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Amazing Things to Do in Siem Reap

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Amazing Things to Do in Siem Reap

A beautiful Sunrise at Angkor Wat

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How We Decided to Go to Siem Reap

Our trip to Siem Reap Cambodia was nothing short of spectacular and will go down as one of our favorite cities to visit.  In all honesty, when Cambodia initially came up as a potential destination for our next adventure, we were somewhat hesitant but needed to make an informed decision (We would later find out how many amazing things to do in Siem Reap there really are!).  Being totally ignorant to the beautiful sites and incredible people that were there, we embarked upon an afternoon of research prior to landing on a “yes”.  Like most trips we plan, the first place that we start our info gathering is the US Department of State website.  This resource provides details on potential travel bans, safety concerns and visa requirements.  Once we were satisfied with that information, we started an extensive Google search of interesting places, historical context, local cuisines, etc.  After researching, our thoughts were, “this place looks amazing!”  We started searching for lodgings and decided that we wanted to break up our accommodations and stay in three distinct locations during our visit.  We chose an upscale private villa (Villa Ni Say), a luxury tent resort…yes you heard me correctly…TENT RESORT (The Beige) and finally, a luxury traditional hotel (The ThirdFold).  You may be wondering why we made such a decision…stay tuned!

Our Trip to Siem Reap

Chris and Reg Getting Ready to Explore Siem Reap, CambodiaCambodian Explorers

Getting to Siem Reap

Getting there is somewhat of an adventure and requires patience and a massive love for movie watching, wine and sleeping in awkward positions….oh yeah and more wine.   The adventure started with three flights that totaled a little under 24hrs of actual time in the air.  We started from our home airport in Atlanta to San Francisco on American Airlines (5hr 30min), San Francisco to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific (15hr 40min) and finally from Hong Kong to Siem Reap on Cathay Dragon (2hr, 45min).   So, when you add the nearly 24 hours of flying, the 7 hours of airport appreciation time {layovers} and finally the 12 hours ahead time change, you are losing almost two days of productivity in your life! 

On the Ground in Siem Reap: Our Adventure Begins

Although a little weathered, tattered and definitely in need of a shower, we landed in Siem Reap with a level of excitement that would rival any two 10-year-old children on Christmas morning. Once we cleared customs, which was very easy by the way, as the airport is very compact and a breeze to navigate, we were promptly greeted by our Villa Ni Say provided driver who wore delightful smile, holding the unmistakable Villa Ni Say logo sign.  He was very courteous, and eager to get our experience underway. As we exited the airport with our driver, we were excited to see that our mode of transportation was a tuk-tuk (a three-wheeled motorized means of transportation) and couldn’t wait to take in this open-air experience through the streets of Siem Reap.

The villa was a 20-minute tuk-tuk ride away, which, by the way, will be your transportation of choice while in Siem Reap.  The tuk-tuk’s are generally adorned with tapestries, stained woods, etc… things that give you a glimpse into the personality of the driver… heck, we even saw one tuk-tuk decorated as the Bat Mobile!  They are very inexpensive and can be found everywhere.

Our stay at Villa Ni Say was, what we call, “a soul touching experience.”  We won’t go into a lot of detail in this post because we did a full review that will give you insight into why we characterize our experience in that fashion. You can read the full review of Villa Ni Say here, or read our own blog post of Villa Ni Say and learn of all its majestic beauty, and you can click here to book your own stay.  

Chirs and Reg at Beautiful Villa Ni Say, Siem Reap, CambodiaVilla Ni Say: A Little Slice of Paradise

Siem Reap Adventure: Amazing Things to Do in Siem Reap

Pub Street

Vila Ni Say is in close proximity to many awesome things to do including nightmarkets, and the famed “Pub Street”.

Pub Street is exactly what it sounds like!  Literally dozens upon dozens of restaurants and bars lining the streets. Some of the buildings house a different bar on each level. As you walk the streets you hear music pumping, you see people dancing, you smell memorizing food aromas and you literally feel the vibrance hitting all of the senses…. absolute merriment all around.  In our eyes it was not comparable to anything else we had seen.  Pub Street gained mainstream notoriety due to a bar (Red Piano) that Angelina Jolie hung out in during the filming of Tomb Raider

Pub Street is One of The Amazing Things To Do In Siem ReapPub Street: Shenanigans-Central

As you make your way around Pub Street you will also see many street-cart vendors selling everything from raw coconuts, rolled ice cream to traditional Cambodian cuisines. We tried a wide variety of foods but our favorites were the green mango salad, Amok fish, red fish and of course the curry.

Becoming a “Balla” & Exploring the local sights

By they way, if you are traveling with US currency, please DO NOT exchange to local Cambodian currency (riel) UNLESS you have the urge to feel as if you’ve reached imaginary “balla” status.  The exchange comes out to about 4,000 riels to 1 USD.  So, with a modest 250 USD you can be a millionaire in Siem Reap, Cambodia! 

Sounds awesome right? Hmmmm… I’ll bet some of you are wondering how far your new-found wealth might take you.  The reality is not very far for that coveted 1 million perception BUT a lot farther than the standard 250 USD expectation.   For example, we bellied up to a local bar and had a couple beers each as well as shared an appetizer.  The total was a whopping 5.50 USD, that’s 22,000 for all of you ballas who are keeping score.  Most things in Siem Reap are listed in both USD and riel so you do have a choice but why pay the exchange fees when it’s not necessary. 

Full disclosure, we exchanged to local currency, and not because we wanted to feel like ballas, but because we were ignorant to the facts (insert eyeroll).  So, don’t make the same mistake that we did! But be sure that your US currency is crisp, as they often will not accept crinkled up bills, or bills with rips.

The next day we spent exploring the temples and streets within walking distance of Villa Ni Say before packing up and having to say goodbye to such epic accommodations. One of the temples that we walked to was Wat Damnak. Wat Damnak is a Buddhist pagoda and is the largest pagoda in downtown Siem Reap. Wat Damnak means palace, which it also was during the reign of King Sisowath. Many Buddhist Monks live in this pagoda. It is a well-known landmark on the eastern side of the Siem Reap River, close to the roundabout and behind the Siem Reap Art Center Market. If you would like to learn more about etiquette in the pagoda’s and shrines across Siem Reap click here.

Diverse Accomodations

Upon saying goodbye to our friends at Villa Ni Say our driver arrived to take us to our next glorious resort The Beige!  The Beige is a luxury tent resort…yes, you heard (read) me correctly…LUXURY TENT RESORT!  Picture this… the sailcloth of a yacht – unyielding in the wind, though lightweight and durable providing solace from the afternoon sun.  The breeze passes softly through the open air interior as luscious vegetation and an active river bring live theater to your private, outdoor terrace. See our complete review of the incredible experience we had at The Beige here.  And if you would like to experience The Beige for yourself you can book here.

Because The Beige is located a little further in the Angkor region we opted to stay on property and see everything it had to offer.  Upon checkout, The Beige offered to transport us to our next hotel The Thirdfold.  We purposefully chose The Thirdfold based on location and amenities.  You see we like to try out different accommodation when we visit new places.  We love to stay in the city, to venture into the country and maybe explore the unknown (in the voice of Reggie…let’s do it! It will be an adventure!) ha ha ha.  Who knows we may have the opportunity to experience things we have never experienced before, like The Beige.  This way we feel like we can get a well-rounded view of the culture and the locals.  We also believe in over-tourism and think that if we can help that spread it is best for all parties.

So let’s talk about The Thirdfold… “Surprise” is the title of our review on TripAdvisor.  And let us tell you that they are truly one of a kind when it comes to personalized service during your entire stay. We must first mention Alisa. We had the undoubted luck of having Alisa check us in for our 2 night stay. She of course asked for our passports like all the accommodations do (you will see why we mention this later in the post) and advised us that she would be our personal assistant for the duration of our stay.

Night Markets

That night we ventured out to the night markets to do some shopping.  The night markets are never ending; picture rows upon rows of vendors hawking their best trinkets, souvenirs, knock-offs and Cambodian made clothes. The shear number of these is overwhelming in itself but when you add all these inlets and outlets it is very easy to get lost and overwhelmed.

We did so much walking that day that Chris decided she wanted to partake in a $2 for 30 min foot massage (you can’t beat that price and it was ahhhmazing).  You of course can find these massage parlors everywhere in the night market and on Pub Street. Given the popularity of Thai Massage, many offer Thai massage styles, while others offer their own unique combination of Thai and other styles.

You could also opt for the fish tank pedicure, which we didn’t do, because how many people do you think put their feet in that same water before you? (Hint: a lot…YUCK)

Angkor Wat

The next morning, we had a very early (4 a.m.) wake up so we could get to Angkor Wat for the sunrise.  Now, be aware that everyone and their entire family go to this temple for sunrise so go early, they open at 5a.m.

Morning at Angkor Wat is Magical and is an amazing thing to doAngkor Wat In the Morning

Chris and Reg Travel Tip:

If you’re going to Angkor Wat (which is the main thin to do in Siem Reap) buy your tickets the day before so you do not have to wait in line that morning to buy tickets. The line can get pretty long, and its best to be able to go straight from you accommodation to the Angkor Wat Temple Complex.  We found the best spot for the sunrise to be to the right of the bridge, in front of the temple right behind the lake. That is how we got the photo below.

Make sure you stick around after the sunrise because most of the tourists leave to start their temple tours so you will be able to enjoy the temple in a less crowded state.

Quick note here, we decided not to partake in any guided tours because we wanted the freedom to explore as long as we wanted without having to rush. We did do a lot of research on the temples we wanted to visit before the trip. Our goal wasn’t to see every single temple but to make the most of the temples we really wanted to see.

We probably spent 4 or 5 hours at Angkor Wat.  It is the largest religious monument in the world with a uniqueness that stands in a class by itself. It’s almost worth describing the Angkor Wat complex as a little city due to its size.

However, it seems like with all beauty comes a beast that is worthy of mentioning. There are several beasts that lurk around Angkor Wat and they come in the form of macaque monkeys. These monkeys are vicious, conniving little thieves in the words of Stephanie Craig over at History Fan Girl.  They will terrorize anyone that looks their way, ask me how I know.  Well, while filming one on our GoPro Hero 7 black, I was subsequently hissed at devilishly as if it was to show me how large its canine teeth were.  As if I didn’t think that was warning enough the damn thing decided it was going to make an example out of me by assaulting my long, flowy, white dress.

While fighting for my right to wear my dress, Reggie was contemplating which piece of camera equipment he would have to sacrifice to save me. Luckily, it didn’t come to that because a poor, young soul carrying a bag of food approached already being stalked by one monkey distracted this savage.  That poor soul didn’t know what hit him when 2 monkeys were upon him like lion’s on injured prey.  Needless to say, DO NOT bring food into Angkor Wat. You will be stalked, assaulted and preyed upon by these vicious animals.

After leaving Angkor Wat we decided we should take advantage of our free breakfast feast provided by The Thirdfold so we flagged down a tuk-tuk and made or way back to the hotel.

From there we visited Phnom Bakheng which is known for their magical sunsets. We opted to visit this temple first because it is the last stop on the temple tour itinerary therefore, we were the only ones there. YES, you heard me right we were literally the only ones there, well except for the security guard. Which, by the way, females must have covered shoulders and covered knees to enter any temple. There is about a 20 minute hike to get to the top of the hill that supports this temples view so wear sensible shoes. I had on flip flops (insert side eye).

At each of these stops we flagged down a tuk-tuk to the next temple, in retrospect we probably would have just hired a driver for the day because they will sit there and wait for you to exit on your own time.

Our next stop was Baphuon, we loved the long pathway leading up to the temple and thought it would make for a great photo opportunity.

Our last temple was Prey Khan which is comparative Ta Prohm featured in the Tomb Raider film with Angelina Jolie. This temple featured trees that were rooted into the temple itself. However, the best feature of all was the fact there were only 4 other people there.  Getting a tuk-tuk from here was a little harder and we got severely over charge because of that.

Amazing Old Tree is Rooted Into the Temple of Ta ProhmChris and Reg Soaking Up Tree Spirits

Just visiting these 4 temples took all of our day and exhausted us to the point where we both said “no more temples”. On the way back to the hotel we said why don’t we book a massage.

Massages

When we arrived back at the hotel we asked if we could book a massage for that evening.  They were quick to oblige with set times.  We relaxed with a drink by the pool then were led up to the suite where we had a his and hers massage. Reggie chose an aromatherapy massage and I chose the Swedish massage both cost in the range of $20 for an hour.

Cambodian Hospitality

Checkout day came and we were at the reception counter discussing how great of a time we had experienced in Siem Reap…. during that time, we noticed staff members “covertly” glancing at us and going into an office behind the reception area. The door would open partially, as employees would literally slide in and the door would quickly close after them. We thought, “how odd”, perhaps that was a special entry and needed extra protection… we had no idea! So, we had a brief chuckle and continued the checkout process while having pleasant conversation with the staff member at the front desk. After checking out, we made a request to have a car service take us to the airport, the staff member said that it would take about 10-minutes for the care to arrive and asked us to relax in the lobby. 

As we turned to find a comfortable seat, several staff members along with the manager emerged from behind that mysterious door with a beautifully decorated chocolate drizzled birthday cake outfitted with cookies and candles on top. They were all clapping, smiling and wishing Chris a happy birthday. We were absolutely stunned! Apparently, Alisa the awesome young lady that checked us in and introduced herself as our personal assistant took note of Chris’s date of birth when we checked in and obviously went the extra mile to ensure that our stay was special. 

Noticeably absent from the celebration was Alisa, the wonderful person that set these festivities in motion. The manager told us that she had class that morning, so she ordered this ridiculously awesome cake the evening prior and got up extra early to drop it off at the hotel before we checked out…. (she had no idea of when we were checking out).

It is frankly this level of thoughtfulness and kindness that will make this world a kinder place! We are so appreciative of the time that we spent at THE THIRDFOLD, the staff went beyond their professional duties to make our stay perfect; They personally touched our hearts!

Thirdfold Residence Going Above and Beyond With a Tasty Birthday Cake for ChrisPutting the Icing On Top, Literally, of a Great Trip

Siem Reap: A Cambodian Paradise Full of Amazing Things to Do

If you ever contemplated visiting Cambodia and were looking for things to do in Siem Reap, it is our hope that the experiences we shared bring you to the right conclusion. Siem Reap, is waiting to enrich your being with memories and adventures that will last a lifetime. Our unique experience was just that, our experience! We hope that you get the opportunity to create your own special bond with this amazing country, people and culture. 

Let us know in comments if you have been or are planning to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia. If you are planning on going to Cambodia, don’t forget to read our blog post about the underappreciated capital, Phnom Penh!

Want to escape city life and head to the refreshing waters in Cambodia? Check out this post the Ultimate Guide to the Beaches and Islands of Cambodia.

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