• 5 (3 Ratings)

1,110 views

Cambodia

Glitzy and Glamorous Siem Reap

By Rahuldev Rajguru

Last Updated: 18 Jul 2022

Mention Cambodia and what comes to mind instantly is Angkor Wat. Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat is more of an afterthought. Over the years, Siem Reap has evolved into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Cambodia, and it's easy to see why. This backpacker paradise has something for everyone, from party pads where you can let loose to hip hotels with all the amenities. This vibrant city has plenty of cheap accommodation and lively nightlife. But Siem Reap is more than just a party pad - it's also home to some of the country's best hotels, including several luxurious boutique properties. And of course, no visit to Siem Reap would be complete without sampling the local street food. From grilled meats to fresh fruits and exotic milkshakes, there's something for everyone to enjoy.

During my long stay in Cambodia, I lived mostly in Phnom Penh City but visited Siem Reap several times. Each time, I was completely mesmerized by the incredible vibe of this cosmopolitan yet traditional city. This city in northwestern Cambodia is the capital of Siem Reap Province. The city's proximity to the ruins of the ancient Khmer Empire draws a large number of tourists all year round. Siem Reap has a rich history and culture, dating back centuries. The city was once part of the Khmer Empire, and later became a French colonial town. Today, Siem Reap is a melting pot of cultures, with a mix of Cambodian, French, and Chinese influences. The city is also home to a number of temples and other historical landmarks.

A street artist working on his art pieces in Siem Reap market

One of the many street artists working on his art pieces


In recent years, Siem Reap has undergone rapid development, and today it is one of the most modern cities in Cambodia. Despite its modernity, Siem Reap still retains its old-world charm, making it an enjoyable place to visit for travelers from all over the world. Having experienced this city several times, I feel a 3-4 day stay in Siem Reap exclusively to explore the city will do full justice to having a full experience of the place. Although the city is teeming with tourists, it is not a crowded tourist destination.

Accommodation options in Siem Reap

Accommodation options are plenty and cater to all types of travelers. There are of course super luxury hotels and boutique hotels as well for those seeking a luxurious experience. Once I stayed at a local boutique hotel in their royal suite, possibly the most luxurious place I have ever stayed! When my family visited, we stayed in an Airbnb which was in the heart of the city and owned by a local who was a Japanese speaking Angkor Wat guide. A three bed room with kitchen and a huge front yard with a lovely garden and gazebo, it was a steal at 25 dollars a day.

Hotel Diamond D'Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap

The intimate yet luxurious Hotel Diamond D'Angkor Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap is a magnificent experience


From street food and night markets to fine dining restaurants and boutiques, Siem Reap has it all. Amid the hustle and buzzle, I always found a private spot for myself to explore the city in my own way within a set budget. This characteristic intrigues me to this day, even after several visits. The ideal way to travel here is by Tuk-tuk especially if you haven't experienced this before. Again, for the lavish, there is the option of hiring a car with the driver. I did both but prefer the Tuk-tuk especially when it is raining, the experience is unforgettable.

A tuk-tuk ride in Siem Reap is perfect for an exhilarating experience of the city

A tuk-tuk ride in Siem Reap is perfect for an exhilarating experience of the city

History and Old French Quarter in Siem Reap

The history of Siem Reap is as intriguing as the city itself. It was first settled in the 12th century by Khmer settlers. The city's name means "Defeat of Siam", referring to the victory of Jayavarman VII over the Siamese army in 1177. In the 17th century, Siem Reap was contesting between rivals for control of the region. The French eventually emerged victorious, and it became a part of French Indochina in 1907. Many of the city's colonial-era buildings remain well preserved today, lending Siem Reap a vintage charm.

Siem Reap is renowned for its collection of luxury hotels and its vintage, charming colonial buildings. The Sivatha Boulevard is the old French Quarter of the city, and it is full of beautiful, historic buildings. Many of these buildings have been converted into hotels, offering visitors a chance to stay in luxurious accommodations while exploring the city's heritage.

The Wat Damnak in French Quarter which was originally the Royal Palace of King Sisowath

The Wat Damnak in French Quarter which was originally the Royal Palace of King Sisowath


The town consists of a cluster of small villages lining the Siem Reap River. Initially developed around Buddhist pagodas (Wat), these villages are pretty well-spaced out along the river from Wat Preah En Kau Sei in the north to Wat Phnom Krom in the south, where the Siem Reap River meets the great Tonle Sap Lake. The only area that is saturated is the Old Market Area around Sivutha Street and Psar Chaa area which mostly has old colonial buildings, shopping centers and commercial districts.

Siem Reap Riverside

Exploring the city and wandering around can be strenuous especially on sunny days. Just a few minutes away from the bustling city center, Siem Reap riverside is an oasis of calm. Lush gardens and palm trees line the riverbank, providing a welcome respite from the heat. Siem Reap Riverside Park extends along the Siem Reap River, which flows through the middle of the city, and provides a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Along the river is a watermill wheel which showcases the rustic lifestyle of Cambodians in yesteryears. These wheels were used to harness energy from the flow of the river and utilized for various purposes.

Watermill wheel on the riverside of Siem Reap

The watermill wheel which was a mechanical machine in yesteryears now a landmark near the river


The Siem Reap Riverside Park is built on both sides of the river, and at many points is connected by 8 different bridges for both vehicles and pedestrians. In addition to being a great place to relax, the park also provides an important service to the city by helping to reduce flooding and erosion. With its many trees and green spaces, the park helps to absorb rainfall and reduce runoff. This helps to protect homes and businesses from flood damage, and helps to prevent erosion of the banks of the river.

Walking bridge across the river that connects either side of Siem Reap Riverside Park

One of the several walking bridges across the river that connects either side of Siem Reap Riverside Park


Siem Reap Riverside Park was one of my favorite places to visit to take a stroll, relax in the shade, or just enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. It was one of the places I took my family as well to ensure they experienced this beautiful place. This place is a popular spot with locals and visitors. Taking a stroll along the river is a great way to get a sense of the daily life of Cambodians. We spent time watching kids splash around in the water while their parents wash clothes or chat with friends. My wife and daughter were especially attracted towards the vendor stalls selling food and souvenirs which lent a colorful contrast to the green surroundings.

Cambodian stalls are filled with traditional handicrafts in Siem Reap

Cambodian stalls are filled with traditional handicrafts one of which are these skillfully made traditional puppets

Bustling Night Markets of Siem Reap

As the evening turns to night, the city's ambience turns festive with abundant entertainment. One of the highlights that I experienced was the night markets. They are one of the best ways to experience the vibe of Siem Reap. There are many different night markets in Siem Reap, each with its own distinct atmosphere and offerings. You can find everything from handicrafts and souvenirs to stone carvings and silverware. Every time I visited Siem Reap, a visit to one of the night markets was inevitable. In addition, many of the night markets offer live music performances, making for a truly unique shopping experience. Whether you're looking for authentic Cambodian gifts or simply want to soak up the local atmosphere, a visit to one of Siem Reap's night markets is sure to be a memorable experience.

A glittering collection of footwear at a stall in the Siem Reap night market

A glittering collection of footwear at a stall in the night market


The night markets in Siem Reap are a great place to find bargains on everything from clothes to souvenirs. The market is packed with stalls selling both local and international brands, and you can usually find good deals on both. You can find everything from cheap Chinese-made products to knock-off luxury brands. However, it's important to be aware that many of the luxury brands on sale are fakes. Bargaining is also expected here, so be prepared to haggle for the best price.

Siem Reap Art Center & Night Market

Of the several night markets in Siem Reap, my favorite is Siem Reap Art Center Night Market. It was started in 2012 and since then has been one of the most popular attractions for both locals and visitors. It is located on the east bank of the Siem Reap River. The entire area is stunningly decorated with attractive lighting that can be seen at a distance.

The entrance to the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market

The entrance to the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market is bedazzling


The multiple traditional wooden footbridges to go across the river are also extravagantly decorated making for a dazzling sight. Each bridge is elaborately decorated with bright neon lights. The lights are also used to form various shapes and structures that make it captivating. Each time I visit the night market, I spend a good amount of time just taking a zillion photos of the lighting which is one of the highlights of the market.

There are benches placed on the bridge which is one of the best spots to relax and take in the ambience. I used to sit there wrapped up in the vibrant pulse of the Cambodian people and their culture. There were many casual conversations that I had with locals and visitors which was a truly enriching experience.

Beautifully decorated bridge leading to the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market

The beautifully decorated bridge leading to the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market makes for a perfect welcome


The market itself is an incredible experience. Of the several times that I visited, the time I went with my family was the most memorable. The market is truly exhaustive in terms of what is available. Name an item, any item and you are likely to find it at this night market. My wife and daughter had a retail coma! From locally handcrafted products to branded merchandise shoppers are spoilt for choice. The stalls are loaded with clothes, footwear, household items and consumables that locals shop for. Catering to the visitors are the local handicrafts and souvenirs stalls with wood, silver and gems galore. There's also a cluster of classy art gift shops, with everything from hand-painted scarves to traditional Khmer statues.

Attractions at the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market

This brightly lit chariot is one of the many attractions at the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market


Of course, we indulged in shopping for several things like shoes, sunglasses, imitation jewelry and souvenirs. The quality of products was also excellent and we could not differentiate between factory seconds and originals. A pair of Adidas shoes that my daughter purchased here years ago is still in great condition. The best parteverything is so cheap! Thumb rule though while shopping here is to bargain to the maximum because initial prices quoted for anything is much higher than its actual cost.

Souvenir shops inside Siem Reap night market

One of my favorite places to visit are these souvenir shops that have the most intricately designed showpieces


After a marathon shopping spree, we indulged in some refreshing juices and relaxed. There are many food stalls at the night market serving tons of local street food. Being vegetarians, we were a little wary of the food stalls. The local cuisine is largely non-vegetarian with pork and insects being delicacies. Experiencing delicious Cambodian cuisine may be your cup of tea if you're an avid foodie and adventurous. For the more conservative eaters, there are several restaurants that have authentic Indian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and continental cuisine. We ended a rather exhilarating visit to the Siem Reap Art Center Night Market with a delicious Indian meal at one of the Indian restaurants in the vicinity.

Pub Street - the hipster neighborhood of Siem Reap

Once the sun goes down and the temples are conquered, there's only one thing left to do: find out why everyone loves coming to Siem Reap here so much! It's because of the most famous Pub Street.

It is the most happening hotspot in Siem Reap and a MUST visit. It is the perfect place to enjoy diverse international cuisine and nightlife while experiencing the glitz and glamor of Siem Reap. I have visited Pub Street several times during my stay there and each time, the energy and vibe was the same, incredible! The street is an endless stretch that is lined with restaurants and bars. When I say endless, in reality this street is literally a street and a half but there is so much going on here that it seems endless.

Pub Street is the nightlife hub of Siem Reap Cambodia

Pub Street is the nightlife hub of Siem Reap


I visited Pub Street during the day and it was pleasant. It is less crowded and I strolled along the sidewalk with an occasional stop to indulge in delicious milkshakes and juices as well as some exotic local delicacies. It is amazing to see how this street transforms into a hardcore party spot as the sun goes down. It dons a completely different avatar which is dazzling.

I took my family to Pub Street during their visit and it was an incredible experience. The entire street and walkways are decorated and brightly lit up and the restaurants and bars have their own flashy neon signs and decorations that create a vibrant ambience. Motor traffic is prohibited from 5 pm onward, making it a pedestrian-only zone. This made it the perfect place to stroll around and take in the atmosphere. Ideally, an evening should be reserved to indulge in the variety of street food available on Pub Street.

The economy of Siem Reap runs mainly on tourists and Pub Street caters to all kinds of travelers. There are fancy places for those seeking a luxurious experience and there are local street food stalls for those seeking an authentic local experience. When we visited, the plan was to experience the local Cambodian vibe and so decided to spend the evening indulging in street food. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Cambodian stalls sold everything for 1-2 dollars which was amazing.


The aroma from local and authentic street food stalls is incredible and a treat to the eyes


We started our evening with some delicious and generous portions of avocado and chocolate milkshakes. There are also a variety of coffees for caffeine lovers to indulge. It is fascinating to see the locals drive their tuk-tuks to Pub Street everyday loaded with their specialties. They set shop for the evening and once their items are sold out, they drive back home. While wandering around exploring the stalls we stopped occasionally to enjoy entertaining performances by street performers who capitalized every nook and corner of the street.

Although vegetarians, we were spoiled for choice with a gamut of snacks to choose from. My daughter spotted the crepe stall where a variety of crepes were being served. We tried banana and pineapple crepes among the sweet flavors and cheese overload in savory, both equally delicious. One of the stalls that I will never forget was the fried ice cream stall. It was incredible to see how they made ice cream from scratch and served generous portions which we thoroughly enjoyed.


This video captures the sights and sounds of Pub Street and the impressive ice cream making process


My wife spotted something that looked very similar to a South Indian dish called "Paddu" which is small dumplings fried in a molded pan. We had to try this dish and it was indeed appetizing. Coconut is also widely used in many dishes. While there is enough variety for vegetarians, the meat, seafood and other delicacies is a non-vegetarian's paradise. Pork is a staple in Cambodia which is made into many dishes. Besides that, a common sight is stalls serving crickets and cockroaches among other creatures. These dishes are local delicacies which cater to adventurous foodies.

One of these stalls had a little boy who was assisting his mother, and it was hilarious to see him chomping on the "snacks" finishing almost half of it himself. While some travelers buy these dishes, there are others who would like to take a picture but not eat. Again, a business opportunity for the localsif the snacks are purchased, photos are free if not a photo costs half a dollar. Many tourists choose to pay the half dollar for a photo of this local street food stall.

The atmosphere on Pub Street is an experience. Loud music, dazzling lights, a sea of people, and their laughter all make the ambience electrifying. Pub Street captures the essence and pulse of the ever-evolving and glittering Siem Reap.

Siem Reap street food outlets

"I'll sell some and eat some" seems to be this little boy's plan as he sits with his mother at the mobile snack stall selling crickets and bugs

The Old Market of Siem Reap

In the vicinity of Pub Street is Psar Chaa, which is Siem Reap Old Market. It is conveniently located next to the pub street in the center of the town. The market is made up of narrow alleys lined with stalls selling food, clothing and souvenirs. The market is a great place to find cheap souvenirs, as well as to get a sense of the local culture. However, it can be quite crowded and chaotic, so we visited during the day when it is less busy. The market is open from early morning until late at night, so there is plenty of time to explore. We picked up souvenirs from here after a heavy round of bargaining. The vendors here are used to tourists, and they will often jack up the prices accordingly. However, if you're willing to haggle, you can usually get a better price. It's best to start low and then work your way up slowly.

Retail therapy with options galore at the Old Market in Siem Reap

Retail therapy with options galore at the Old Market

Cambodia Landmine Museum

Being a history buff, I found the Landmine Museum intriguing and fascinating. The Cambodia Landmine Museum is a unique museum that provides an opportunity to learn about the Khmer Rouge and the wars in Cambodia in the 1970s. A former child soldier, Aki Ra founded the museum to show the world the dangers of war. Utilizing tools he made himself, he personally defused land mines. It features a mock minefield where visitors need to figure out where the mines are. The museum is a must-see for anyone interested in learning about Cambodian history or the horrors of war.

Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap

Cambodia Landmine Museum is an incredible piece of art showcasing the horror of landmines

Getting there

Being a world-famous destination, there are many ways to reach Siem Reap. Many South East Asian airlines fly direct to Siem Reap. The city is connected by road and air with Phnom Penh. For the adventurous and leisurely traveler, there is the option of a boat/ferry ride along the Mekong River from Phnom Penh. This may not be the most luxurious way to travel but definitely worth it for the experience. The 7-hour journey is best undertaken immediately after the wet season (August to November) as water levels are high enough for a boat to sail through. The boat meanders through many villages on the bank of Mekong River and you will experience the local Cambodian culture as well as the scenic beauty of the country. The journey takes you through the Floating Villages which are a world of their own.

Bus station in Siem Reap

This bus station in Siem Reap has a old-style colonial ambience


The economics of this experience is very unpredictable. The boat ride will cost you more than the bus ride and at times even more than the flight ticket. Yes, it is true! The flight is sometimes amazingly cheap. Once, I flew for as low as $29 one-way.

A city that never sleeps

I have traveled to many cities across the world but the experience in Siem Reap is something I will never forget. With its world-class facilities and entertainment, this city is sure going to be memorable for anyone who visits. Traditional yet modern, Siem Reap is a well-rounded destination that I would love to visit over and over, again.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is Siem Reap famous?

Siem Reap is a city in northwestern Cambodia, and it is the gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park. It is also known for its lively nightlife and vibrant culinary scene. The city is home to numerous bars and restaurants, as well as a thriving arts community.

Is it safe to travel to Siem Reap?

Siem Reap is safe for tourists, with a low crime rate and plenty of security measures in place. Visitors can explore the temples of Angkor Wat, shop for souvenirs at the night markets, and enjoy the city's vibrant nightlife. However, it is advisable to use common sense and good judgment when traveling.

How many days do you need in Siem Reap?

Siem Reap is quite small but there is a lot to see and do in the area. For history buffs, Siem Reap is a veritable goldmine, with dozens of ancient temples and ruins to explore. The town is also home to several museums, markets, and restaurants. In terms of sightseeing, most visitors recommend spending at least 3 days in Siem Reap. This will give you enough time to explore the temples at your own pace and also check out some of the other attractions in the area.

Is Siem Reap expensive?

While it's true that prices have gone up in recent years, Siem Reap is still relatively affordable compared to other major cities in the region. Visitors can find plenty of cheap accommodation, food and transport options. And with a little bit of planning, it's easy to stick to a budget and enjoy all that Siem Reap has to offer.

Which is the best way to stay in Siem Reap?

If you want to be in the heart of the action, then staying in a hotel or guesthouse in Siem Reap center is the way to go. You'll be within walking distance of all the main attractions, as well as plenty of restaurants and bars. However, if you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, then you might want to consider staying in an Airbnb on the outskirts of town. You'll still be close enough to explore Siem Reap, but you'll also have your own space to relax in.The best time to visit is between November - February as it is winter and the temperature is moderate. It is also the tourist season so expect crowds. March to May is the hottest time so plan accordingly.

Things To Consider

The best time to visit is between November - February as it is winter and the temperature is moderate. It is also the tourist season so expect crowds. March to May is the hottest time so plan accordingly.
A city that attracts travelers from across the world, Siem Reap is cosmopolitan. The streets are filled with artists showcasing their talent. The night markets are perfect for an authentic Cambodian experience and for beautiful souvenirs.
Siem Reap being a tourist destination attracts travelers from around the world. While all cuisines are available, one must definitely indulge in local street foods and delicacies.
Siem Reap’s economy thrives on tourists and it is relatively safe. Bag/mobile snatching is not rampant in this city. The people are friendly and hospitable. However, it is best to exercise basic caution to avoid any untoward incidents.
Siem Reap is mostly known for Angkor Wat. The city offers the most incredible nightlife experience that is only recently gaining visibility. It is a place that has many secret places that travelers can explore.
Cambodia offers a visa on arrival. Official currency is Riels but the US Dollar is accepted everywhere. Exploring the city involves plenty of walking, so comfortable shoes, sunglasses and sunscreen is essential.

About the author

Rate the Story

Related Stories

Please share your comment

Name

Email

Comment

Submit