Siem Reap Tour Guide for Cambodia Travel Beginners 2019
Posted on 19/04/2019 7:52:52
Cambodia is a growing tourist destination of Southeast Asia, especially popular among backpackers and budget travelers. Cambodia, boasting an incredible heritage of the Khmer Empire, friendly residents and vast wilderness, caters to devotees of art, culture and nature. Siem Reap, the city located near the Angkor Archaeological Park, is the destination combining everything that makes Cambodia famous. More so, the city has holiday homes suitable for any budget and taste, excellent shopping and great shows introducing the local past and traditions. Today, we are going to introduce the Siem Reap tour guide for the Cambodia travel beginners. Let’s go!
Preparation before the Siem Reap Tour
To enter Cambodia, either by airplane or some means of ground transport, you need to have a passport valid at least for the next six months. Plus, make sure that you have empty pages because the seal takes a full page. Most travelers need the tourist visa to visit Cambodia, which is obtainable online, at the airport and on the border crossing. The 30-day tourist Cambodia visa application costs $30 and you need to prepare two photos if you decide to obtain the document on arrival. Note that you need to add $6 if applying online for the processing fee.
Most visitors arrive in Siem Reap by airplane via Siem Reap Airport. Direct flights to Siem Reap are available from major cities in China (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu…), Southeast Asia (Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore…) and other chief destinations (Seoul, Taipei and Manila, for example) in this part of the world. The airport is near the city, and transfers by tuk-tuks, taxis and vans usually cost up to $10.
Bus connections are available from Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, Bangkok (Thailand), Pakse (Laos) and Ho Chi Minh (Vietnam) among other destinations. During the wet season, traveling to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh by ferry is an option, too. Ferries take visitors to Chong Khneas, a port a few kilometers south of Siem Reap. Bus and ferry fares are quite reasonable, even affordable.
Riel (KHR) is the local currency, but paying in US$ is legal in Cambodia and Siem Reap. ATMs are available in the city and are likely to dispense US$. Furthermore, note that money withdrawal from the ATM incurs a few-dollar fee. Businesses in Siem Reap (hotels, restaurants and shops) typically accept major credit cards (MasterCard, Visa and Maestro).
Best Time to Visit Siem Reap
The climate of Cambodia lends either warm or hot temperatures to the country throughout the year. So, the rainfall is usually the main factor you should consider when planning a visit to Siem Reap. Three distinctive tourist seasons in Siem Reap are high (November to March), shoulder (April and May) and low (June to October) seasons.
The best time of the year for enjoying favorable weather conditions is during the high season. Rainfall is generally low, with the lowest precipitation levels between December and February. Temperatures are warm and the countryside is ideal for exploring, while the attractions of the Angkor Archaeological Park tend to become crowded. Due to the largest number of visitors this time of year, costs are higher than the rest of the year.
Air temperatures and precipitation are on the rise during the shoulder season, while the number of visitors and tourist-related costs drop. While the rainfall increases, most storms take place in the afternoon or evening, allowing you to benefit from lower rates and excellent sightseeing for the rest of the day. Nature is verdant and moats around the Angkor temples start to fill with water.
Low season is a great time for nature lovers and budget hunters to visit Siem Reap. Showers, albeit intensified, are short, typically occurring during the afternoon and evening hours. Attractions of the Angkor Archaeological Park don’t receive many visitors this time of year and the travel-related prices are at their lowest. Moats are full of water, which makes for great photo opportunities.
Top Things to Do for Siem Reap Tour Beginners
You will find top attractions and activities of Siem Reap in the city and in its surroundings. As a beginner, don’t miss the following ones when visiting the top Cambodian tourist destination:
Angkor Wat, Angkor Archaeological Park
Angkor Wat is the world’s largest religious complex and the masterpiece of engineering that keeps standing despite being built on the swampy ground. Occupying a surface of two square kilometers (0.77 square miles), it consists of three levels, of which the outer is the widest and the inner the highest (213 meters/699 feet). Exceptional carvings decorate walls of the Angkor Wat, depicting events from Hindu epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata alongside representations of Hindu deities, Vishnu in particular.
Bayon, Angkor Archaeological Park
In the very center of Angkor Thom, the former capital of the Khmer Empire north of the Angkor Wat, stands Bayon, the Buddhist temple. It represents Mount Meru, the center of the universe and the axis of the world in the Buddhist and Hindu cosmologies. The “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia” features thousands of carvings, most of which probably represent Lokeshvara Bodhisattva. While exploring the Bayon’s three enclosures, examine depictions of Buddha, Hindu mythological events and the scenes of everyday life of Khmer residents of Angkor Thom.
Banteay Srei, located about an hour north of Siem Reap by car, is a smaller temple than those in the Angkor Archaeological Park since its commissioner wasn’t an emperor. The main feature of the temple dedicated to Shiva is a high level of intricacy of its ornamentation introducing Hindu deities, scenes from Ramayana and various creatures. Among the highlights is the depiction illustrating Ravana, the demon, trying to lift Mount Kailash and free himself, while Shiva and his consort Uma sit on the holy mountain. Because of the exquisite ornamentation, people refer to the Banteay Srei as the “Citadel of the Women.”
Tonle Sap Lake
“Great Lake” is the largest lake in Cambodia and Southeast Asia, which abounds with fish and birds. Take a boat tour of Tonle Sap to explore mangrove forests, enjoy birdwatching in the Prek Toal sanctuary and see traditional villages. During the wet season, villages and their markets float, while during the dry season they are high above the water standing on stilts. Visiting bird sanctuary is best in the dry season.
Apsara Dance, Siem Reap
While you visited temples of Angkor, you admired artwork illustrating Apsaras, the divine dancers. Attend their dance, the spectacle only the Royals could attend in the past, in the Apsara Theatre. Apsara Dance is a combination of Cambodian music, martial arts and displays of Angkor temples, and every motion in the slow and delicate dance has a specific meaning.
Phare, the Cambodian Circus, Siem Reap
Phare, the Cambodian Circus’s performances reveal the troublesome past of Cambodia under the notorious Khmer Rouge regime while incorporating performing and applied arts in the show. Carried out by human performers only, the performances of the Phare, the Cambodian Circus will let you discover the limits of the human dexterity, stability and strength.
With the friendly hosts and people such the Cambodians are, you are highly unlikely to get off on the wrong foot with them. As a first-time visitor, keep in mind the following tips to further decrease such a possibility:
– Try not to lose temper and shout at someone, or complain about them in front of someone else.
– If any sort of conflict ever arises, keep smiling.
– Follow the dress code when visiting temples – cover your knees and elbows and take off shoes when entering the place of worship.
– If you are female, refrain from touching monks.
– The head is the sacred part of the body in Cambodia and Southeast Asia. So, don’t touch anyone’s head, not even a child’s.
– The Rule of Khmer Rouge was a severe one and many surviving Cambodians remember those times well. While in Siem Reap and Cambodia, don’t wear garments with violent motifs and don’t discuss the Khmer Rouge or politics.
– Don’t point the index finger at images of Buddha and your feet at anyone. When referring to something, point with all fingers straight.
Being one of the top attractions of culturally-diverse Southeast Asia, Siem Reap leaves no one indifferent. Depending on your interests, you can choose to see extraordinary Angkorian temples, enjoy activities in nature, immerse yourself in art or attend entertaining performances. Still, we strongly suggest you have a taste of all of it for the best beginner’s tour of Siem Reap.