After getting a lot of flak for recommending bakery food in Paris, a more sensible person would refrain from doling out another piece of advice based on one trip. Well, not me! I’ll just do it over and over again. I just flew out of Siem Reap and it ranks as one of the most amazing trips of my life!
Let me get one thing out of the way first. There were times when I researched my upcoming trips to death, but at some point, I realized that research is good in moderation. Real life always interferes. You see this amazing little street, that interesting cafe, or a cute little church that is not on tourist maps or popular websites. So you take a detour or two, or three, and end up wondering why the daylight is gone. And that’s a good thing! You’re not writing a dissertation. Leave some room for the unexpected; it only adds up for the experience.
1. Three full days are enough. Three days are enough to see the most important temples around Siem Reap. Reserve five days if you want to see remote temples and the countryside.
2. Don’t bother arranging for visa in advance. My flight was packed, and yet it took me no longer than 10 minutes to get my passport stamped. Don’t bother with a passport-size photo either, unless you have it lying around. Just pay an extra dollar, and that’s it.
3. There are three hotels in Siem Reap that you can book on points. Best Western (20, 000 points), Park Hyatt (15, 000), and Le Meridien (7, 000). I stayed in Le Meridien, but my pre-devaluation room only cost me 14, 000 points for four nights. In all honesty, Siem Reap hotels are so cheap that I wouldn’t bother with points if I were to book now. -40 can get you a very good 3-star hotel with a pool and breakfast, and 60- will put you into a nice 4-star property. If you do want to use points, the Starwood Preferred Guest Amex will do the trick.
Having said that, there is nothing wrong with Le Meridien. It’s a great hotel with a beautiful pool, and if you’re an SPG Platinum member and stay for five nights (28, 000 points with the 5th night free), the extra perks might be worth it.
4. Get a knowledgeable private guide and explore the ruins at your own pace. This is one expense you shouldn’t skip. A private guide will cost you $30-$50 a day. Of course, you could save money by going with a group, but you’ll be either rushed around or wasting your time waiting for others. Before striking a deal with a guide, do talk to him/her first and make sure you understand each other. Seriously!
5. Siem Reap is so cheap, you will save money on everything else. Like food, souvenirs (must haggle), and massages. Yes, please get these massages for $5-10 an hour. You’re in Asia, the land of cheap pampering! As for food, a meal will set you back $6 – $20 ($20 is at a really fancy restaurant), even around expensive and touristy Pub Street.