One Day in Siem Reap – An Itinerary for a Perfect Day in Temple Town
One Day in Siem Reap isn’t nearly enough time to spend in Cambodia’s Temple Town, but if you’re in the city on a short or an organised tour, and have just one day to fill at the beginning or end of a trip, then this is your itinerary for how to spend a perfect day in Siem Reap.
Our One Day in Siem Reap itinerary takes in everything from the sublime experience of sunrise at Angkor Wat and Siem Reap’s best breakfast to the liveliest market for foodies to forage and where to savour the city’s finest meal.
This is our idea of a perfect one day in Siem Reap and we’re travel and food writers who live in Cambodia’s ‘Temple Town’, so trust us on this: we know how best to spend the ultimate one day in Siem Reap.
ONE DAY IN SIEM REAP – AN ITINERARY FOR A PERFECT DAY IN CAMBODIA’S TEMPLE TOWN
GETTING TO SIEM REAP
Siem Reap airport is small so most travellers fly from their home via Ho Chi Minh City, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore, or Hong Kong, with Vietnam Airlines, Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, etc. Emirates flies from Dubai to Phnom Penh, which makes long haul flights from Europe and the Middle East more comfortable. It’s just a 55-minute flight from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap on Cambodian Angkor Air, Bassaka Air, Cambodian Bayon Airlines, or JC International. If you prefer to arrive by road to take in the scenery en route (traditional wooden houses set amongst rice fields punctuated by bustling market tours), it’s a 12-hour bus ride from Saigon, a 5-hour transfer by private car or van from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap or 6-7 hours on the big Giant Ibis bus. For info on overland travel from Thailand to Cambodia and flights from other Asian cities see this guide to How to Get to Siem Reap. Book an airport transfer to save time.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP
If you’re only staying one day in Siem Reap it’s essential to choose the perfect hotel for you. We love Siem Reap’s hippest hotel Viroth’s, a glam urban resort with retro-styled furniture, vintage design pieces, and a palm-fringed swimming pool; exclusive Maison Polanka, hidden behind high walls in two traditional houses filled with antiques, art and design objects, and a stunning palm-shaded swimming pool; atmospheric Sala Lodges has just nine beautiful Khmer-style timber houses on stilts with spacious verandas, decorated with pretty quilts and contemporary rocking chairs; luxurious Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Siem Reap’s oldest hotel, built in 1932, oozes history and has a massive swimming pool; stylish Templation, a chic low-rise boutique resort in sprawling gardens has another enormous swimming pool; and sleek Hillock’s Hotel and Spa has spacious villas with balconies or terraces and a swimming pool overlooking a rice field. Charming Rambutan is gay-friendly with rooms with balconies and bougainvillea filled gardens around a swimming pool; while Pages Rooms, owned by Cambodia’s coolest architectural firm, is a mid-range boutique charmer with an alluring swimming pool and arty cafe.
A MORNING IN SIEM REAP
For us, a perfect One Day in Siem Reap begins before daylight and starts with sunrise at Angkor Wat. You’ll need to wake in the darkness to see the sublime sun rise above Angkor Wat at Angkor Archaeological Park. We recommend taking a tuk tuk to enjoy the breeze on your cheeks, but if you struggle with the heat and humidity you may prefer hiring a driver with air-conditioned vehicle; have your driver take you to get your Angkor Pass at 5pm the evening before, so you don’t waste time in the morning. If you prefer a guided experience, try this small group sunrise tour. Savour sunrise from the quieter pond on the right side, not with the crowds on the left. After the sun is up, stroll the road around the perimetre of the temple to the East Gate and enter through the ‘back door’ to avoid the hoards for as long as you can. Get a blessing by a monk before you leave. After, trundle to Angkor Thom, stopping at the South Gate for a photo. At Bayon, admire the lower gallery of bas reliefs with scenes of everyday life before climbing up to get close to those serene smiling face towers. Next, stop at Baphoun, where you should cross the causeway (pretty when filled with water) and climb to the top for lovely views. See the Terrace of the Elephants and Terrace of the Leper King before returning to town. See our archaeologist’s guide to Angkor Archaeological Park and tips to how to get more out of your visit to Angkor Archaeological Park.
BREAKFAST AT ANGKOR OR SIEM REAP
If you only see sunrise at Angkor Wat, Bayon and Baphoun you could be back in town around 10-10.30am for a late breakfast in Siem Reap at the markets. If you stay at Angkor longer, we recommend slurping a bowl of kuy teav, a classic Cambodian pork or beef noodle soup, and sipping an iced Cambodian coffee with condensed milk. Ask your guide to take you to a local stall not a tourist restaurant or cafe; we like the one near the public toilet block on the Angkor Wat-Airport road.
MID-MORNING IN SIEM REAP
After Angkor, have your tuk tuk driver take you to Old Market (Phsar Chas) to explore one of Siem Reap’s liveliest local markets, which, once you get beyond the tourist stalls of the outer perimeter and into the centre where the vendors sell fantastic fresh local produce, will give you a great insight into the local culinary culture. Don’t miss the stalls selling Siem Reap’s famous sausages, dried fish and squid, buffalo and beef jerky, prahok, shrimp paste, and fish sauce.
Browse the best shops in the Old Market quarter, such as Graines de Cambodge, opposite the market, for seeded jewellery made by a young Cambodian woman and her team; Senteurs d’Angkor, two shops down, for wonderful fragrant things, from handmade soaps to spices; Christine’s, around the corner, above Laundry Bar, for fashion and accessories from Asia and beyond; Garden of Desire, on The Passage, for hand-crafted jewellery with stories by designer Pisith Ly; and on the next block known as The Alley, Smateria, for eco-friendly bags and accessories made from recycled materials.
Alternatively, visit nearby Artisans d’Angkor for a short (free) guided tour to see artisans at work carving stone and wood into beautiful Buddha statues, as well as silver plating, silk painting, and lacquerware. Then, keeping in theme, have a tuk tuk driver take you to Theam’s House, in a village on the edge of Siem Reap, which is the home of one of Cambodia’s finest artists and has a tranquil garden, small museum, art gallery, and more workshops where you can watch artisan’s at their crafts. There are fantastic gift shops at both where you can buy quality souvenirs and be confident that they’re made in Cambodia. On your way back to town, stop at Eric Raisina‘s boutique for exquisite silk clothes, scarves and handbags.
LUNCH IN SIEM REAP
With only one day in Siem Reap you need to lunch in a shady courtyard so you can gaze up at the gorgeous blue skies in between bites and sigh at the clarity of light. We recommend a feast of refined Cambodian food at riverside Chanrey Tree, above, set in a traditional-style house, with a more contemporary minimalist space out back, and gorgeous garden courtyard out front. Order the crispy rice cakes with Natang dip (minced pork, shrimp, coconut milk, peanuts) and deep fried frangipani flowers, prahok k’tis (fermented fish, pork and coconut dip with vegetable crudités), fried prawns and calamari with kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, basil, and honey-roasted Khmer chicken with young jackfruit and lemongrass. (Or just show staff the image above.) More info here: Siem Reap’s best restaurants. Or try one of Siem Reap’s best hospitality training restaurants, Spoons, Marum and Sala Bai, which prepare disadvantaged youths from poor rural villages for careers in the tourism industry, helping to pull their families out of poverty in the process.
COFFEE IN SIEM REAP
It’s just a short stroll to nearby Kandal Village centred around hip Hup Guan Street to Little Red Fox Espresso, easily the best café in Siem Reap for coffee. Owned by Aussies Adam Rodwell and David Stirling, the café has what I like to call an Australian-infused Cambodian vibe, with friendly local staff, outstanding coffee – from heady espressos to refreshing cold drips – and a short menu of delicious food. Try the moist carrot cake. After, browse the idiosyncratic shops in what has become Siem Reap’s hippest ’hood. Don’t miss Trunkh, Louise Loubatieres, Sirivan, and Saarti. More here about Hup Guan Street and Kandal Village.
AFTERNOON IN SIEM REAP
With only one day in Siem Reap, it’s a tough call as to whether to spend an afternoon trundling through the rice fields and villages or learning to cook Cambodian food. Fortunately this Cambodian cooking class enables you to do both. Set in a tranquil village 20 minutes outside Siem Reap, your instructor will take you on a village stroll and into a rustic Cambodian kitchen before you start the class. We prefer the afternoon class as you’ll make a gentle Cambodian curry (Cambodian food is not as spicy as Thai food), along with delicious minced fish on sugar cane skewers, and sweet Cambodian brandy snaps for dessert. You’ll eat the dishes you make at the end of the class beside a shaded picnic table overlooking a fish filled pond.
If you’re up for a local experience, have your tuk tuk driver take you to Road 60 for a slow trundle down the centre of this locals-only market-cum-eat street, then have him drive to the parallel side lane and drop you at the start of the kid’s amusement park. Tell him you’ll meet him at the other end. Work up an appetite again with a walk to take in the smoky stalls of Cambodian barbecued meats, families picnicking on mats as they dig into hot-pots, and stall after stall selling colourful floral pyjamas. Go on, buy a pair, you know you want to.
SUNDOWNERS IN SIEM REAP
At 5pm make a beeline for Asana, a bar in Siem Reap’s last traditional wooden house in the heart of the old town where we recommend you snag a swinging lounge and recline on the recycled rice sack cushions for a bit. Order one of owner Pari’s Khmer cocktails, mixed from local herbs, spices and roots. If you have longer than one day in Siem Reap then return for the fun Asana cocktail making class.
DINNER IN SIEM REAP
Our One Day in Siem Reap itinerary requires that you dine early, so book a table for 6.30pm at one of Siem Reap’s best restaurants for authentic home-style Cambodian cooking, Sugar Palm. The dishes are based on chef-owner Kethana Dunnett’s mother and grandmother’s recipes; order the Fish Amok (amok trei), a steamed fish curry (this is Cambodia’s finest rendition) as soon as you sit down as it can take up to 40 minutes. If you’d like to sample refined Cambodian food in an elegant dining space, then try Malis, the Siem Reap outpost of Cambodian celebrity chef Luu Meng. Here, the must-try dish is the Saraman Curry. Click through to read more about both in our guide to Siem Reap’s best restaurants. Whichever you choose, let the waiter know that you need to leave at 7.15pm at the latest, because you’ve got a show to see…
THE CIRCUS IN SIEM REAP
Our one day in Siem Reap itinerary wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include Siem Reap’s Phare, The Cambodian Circus. This is the reason you need to dine early, and trust us, it’s worth it. For most travellers, an hour at the circus is the best hour they spend in Siem Reap. Firstly, there are no animals, no ringmaster, no clowns – this is circus arts – so only absolutely hilarious, incredibly charming, and massively talented young Cambodian performers who use acrobatics, aerial ballet, balancing acts, juggling, contortion, drama, music, dance, and comedy to tell distinctly Cambodian stories. The closest comparison is Cirque du Soleil, only in our opinion the Phare circus is so much more raw, real and entertaining. Book tickets for the nightly shows (twice-nightly in high season) on the circus website and read more here about Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus.
COCKTAILS IN SIEM REAP
A perfect One Day in Siem Reap itinerary has to end with a celebratory drink. If you only get to one bar, make it Miss Wong, one of Siem Reap’s best bars and the makers of Temple Town’s finest martinis. It’s secreted down a lane parallel to Pub Street; look for red Chinese lanterns outside and scarlet walls within, Oriental bric-a-brac, lacquered black screens, and the best bar staff in town. Up for a dance? Make a beeline for gay club Barcode for Siem Reap’s best negronis, a nightly drag show (9pm-late), and post-show dancing.
Staying longer than one day in Siem Reap? See our Guide to Things to Do in Siem Reap and during monsoon see Things to Do in Siem Reap When it Rains. For families, our Siem Reap for Families Guide. Our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs answers questions about visas, money, weather, what to wear, etc.
Planning a trip to Cambodia? Lara offers bespoke itineraries, including themed trips, such as Savour Siem Reap. We also introduce travellers to Cambodian cuisine and culture and teach writing and photography on our longer Culinary Tours and Food and our Travel Writing and Photography Retreats which, in conjunction with our Cambodian travel partners and local guides, we host throughout the year as small group and private tours. More details on our Siem Reap Retreats and Tours site.
Have you spent one day in Siem Reap? What’s your idea of a perfect day in Cambodia’s Temple Town?