Watching the sunrise from behind Angkor Wat is a truly spectacular, unmissable experience. But if you have a couple of days, there’s much more to explore in (and near) the Cambodian spa town of Siem Reap. Find a tuk-tuk tour guide and pack extra water and sunblock because you’re in for an adventure!
Here’s our three-day Siem Reap itinerary, plus some tips and extras we wished we’d hit.
Map of all Siem Reap recommendations
Siem Reap Itinerary Day 1
We flew into Siem Reap from Phuket and jumped in line for our visas, which cost $30 and require payment in U.S. dollars. American cash is always preferred over local currency in Cambodia, as we quickly learned.
The innkeeper from Dream Mango Villa arranged for a tuk-tuk to take us to the hotel. Han, who became our friendly driver and guide for the entire trip, was waiting outside with a sign.
Tip: Stop by the official ticket center to buy your Angkor Pass to all the temples in advance, rather than waiting in line at 4:30 AM the day-of and risking missing the epic sunrise. We wanted to do this but our flight got in too late.
After a couple of poolside beers with our Swiss innkeeper, Harry, and his Pomeranian, Mr. Mango, we went to Spoons Cafe for dinner. Spoons Cafe is a nonprofit operation that provides training to underprivileged Cambodians to work in the hospitality industry. On top of supporting a great cause, the food and drinks are absolutely delish. Try the whole mackerel!
We walked around the Psar Chas (Old Market) and bought a huge bag of rambutans as fuel for the next day’s wat tour. Our evening ended with a visit to the luxurious Samathi Spa, where we experienced some of the most relaxing massages of our lives.
Siem Reap Itinerary Day 2
Han zipped through traffic to get us to Angkor Wat in the wee hours of the morning along with hordes of other tourists, but the shimmering gold and pink rising from behind the monolithic temple did not disappoint. We wandered until the sun was high in the sky and the heat began to beat down our backs.
We opted for the “Grand Circuit” from there, including a larger and less-touristed variety of wats compared to the “small circuit” that most people do. You still see everything in the small loop, plus less famous (yet equally enchanting) temples on the outskirts.
Our favorites were Angkor Thom, with its many faces, and Ta Prohm (where the recent Tomb Raider movie was filmed).
Han had packed up two picnic baskets for us with breakfast items from the inn, plus, mercifully, some additional bottles of water. We made a brief stop to picnic in the shade and chat with Han about life in Cambodia.
By the end of the tour, we’d racked up over 26,000 steps and our feet were crying for mercy. So, we found Khmer Wellness Spa for an $8 USD reflexology foot massage, which restored our ability to walk upright. The massage came with tea and a wooden bowl full of flowers and hot water to soak our weary feet.
We stopped at the nearby George’s French Restaurant for a French-Asian fusion dinner and a rum tasting (it’s also a distillery). Then, we returned to Dream Mango Villa and slept like the rocks the wats are made of.
Siem Reap Itinerary Day 3
Our third day in Siem Reap was all about food. We signed up for Lily’s Secret Garden Cooking Class, which included a trip to a local market where residents actually shop, unlike the downtown tourist hub.
Lily’s husband, Chris (he’s Belgian and she’s Cambodian), picked up us and three other travelers in an XL tuk-tuk. We tasted and bought all the unique ingredients we needed for our Khmer dinner menu. Our fellow guests were fantastic company — bringing up the whole vibe in a positive, fun way.
Chris took us back to the outdoor kitchen at his and Lily’s home where the chef was waiting for us. We made a green mango salad and a chicken curry — both of which were spectacularly delicious, perhaps the best food we ate in Cambodia (not to brag about our cooking skills).
We wandered the streets of the raucous Night Market to walk off our early meal before setting out for second dinner. At Pou Restaurant and Bar, we were finally able to eat something we’d been searching for—bugs. In traditional Khmer cuisine, insects provide a unique and often tasty source of protein. Tarantulas are a particular specialty. I couldn’t quite get up the courage to eat an eight-legged beast (nor were they on the current menu), so, instead, we opted for the grilled beehive and the chicken with red ant.
We also visited the floating village Kompong Phluk on this trip but, unfortunately, cannot recommend it. Sure, we might’ve just taken the wrong tour, but it came across as icky poverty tourism (where people go to gawk at the living conditions of disenfranchised populations). The village clearly relies on income from tourists, so I have mixed feelings about mentioning this. When kids are involved, though, I have to. Toddlers were put in our canoe to solicit money from us while we were a captive audience. The adults would guilt trip us and ask us to buy things for the children, but then take the beverages and snacks away from the kids as soon as we handed over the cash. We were hassled for tips the entire time. I felt awful for the children but giving in only perpetuates the exploitation. Skip it.
Instead, go to one of the places we wish we went:
- Phare, the Cambodian Circus to watch spectacular acrobatics
- Angkor Wat Putt to mini-golf through to-scale versions of the temples
- Angkor silk farm to explore artisan shops and see silkworms in action
- Sombai Shop to taste local infused rice liquors (reservations required)
- Phsar Leu to shop local for snacks, gold jewelry, and tailored clothes