After a very intense month in Bali, it was time to continue the journey to a new destination. I didn’t know much about Cambodia, but I knew it is on my list. After doing a bit of research we decided that Siem Reap was the best place to spend our next two weeks. It is the second-largest city in the country, the home of the famous Angkor Wat temple complex and one of the cities that is increasing in popularity among digital nomads in South East Asia. Or at least so other people say on the internet.
A bit about Siem Reap
The city is situated on the northwest side of Cambodia and has a population of roughly 140.000 people. It was the capital of the Khmer empire for 6 centuries, was under the French during the colonial times and has seen bloody recent wars. The Cambodian Civil War that ended in 1975 left the country with millions of unexploded hidden landmines. Siem Reap was also severely affected by the aftermath. People are still being injured or dying today because of it and agriculture and other industries were impacted. Due to this, the city and province of Siem Reap are one of the poorest in the country.
Nowadays, you can still find the marks of the war in what has become a vibrant city and the most visited place in the country.
Despite all the dark past, Siem Reap is rapidly growing and developing. The Angkor Wat Archeological site draws tourists like a magnet, creating new opportunities for the locals. There are hundreds of local (Khmer) and international restaurants and lots of things to see and experience. The locals are friendly and very humble and the city has a nice and peaceful vibe. And it was the first place where we used tuk-tuks as the main way of transportation.
Digital nomad life in Siem Reap
We read that Siem Reap is becoming more and more popular among the digital nomad community, with lots of places to work from and communities to be part of. For us, the internet is crucial as it’s the only way to do our jobs.
We checked for coworking places and there were only 3 in town. Unfortunately, after visiting them, we decided that it’s not the best environment for us. All of them were very small, little to no access to private spaces for meetings (or crazy expensive). On top of everything, the internet speed was also very low or at the same level as the one in our accommodation. Cafes were not an option because of the constant talking on the phone. Also, we didn’t see too many people with laptops around.
Therefore, we decided that working from “home” would do. Luckily it was December and Christmas time so we had quite many days off. The downside of this was that the lights went off a few times, the internet was lagging from time to time and the place was not the most comfortable to work from. But we made it work for those few days and decided to make the best of our time in Cambodia.
I and Georgij liked the city but it didn’t give us the feeling Bali had in terms of being a digital nomad. I think it’s more of a tourist destination and needs to do some improvement when it comes to attracting nomads for a longer period.
Tip: check for the phone providers with the fastest internet and largest coverage in the country. This can save your day when the electricity or the main internet source is down.
Been there, done that: Siem Reap edition
Like I said in the beginning, Bali was exhausting. We did so much there and had so many adventures that we felt we need to relax a bit. Therefore we took advantage of the great weather and more laid back vibe in Siem Reap and slowed down the phase. We concentrated more on experiences, rather than visiting places and discovered some really amazing gems.
We decided to skip the museums, waterfalls and other hicking/tracking activities as we had plenty of them in the past destinations. The same with the Buddhist temples seen in Thailand.
Angkor Wat Archeological Site
It is enough to google Siem Reap and instantly you will be bombarded with things about the temple. Now the symbol of the country and also embodied in the Cambodian flag and on the entry visa, Angkor is by far the most visited site in the country. It was the seat of the Khmer Empire and is the largest religious monument in the world. Angkor Wat is the main temple, but the complex has more than 72 sites hidden in the jungle. Some of them are dangerous to visit due to landmines. There are lots of different tours you can choose from to make the best of your time.
We took a whole day trip and visited the main 3 ones: Angkor Wat, Byron and Ta Prohm. Each site is different and unique, but equally beautiful. It’s hard not to stare at these beautiful structures, some reclaimed by the jungle. I believe the pictures will describe a bit better than words the beauty of these archaeological gems.
Pub Street and French Quarter
Pub Street is the heart of the city for tourists. It’s flashy, busy, buzzy, chaotic and it has a charm. You can’t skip it, even if you try.
It’s where all the nightlife is concentrated and where bars and restaurants are fighting to get your attention and dollars. You can find all sort of restaurants here and cheap drinks. And I mean it by cheap!! I believe Siem Reap was the best destination to drink – beers for 50 Cents, gin&tonic for 2$, cocktails for 3-4$. It’s for sure the best value for your money you can get.
While Pub street is better during the evening, the small and cosy French Quarter is better enjoyed during the day. I loved wandering the small streets filled with small cafes, small handi shops, colonial buildings and lovely French windows. It’s so different from the rest of the city that the contrast will be seen immediately.
Tip: Cambodia uses USD, despite having its own currency. Make sure you bring with you and that they are in perfect shape. Restaurants will not accept thorned bills. The change will be in USD, unless is less than 1$, when they will give the local money – Riel (KHD)
Bug Cafe and Dine in The Dark
These 2 were among my favourite things to experience in Siem Reap. The titles are quite suggestive, so I guess you know what is coming next.
They do serve insects in Bug Cafe and Cambodians are knows to eat them. So, of course, I wanted to try, despite Georgij’s fears. While they have degustation plates with creepy crawlers, we settled for something lighter. I ordered red ants spring rolls, cricket muffins and samosas with a tarantula. It might sound gross, but it was actually tasty, especially the fried cricket on top. Once in a lifetime experience.
Dine in The Dark had a 5-course meal of Cambodian (Khmer) food, served in pitch dark by blind people. It was an amazing experience that shows you how your other senses work while your eyes don’t.
This was our Christmas dinner and I wouldn’t change it for anything. At the end, the waiter wrote our names on the business card in the braille alphabet and thanked us for coming.
Bonus: my favourite restaurants and cafes
If you are planning a trip to Siem Reap in the future, you have to try some of these places. Really nice food, atmosphere and value for your money.
- Urban Tree Hut – local and international food, lovely setup with garden and huge swings where you can eat; cheap prices
- Jungle Burger – sports bar, the best burger I had in my life
- Sister Srey Cafe – brunch, cosy, lots of internationals
- The Christa Restaurant and Bar – cheap amazing local food; lovely hosts
- Haven – local food; waiters come from poor families are thought a job. food is a bit more expensive, but the cause it’s good.
- Miss Wong – Chinese bar, amazing cocktails and atmosphere.
Siem Reap is a lovely place that definitely should be on your list if you travel to South East Asia. It is small and charming with lots of things to explore and experience. I loved that it is a bit more laid back, not very chaotic and that it continues to grow and to develop.
While is not the best digital nomad location, it still attracts nomads who are looking to disconnect and spend a bit less on food and accommodation. All in all, we had an amazing stay here and never saying no to coming back again.
Until the next time.