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.
ONE DAY IN SIEM REAP – AN ITINERARY FOR A PERFECT DAY IN CAMBODIA’S TEMPLE TOWN
GETTING TO SIEM REAP
Cambodia recently welcomed the addition of Emirates flights from Dubai to Phnom Penh, which will make long haul flights from Europe and the Middle East so much 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. Or a 5- to 6-hour drive by private vehicle or on the Giant Ibis bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. For overland travel from Thailand to Cambodia and flights from other Asian cities such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok to Siem Reap see this guide to How to Get to Siem Reap.
WHERE TO STAY IN SIEM REAP
For short stays it’s essential that you choose the perfect hotel that’s right for you. We love Siem Reap’s hippest boutique hotel, Viroth’s, a glam urban resort with retro-styled furniture, vintage designer pieces, and a palm-fringed swimming pool; exclusive Maison Polanka, hidden behind high walls with two traditional houses filled with antiques, art and design objects, and a stunning swimming pool; atmospheric Sala Lodges, which has just nine beautiful Khmer-style timber houses on stilts with spacious verandas, decorated with handmade Cambodian quilts and contemporary rocking chairs; elegant Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor, Siem Reap’s oldest hotel, built in 1932, which oozes history and has a massive swimming pool; stylish Templation, a chic low-rise boutique resort in sprawling gardens with another enormous swimming pool; and sleek Hillock’s Hotel and Spa, which has spacious villas with balconies or terraces and a swimming pool overlooking a rice field.
A MORNING IN SIEM REAP
For us, a perfect One Day in Siem Reap begins before daylight. You’ll need to wake in the darkness to see the sublime sunrise over Angkor Wat at Angkor Archaeological Park. (Tips: take a tuk tuk to enjoy the breeze on your cheeks; have your driver take you to get your Angkor Pass at 5pm the evening before, so you don’t waste time in the morning.) Savour sunrise from the quieter pond on the right side, not with the crowds on the left side. 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 water 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 to get up 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 trundling back to town in your tuk tuk. Click through for our Insider’s Guide to Angkor Wat and Angkor Archaeological Park, an 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. Alternatively, we recommend slurping a bowl of kuy tiev (‘Khmer Noodles’), a classic Cambodian pork noodle soup, and sipping an iced Cambodian coffee with condensed milk from one of the local stalls out at Angkor.
MID-MORNING IN SIEM REAP
Have your driver take you directly to Old Market (Phsar Chas) and spend some time exploring 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, and prahok, shrimp paste, and fish sauce.
After, you can browse the best shops in the Old Market quarter, such as Graines de Cambodge, opposite the market, for seeded jewellery; Senteurs d’Angkor, two shops down, for all sorts of 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 jewellery that tells a story 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, have your driver take you to nearby Artisans d’Angkor, for a short (free) guided tour, where you can see artisans at work carving stone and wood into beautiful Buddha statues, as well as silver plating, silk painting, and lacquerware; then to Theam’s House, 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. On your way back to town, stop at Eric Raisina‘s for exquisite silk clothes, scarves and handbags.
LUNCH IN SIEM REAP
If you only have one day in Siem Reap then 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 the 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 flower to start, followed by prahok k’tis (a 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 about Chanrey Tree in our guide to Siem Reap’s best restaurants
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 its friendly laidback 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
Spend the afternoon doing a Cambodian cooking class to learn about the local cuisine. Chef Sothea, who owns the superb Mahob Khmer restaurant offers an excellent hands-on class that starts at 2pm at either the restaurant or his organic farm. Opt for the latter, as the setting is lovely, overlooking the garden, and the vibe is relaxed; you can order wine and beer to sip while you cook. The dishes you’ll make are delicious, but don’t eat too much as you’ll need to have an early dinner tonight.
After the cooking class, have your tuk tuk driver take you to nearby 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 their hot-pots, and the stall after stall selling colourful floral pyjamas. Go on, buy a pair, you know you want to.
SUNDOWNERS IN SIEM REAP
At 5pm you’ll need to 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, it has to be Sugar Palm, where the dishes are based on chef-owner Kethana Dunnett’s mother and grandmother’s recipes; order the Fish Amok (this is Cambodia’s finest rendition of this dish) 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 Siem Reap’s best restaurants. Whichever restaurant you choose, let them 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
This is the reason you need to dine early, and trust us, it’s worth it. For many travellers, an hour at the circus is the best hour they spend in Temple Town. Siem Reap’s Phare, The Cambodian Circus is not your average circus. There are no animals, no ringmaster, no clowns – only absolutely hilarious, hugely entertaining, 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. Click through to read more about Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus and book tickets for the nightly shows (twice-nightly in high season) on the circus website.
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 (it’s been a long day, after all), 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 lively little lane parallel to Pub Street; look for red Chinese lanterns outside and inside scarlet walls, 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 negroni, a nightly drag show, and post-show dancing.
Staying longer than a day? See our Guide to Things to Do in Siem Reap. If visiting in monsoon, see our ideas for Things to Do in Siem Reap When it Rains. Families might like our Siem Reap for Families Guide. Our Siem Reap Angkor Wat FAQs post 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 on our longer Culinary Tours and Food and Travel writing and Photography Retreats which, in conjunction with our Cambodian travel partners and local guides, we host throughout the year as scheduled 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?