A 3-Day Itinerary of Siem Reap
Siem Reap, in northwest Cambodia, offers up a chance to experience stunning temples, unique culture and friendly locals. Reinventing itself as the epicentre of “chic Cambodia,” you’ll find hip hotels, fantastic shopping and relaxing spas. After indulging in the food and the local culture you won’t want to leave Siem Reap.
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Where to stay
Zannier Hotels Phum Baitang
Escape the bustle of Siem Reap at this all-villa retreat known for its cookery classes, elegant pool, and peaceful setting.
Shinta Mani Shack
In the heart of the French Quarter, this stylish urban resort is an oasis away from the city bustle.
Shinta Mani Angkor
Rest and recharge at this French Quarter favorite with a contemporary Cambodian style and pampering spa.
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Day 1: Arrive
Arrival into Siem Reap, flight to be determined. Met on arrival with private transfer to your hotel of choice. This afternoon explore Siem Reap by tuk tuk or foot, exploring the shopping and local galleries.
Day 2: Temples and Khmer culture
Early wakeup call for Ta Prohm (Temples of the Forest)
Take the road to Srah Srang and then Ta Prohm (about seven miles), pausing to collect your entry passes at the Archaeological Park entrance. Take your time to walk through the temple from the west entrance to the east entrance to meet again with your driver (walk 1.2 miles). From the northwest of Ta Prohm, walk (15 minutes) through the forest to the lightly visited temple of Ta Nei. There is a reasonable chance of having this beautiful Angkor temple to yourself to explore.
Pause for a light breakfast around this peaceful area before exploring further. End the morning at Ta Keo temple, known as the “mountain with bronze peaks,” and admire its five-tiered pyramid structure.
Return by road to Siem Reap for lunch. I can recommend a wide selection of excellent eateries to suit all tastes and budgets. Please ask for more details on this as well as recommended drivers.
Beyond the temples lies a rural landscape which has often little changed since the days of Jayavarman VII. To depart Siem Reap having seen only the temple ruins is to miss contemporary Khmer culture. As infrastructure and technology encroach upon the countryside this opportunity will soon be lost forever. Discover the rural landscape to reach villages where mass tourism cannot follow – interesting places that are generally inaccessible to visitors.
Journey between rice paddies, through woodlands and back gardens on foot, by ox-cart and boat to experience the very best of the countryside. After a short drive from Siem Reap, visit a colorful contemporary pagoda to learn more about the importance of Buddhism in rural communities and seek a blessing from the monks. Enjoy seasonal fruits straight from the tree, and speak to families who have specialized in baking sticky rice in bamboo for over 30 years.
Take an ox-cart ride through typical villages followed by a 20 minute easy walk to bring you to the vast Western Baray. An impressive engineering feat, this man-made reservoir was once integral to the complex Angkorian rice irrigation system.
You will travel by boat (depending on water level) to the country villa, Chandara. This will be an adventure from a slower, more romantic era of travel. While a chef prepares your classic dinner you can take a wander across the levees of the rice paddies, look for fish traps, or walk a short distance to a viewpoint over the ancient reservoir, whilst listening to the elegance of traditional Khmer music played by local musicians, before being seated for your evening meal.
A note from Leslie
The above tour can be fully arranged for you, just ask me! You will need to let me know of any specific dietary requirement or allergies you may have.
I recommend that you wear comfortable, practical footwear suitable for walking and also clothing appropriate for entering a pagoda. Please cover your knees and shoulders to show respect.
Day 3: Angkor Wat & Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat sunrise and exploration
A sunrise tour starts at predawn to witness the breathtaking view of the tropical sun emerging from behind the iconic lotus towers of Angkor Wat. Constructed over a period of 30 years during the reign of King Suryavarman II [AD1113], by some measures it is the largest religious complex in the world. Originally a Hindu mountain temple aligned to the spring equinox, around the C16th it was converted to a Theravada Buddhist monument, a capacity in which it continues today.
Explore the well preserved central complex and detailed bas-reliefs depicting scenes from Hindu mythologies and battles of the ancient empire. The beauty in balance and composition, combined with its sheer vast scale ensure Angkor Wat’s place as the crowning achievement in Khmer art and architecture. This is truly one of travel’s remaining great adventures.
Return to your hotel for a late breakfast.
Angkor Thom – the world’s largest city in the 12th Century
Travel by road to the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. You have the choice of either walking the path along the 26 feet high laterite city wall (1,640 feet) to the Death Gate or exploring the walls by bike! En route to the Terrace of the Leper King, you can stop briefly to see an imposing statue found in Bayon which is now displayed at Vihear Prampeilveng.
Continue to the atmospheric Preah Palilay and walk through the shaded parkland behind the terraces, pass Phimeanakas with its beautiful lakes, and the imposing Baphuon to finally reach Jayavarman’s state temple of Bayon at the centre of the city. Explore this important temple with its many captivating giant stone faces. Ask me about my favorite guides who will point out the most interesting of the detailed bas reliefs, illustrating everyday life in the Angkorian era.
Need to Know
For anyone looking to spend more time in the region (which I highly recommend), I have curated some of my favorite recommendations for off-the-beaten-path things to do in Siem Reap.
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