'm sure if you stay on the track you will be okay. Be careful.
DO NOT go to the hilltop temple of Phonm Bakheng to view the sunset, complete waste of time and hundreds of people. I repeat, DO NOT. We went there, at the recommendation of our driver as we had an evening to kill, and what a waste of time. Time better spent, hanging out in your hotel room! You will find that guides and drivers always recommend this location. Given all the other locations, that they will be waiting for you - this is a better stop for them (all of them hanging out by the food area, enjoying drinks, etc.).
Located 16KM west of Siem Reap - an amazing hand silk production tour. A must do. It's almost like going back in time - where you will see the silk worms being harvested, silk spun, dyed, and weaved. This program is sponsored by the UN to teach young women a craft as a means of livelihood. Bring your credit card and buy 100% handmade silk items to support the program. Small silk items start from $5 - and up to $100 plus for some items. The best silk I've ever seen in the world.
Traditional Cambodian dinner & dance show. The dancers are wonderful. 2 shows a night. Book in advance as major tour groups book.
The war museum is located outside - in an open field. You can walk freely or have a guide. I recommend the guide. He will walk through each exhibit and explain how the machine/weapon was used against the Cambodian people, describing the horrifying terrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot Regime. The mine display was especially memorable to me. My husband enjoyed the ability to freely handle the machine guns and jumping into the tanks on display. Yes, this is a museum - but the equipment is open for contact (which suprised us very much). It's outside - and hot, so bring sunscreen and bug repellant.
1 hour foot massage near the old market (Psar Chaa). Great after a day of temple walking!
There are 2 major markets: a) Central and b) Old Market (Psar Chaa). Central Market does not attract as many tourists so it's about 50% cheaper. It's also much cleaner, as it does not have a major food market like the Old Market does where small business owners are selling their veggies, meats, and household items. Not much to buy unless you are interested in Thai silk pillow cases ($1.50 USD); average quality silk scarves ($1.50); tourist shirts with Gap labels ($1.00 USD - quality of shirt was very high, I think it is Gap); NorthFace backpacks (not sure if it's real); and Cambodian Wedding Music CD ($3.00).
A wood and stone carving workshop sponsored by the UN located in the middle of Siem Reap. Tour was not as good as the silk farm - although this tour is more popular because it's in the city. You will see children making stone carvings. Good place to buy stone carvings vs. off the street as it supports the program. Bring your credit card. I bought a nice carving of an apsara, which added about 10 pounds to my suitcase. Plan ahead and make sure you have room in your suitcase. The store will provide you a certificate of "unauthenticity" in the event custom stop you for taking a stone carving. Prices average $50USD to $200 USD.
Great place for breakfast. French pastries and coffee (Cambodia was ruled by France). Clean and modern with wireless connection. Decorated with Phillipe Stark furniture. Frequented by expats. I think it had better pastries here than the ones I had in France. In/next to Psar Char.
Modern, clean, and hip dining establishment. Popular with tour groups and expats. The owner is french. A bit more pricey than your average Cambodian restaurant, but still cheap - dishes average $4 vs. $2. I had dinner and lunch here. This was my favorite dining establishment.
Right next to the Old Market/Psar Char. Tables spill out to street. Great Cambodian
authentic dishes. Not so clean as the above two, but it's a good place with good food. Prices average $2 per dish. Do not sit at the tables next to the street unless you are okay with being approached by street children, etc. I always sat next to the street to watch city life go by and to chat with the children that would try to sell us postcards, etc. Ladies with their childen will stop with their book carts in front of the restaurant. I ended up buying two great books on the Pol Pot Regime. Went there for lunch twice. This was my husband's favorite place.
a) Get a driver/car for your temple excusions (air conditioning) - approx. $25/day
b) Get a tour guide with the Tourism Association - (next to Grand Hotel D'Angkor) - $20/day
Decide day by day as you may not like the driver/tour guide assigned to you. If driver says they know a tour guide, politely turn him down.
c) If you take a tuk-tuk from the hotel to go around town, have the driver wait for you and simply tip extra - $1.00 per stopping point is a good fare. Hotel knows these drivers, safer and they know how to take you back to the hotel. First night, made the mistake of grabbing a tuk-tuk driver on the street to take us back to the hotel - they will say they know where your hotel is to get the fare, but they actually don't! Avoid that disaster and have your hotel tuk-tuk driver wait for you. Also, it's always nice to buy them a beverage to enjoy while they are waiting.
You will need a stack of $1.00s for meals, tipping, buying cold drinks, etc. Go to the bank prior to get a crisp, new stack of $1.00. Note they will not accept their own currency from tourists. They want American dollars ? new ones. If you buy something that is $1.50 they will give you the change in their currency. And you will find that no one wants the Cambodian currency. So, best to buy more items to get closer to the $2.00 or simply let them keep the change. Remember the average Cambodian salary (including rural which lowers the average) is $1.00 per day. Help the economy; don't give to begging children/women; spread your purchases; and do not haggle too much. Remember the Cambodian people have had a long, hard history..help them rebuild by making local purchases.