There’s a certain magic about Siem Reap; as the gateway to Angkor Wat, this small, compact tourist town is where modern and ancient worlds collide.
Cosmopolitan cafes and modern markets form the epicenter of chic Cambodia, though a short tuk-tuk ride and you’ve stepped back in time.
Siem Reap was built around an empire of ancient temples, and from those reclaimed by the roots of enormous banyan trees, to complexes that were once the royal capital city of the Khmer empire, the city of Siem Reap is an incredible base for authentic adventure.
There’s plenty to do in Siem Reap beyond the temples of course; from the Cambodian circus, to Buddhist monasteries, and back country adventures to explore rural villages fringed by endless rice paddies, swaying sugar palms, and water buffaloes.
But before you focus on things to do (and you won’t be short of things to do!), the first thing to figure out is how to get there; by plane, bus, or boat.
How to get to Siem Reap & Angkor Wat
… by Plane, Bus, Boat & Tuk-tuk
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Flying Into Siem Reap
Verdict: Expensive but Quick
Flying into Siem Reap is something most travelers do; Siem Reap International Airport is about 7 km west of the town centre, and is actually busier than the capital city Phnom Penh.
Because there are no direct flights between Siem Reap and the West, if you’ve chosen to fly you’ll need to transit through an Asian hub. The most common direct flights to Siem Reap leave from Bangkok, Saigon (HCMC), Phnom Penh, Guangzhou, and Singapore.
The airport is a hub for Asian airlines, so you’ll be able to find flights to Siem Reap with carriers like Air Asia, China Southern Air, Vietnam Airlines, as well as Cambodia Angkor Air and Sky Angor Asia Airlines.
Airport facilities are pretty basic; there are a couple of cafes, shops, ATMs and a foreign currency exchange, but that’s about it. The building itself though is very clean and modern.
Flying into Siem Reap is the most expensive way to get there, though is also the quickest. If you’re short on time, and don’t have to stick to a budget, flying is the most convenient way to arrive. If you’re looking to save money, a more cost effective alternative could be the bus (details below).
Notes on Arriving at Siem Reap Airport
➡ It costs $20 USD to get a Cambodian visa on arrival in Siem Reap International Airport. Citizens of most countries can get this visa on arrival, though it’s always wise to confirm this in advance of your trip.
➡ Most accommodation in Siem Reap will offer to pick you up from the airport, though you’ll have to pre-book it. Depending on your hotel / guest house, this could be free of charge, or cost you up to $25 USD.
➡ Official taxis are available next to the terminal and to get into the center of town you’re probably looking at around US$9. By motorbike taxi you’re looking at $3 – $7 USD. Tuk-tuks are not allowed to wait at the airport, but your hotel can send one for you.
➡ If you want to buy a local SIM for use in Cambodia, the airport is the best place to get it. After you collect your bags you’ll exit and see a number of stands selling prepaid SIM cards. It’s $4 + for calls and data, and you can buy top ups.
Getting to Siem Reap by Bus
Verdict: Cheapest Way to Get to Siem Reap
Traveling by bus is a popular budget way to get to Siem Reap, especially from big hubs like Phnom Penh and Bangkok. Getting from Phnom Penh – Siem Reap by bus can be as cheap as $10 ($23 from Bangkok), and the vehicles are surprisingly modern and comfortable.
Because this is a popular way to get to Siem Reap, there are a huge range of bus companies to choose from. They leave daily from 6 am – 12 am, and facilities vary, so we highly recommend using a booking comparison site to find the best bus.
Just as you would use Skyscanner to compare flights, we recommend using Bookaway for buying Siem Reap bus routes. Bookaway is an online travel agency who specialize in tickets for local transport through SEAsia, and they have the best information when it comes to comparing bus routes (ferry’s, cars, and trains too).
You’ll see what I mean quite quickly; when you’re looking for buses from Bangkok to Siem Reap, the information available on Bookaway about the bus, quality of the vehicle, size of the seats, and overall features is far better than on any other transport ticket site.
You can make well-informed travel decisions before booking. They even display photos of the specific bus you’re looking at, and list the bus company’s name, which many other ticket sites don’t do.
The booking process is easy and hassle free; there are no hidden costs, you pay online and receive your itinerary via email pretty instantly. They also have a 24/7 support line via chat, email and phone with English speakers.
Benefits of Using Bookaway.com For Buses to Siem Reap
➡ Everything you need to know about the route, including bus times, duration, pick up and drop off, number of stops the bus makes, and how far in advance you need to be at the station.
➡ Full information about bus facilities. Bookaway lists whether the bus will have air conditioning, WiFi, charger sockets, wet towels, whether pets are allowed, and your luggage allowance.
➡ Company information: Bookaway is one of the rare ticket sites that not only tells you which bus company the route is with, but lists information about them. Ie, info about their fleet, whether they typically have English speaking staff etc.
➡ Photos and reviews: Being one of the main sites for local transport throughout SE Asia you have the advantage of reading user reviews on the bus routes. They also display photos of each bus so you can see what you’re booking.
➡ Easy, hassle free booking process, with no hidden fees, and instant booking confirmations emailed to you.
Getting to Siem Reap by Boat
Verdict: River Cruising Could Be a Great Trip Addition
Another option for getting to Siem Reap is by boat, or cruise ship. Boats from Phnom Penh leave every day to Siem Reap, and will cost you around $25 – $35 USD for a 4 – 6 hour journey.
Boat routes are typically more geared towards locals rather than tourists, so there may not be the comfort or safety facilities that you’re used to, and boats from Phnom Penh have a reputation for breaking down. That said, it’s a great way to immerse yourself in lake life, and travel locally.
If you’re happy to travel more slowly, and looking for a lot more luxury, you can look at options for multi day cruises that travel up the Mekong River. These are full live on cruise ships, that will see you sailing in 4-5 star luxury.
Cruise companies like Worldwide River Cruises offer 9 – 15 day itineraries which start in Vietnam, and end in Siem Reap, so this could be a great way to journey, immersing yourself in local life along the Mekong River.
It’s important to note that boats won’t operate during dry season (December through April), as the water level is too low to enter Siem Reap. Even in June when we traveled by cruise, we had to disembark our ship and take the last leg by bus because the boats couldn’t get through.
How to Get Around in Siem Reap
Once you’re actually in Siem Reap, what’s the best way to get around? Especially considering there’s no public transport?
First things first, the currency in Cambodia is the Reil and the US Dollar, and most transport will only take cash. Locals prefer to be paid in USD. Transport is cheap, so make sure you have low denominations when you get USD out. $1 notes, $5 notes, and $10 notes are the highest notes you’ll need to have.
Tuk-tuks (also known as remorks) are the cheapest, and best way to get around town in Siem Reap. Short one way journeys will cost around $2 – 3 USD, for instance if you’re traveling from your hotel, into Pub Street (the main tourist food district).
A tuk-tuk is essentially an open air taxi; it’s a large carriage hitched to a motorcycle like a trailer, with four seats in the back. Once you start getting close into town they’re absolutely everywhere – you won’t have trouble finding one – tell the driver your destination, and agree on a price before you leave.
Taxis are more expensive, and you can’t hail these off the street with the same ease as a tuk-tuk. They’re not very common in Siem Reap so your best bet is to have your hotel book one for you if needed.
Walking is a great way to get around Siem Reap, especially if you’re sticking within the city. It’s very safe despite the chaotic look of the street, though you should keep your bags at the front of your body; bag snatching here is rare, but it’s always better to be safe.
If you’re crossing the street in Siem Reap, you have to commit and do it with conviction. Traffic is chaotic, and bikes weave in and out of the streets. If they see that you’re moving in a focused direction they go around you. But they can’t predict hesitation.
How to Get to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap
Angkor Wat is the main reason people visit Siem Reap; an Archaeological Park, spread over 400sq. kilometers and with more than 45 ancient Khmer temples that date back to the 9th century.
So how do you get to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap?
Getting to and around Angkor Wat can be incredibly cheap; the best way to go (in my opinion) is to rent a tuk-tuk, who will charge approx $20 USD to take you there and drive you around for the full day.
There is no way you can walk Angkor Wat. It’s over 400sq. kilometers, so you need a vehicle to get between temples. Bikes are available, and can be a great way to explore if you’re on a budget – local bikes cost $1 – 2 USD per day, or mountain bikes for $8 – 10 USD per day.
That said, Cambodia is hot and humid, and after you’ve spent an hour walking, climbing, and exploring a temple, the last thing we wanted to do was bike to the next. Having a personal tuk tuk driver, who drops you at a temple, waits for you to finish exploring, and then drives you to the next, was fantastic.
If you do choose to bike around the complex yourself, you’ll need a couple of days to explore the highlights of the park, because they’re quite spread out. Be prepared for long hours, and cycling in the heat.
Tips for Visiting Angkor Wat
➡ Getting a tuk-tuk driver is not the same as hiring a guide to accompany you around Angkor Wat. Tuk-tuk drivers will drop you on one side of a temple, and meet you on the other once you’re done. We preferred to explore by ourselves, but there are plenty of guides hovering around each temple if you want someone.
➡ There is only one place to buy your entrance to Angkor Wat, and that is at the Official Angkor Ticket Centre. Do not buy tickets or tours from unauthorized people; this is the only place you can buy them.
➡ Your driver can take you to the ticket office on the day you want to enter the park. If you’re going for sunrise though you’ll need to buy tickets the day before, after 4pm. If you buy your ticket after 4 pm, you can get in for free that day to catch the sunset.
➡ Angkor Wat tickets are sold as a one, three, or seven day pass. I genuinely believe that you need more than one day to see the whole park, especially if you’re hoping to see both sunrise and sunset. As such, we bought a 3 day pass, valid for any 3 days in the 10 days after the date of your first visit.
➡ Take mosquito repellent, sunscreen, a hat, comfortable walking shoes, and plenty of water. The temples are open air, and in the middle of the forest, so you’ll need to prepare for the day accordingly.
➡ Dress respectfully. Angkor Wat is not only an archaeological site, it’s also a temple, and you won’t be allowed to enter some of the temples if you don’t have your shoulders and knees covered. There’s also no smoking here.
Our Recommended Driver
Our personal Tuk Tuk driver was Chuon Hak (Mr Hak), and he was an incredible driver. Our hotel booked him for us on our first day at the temples, and when you find a trustworthy driver in Siem Reap you keep them, so we booked him for the whole week.
Mr Hak speaks excellent English, and has been a tuk-tuk driver for 17 years in Siem Reap, so he knows all the best places to go around Angkor Wat. He quickly realized that we wanted to see more off the beaten path temples and avoid the crowds, so he adjusted our day accordingly.
Mr Hak is fantastic – he’s friendly, happy, and knows everything there is to know. You can book him by sending him a message on Facebook. He was so lovely that we’re now Facebook friends!
Check flights to Siem Reap: Skyscanner.com
Book the bus to Siem Reap: Bookaway.com
Book a cruise to Siem Reap: Worldwiderivercruises.com.au
Book a Tuk-tuk Driver for Angkor Wat: Mr Chuon Hak on Facebook
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