The inspiring Angkor complex is undoubtedly the main draw of Cambodia and Siem Reap is a gateway to all the architectural wonders of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and all other temples of the Khmer Empire. You can easily spend days exploring the outlying temples of Angkor, visiting a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake, savouring flavoursome and rather mild – compared to the Thai ones! – Khmer dishes, watching apsara dancing or relaxing in street massage shops offering great Khmer massage. Even if Siem Reap has been for a long time overtaken by foreign tourists, it remains a great place with its own atmosphere, a busy and ever-friendly vibe, homely guesthouses and colourful Old Market. All in all, it is a great mistake to think that there is nothing else to see and to do in Siem Reap apart from admiring the great Khmer structures of Angkor. You will find plenty of activities and meet plenty of great people, both travellers and locals. And you are sure to enjoy the experience.
From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus
It is no exaggeration to say that Siem Reap is the main tourist destination in Cambodia, and as such it enjoys great transport connections with the main cities of the country and the capital. The choice of operator serving the route is wide, with buses leaving for Siem Reap throughout the day. A 320 km journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap may take anywhere between 5½ hours to seven hours, so try to leave Phnom Penh before or around noon to get to Siem Reap before late. Morning buses obviously steal the precious daytime of your journey, but otherwise are quite a convenient variant to get to your destination. They normally make pit stops during the way, and you have a lot of time to enjoy local pastorals blooming with lotus flowers and peppered with water buffalos grazing amidst bright green rice paddies.
Strange enough, but the choice of night buses is limited. If you opt for one leaving around midnight, you will get to Siem Reap by 6am or 7am, have the whole day ahead and save a couple of dollars on a hotel room – a welcome compensation for having spent the night on the move.
Currently, the only bus company in Cambodia which sells tickets online is Giant Ibis Transport. They have three morning buses at 7.45am, 8.45am and 12.30pm and from one to three night buses at 10.30pm, 11pm and 11.30pm daily.
From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by morning bus
Morning buses are ordinary big buses (in Giant Ibis, they use Universe Luxury ones). Tickets cost USD15, which is a bit higher than you can find on the market. The cost includes insurance coverage of all passengers, a snack and a bottle of water. All buses have electrical outlets for charging your gadgets during the trip and (a local wonder!) free Wi-Fi.
Note that there are no toilets on board. Giant Ibis buses make two stops on the route between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: a 10-minute bathroom stop and a longer half an hour lunch stop at a restaurant about half the way between the two cities. Lunch is not included into the ticket price. The majority of dishes on offer in the restaurant cost between USD3 and USD5.
From Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by night bus
If you have never travelled in a sleeper bus in Asia, go ahead. You are not necessarily going to like, but it is an experience not to be misses. Pros are that you save some money – no need to pay extra for your hotel room, just USD15 for your bus ticket – and the daytime of your journey. Cons are that sleeping bunks are not too comfy, especially if you have long legs. There is no entertainment program during the night trip which is great, but note that lower bunks do not have reading lights; so if you would like to read be sure to book the top bunk.
There are toilets on board, and night buses make a stop half the way between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. You can take an advantage of it to grab a quick bite, too.
In Phnom Penh, all the Giant Ibis Transport buses leave from the company’s office in 106 Street, close to the night market and the riverfront. If you stay in one of the company’s partner hotels, you can order a complimentary pickup service. Check the list of the partner hotels on the Giant Ibis Transport web site or inquire in your hotel.
In Siem Reap, buses drop off passengers at Giant Ibis Transport bus terminal. It is conveniently located in downtown, close to Angkor National Museum. From there it is about two km to the Old Market area where you can find the highest concentration of budgets digs, and even less to the leafy Wat Bo Road with stylish boutique hotels. You can walk to your accommodation or take a tuk-tuk – there are plenty of them meeting arriving buses.
It is not a common practice to rent out motorcycles or scooters to foreigners in Siem Reap, alas! If you want to have your own transport, the only option is bicycles which are offered at around USD2 per day. Be realistic, though: it is about 7 km from Siem Reap to the ruins plus the same distance back and than add no less than 10 km if you wish to do the Small Circuit. And yes, it may become scorching hot in Angkor.
If you prefer motor transport, than opt for a motorbike taxi, a tuk-tuk or a normal taxi.
Motorbike taxis are the cheapest way to get around the city. Short hops around Siem Reap normally cost less than USD1. You can also hire a motorbike taxi for the whole day for exploring the temples of Angkor (daily rates start from USD8). It is a convenient option if you travel solo and do not want to depend on other travellers which is the case with a shared taxi or tuk-tuk.
Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous and are a convenient – and very authentic – way for moving around the city. Hiring a tuk-tuk for a whole day for exploring the ruins is a quintessential Angkor experience. They seat two people comfortably enough; three or four will feel like herrings in a bowl though. Tuk-tuks charge USD15 per day.
Taxis or rather cars with drivers are air-conditioned – no heat, no red dust, no sweat, hurray. They are definitely more comfortable and for some it may compensate the lack of that feeling of ‘authenticity’ of the ride. Yet if you wish to visit some remote temples and have fellow-travellers to share the expenses, taxis are a great way to get there. Expect to pay from USD25 to USD30 for a whole day.
Exploring, visiting, checking out and admiring all those awe-inspiring temples of Angkor from dawn till dusk – that is what you are supposed to do while in Siem Reap. Nobody of those arriving to Siem Reap escapes Angkor – well, no wonder.
But Siem Reap has even more activities on offer if you get tired of all those centuries-old carved stones. Enrol to ceramic classes and create your own pottery using the pottery wheel at The Angkor Pottery Centre or find out the variety of flavours of Khmer cuisine at cooking classes which include a visit to a local family with Beyond Unique Cooking Class. There are also opportunities for connoisseurs of alcoholic beverages with Georges Rum Free Tasting or Palm Wine tasting. In about 20 minutes drive from the centre there is The Angkor Silk Farm where the visitors are introduced to the whole process of silk-making. If you are still temple-hungry after visiting Angkor, there is a dozen of old and modern temples in the city, all of different architectural interest, including a 500-year-old Wat Preah Prom Rath, which shows the obvious Angkorian influence.
Evenings glitter with traditional costumes of the dancers performing at numerous venues round Siem Reap. And then there are all those massage shops to relieve your aching muscles after a strenuous day at the ruins. The Khmers claim that the famous Thai massage has originated from the Khmer one. Whether it is true or not, it is worth comparing anyway.
From Siem Reap to Thailand
A three-hour bus journey brings you to the border town of Poipet. Some buses still practice numerous stops during the trip at local souvenir shops and restaurants which pay them commission on every dollar you spend with them. But otherwise there are no other dangers or annoyances while getting to the border. No touts are meeting you at the Thai side offering their help with your Thai visa and the only disappointment is that the queues may be quite long. On the Thai side, walk to Rong Klua Market for buses heading to Bangkok and some other destinations throughout Thailand or catch a tuk-tuk to get to Aranyaprathet bus station which has a wider choice of destinations. Find more information on getting from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok here.
There is a direct international bus from Siem Reap to Bangkok, too. If you use this one, you will not need to change transport at the border, which is the case with two separate trips – from Siem Reap to Poipet and from Aranyaprathet to Bangkok – and with other ‘direct’ buses from Siem Reap to anywhere in Thailand.