Recommendations and tips for travelling through Siem Reap and Koh Rong Island
Rich with culture, Cambodia is a must-visit for backpackers and holiday goers alike! Famed for its ancient temples and stunning beaches, if you’re stopping through, Siem Reap and Koh Rong Island should be on the top of your bucket lists. Go for a sunrise stroll through Angkor Wat or join in a spot of yoga on the beach – here’s what to do and where to stay in these unique regions.
Read more: Siem Reap: Things To Do Beyond The Temples
Where to Stay:
Siem Reap: Angkor Wat is one of my top three places in the world! I passed through three times in six weeks and made sure I stayed nearby so I could TukTuk over for the break of dawn and take a morning stroll through one of the wonders of the world. When passing through I stayed at Jasmine Lodge, which cost a slightly more “hefty”(for Cambodia and backpack standards) charge of USD10 per night (roughly $80).
Staying here meant that I got my own room (and a well-deserved break from dorm shares!). After having been through some some ups and downs with previous shared rooms, this room was ‘lush’. It came with AC, a complimentary (TukTuk) airport pickup and my complex had a small swimming pool and bar. A few friends of mine have had some bad experiences with their rooms being dirty in other hostels nearby but mine was clean, the sheets didn’t smell (bonus!) and all of the lights worked.
Koh Rong Island: If you’re making the stop and heading to Koh Rong I would recommend staying at Monkey Island. A great hangout that’s perfect for disconnecting from the world for a couple of days, I stayed here with three friends who met me back in Siem Reap after my meditation sessions in Battambang. Our rooms had no hot water but came with two double beds and mosquito nets. Honestly, I actually didn’t mind how basic is was as I tend to enjoy a couple of chilled out days during my travels. I’m always in the ocean and it makes heading home to hot showers and fluffy sheets even more satisfying!
Check out Monkey Island’s hippie café which is chilled, offering simple Western, Thai and Khmer dishes; simply sit in the main area, drink coffee and watch the world go by. It also helps to stay on this side of the island as the main strip gets hectic at night! If you have more of a budget I would recommended staying at TreeHouse Bungalows.
Activities and Cultural Attractions:
Siem Reap: Angkor Wat is an obvious must-see! Purchase a multiple day pass and get there half an hour before sunrise (ask your hotel to book you a TukTuk); locals sell coffee and snacks even though it’s still dark so it’s worth beating the crowds to get a good spot on the waterfront and bag the best ‘water reflection’ photo. September is one of the best times of the year to go as the Vernal Equinox and Autumnal Equinox take place in the months of March and September, and the sun rises exactly behind the temple’s central tower. If you have time, the Banteay Srei (Lady Temple) is more than worth a visit. A little further to get to, the temple is made of gorgeous sandstone carvings which give off a light pink hue.
Tip: Hire a guide if you’re keen to get in-depth historical and cultural background information on the temples, and will also help you to arrange transport to and from your hotel/hostel. According to Tripadvisor, if you “arrive in Siem Reap in the late afternoon, go and purchase your pass at 5:00pm. They will let you into the compound and you can catch a sunset (the sunset shots are great at Angkor Wat westside). Your pass will be activated the next day.” Check out other do’s and don’ts when visiting Angkor Wat here.
Koh Rong Island: This island is super chilled out! Go ahead and book your usual beachy musts and sign up for day tours which include jungle trekking, snorkeling and kayaking and then spend your evenings sipping cocktails at one of the many beach bars — keep an eye out for one of several drop-in yoga classes which take place on the beach, too! If you’re travelling through Cambodia you can also get to Koh Rong by taking the ferry from Sihanoukville.
If you’re looking for an experience that’s truly different, I spent ten days in Battambang taking part in a silent retreat. A course which practices the ancient traditions of Vipassana Meditation (and taught from direct linage of Buddha himself), I chose to stay at Dhamma Latthika Vipassana Meditation Centre which didn’t charge but asked for a recommended donation of between USD40-80, but there are a fair few centres across Cambodia to choose from.
Tip: Only change US Dollars (you will be hard pushed to find somewhere that will buy back Cambodian currency!) and make sure to keep lots of ones and fives with you to tip with.
If you’re heading to Angkor Wat don’t shy away from the boxed breakfast provided by the hotel (check before hand to see if it’s included in the price!) and enjoy a Mango Smoothie or Cambodian Coffee (condensed milk with coffee) from local street vendors or a nearby café. You’ve probably heard about Cambodia’s infamous ‘Happy pizza’ – but I would say don’t do it! More than likely it will be a pizza with some basil and can be twice the price of a regular pizza. Do try all the local flavours however! My favorite dish is, without question, Cambodian Fish Curry (Amok), and grilled seafood.