I was fortunate to have had the chance to spend a good amount of time as a digital nomad in Siem Reap, Cambodia not so long ago. And in that time period, unlike many backpackers who would choose to spend their days always on the go, I spent my days skipping much of the sightseeing. I lived like a local instead. Because such tripping is something that has become a habit of mine in every trip which I honestly truly enjoy better.
So instead of getting familiar with the most happening tourist spots aside from the Angkor Wat, I familiarized myself with the day to day phase that a digital nomad in Siem Reap would have. This place being a favourite hub for them digital nomads.
Here are some of my observations.
There is no shortage of accommodation available for any type of traveler in Siem Reap. A room at any of the many guesthouses can be rented for as low as USD 5.00 per night while 5-star accommodations are scattered throughout the city too. Dorm rooms and hostels are also available everywhere without the need to make any prior reservations.
TIP: The gauge in choosing the best place is the location. If wanting to be within the centre of the noise, parties etc, then a place near the Siem Reap old market or Pub Street will be good. Otherwise, one near the main intersection is best.
I stayed at 2 different guesthouses when I was there, the Bou Savy Guesthouse and the Victory Guesthouse. Both are located near the main intersection between the Angkor Wat grounds and the Siem Reap market/Pub Street. Both offer basic amenities. Huge 3-person rooms are offered for only 7 to 12 US dollars. Breakfast included but can be optional which may slash the room rate to about USD 1.50 less. Wifi is free and guesthouse attendants can act as trip organizers as most of them are knowledgeable in booking trips or are good at recommending places to see, eat etc.
Victory Guesthouse is the one I prefer more among the two. Only because the surroundings were much nicer.
TIP: If planning to stay for at least 1 month, guesthouses that offer monthly rates for a lowered cost are available too. A spacious room with a kitchen and bath can be rented for around USD 200.00 to USD 300.00 per month.
FOOD, ATM AND OTHER BASIC NEEDS
Siem Reap looks and feels very much like a small town albeit a very busy and tourist-filled one. And for food choices, this city has an enormous line-up to choose from. Restaurants serving traditional Khmer food of course are still the most that can be found but other joints offering more western choices are not very difficult to come by too. The places that I frequented were NYDC in Pub Street for pasta and pizza, Lucky supermarket for groceries like imported chocolates, imported milk and freshly baked bread, and KFC for my western fried chicken fix. The prices were not bad. A dollar for 2 pieces of pastries or a bar of Snickers, 5 dollars for a medium size pizza or a complete meal at a Khmer resto, and 3 dollars for a 2-pc chicken combo at KFC are some examples.
Bringing US dollars during trips to anywhere in the world has always been the best way to carry money. This cannot ring more true when in Cambodia. US dollars are widely accepted as alternative currency so the hassle of having to exchange dollars to Cambodian currency is conveniently avoided. The ATM machines at the Canadia Bank near Pub Street converts any currency to US dollars automatically. And cards from widely used interbank networks like Cirrus, Maestro, Union Pay, Plus etc. can be used for a bank charge of 3 to 4 dollars per withdrawal.
Internet is fairly good for Southeast Asian standards. Wifi is usually available at guesthouses and hotels but if separating the home environment to the work environment is preferred, establishments of all sorts around the city offer free wifi.
TIP: For a comfortable working environment outside of the guesthouse, check-out KFC. Not only does it offer free and fast wifi, it is one of the very few establishments that has an air-conditioning system which in the sweltering Cambodian climate, is like water found in the desert. Electrical sockets are of European design, fyi.
The best thing about staying in Siem Reap is that despite the intense heat at times, the place is very walkable. A short 10 to 15 minutes walk to the grocery and 10 to 15 minutes walk more to the Pub Street/market area is what is required.
If needing to ride a passenger vehicle though, the local taxi called tuk-tuk are like moths to a flame. They charge 1 to 2 dollars going to anywhere within the city. Expect that some abusive drivers to try to ask for more though.
The best way to go around Siem Reap is by renting a bicycle. They can be rented for a dollar a day or less if rented for a lengthy period. Renters are not very strict when it comes renting out bicycles. No down payment, no waiver or contract. Just some good old-fashioned honesty and the bicycle can be in the safe keeping of a digital nomad for as long as needed.
TIP: Bicycle rents can also be part of the guesthouse package. Be sure to ask the manager.
It is common knowledge that citizens of any of the ASEAN member countries need not to obtain a visa when entering the kingdom of Cambodia. Upon arrival, a stamp for a 30-day stay is given. Most digital nomads would consume the 30 days then fly out/cross to the any of the bordering countries and come back a few days later or the same day for a fresh stamp. If exiting is not convenient, travel agencies in Siem Reap can sort out visa requests that will allow tourists to stay for 3 months for a processing fee of roughly around USD 50.00.
For other nationalities, a single entry visa can be obtained online or upon arrival. For Canadians, it will cost not more than CAD 30.00 for an electronically issued visa which will be valid for a period of 3 months.
A trip to Siem Reap will never be called as such if the fabled Angkor Wat is not paid a visit. That will be like going to Toronto and skipping a trip to the Niagara falls or not getting a glimpse of the CN Tower. For sure, seeing the Angkor Wat must be the first item on any tourists’ or digital nomad’s list of things to do.
Going to the city of Angkor from Siem Reap city centre takes not more than 30 minutes. For first timers, the best way is to rent a tuk-tuk for a day costing USD 12.00. The driver will navigate the grounds and will serve as a sort of tour guide. Having the help of a knowledgeable driver works best.
There are 2 choices when it comes to paying for the entrance fee to the complex: USD 20.00 for a 1 day pass and USD 40.00 for a 3-day pass. Choosing the 1 day pass is close to being insane as seeing all the nooks and crannies of the site takes at least 2 days.
TIP: Choose the 3-day pass and rent a tuk-tuk for 2 days. This way time can be maximized to see all the important sites within 2 days. For the third day, rent a bicycle and explore the site solo. Traveling to Angkor from Siem Reap by bicycle is not difficult at all. Not to mention, it is really, really fun! Park the bicycle at the parking lot and hike to the hill nearby to view the beautiful Cambodian sunset or sunrise. Fyi, everyday after 5:30 pm the entrance to the complex is completely free of charge.
Tonle Sap is a floating village located about an hour away from city centre and is another interesting place to visit.
Parks, temples, rivers, bridges, night markets can also be found within the city centre so a digital nomad taking a break from work will not run-out of places to explore. Also, the Cambodian sunset is a phenomenon that is jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Like Bangkok, Siem Reap is teeming with night crawlers. The centre of fun is the Pub Street where digital nomads flock after a day of work. Establishments are kept open until the early hours of the morning and beers are served everywhere for roughly a dollar per bottle. Some restaurants even serve pizzas with a little something in them that will guarantee for a good time. Wink, wink 🙂
Night shopping can be done at the Night Market just near Pub Street where authentic Cambodian souvenir items, fake sunglasses like Ray-bans can be bought. Traditional Cambodian massage or the so-called fish spa wherein legs will be submerged in a fish tank full of small fishes which will feast on the dead skin can also be had there.
For work related supplies like pens, papers, notebooks etc. a well-stocked office/school supplies store can be found on the second floor of the mall which houses Lucky Supermarket.
Fresh breads and pastries of the day are sold for half the price after 6 pm at Lucky Supermarket daily.
English is much widely used as compared to Thailand.
Be wary of people who offer help as they will always expect to be paid for a dollar each time.
Bring tons and tons of sunblock and moisturizing lotions as the heat of the sun will surely punish the skin.
Clothes made out of cotton, dry-fit are best to be worn at all times. Flip-flops and sandals are advisable to wear as the ground is mostly still soil.
Any digital nomad dude will most likely be approached by local dudes during the night to offer a certain “lady massage” service. If believed this to be true, then you must be born only yesterday 🙂
Some of the photos used in this post are courtesy of Mica Rodriguez.