Bring US dollars if you have them. Don’t use Thai baht.
I was informed that Cambodia only accepts US dollars and Thai baht. Cambodian currency is so weak that they’ve adopted the US dollar, so when you go to ATMs they spit out US currency, and everything is listed in dollars. Some places do take Thai baht, but you lose money because they make up a conversion rate. At one place, I was billed 50 baht to the dollar. There are only about 35 baht in one dollar. Also, sadly, it seemed like people in Cambodia aren’t very good at math. Instead of multiplying 35 baht times 6 dollars, one poor girl took the 200 baht I gave her and divided it by 35. That doesn’t work, and the language barrier made it impossible for me to explain the issue to her.
2. You CAN use Riel(Cambodian Currency), and CANNOT use coins.
I learned this the hard way. A tuk-tuk driver charged my friend Nicole & I $3.50 for a ride on our first day in Siem Reap. We were confused when he wouldn’t accept 50 cents in coins, and just walked away when he gestured to go inside the cafe we stopped at. But then homeboy(with several 3-inch hairs sticking out of his mole) came in kicking & screaming 5 minutes later while yelling “crazy! crazy!” making a scene because we didn’t give him his 50 cents.
He was definitely being dramatic to try to pull more money out of us. We didn’t know that you can use Cambodian Riel for change, so he wanted his Riel. 4000 riel = $1US, so 50 cents = 2000 riel. It’s confusing; restaurants advertise 50 cent beers, but they don’t take coins.
To clarify – we paid $3 and 2000 Riel for the tuk-tuk ride. You can combine your currencies.
I don’t know why so many blogs say they don’t take Riel, because they do.
3. Try pumpkin shakes.
I didn’t learn about these until the end of our trip, when our cooking class instructor told us about real Cambodian food. When you’re in Siem Reap, you’ll see a million places selling a million different varieties of fruit shakes. Even if you don’t see pumpkin listed on a shake menu, you can still ask for it. They’re wildly popular with Cambodian people, so most restaurants that sell shakes have them.
4. Bargain for everything.
This one is probably obvious if you’ve traveled in this part of the world, but you can bargain for just about anything. I’d say tuk-tuks are usually about half the price the tuk-tuk driver offers in Siem Reap, and I’d pay around $1.50-$2 for a 10-minute tuk-tuk drive.
5. Try to book a hotel or hostel that offers pick-up from the bus or train station.
So many offer it for free, and that eliminates the hassle of bargaining with a tuk-tuk driver. Bonus – my friend & I felt super VIP when we got the bus station and our driver was waiting for us with a sign that had our name on it. Even though we were only paying $10/night for our accommodation.
6. Book accommodation that has a pool.
It’s super hot and dusty to walk around Cambodia during the day, and many hotels and hostels have pools accordingly. It’s a nice break from walking around in the hot dust before hitting Pub Street at Night. I LOVED the hostel we stayed at in Siem Reap, called Funky Flashpacker. They have awesome staff and a great pool, along with a super social atmosphere.
7. Don’t do Angkor Wat hungover.
My friend Nicole & I booked our Angkor Wat tour for December 26th, the morning after Christmas Day. Seeing as we were away from home on Christmas, naturally we got super drunk and only spent about 2 hours sleeping in the nice hotel beds we had splurged on. Our tuk-tuk came to pick us up at 4:30AM, and we were miserable for the next 6 hours. Our tour was supposed to last until 2 and we only made it until 10:30. Sitting in the back of a Cambodian tuk-tuk bouncing across unpaved roads when you’re hungover is miserable. And as a result, our pictures are horrible as well – you can tell that we had a rough night the night before.
8. Check the weather before you book your sunrise or sunset tour of Angkor Wat.
Granted I was too hungover to appreciate a decent sunrise anyways (see number 7), when Nicole & I went to Angkor Wat, it was still kind of cloudy. The sunrise and sunset over the temple are what makes your pictures sparkle, check any travel Instagram. It costs $20US for the tickets into Angkor Wat. Twenty. US. DOLLARS. Do you know how far that goes in Southeast Asia?!?!?! That’s how much it costs to get onto the sky-deck at the Ceres Tower. If you’re dropping that kinda dough on seeing Angkor Wat, make sure the sky will be beautiful.
9. If you’re in the 20+ club like me, stay at a social hostel for good nightlife.
I stayed at 2 different places in Siem Reap – one semi-nice boutique hotel, and one party hostel. The party hostel was actually nicer than the hotel, and it had a better pool.
The nightlife in Siem Reap is okay. It’s not great, and it doesn’t suck, but it’s not even comparable to other backpacker watering holes like Khao San Road when it comes to socializing. Surprisingly, the majority of young people I saw out on Pub Street were Cambodian. It’s strange because that’s such a touristy part of town. I’m all about socializing and hanging out with people of a different culture, but sometimes the language barrier makes it a bit difficult, especially when you’re a few Angkor beers deep. Staying at a party hostel (like Funky Flashpacker mentioned above) is a good way to meet other people to party with.
10. If you like drunk eats…
After hitting pub street, check out the $1 noodle stalls on the street that runs parallel to pub street along the river. Nicole’s friend who taught in Cambodia recommended this to us, and she was right. There’s a TON of $1 noodle stalls just waiting to fill your stomach with regret in the morning.
11. If you’re into vegan & health food like I am (ignore number 10)(& number 9 on that note), check out some of the cafes.
Trendy cafes in Siem Reap?! Cambodia has a surprising amount of trendy vegan and vegetarian cafes. While in Siem Reap, Nicole & I went to this dope café called Vibe. They had vegan cashew cheese, hummus, tempeh, and everything else your little healthy heart could desire. I fell in love with tempeh in Indonesia(where it’s from), so I was pumped to find it somewhere else.
We also visited Peace Café, a trendy little outdoor café(where the tuk-tuk driver from number 1 came to scream at us), which I’d also recommend. We didn’t eat there, but we did do a traditional Indian yoga class, which was awesome. Everything that I saw other people eating looked mouth-watering, plus the set up is really cute.
12. Try Cambodian food OTHER than standard Fish Amok, Lemongrass Chicken, and Beef Lok Lak.
All of the above are amazing, don’t get me wrong. But during a cooking class Nicole & I took, our instructor pointed out something very true – travelers often only are interested in trying food that they’ve heard other travelers talk about, rather than discovering new food for themselves.
Nicole & I were adventurous one evening and wandered off into a super-local no-English-speaking-people-for-miles type of restaurant. We just pointed to what someone else was eating, and it ended up being this really good turmeric & snail soup. Not that this always works – we also ordered something else that everyone else was eating, and it turned out to be scrambled eggs with a giant pool of butter sitting on top. But it was cool to try something different than what we had seen advertised on every touristy Cambodian restaurant in town.
There you have it. 11 tips for visiting Siem Reap. If you have any questions for your trip feel free to comment/e-mail me!