Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs – Your Travel Questions Answered
These Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs have come from readers of Grantourismo as well as our social media followers and participants who have signed up for our Cambodia Culinary Tours and Travel and Food Writing and Photography Retreats. If you don’t find an answer, please leave your questions in the comments below and we’ll respond.
This Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs post is intended to provide a space to post your questions about travelling to Siem Reap and visiting Angkor Wat. Rarely a day goes by without us receiving an email from a reader or social media friend and while we love hearing from you, these days I struggle to find time to even call my Mum, so we’d love it if you left a question at the end of the post and we’ll respond here so everyone gets to benefit.
If you have a question about Cambodia, please leave it in the comments below. We’ll cover more general Cambodia questions in another post.
Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs – Your Travel Questions Answered
Seasons and Weather
Q. When is the best time of year to visit Siem Reap and Angkor Wat?
A. This is the most-asked of all our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs. For cool weather, ‘winter’ from late November through February is best, however, this is high season and the most popular temple-cities (Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, including the Bayon, and Ta Prohm) get crowded. March and April are dry, however, they’re the hottest months. Things start to cool down a tad in May, the end of the hot period and start of the wet season. We actually love monsoon best, when everything is lush and green, it’s low season, and it’s possible to explore the temples without crowds. Click through for more on the monsoon season.
Q. We’ve been watching the weather reports and it looks insanely hot in Cambodia.
A. At the time of publishing this post the Mekong countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, were experiencing a heat wave and Cambodia was in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades. However, hopefully that didn’t deter you from visiting. Cambodia’s economy relies on tourism and when tourism is down businesses and the family and communities that depend on them suffer. From tuk tuk drivers to tour guides, shop owners to restaurateurs, people here need your business. There are ways to beat the heat.
Q. How do we stay cool?
A. Rise before dawn for sunrise and do all your temple scrambling in the early morning, aiming to finish by 10-11am at the latest. Return to town for lunch in the cool of an air-conditioned restaurant, a swim at your hotel and siesta. Head out again to the temples in the late afternoon for a few hours until sunset. Go out for drinks and dinner and have an early night and do it all over again.
Trust us, the torture of getting up so early on holidays is way better than frying in the midday heat. Drink plenty of cold water, accept every icy cold towel offered, wear cool linen and cotton clothes and a hat, and take an umbrella to protect yourself from the sun (your hotel probably has one in the cupboard, otherwise they’re cheap from the market and you can leave it here).
Q. What do we pack in preparation for the heat?
A. Leave the synthetics at home and pack loose long-sleeved linen and cotton clothes that breathe. Covering up is also essential in the evenings to keep the mosquitoes at bay. Short shorts, short skirts, shoestring straps and halter-necks are not acceptable at the temples and pagodas and generally frowned upon in Cambodia, so pack a sarong or two to wrap around your shoulders and lower-body if you’re planning on not wearing much.
A hat is essential. Flip flops and sandals are fine for getting around town but you’ll need walking shoes, runners or shoes with grip if you’re planning on scrambling the temples and doing some hiking, especially during the wet season when the stone get slippery and tracks are muddy. A super-light, hi-tech waterproof jacket is handy during monsoon, although cheap plastic ponchos are also available in Siem Reap. If you’re planning on hitting some cocktail bars and nice restaurants, then pack some smart casual clothes. Bars such as Raffles have a dress code. Everything above is easily bought here at the tourist stalls at Old Market and the shops in the colonial centre.
Q. Do you have a Siem Reap and Angkor Wat packing list?
A. We’re working on one for you. For now, pack light. If you forget anything, you’ll find most things here. Bring comfy walking shoes for Angkor Wat, hiking boots if you’re planning to visit more remote temple sites and venture up to Phnom Kulen, and casual sandals or smart flatties that will take you from date to night if you’re planning on going to nice restaurants in the evening. While it’s hot, this is a conservative country and there’s a dress code for the temples, so no tight or too revealing clothes (see below). That means you’ll need light cotton trousers or a skirt or long shorts to the knees, and shirts with sleeves. Shoe string traps, halter necks and shorter skirts are fine for restaurants and bars. While things are pretty casual here by day, locals and expats do dress up for good restaurants such as Malis, Cuisine Wat Damnak, and Miss Wong Bar. Wear the same clothes that you wore to the temples and you’ll stand out as a tourist.
Q. I’ve been reading about the drought problems. I’m concerned about staying in a hotel using water for showers, swimming pools etc when other people don’t have enough water for their daily needs. On the other hand, is it worse if people stop visiting? (Note: this question was asked in October 2015. There’s no longer a drought, however, it still pays to be water-wise.)
A. Great question and you’ve answered it. As a responsible traveller, you have good reason to be concerned. But the heat has deterred so many tourists in recent months that Siem Reap’s high seasons ended early. As a result, businesses are suffering. As it is, during the low season many businesses have to let staff go. Many of the staff who lose their jobs aren’t actually from Siem Reap. They are often from those more remote rural provinces that are feeling the worst effects of the drought and the income from their jobs might be sent home every week to support their families. If everyone stays away, the situation is even worse.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that a lot of the fund-raising that occurs in times of crisis such as these is initiated by hotels and small tourist businesses in Siem Reap. We have a very active, engaged, and responsible tourism and hospitality community here in Siem Reap. When those businesses suffer due to an economic downturn they aren’t in a position to fundraise, coordinate assistance and give back as much as they would normally do. Affluent tourists also contribute in the form of donations that hotels distribute to NGOs. So it’s our belief that if you all stay away, people will have an even harder time.
Our advice is to still come and visit, choose your hotels carefully (we recommend small, independently owned properties) and spend your money wisely. Put a plug in the basin when you run a tap, shower less (swim instead!), hang your towels on the racks, and leave the thingies on the bed so housekeeping know not to change your towels/sheets everyday, etc. Tip the tuk tuk drivers, house-keeping and waiting staff who are the lowest salaries and perhaps consider making a donation.
Vaccinations and Medication
Q. Do I need vaccinations?
A. Ensure routine vaccines are up to date (eg. MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), diphtheria, tetanus etc). Other vaccines that are recommended are Hepatitis A and Typhoid, which you can get from contaminated water and food. Some travellers might need Hepatitis B, Japanese Encephalitis, Malaria and Rabies, depending on where you’re travelling and what you plan to get up to. For more detailed professional advice, see the Australian Government’s Smart Traveller site, the UK’s NHS site, and the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention site. You don’t need malarials if you’re staying in cities and exploring the temples and countryside around Siem Reap, Battambang and Phnom Penh. They’re only advisable if you’re going to be spending time in more remote destinations.
Q. Should I bring medications?
A. Bring any essential prescription medications for conditions you might have (eg. if you have high blood pressure), however, there’s no need to bring anything else. Almost everything can be bought over the pharmacy counter, from headache tablets and Imodium to antibiotics. Some pharmacies sell fake medications, so we recommend you use the U-Care Pharmacies, which also have good qualified English-speaking staff; there are several branches in Siem Reap and all tuk tuk drivers know them.
Q. Do I need travel insurance?
A. Absolutely. You should not come to Cambodia without travel insurance and you need to ensure it includes cover for medical evacuation to Bangkok in case of emergency. We have a good clinic here and house (hotel) calls are reasonably priced if you get food poisoning or something minor. There’s also a decent international hospital, but it’s super-expensive, however, it’s not equipped to deal with serious cases of trauma, for which patients need to be flown to Thailand. We recommend our insurance partner World Nomads and we earn a small commission on your purchase if you click through to this link.
Q. What’s the voltage in Cambodia and what adaptors should I bring?
A. The voltage is 230V, the standard frequency is 50 Hz and plug types A, C and G are used. If you’re an American traveller to Cambodia, check out this whatplug.info site.
Research and Reading
Q. What books should I read about Cambodia?
A. We’re going to be publishing a comprehensive reading list soon, but in the meantime, there are a few must-reads in our opinion: A History of Cambodia by David Chandler; Cambodia’s Curse: the Modern History of a Troubled Land by Joel Brinkley; and In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner.
Q. What books should I read about Angkor Wat and the archaeological sites?
A. Click through for some excellent recommendations by Siem Reap based archaeologist Dr Damian Evans in this post on how to get the most out of the temples. My favourite guide is Damian’s top recommendation: Focusing on the Angkor Temples, the Guidebook by Michel Petrotchenko. The books Damian recommends are available from the spots below.
Q. Should I bring books or can I buy them there?
A. Monument Books in Siem Reap has a great range of Cambodian non-fiction and fiction (including the books we recommend) and for prices that are likely to be more reasonable than in your home country, especially for Australians, where books are expensive. Not that we condone their purchase, but budget travellers tend to buy the fakes for as little as US$5-6 sold at the outer stalls at Old Market (Psar Chas), souvenir shops on Sivutha Boulevard, and from a few of the landmine victims who spruik them around town.
Q. What travel guidebooks do you recommend?
A. The Lonely Planet Cambodia guide is by far the best guidebook because it’s the only guide written by resident authors who have lived here for many years. The coordinating author Nick Ray also works in tourism, so he knows the country inside out. You’ll find the new edition at Monument Books and the Old Market souvenir stalls etc.
Q. What is the local currency?
A. The official Cambodian currency is the Riel (4,000R= US$1), however, the US dollar is the currency of choice used for the majority of transactions, for Cambodians as much as for foreigners. You’ll receive Riels as small change and it will come in handy for paying tuk tuk drivers, buying street food, shopping the food markets, and giving tips. Some ATMs dispense US dollars only, others both US$ and Cambodian Riels.
Q. Should I bring US dollars?
A. Unless you’re concerned about ATM fees and overseas transaction fees and think you can get a better exchange rate in your home country or a stopover destination en route then there’s no need to bring any more US dollars than you’ll need for your visa (US$30) and taxi to your hotel (US$7-10). There are currency exchange offices and ATMs after Immigration at the airport.
Q. Are there many ATMs in Siem Reap?
A. There are ATMs all over Siem Reap, on almost every block and attached to mini-marts, which give US dollars. There are a row of five ATMs within Lucky Mall. ATMs charge fees of US$4-6 per transaction. Vattanac charges some of the lowest fees at US$4 per transaction. People feel most confident with ANZ bank ATMs, which charge US$5 per transaction. Check the ATM to make sure it is part of the international Cirrus network before putting your card in. Some Cambodian banks only accept Cambodian bank cards.
Q. We heard about cases of ATM skimming in Cambodia.
A. Yes, there have been cases in recent months, but it’s not just in Cambodia, it’s happening all over the world. And the criminals stealing people’s money here aren’t Cambodian, they are foreign, as in this recent case of ATM skimming in Siem Reap. It’s best to use ATMs within banks and supermarkets, rather than those outside buildings, and take a good look at the ATM to make sure it looks normal. Here’s how to spot an ATM skimming advice.
Getting to and Arriving in Siem Reap
Flights and the Airport
Q. Siem Reap seems like a hard place to get to – why are there are no direct flights?
A. It’s not hard to get to. While there are no direct flights from long haul destinations like Australia, Europe and the Americas because Siem Reap International Airport is not equipped to handle big jets such as the A380, there are direct flights from many Asian capitals, such as Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Luang Prabang, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei, and many more cities. See this post on how to get to Siem Reap for more info.
Visas and Airports
Q. Should I get a Cambodia visa at the airport or online?
A. In high season (late November to March), when a few planes might arrive at once and queues are long, we recommend organising a tourist visa in advance via the Cambodian government’s e-visa site, which takes three business days and costs US$30 for the visa plus a US$7 fee for processing. Do not use other websites, as there are lots of fraudulent sites out there. The rest of the year you can easily obtain a tourist visa at the airport. Bring two passport photos and US$30 in American notes. Fill out the visa forms on the plane before you land and you’ll be through in a flash. They have handed out visa and customs forms on every Siem Reap flight we’ve ever taken. Tip: keep your pen and passport handy when you put your bag in the overhead on those Cambodian Angkor Air turbo-props.
Q. Does it take long to get through Siem Reap airport?
A. While the airport has recently been remodelled (it’s very beautiful), it’s still compact and rarely takes more than 30 minutes to get from the plane to your taxi. In high season it might take longer, but in low season you can be through in even less time.
Q. Should I organise a transfer in advance?
A. If your hotel is offering a free transfer, you may wish to save some money and accept it. However, we’ve heard stories of tuk tuks not arriving to collect people and travellers ending up at the wrong hotel, so make sure the hotel has your full name and flight details. You might also like to email them a photo of yourself.
Q. How do I organise an airport taxi?
A. From the luggage carousel, you’ll see the glass taxi booth to the left of the Arrivals exit. Go to the booth, give them your hotel name, and pay for your taxi. Rates are fixed: US$7 for a car or US$10 for a van for a standard ride into the centre of Siem Reap. For longer distances the fees will be higher. You’ll get a receipt and a driver who’ll greet you as you exit Arrivals. He’ll ask you to wait on the curb while he goes to get the car.
We’ve always found airport taxi drivers to be professional, with good English skills, and nice, clean cars. Many tourists end up using these drivers for excursions to temples that are further afield, so if you have a nice drive, grab his card. There should be a laminated price list for excursions and day tips behind his seat.
If you want a tuk tuk, the standard rate from the airport to town is US$6 for a tuk tuk already waiting, US$7 for a tuk tuk arranged through a hotel or travel company, or US$4 if you walk out to the main road.
Once in Siem Reap
Getting Around Siem Reap
Q. What do tuk tuks cost around Siem Reap and to the Angkor temples?
A. Click through to our Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temples for lots of info on the cost of tuk tuk rides in Siem Reap and to the temples.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Q. There’s so much information out there on the temples. Is there one source of information you recommend?
A. Start with our Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park. That should answer a lot of your questions. In that guide we have links to many other great sources of info, as well as a few essential books.
Q. I read that the Angkor Archaeological Park opening hours changed but some reports said for the better, others said they were reduce…?
A. The opening hours changed in late 2015. Hours were shortened and there are now fewer spots to watch sunrise and sunset. We list all the opening hours in our Guide to Angkor Wat and Archaeological Park (link above).
Q. I heard the ticket prices are going up.
A. In February 2017 the price of Angkor Archaeological Park ticket, called an Angkor Pass, went up to: US$37 for one day; US$62 for three days (valid for use over seven days); and US$72 for seven days (valid for use over one month).
Q. Is it really possible to go to the temples and escape the crowds?
A. Yes, visit during monsoon (again, see our Insider’s Guide; link above)and make an effort to get to some of Cambodia’s more remote archaeological sites, some of which can be seen on a day-trip from Siem Reap or on an overnight stay.
Crime and Safety
Q. Is Siem Reap safe for solo women travellers?
A. Unfortunately, this is one of the most-asked questions of those on our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs: is Siem Reap safe for women travelling alone? I’m not sure why as this is one of the safest places I’ve ever been. Crime in general is low compared to Phnom Penh, and crime in Cambodia is way lower than, say, the USA. Recent data I checked placed Siem Reap on par with the USA’s safest cities, such as Austin, Texas. Having said that, sadly, Cambodia is a magnet for foreign pedophiles, human trafficking is a problem, and the incidence of domestic violence is high. While there have been cases of rape reported on the coastal beach city of Sihanoukville, sexual assault and other crimes against travellers, especially women travellers, are uncommon in Siem Reap. Siem Reap’s streets are very safe, even late at night.
Q. Do I need to worry about thieves and pickpockets in Siem Reap?
A. Unlike Phnom Penh, where everyone seems to know someone who has had a handbag pulled from a shoulder by a bloke on a passing motorbike or an iPhone snatched while they were using it in the back of a tuk tuk, petty crime against tourists is rare in Siem Reap. The only time and place to be cautious is in the wee hours of the morning, if you’re leaving bars and are fairly inebriated.
Food and Drink
Q. Can I drink the tap water in Cambodia?
A. No. Not unless you have an electric jug or kettle in your room and you boil it a few times first. Unfortunately you’ll need to drink bottled water. Your hotel and tour companies will provide plenty of safe drinking water, as will good tuk tuk drivers. If your glass is filled at a good restaurant, cafe or even simple family eateries, it will be filtered water.
Q. Is it safe to have ice in drinks?
A. Good restaurants, cafes, bars, local eateries, and good food stalls will use ice made from safe, filtered drinking water. It will be in small rounded blocks. If it’s crushed then they may have crushed it from a massive block of ice that was not filtered, so do double-check. If you’re in the remote countryside, and it’s crushed then you can assume it’s not filtered, however, if you ask for safe ice then the stall-holder will probably wander off to a neighbour and get some.
Q. Is it safe to eat street food?
Q. What Cambodian street food should I try and where can I eat it?
Q. Best street food tour?
A. We can’t recommend anything at the moment, sorry. We used to recommend Siem Reap’s first street food tour, River Garden’s Street Food Adventure, because it was led by Cambodian cooks but it no longer exists as the hotel has sadly closed, and for our 9-day Cambodia Culinary Tours and 10-day Food and Travel Writing and Photography Retreats, we use our own Cambodian guides that we have trained.
We are about to test out a few Cambodian-ran food tours and once we have we will write about them here.
We have been asked a few times about two expat-led food tours in Siem Reap. The issues of responsible travel aside, we don’t see the point of doing a Cambodian food tour led by expats. How could they possibly answer the questions that we would typically ask of local guides, such as: Who cooks at home, you or your spouse? What’s your earliest food memory? Did you grow up eating kuy teav or nom banh chok for breakfast? Did your mother teach you to cook? What was your favourite dish your grandma made? Are you worried about the loss of culinary heritage?
We’ve been told by the same people that is hypocritical as we are guides. In fact, we are not guides. We are hosts, curators and facilitators on the itineraries, tours and retreats we offer, for which we hire and train and/or recommend Cambodian guides.
Q. Best supermarket?
A. On Sivutha Boulevard, Lucky Supermarket in Lucky Mall is big, with wide aisles, however, the snug Angkor Market down the road is far better, with a superior range of both Asian and Western products and lower prices. This is the spot to buy your wine, beer and spirits. Upstairs you’ll find household goods, kitchen ware, baby food, pet food, and the like.
Q. The liquor is so cheap in the supermarket – is it fake?
A. Of all the questions in our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs this is one of the questions we most get asked! Bottles of quality spirits, such as Bombay Sapphire gin, sell for around US$10-11, and a decent Australian, South American or European quaffer goes for as little as US$10 in the supermarkets, so, yes, you could be forgiven for thinking they are fake. As long as you’re buying your liquor from a reputable supermarket, such as Angkor Market or Lucky, what you’re buying is indeed the real deal. Tax on liquor is lower in Cambodia than neighbouring Thailand, so the low prices do come as a shock. And a recent tax increase appears to have only resulted in price increases of $1-2 per bottle surprisingly.
Q. Best coffee in Siem Reap?
A. Little Red Fox Espresso on Hup Guan Street, Kandal Village.
Q. I’ve got time to kill before my flight, what’s the best cafe to hang out in for a while, where they won’t kick me out?
A. Siem Reap’s cafe owners and managers are a hospitable lot. We don’t know any who would boot you out. But Pages, New Leaf Book Cafe and Cour de Maison are all lovely places to linger. Click through for our guide to Siem Reap’s Best Cafes.
Q. I’m French. Is there a cafe that offers authentic French pastries? I want a cafe not a bakery.
A. French pastries don’t come more authentic than at Bayon Pastry School and Coffee Shop, a French NGO that trains disadvantaged young women to be pastry chefs. They are listed on our guide to the Best Siem Reap Cafes, above.
Markets and Shopping
Q. I love markets but I heard Old Market is really touristy. What other markets can I go to?
A. Strangely enough, some food bloggers advise visitors against going to Old Market (Psar Chas) because it’s “touristy”, and, yes, there are a lot of tourist stalls there, but I guarantee you that tourists are not buying the beautiful fresh produce sold inside, nor the fermented fish, pig’s heads or fresh frogs, nor kitchenware or hardware, nor having their hair washed or nails done, nor eating at the food stalls. It’s still very local. If you want a market that’s locals-only, try Psar Leu, which we also love. See our Siem Reap Markets guide for more info.
Q. I’m not a fan of haggling but I’m told you need to bargain for everything.
A. No, that’s not true. While bargaining for souvenirs is expected in markets and stalls selling tourist trinkets, it’s actually not acceptable in shops where products have price tags.
Q. Is food cheaper in the market than the supermarket?
A. Not necessarily, because there are essentially three prices charged – one for locals, one for expats whose faces are familiar to stall holders, and one for foreigners. The foreign price for things like fruit and vegetables is often higher in the market than it is in the supermarket. If you’re settling in to Siem Reap for a while go shopping with a Cambodian the first time.
Q. Are the Night Markets worth going to?
A. Depends on what you’re looking for… aside from a handful of specialty shops at the riverside Art Market (where there is actually very little art sold) most of what’s sold at the handful of Night Markets is manufactured in Thailand, Vietnam and China. As proponents of responsible travel, we prefer to see travellers investing in local talent and taking home a souvenir that was handcrafted here, so we recommend making a beeline for the Made in Cambodia market for art, jewellery, accessories, gifts, and souvenirs, handcrafted by local artists, artisans and designers held in the grounds of the King’s Road Angkor complex on River Road.
UPDATED: February 2017
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