A huge thanks to Kirti for this one. She visited Cambodia’s famed Siem Reap at the end of April. It’s been about 20 years since I visited Siem Reap as a backpacker and much has changed (although thankfully the beautiful temples remain intact). If you’re thinking of planning a bigger trip to Cambodia, please do also check out our reviews on Phnom Penh and Kep.
We visited Siem Reap with our 6-year-old daughter who was all agog about seeing Cambodia but was very very keen on hitting the swimming pool at the hotel We expected summer heat in April and we got it in spades! Even the locals complained that it was unusually hot for the time of the year.
We had been scouting around for a cheaper vacay and Cambodia fit the bill. Cambodia is cheap but when a bottle of beer is US$0.50p, you know you are in for a good holiday! We booked flights directly with Cathay and got excellent seats and err rubbish food on the flight.
We organised our visa in advance using the evisa system. Found that super organised and useful to do beforehand.
Our hotel, Belmond La Résidence d’Angkor was booked via Luxury Escapes. It was the first time we were ever trying their packages and we are converts now! We basically got breakfast every morning at The Circle (and there is bubbles at brekkie!!), a lunch at Ember (their sort of poolside restaurant), nightly drinks at their bar, return airport transfers, 2 complimentary foot massages at the spa and the icing on the cake was a tour of the Angkor temples with a guide and driver with car inclusive.
Belmond is an absolutely lovely place – an oasis of peace really! Its location is perfect at 20 minutes from the airport. We used Google Maps to access restaurants outside the property (everything was a 5-10 min walk away) and tuk-tuks are always waiting outside to take you around, if you don’t feel like walking.
Note that there was no kids pool at Belmond so if your child is not a good swimmer or is just learning, its best you are there with them. There were enough loungers with umbrellas as well. Service was excellent and we always tipped (USD$1-3 sufficed typically we found).
Our room was brilliant – only thing we needed to watch out for were the lizards that came out in the evening – every night, it was a dash back into our rooms! Staff were excellent – on point with service. They even had a decent sized fitness centre which opens at 6 am.
Things We Did
On our first night, we hit Phare. This is an excellent circus run by locals with local participation. The hotel reserved our seats for us and it was a full house. Tickets are not cheap but they are totally worth the price. You forget the heat and humidity and are totally in awe of their Cirque Du Soleil like performances. And its tiny stage, mind you and the acrobatics they performed were absolutely thrilling to watch!
We relaxed the next day and got some pool time in, much to the delight of my daughter. The day after was reserved for the temples, for which we took only the 1-day pass. (You have options for both 1 and 3-day temple passes – this is useful if you want to see temples outside the Angkor complex).
We decided to take the Sunrise tour and it was well worth it. We did have to pay USD$40 extra to the hotel for this. Had to be up at 4 am though and leave the hotel at 4.45. Got our tickets and then waited for sunrise to hit Angkor Wat. It was an utterly magical experience, I have to admit and definitely one for the bucket list.
Post breakfast at the hotel, we also visited the Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm temples. Both were utterly magnificent and definitely worth the visit. We finished before 12 pm and escaped the heat of the afternoon!
We visited the night markets the next day but to be honest it felt very commercialised and too touristy. We didn’t buy too many souvenirs but I must recommend this- Mara chocolate from the duty free at the airport especially the pepper one was utterly delish! We also ended up at a local supermarket and bought local pepper and cashews, which I would recommend as well, especially because of the price point.
Regarding spas, I would recommend you check outside the hotel, as they tend to mark up the price. I went to Mudita Spa where I could book online for a body massage and facial as needed. They even send a tuk tuk to pick and drop you off at the hotel. Very reasonably priced.
Visiting Siem Reap in end April should be an absolute no no especially if you are not used to warmer climes. Temperatures hit 38-40 degrees and we literally wilted in the heat. Having said that, Siem Reap is an absolutely fantastic place and customer service there is almost equal to Japan, I kid you not! Bang for the buck is just brilliant – our cheapest meal was $15USD and most expensive at a nice restaurant about $49USD. This was drinks (beer is a must in that heat) and food included.
Food and Beverage recommendations
Please try coffee with palm sugar. We even ended up buying a packet of palm sugar because we liked the taste. Restaurants, I would recommend Lily’s Restaurant- basic ambience but brilliant food! Chanrey Tree across the Siem Reap river is much more expensive (by Cambodian standards) but also amazing food. We also tried Sugar Palm where I ate the most delicious amok ever! It took about 30-40 minutes to arrive so I would suggest you order it immediately off the bat once you get there. New Leaf Eatery closer to Pub Street (which we just walked by but didn’t visit as it looked like one big tourist trap) was also quite nice. Service was excellent everywhere.
We would definitely head back- warm hospitality, excellent food and amazing temples makes Siem Reap a must visit in Asia.