Siem Reap, Cambodia: Ten Tips for the First-Time Visitor (Frugal Travel Guy)
We’ve already established that Siem Reap is incredibly cheap. Everything is, even tickets to the temples, which are kind of expensive compared to everything else. You think $20 a day, or $40 for a 3-day pass is too much? Compare to Machu Picchu tickets that cost around $60 a day, and there are no multi-day passes. Then think about the value: Machu Picchu is just one site, whereas there are over a dozen of temples in Siem Reap alone.
Comparison with Machu Picchu and Easter Island is inevitable in my opinion. Having traveled to all three places now, and having loved all of them dearly, my verdict is this: if you have the time or the money for only one experience, go to Angkor. If you are planning on visiting all three, make Angkor your last destination.
I know it’s very opinionated, but opinions always tend to be that way. YMMV.
Easter Island is incredible, but very costly. Machu Picchu is incredible and much more affordable, but the tickets and the train are unreasonably expensive, too. Angkor is out of this world and very cheap and convenient except for one thing—the flight. It took me 20 hours to get there. If you’re not on the East or West Coast, add another 2-4 hours for the travel time. But once you are there, it will be worth it, I promise.
After the day spent at the magnificent ruins of Angkor Wat, go to Pub Street at night for cheap and excellent food, drinks, and a massage or two. Go ahead and spoil yourself rotten. You’ll see, you won’t be able to spend too much unless you’re desperate to part with your money. A meal can cost from $3 to $12, beer starts at $.50, a massage is $10—and that’s in a fancy place! My largest restaurant bill came down to $22 for a 3-course meal and a few drinks at an “expensive” Pub Street restaurant. Would’ve probably been about $10 at a local place.
So, tuk-tuk, massage, lady boom-boom?
Go to Pub Street at any time of the day and you will get assaulted by touts of all kinds, but most of all tuk–tuk drivers. Tuk-tuk drivers are a dying breed in Bangkok, but here in Siem Reap they flourish. They own the city. There is no need for real taxis, as tuk-tuks are cheap and plentiful. They will get you everything and anything, and they will scam you and scheme you to their heart’s content if you let them. They will ask you for a donation to the hospital and offer you a hooker in one sentence without missing a bit. But when you use them to get from point A to point B, the value can’t be beat—$2-3 to anywhere in town, well, anywhere you want to be anyway.
What annoys me a lot with review websites like Trip Advisor and others is that while people love to share their experiences, they are always shy when it comes to money. It’s as if money is not an issue. And when people do talk about money, it’s always in general terms. Well, I hate general terms. Here is my first full-day spend in Siem Reap.
- Temple Tickets $40
- Car for half a day $20 (hired at the hotel)
- Lunch $10 (including driver)
- Guide at the temple $7
- Souvenirs $7
- Massage $16 (fancy salon and oil massage, more expensive)
- Mani-Pedi $8
- Groceries $8 (some beer and snacks)
- Dinner $5
- Tuk-tuk $4 (2 rides)
The total is $125 including mandatory pass, a car for at least 4 hours with a personal driver, and a guide for an hour at one of the temples.
This is my second day spend in Siem Reap.
- Guide for the day $50 (hired at the hotel)
- Tuk-tuk for the day $15
- Hotel Breakfast $18
- Water $1
- Lunch $6
- Dinner $22
- Tuk-tuk $5 (2 rides)
- Massage $5
The total for the day is $122. I hired a tuk-tuk instead of a car because I was doing the inner circuit, and everything was close. There was no need for a taxi.
My spend for the third and final day.
- Hotel Breakfast $18
- Car and driver for half-a-day $35 (I went to Beteay Srei and they charge more for out-of-town trips)
- Boat Ride $10
- Landmine Museum $3
- Lunch and a drink at the hotel $16
- Afternoon massage $5
- Evening massage $7
- Dinner $12
- Tuk-tuk $9 (4 rides)
- Souvenirs $7
The total for the day is $122. All the numbers above are without tips. I did leave tips when I felt like it, although not the US-style. There is no need to go crazy with tipping in South East Asia.
Can you do better? Can and should! You can also do worse, but only if you really want to burn your money. I don’t drink much and I don’t go clubbing. If you do, you might find yourself spending a little fortune, although this fortune will still be a tiny fraction of what you would spend in Paris, or London, or New York, or even Bangkok.
How to save even more? Easy! You’ve probably noticed that I indulged in whatever I wanted to during my stay. You don’t have to hire a private guide, you can go with a group for $10. You don’t have to hire a taxi, you can easily do your tour with a tuk–tuk. You absolutely don’t have to waste $18 for a hotel breakfast or $22 for dinner; that’s pure decadence in Siem Reap, LOL. And you don’t have to do massages, of course, although at this price, you’ll be foolish not to.
But if you do want to hire a personal guide (and please trust me when I say it’s worth it), you can still do better. Look for recommendations on Trip Advisor. You can hire a knowledgeable guide for about $35 a day. There is no need to overpay at your hotel. Same goes for a car with a driver. I did reach out to some TA folks and received a couple of names. I didn’t use them, but if you’re interested, drop me a line.
Now, here is a tip about dining. You come to a restaurant and order a drink, an appetizer and a main course. So far so good. Then, they bring you the appetizer, and you realize that it’s enough to feed a hungry horse. It’s not always the case in Siem Reap, but here is what you should do: order one dish at a time. When they do bring you the appetizer, you can always order more.
So why did I feel like wasting my money on hotel breakfasts, and why did I feel compelled to hire a guide and a car through the hotel? Well, for two reasons, actually. First, because the price difference (for a guide and a driver) was not that big. And second, and most importantly, I used my Barclaycard Arrival points to pay for it. 15,700 points took care of my $157 hotel bill. Why not indulge, really?
Here is my final tally for the Siem Reap portion of my trip.
- First Class Asiana Flight: 70,000 United miles (pre-devalued) and $11 in taxes.
- Le Meridian Stay: 14,000 SPG points (pre-devalued).
- Cash out of pocket for three days in Siem Reap: $212.
One final Angkor tip, for which you will remain eternally grateful, LOL.
Do not buy from touts. Remember that tuk-tuk guys are only good for one thing, to drive you from point A to point B. Do not buy from street vendors either. Buy at a market where you know they won’t run after you (they have to mind their stalls). I made a mistake buying souvenirs from a young woman at one of the temples on the first day, and then it was like all hell broke loose…
A pack of small kids and young women began following me, crossing my path, demanding I buy from them as well, yelling, screaming, crying, and cursing. All in good English, too! If you want to know what cutthroat business really means, go to Siem Reap, buy anything from a kid on the street, and you will find out.
Don’t fall for scams. Be it a “baby-milk” scam, tuk-tuk “renegotiation scam”, “City Gem scam”, or some random charity scam, just keep your wits around you. Every time you hear Tuk Tuk, Massage, Lady Boom-Boom, or any other variations of thereof, just laugh and walk away.
Unless you really need a tuk-tuk, you know.
Tuk Tuk By: Le Meridien Angkor
Fish Massage: By: ruben i