Phsar Chas Market, Siem Reap, Cambodia. Copyright 2014 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

Inside Siem Reap – Book a Bespoke Itinerary with Lara

If you’re coming to Siem Reap and you’re the sort of traveller who appreciates local knowledge, would love an insider to help plan your trip, likes to get off the beaten track, enjoys meeting locals when you travel, and likes the idea of having a local friend in a place, then book my Inside Siem Reap experience.

For some time now, I’ve been providing an itinerary and trip planning service for visitors to Siem Reap. You can now book my Inside Siem Reap experience directly through our site.

Since we moved to Siem Reap I’ve been helping people plan their trips here, recommending hotels, tours, activities and experiences, and introducing them to travel companies, guides and tuk tuk drivers. When they arrive, we catch up so I can point them in the right direction, introduce them to the place (generally over a drink), and share my local knowledge and insider tips to how they can best experience the place. I’m then on hand if they need me while they’re here.

If you’re the kind of person who values expert advice, hates trip planning, doesn’t have time for research, or would just rather arrive and have their time planned for them, then I’m here to help.

Why Book Inside Siem Reap with Lara

Nothing beats local knowledge and insider advice from a person who lives in a place. There is so much misinformation out there on Siem Reap — especially from people who were only in town for a few days, whether they’re ordinary travellers posting tips to Trip Advisor or professional writers or bloggers, the advice is often bad.

I don’t blame them. Siem Reap may be small but it’s tricky to get to know quickly. The heat can be disorienting and the abundance of temples can be overwhelming. I remember the first time we visited to do a story for a magazine we didn’t get it entirely right either. I felt the distances were longer than they actually were and I see other writers make the same mistake, advising people not to go somewhere because it’s too far away when it’s actually not at all. It’s annoying when that place is unmissable.

The temples aren’t all that hard to navigate if you know how and it is possible to experience them without the crowds, if you know when to go. You don’t need to pay exorbitant prices for tours with companies claiming to have figured it all out. It’s not rocket science. We’ve tried most local tour companies and the best experiences have been because of the savviness, knowledge and personality of the guide.

Having said that, as stupendous as the temples are, and I do love them dearly, Siem Reap has so much more to offer visitors beyond its extraordinary archaeological sights. There are tranquil villages, lively markets, boat cruises, authentic street food, secret boutiques, after-hours ateliers, art galleries, artisanal crafts, affordable spas, a quirky circus, and more.

Siem Reap may be a popular tourist destination but it’s not all about tourism. I get irritated by complaints about how touristy it is. Siem Reap’s tourist centre is only confined to a few main roads, the commercial centre, and historic quarter. Siem Reap has a lively everyday life with some of the friendliest locals you’ll meet and a warm, welcoming expat community. It doesn’t take long to get off the beaten track to experience local culture and the expat scene.

Some of our expat friends here haven’t ventured to Pub Street in many years. It’s easy to avoid. We only live two blocks from the river and the French Quarter yet we have chickens and the occasional cow strolling down the dirt track that is our street. If you’re interested in getting a taste of everyday life, let me know and I can create an itinerary that shows you the local side of Siem Reap.

As a travel and food writer who spends most of each waking day researching and writing on Siem Reap, you can be confident that I have my finger on the pulse — whether it’s a whisper about a new shop, a one-off music gig, or directions to an out of the way bar. If you want to experience what’s new in the city or simply want a taste of the side of Siem Reap that locals and expats love, then let me introduce you to that captivating place beyond the temples.

What the experience includes

This is not a tour. I don’t believe that expats should be leading tours in a poor country like Cambodia, where most Cambodians are unemployed or underemployed, and living in poverty. As a travel and food writer who has tried dozens of tours in Siem Reap and Cambodia, it’s my job to direct you to the local tour operators and local Cambodian guides who best match your interests, style of travel, and budget.

My experience includes:

  • a bespoke itinerary and pre-trip advice;
  • pick up from your hotel soon after you arrive and a tuk tuk ride to orientate you to Siem Reap and point out things that will interest you, so you quickly get your bearings, realize distances aren’t as great as they seem, and you can hit the ground running; and
  • some time at my favorite café or bar where I can introduce you to Siem Reap, Cambodia and its customs over a coffee, beer or glass of wine; share my strategies for the best ways to experience the temples, how to avoid the crowds, how to deal with tuk tuk drivers, bargain at markets, and eat safely, so that you make the most of your time here; answer your questions to allay your concerns; and you can also pick my brain!

The experience does not include making reservations. If you want me to take the extra step to make bookings for you, I am happy to make those arrangements if I have the time, however, that will incur an additional fee.

How it works

Let me know what your requirements are before you leave home and I’ll work with you to plan your stay.

Based on what you tell me, I will craft a bespoke itinerary focused around your interests — whether it’s archaeology or contemporary art, nature and rural life, traditional culture or handicrafts, fashion and shopping, or food and drink, or maybe even a combination of all those things. If you want to go slow and sustainable, hands-on and experiential, or you want a taste of local life, just let me know.

Your stay here might be dictated by budget or time or the challenges of meeting the needs of a family or group of friends with myriad interests. Whatever it is, tell me, and I’ll work with you to create a plan that will make everyone happy.

Ultimately, I will provide you with a bespoke itinerary crafted just for you, including a list of activities, experiences, tours, and places to eat and drink. I will make suggestions for the most appropriate tour companies or guides to match your interests and budget, and if you require I can also make introductions. Or if you prefer to go it alone, I can recommend tuk tuk drivers and craft self-guided experiences you can do independently.

Feel free to make enquiries in the Comments below but you will need to email me directly at laradunston@me.com to make a booking.

As a food writer, I can also ensure that you eat and drink well while you’re here and taste authentic Cambodian food, one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated of Asian cuisines. Terence and I spend much of our time working on food stories and researching Cambodian cuisine, so if you’d like a food-focused introduction to Siem Reap and Cambodia’s gastronomy, click through to learn more about Savour Siem Reap.

I also offer Shop Siem Reap and crafting itineraries covering the arts, crafts, jewellery, fashion, accessories, fine art photography, design, home decor, culinary products, and more. The focus is on Cambodian made products and visits to ateliers and workshops to see artisans at work or meet designers can also be arranged.

Read the reviews

“My partner and I have always spoken to each other about the joy of travelling to places where we have friends living. There is something wonderful about having them introduce you to that side that you only get to know from being there for an extended period and that you rarely see in your limited time as a traveller. We didn’t have any friends in Siem Reap that we could call on but we have certainly come away from our trip feeling like we did. Lara is not only an amazing wealth of knowledge about the city and surrounds, she also showed us a side of Siem Reap you couldn’t hope to discover on your own. As a major added bonus, Lara is a really lovely person; someone who immediately puts you at ease, like you’ve maybe already met before. On top of that, she really genuinely cares that you have your best possible travel experience. During our travels she checked in with us and helped us refine our itinerary as we went, which for us was invaluable because she quickly understood what interests us and was able to give us more of what we love. Lara is passionate about Cambodia and she knows the place, I would highly recommend her to anyone wanting to scratch below the surface in this fantastic place, she is worth every cent. There are many hidden gems in Cambodia and Lara is certainly one of them.” Peter L., Australia.

“As a repeat visitor to Siem Reap, I had more than just temples on my mind for my latest visit. We wanted to enjoy some nightlife, try some truly fantastic Khmer cocktails and get a real feel for the energy of the city. Taking Lara’s tour was like visiting with an old friend who also just so happens to be a Siem Reap insider — she filled us in on expat life in Cambodia, introduced us to local movers and shakers, and brought us to hidden gems we never would have found on our own. It was the highlight of our weekend — and that’s not just the hand-crafted Khmer cocktails talking.” Alex (AKA Alex in Wanderland), Thailand

“Lara is brilliant! She provided me with a detailed bespoke itinerary that she added to and adapted to as I needed. She has a very broad and in depth knowledge of all things culinary in Siem Reap as well as any other activities that you may care to pursue while visiting this wonderful city. Lara genuinely cares about you as a client. She checked in with me regularly to see if everything was going well and was ready to offer alternative solutions or advice about any aspect of my trip and followed up with arranging bookings or reservations as needed. Lara contributed enormously to making my holiday in Siem Reap very, very special.” Sally E., Australia

“Lara’s unique and vast knowledge of Cambodia puts her in the perfect position to create a bespoke itinerary for visitors to Siem Reap. The focus on authentic experiences (an overused term but in this case apt) helps the visitor to understand a little more about this wonderful country. I only wish we had more time to follow all of Lara’s recommendations.” Victoria (AKA Singapore Foodie), Singapore.

“I want to thank you so much for making my holiday so great. One of the best I’ve had. I haven’t really liked travelling solo much in the past but I didn’t feel like I was solo having you there. I did everything I wanted to, and things I didn’t know I could because of your help.” Chef Lauren, Australia.

“Sincere thanks for all that you’ve done for us. Incredible. Words cannot describe how much we enjoyed the tour and talking to you! The wealth of information and your charm, the afternoon and evening just flew by. Dinner at Sugar Palm was great, we had a blast and the food was amazing. Our day was great, we took your advice to do the tour early and it was the best decision. Guide was solid too. Hope to see you again and thank you for the glorious recommendations. Again, sincere thanks for everything and we can’t say enough how great everything turned out.” Riccarda, Fabio & Lavinia, Germany.

“Lara, thank you for introducing us to Siem Reap and embracing us with your keen reassurance and insight, making sure we saw, tasted, heard, touched, glimpsed, felt, interacted, and grooved with all this place has to offer! What a terrific, enthusiastic, insightful night!!!! Lara, your role in connecting us to a place and people we could not do in such a short time is appreciated- thank you. Your gift was an introduction to a place in time that is Siem Reap, leaving us at the door you opened, with curiosity and a little less apprehension! Thanks for readying us to discover this amazing part of the world! Okun!” Lisa & John, Australia.

“Lara’s advice and guidance were invaluable and we had such a wonderful time. Lara helped make our trip to Siem Reap extra special and we can’t thank her enough. She helped us with restaurant reservations, finding the best guides, tuk tuk drivers and shops. Her local knowledge was extensive to say the least. She was also incredibly friendly and charming. My husband and I will definitely recommend this to anyone!” Kara & Dan, Indonesia.

“Lara Dunston is knowledgeable in every respect… from temples to bars, restaurants to tuk tuks and everything in between, Lara knows Siem Reap. We’ve come to rely on her expertise elsewhere in South East Asia as well. We’ve been traveling in Vietnam for the past three weeks and her guidance has been invaluable, especially when it comes to food. From street to haute, Lara’s suggestions have been superb. Again, we can’t thank you enough Lara.” Andy and Betsy, USA.

“Lara is a well-traveled resource. She has really experienced the cities she’s visited and loves to share that knowledge with others. She even went so far as to make recommendations for my next stops. Her passion for crafting unique experiences for others was very evident. She really knows her stuff and tries to tailor her suggestions to what interests you most. I enjoyed meeting Lara and appreciated all the great ideas she shared. I’d say the one drawback is that Lara is in demand and thus has a pretty tight schedule so you’ll have to be a bit flexible in working with her. Thank you, Lara, for making my trip to Siem Reap even better. Your advice in Battambang was also wonderful! You have a lovely spirit and your passion in helping others was great to experience!” Katrina, USA.

“I really really really loved my birthday night, and you played a major role on it! Thank you so much for being such a great host, we really felt welcomed in Siem Reap also, thanks to you!” Inês, Timor-Leste.

“Hi Lara, on behalf of the guys we thank you so much for your insight to Siem Reap. Even though we didn’t get to try everything you listed, we enjoyed the ones we tried, and it exceeded our expectations. Thank you again and hopefully we will see you in Cambodia again.” Manny, Korea.

“Lara is a wealth of knowledge! Having spent time living in and writing about Siem Reap, she’s able to offer the best advice on where to eat, shop and visit. She was able to craft a shopping tour suited perfectly to my interests, and I even got to meet the designers and craftspeople responsible for the beautiful items I was buying. What’s more, Lara took me to ethical shops and workshops, where the quality of the goods was high and the workers were well looked after. Thank you, Lara!” Emily, Australia.

“I was put in touch with Lara through mutual friends, and she provided lots of options for my trip before we met. It meant that I was able to adjust quickly and avoid any newcomer’s mistakes. Throughout the trip she stayed in constant contact and continued to provide suggestions based on my location and the weather. Most of all she approaches people on as clients but as potential friends, and that’s what we are now.” Nicholas, Singapore.

“My wife and I, along with a friend of mine decided to visit Siem Reap but we knew nothing about the town other than the famous Angkor Wat temples. So I started researching online for information and hit the jackpot!! when we found the gorgeous Lara D! Lara took care of everything for us, she crafted an extensive twelve page bespoke itinerary for our entire visit, which included everything from temples to floating village tours, excellent galleries, cafés, restaurants & bars that most tourist are not even aware off! We had some incredible Cambodian cuisine at these restaurants, which also turned out to be some of the best food we had in our 14 day travel through south east Asia! In the evenings, after long day of visiting temples we went to these super cool bars that she had recommended in our itinerary, to our delight we found out that most of the patrons at these bars were expats living and working in Siem Reap and tourist like us who had the inside track thanks to Lara! Pretty much all these places knew Lara or aware of her and they welcomed us as personal friends of Lara D! We loved it. One evening Lara came out with us to celebrate, even though having prior engagement, she put her own private evening plans on hold just to take us out to some of the best cafés & bars in Siem Reap. It goes without saying we had an incredible time that night, but more interestingly, we realized that we wouldn’t have been able to find these hidden gems without Lara period. And after few days of visiting the temple ruins, we decided to go shopping which was completely hassle free because in our itinerary Lara had included names of boutique stores to shop, we brought back some of our best souvenirs from these places. Furthermore, at the beginning of our trip Lara had recommended a tuktuk driver for our entire stay in Siem Reap. The tuktuk driver was superb, not only was he trustworthy but took an incredibly good care of us, he stayed with us from sunrise to sunset and beyond well into the night. Having our own private driver saved us from the hassle of having to negotiate fare everyday with random tuktuk drivers. I used to think that just reading through lonely planet book of a city or going through tripadvisor recommendations one can make a solid travel plans, Lara shattered that thought. Now I know how important it is to have professional travel guide when visiting any place for the first time and especially when you visit Siem Reap. So if you plan on visiting Siem Reap contact Lara and she will take care of everything and anything you can ask for, she is really that good. We couldn’t have ask for anything more from Lara, her magic kept us rolling through Siem Reap without any trouble, inconvenience or stress, she put all her energy and drive to craft an itinerary which revealed us Siem Reap that no guide book, tripadvisor or travel websites can match. It speaks volume of Lara’s talent as a professional travel writer. Simply put, she is the best professional guide, travel & food writer in Siem Reap. If you decide to visit this incredible place in Cambodia, then let Lara be your eyes & ears to reveal this magical place for you. Lara, thank you for everything you have done for us, we couldn’t have enjoyed Siem Reap the way we did without your itinerary and personal guidance. We will be back in Siem Reap as long as you are there!!!” Souvik, USA.

UPDATE: August 2015

I’m now offering several new itineraries and experiences including: Sip Siem Reap (a cocktail bar crawl for adults), Slow Siem Reap and Local Siem Reap. Head to our Itineraries, Tours and Retreats page for more information.

See you in Siem Reap!



There are 8 comments

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  1. Ian

    I was to Siem Reap once, but only long enough to see the temples … I’ll have to keep this in mind next time I return!

  2. Lauren murdoch

    Hi. I’m planning to visit Siem Reap, landing the evening of 3rd July to 7 July. I think I’ll need your expertise. Temples of course but being a chef I’d love to see markets and eat wonderful food.
    Lauren

  3. Lara Dunston

    Hi Lauren – happy to help with an itinerary combining food and temples. Click through on the link above and you can book one of my Vayable experiences. You’ll want the Savour Siem Reap experience, which I decided to create after hosting many chefs in Siem Reap. Look forward to meeting you in July!

  4. amitabha datta

    hi , we are a group of 5, 2 oldies me and my wife and our 2 daughters and a son in law. we are from india and would like to make the best use of the short time we have . we reach early morning from kl on the 22nd dec and will leave by a late evening flight on the 22nd to hanoi. we would like see as many of the important temples as possible also do some shopping . we have already booked a hotel near the city centre. can you give us some suggestions. regards amitabha datta

  5. Lara Dunston

    Hello Amitabha
    I’m a little confused, sorry… are you looking for suggestions for Hanoi? Or will you be coming to Siem Reap at some stage? Happy to help, just need clarification.
    best regards
    Lara


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