Siem Reap: The gateway to Angkor Wat

Siem Reap: The gateway to Angkor Wat

by Agness Walewinder
haps Korea Magazine

It wasn’t always like this. Back in 1993, there were only around 7,000 visitors a year making their way to the temple complex of Angkor Wat, the largest religious site in the world and Cambodia’s number one tourist attraction. It’s even on their national flag. To date, it is now estimated that over 2 million tourists descend upon these ancient stones annually, a figure that it surely can’t sustain without suffering some serious wear and tear.

Sunrise over the temple – you can see why so many people visit.

And much like Aguas Calientes – the feeder town that serves Machu Picchu in Peru, the Cambodian town of Siem Reap has become little more than a giant resort, catering for every kind of traveler and tourist on any kind of budget. Globetrotters Agness and Cez of Etramping adventure travel blog have experienced the scene first hand, and they’re here to give you (and us) the top 6 essential pieces of advice on how to come out of the experience without losing all your marbles. Because in Siem Reap – that’s very easy to do.

1. Never Accept the First Offer
When you first set foot in Siem Reap, much like a sexy young starlet fresh off the bus in Hollywood, you’re going to be inundated with offers. It’s great if you crave attention. You’ll be presented with anything from cheap hotels to discounted entry and tours to Angkor Wat, to less savory options that could potentially land one in considerable trouble in a country like Cambodia.

Only accept legitimate tickets to the site itself.

Never, ever accept the first offer and haggle like a pro. Locals will be throwing deals at you, desperate to get your attention and your business and they’ll try every trick in the book to do so. Simply stay cool, be firm and bat them all away like flies. They’ll get the message sooner rather than later.

2. Try to Avoid Pub Street
If you like to party hard and still be awake when the sun is rising, then by all means venture to Pub Street, because the clue is in the name. It’s an unwholesome section of the town where anything and everything goes, and late-night revelers will still be reveling late into the next night. A strip of bars, clubs, bad karaoke, and overpriced restaurants, it kicks off well before the sun has even set.

Exploring the temples – this is what we came to see, not to wind up in the gutter.

For those who enjoy the scene (most certainly a younger crowd), partying here can be the highlight and mainstay of any visit to Siem Reap – even (bizarrely) eclipsing the experience of Angkor Wat itself. For the rest of you, you should avoid it like the plague and that includes anyone with an addictive personality. There’s a strong chance the weak-willed could get lost for months if not years in this insalubrious soul vacuum.

3. Be Wary of the Scams
Much like any saturated tourist destination, the scammers will follow the crowds. More people means a higher chance of success, and while for the most part, Siem Reap is a safe place, it does have its seedy side. Many chancers will be counting on the fact that tourists are going to get legless on Pub Street and will target them accordingly – especially young backpackers.

Watch out for these guys – they’ll rob you blind. Image: Agness Walewinder, Etramping

There are scams aplenty in this town, too numerous to list here, so what we’d advise is to take a moment at your hotel or hostel to familiarise yourself with all the tricks to look out for. Any legitimate accommodations worth their salt will be able to provide you with this information because they’ll want to protect their guests. Just remember, if it looks too good to be true – it probably is.

4. Tangling with Tuk Tuks
You can’t get away from them, they are everywhere and unfortunately, a necessary evil. Tuk-tuks are the mode of transport of choice in Cambodia, noisily buzzing around the dusty streets, ferrying tourists here and there, to Angkor Wat and back again. In surviving Siem Reap, they deserve an article on their own.

Don’t be taken for a ride – figuratively. Image: Agness Walewinder, Etramping

You might well be tempted to take someone up on what seems like a reasonable price for a tuk-tuk ride, but what you don’t know is around the corner there’s a legit driver who’s charging half that price. Drivers might follow you around the streets hassling you for business, and more than a few will certainly offer you drugs or girls for the night. If a tuk-tuk driver asks if you’re looking for some “boom boom,” just politely decline. You came to see the temple, to not be ripped off for doing so, and to not end up on the wrong side of Cambodian law.

5. Visiting the Temple
You’ve come to visit one of the most beautiful sights of the ancient world, a sprawling religious city built in the 12th-century and an iconic, bucket-list experience. So, make sure you actually go! What many people don’t realize is just how big the site is – it’s not all about that famous bit you see in all the pictures.

The temple complex has many different places to explore. Image: Agness Walewinder, Etramping

It’s up to you if you want to join the thousands of people craning their necks and cameras in order to get the innumerable sunrise or sunset shots, but just as good is randomly going in the afternoon where you might get lucky running into fewer people. Just do not forget your sun hat and make sure you leave enough time to see everything you want to see – this place is enormous.

6. Common Sense
Our intention isn’t to put the fear of God into you, the vast majority of visits to Siem Reap and the temple are without incident. It just pays to go in armed with some insider knowledge from people who have been there and got the T-shirt. As with every place you travel, keep a good head on your shoulders and use that all-important common sense. Angkor Wat is a magical place and your memories of a visit should reflect that. All you have to do is survive Siem Reap.

Have you been to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat? Let us know your experiences!

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