The talesofasia guide to travel in Siem Reap and Angkor
Updated May 19, 2011
SIEM REAP ACCOMMODATION - GUESTHOUSES AND HOTELS
Siem Reap index page
STAYING IN SIEM REAP
From $1 a night flophouse to $3000 a night luxury suites, Siem Reap has hundreds of accommodation choices offering every available option.
1.) Family-run guesthouses. Small and intimate, these are guesthouses by the true name. Regrettably they are a dying breed as they either go out of business, become backpacker factories on the backs of their success, or worse, transform themselves into what we call "all dollars, no sense" villas. Quality of service is highly erratic. Some are charming little places, others are absolute nightmares, run by families who have not a clue what tourists want - which describes most "all dollars, no sense" villas. Historically, these were the main if not only choice for accommodation in Siem Reap and most were known only by a number, i.e. Guesthouse 286. But as we said they are now few and far between. Advantages: can be friendly and intimate and offer much more of a local experience. Disadvantage: Some are totally incompetent.
2.) Backpacker factories. These are some of the successful Cambodian-run guesthouses that are full up with Lonely Planet-toting tourists. Advantages: Good at what they do. They know their clientele and if you fit the profile of the typical LP-toting backpacker you will probably like these places because they provide good assembly-line service and can sort out everything 99% of budget tourists need. Prices are competitive and by and large they know what you want. Disadvantages: Not nearly as local of an experience as you might think. The staff have seen thousands of westerners before you and know exactly what you want to hear and how to get you to do/to buy what they want. If you want to do something out of the ordinary, they may get a little flustered, "oh my, very far, cannot do". They've all done well offering what is in essence a budget package tour, break off from the package and snafus can develop. Many of these guesthouses grew out of the family-run model, some successfully, some not so successfully.
3.) Western-owned guesthouses. Historically, these tended to be better run options, but as the Cambodians have become more sophisticated in their own operations and some westerners who shouldn't even be allowed to sleep in a guesthouse let alone own one, have tried their hand at chasing a dream, the distinction is not always so noticeable. In general, the big difference here is management style. The facility itself may be less local in design but may have many subtle touches that westerners like. And these places tend to be better sources of information as westerners are less likely to tell you what they think you want to hear. Still, the staff will almost always be Cambodian so a western-owned guesthouse doesn't necessarily mean a non-local experience. Advantages: If the owner is around you can usually expect more accurate and honest information as to what Cambodia is all about and what do you really get for your money. You may also get better suggestions for some really out of the way places to visit and how to get there. These establishments are sometimes a better choice for more independent-minded tourists. Disadvantages: At the end of the day the profit goes into the hands of a foreigner and portions of it may or may not be sent out of the country - though you'd be naive not to think there are Cambodian businesses banking their money overseas, too. However, on the plus side, most of the smaller foreign-owned businesses tend to pay their staff more than the locals do (sometimes by two, even three times and more as much) and in general, treat them better, so in some respects it's a wash.
4.) All dollars and no sense villas. This is a new category. In the past few years or so scores of 20 to 40-room villa style hotel/guesthouses offering rooms in the budget range have opened. Most of these places are built by people with far more dollars than sense and while they may offer clean (if they are new), well-appointed rooms at a rock-bottom price, service can be atrocious and we don't imagine the maintenance and cleanliness will last very long. Due to the glut in this market, many of these facilities are selling rooms at ridiculously low prices, and $8 for an A/C room with a "free" breakfast and a "swimming" pool are becoming all too common. They also tend to pay some outrageous commissions to airport taxi drivers of up to 50%, even 60% of the *total* room bill - not just one night, but the entire stay! Advantage: a clean, well-appointed room at a rock-bottom price. Disadvantages: Utterly clueless and incompetent management, sometimes scammy drivers and service. But what do you expect from a place which considers buying customers from taxi drivers to be the best form of marketing and thinks they can get away selling A/C rooms for $8 and giving you a free breakfast on top of it? Remember -- you get what you pay for. Although found all over Siem Reap, the highest concentration of this accommodation garbage can be found on the side streets west of Sivatha Blvd.
5.) Mid-range. There is a lot to choose from in this category. There are rather generic-looking Chinese-style hotels, well-crafted totally unique chic guesthouses, and the monstrosities along the Airport Road targeting Asian package tours.
6.) Upper range. Scattered around Siem Reap are a few legitimate 4- and 5-star international-class hotels. Along the airport road are numerous rather sterile looking places geared towards Asian tour groups that no matter what they may claim are nothing above a 3-star and not worth whatever outrageous walk-in rate they may pitch.
Descriptions and recommendations
The areas of Siem Reap:
Airport Road: Most of the establishments on this road are mid-range (though many falsely purport to be 4- and 5-star), Cambodian or other Asian-owned, marketed primarily for Asian package tours (Asian tourists, especially Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Vietnamese account for an overwhelming majority of all Angkor visitors), are completely lacking in any kind of personality, and seemingly named by formula (temple + royalty + hotel). There are however, a few quality guesthouses tucked in between.
North end of Siem Reap/Road to Angkor: Closest to the temples, but still too far to walk. Many of Siem Reap's most expensive options are here as well as a couple of excellent mid-range guesthouses.
West side of town between Achamean Street and Highway 6: Closer than the Airport Road but not quite close enough to downtown, a wide variety of budget guesthouses, many of the family-run variety, tucked down side streets as well as some good mid-range options.
East of the River: A wide range of accommodation stretching from the river to Psah Leau. While a little bit away from the center of town, there is a concentration of guesthouses at the top end of Wat Bo Road near Highway 6 as well as some mid and upper-range accommodation not available in the Old Market Area. Farther out near Psah Leau, more of the monstrosities seen on the way to the airport are appearing here as well.
Old Market Area: Most of the accommodation in this area is budget and mid-range with one or two high-end hotels tucked in between. This is the closest location to the bars, restaurants and Siem Reap's nightlife though keep in mind this area can be noisy and as Siem Reap is a small town, no place is really far from anywhere. High rents have pushed out some of the cheaper options. Many of the "all dollars no sense" villas are located to the west of this area.
Do not confuse this area as "downtown" or the "town center". It's not. If you were to stand anywhere in Siem Reap and ask a local "where is downtown?" They would probably wave their arm around and say it's all downtown. More accurately this area could be called the "tourist center" as this is where you will find the highest concentration of restaurants, travel agencies, souvenir shops, etc. and there is nothing wrong with any of that but don't come to this area expecting to absorb much local culture. This area is for and about tourists. Period. Fun place to drink and walk around but be careful not to over-emphasize this area during your stay in Siem Reap. Look at it this way, the more time you spend on Pub Street the less time you will spend in Cambodia.
Ultimately, when choosing a place to stay, we would recommend placing more emphasis on finding quality accommodation at a competitive (but not necessarily rock bottom cheap price) over finding the perfect location. Nothing is far from anything here and there is an extensive public transport system (the tuk-tuk-remorque/motodop) which pretty much operates 24/7. You don't have to be near the Old Market to come enjoy it.
In researching accommodation, Trip Advisor and Travelfish are two good places to start as they have a generous assortment of traveler reviews. We do not recommend Hostelworld or its gazillion affiliates as their placement system seems to favor only a few guesthouses at the expense of dozens of other quality places (look and see that there are four or five Siem Reap establishments with dozens, even a hundred or more reviews, while nobody else has much more than five. Definitely something fishy there...). Also, a lot of places listed on Hostelworld tack around 10% on to the room rates to cover the booking commission. Better to contact direct.
Other things... money, internet, etc.
Free internet - Once offered at only a handful of guesthouses, WiFi access is now available at numerous locations around town. But buyer beware! The offer of "Wifi Internet" does not necessarily mean free nor fast. Good quality unlimited internet access still remains very expensive in Cambodia (around $160 US per month give or take, for a 1 mb download connection!) and many of the guesthouses offering "free internet" are offering at best a very over-burdened 256K download, and in many cases, an even more over-burdened 128K. That's 128K shared not only by everyone in the guesthouse but probably a few of the neighbors as well if they don't put a password on it. There are also many places advertising WiFi internet that in fact have nothing more than access to one company's open signal which to actually use, requires purchasing scratch cards. If you need a free, reliable and reasonably fast internet connection we'd recommend that you ask up front and hopefully you can get an answer better than "yes, have internet, velly velly fast every time, okay, sure." And for all intents and purposes true high-speed internet as you know it at home still doesn't exist in Cambodia. You will do very well to find any place with a *stable* 1mb download and anything faster is still unheard of. It simply costs too much.
Swimming pools - Here is another situation of buyer beware. Getting a room at a guesthouse for $10 and getting a swimming pool might seem like a great bargain... until you see the size of the swimming pool and perhaps the condition of the water! In the last couple of years there has been a proliferation of lower to mid-range guesthouses and hotels building swimming pools. Why not? It's a great marketing tool. Unfortunately, the size of these pools are, well, you'd probably do better to bring a sense of humor than a bathing suit. Or maybe just your rubber ducky and take a bath. With few exceptions, *real* swimming pools remain the domain of the larger and more expensive hotels, though most will allow you to use them for the day for a fee. Like "free WiFi internet", when making booking inquiries at under $25 establishments, to avoid disappointment, you might want to ask some specific questions as to the size of the advertised "swimming pool", or better yet just ignore it all together.
"Free breakfast" - And another entry on the buyer beware list. Just as a *real* swimming pool remains, despite claims to the contrary, within the realm of the larger hotels, so too, is a "free breakfast". Sure plenty of places offering a free breakfast... now think a little... what kind of breakfast are you going to get with a $10 room? Coffee, watered-down O.J., a piece of stale toast, and an egg (if you're lucky). There are certainly exceptions to this, but take any free breakfast offer in a $20 or under guesthouse with a huge pinch of salt (which might be larger than your breakfast!). And keep in mind, in the real world, there is no such thing as a "free breakfast", but there is such thing as a "breakfast included". $10 room, two people... and a "free breakfast". Again, look at the offer with the same skepticism we recommend when looking at swimming pools.
Room security - While Siem Reap is a safe place, robbery from rooms does occur from time to time. If you are staying on the ground floor of a guesthouse, pay careful attention to the windows. Many guesthouses will have locking windows and screens, separated by metal grating. Though the metal grating will prevent someone from entering your room it won't stop them from using assorted implements attached to a stick to remove small but valuable items (wallet, telephone, etc) from your room while you sleep. If you sleep with the glass window open, then be sure that no valuables that could fit through the metal grating are visible. Even if the screen windows can be locked (many cannot) this still doesn't prevent someone from cutting the screen to reach your valuables.
See also the Introduction for additional safety precautions.
Money - Don't bother changing for riels. You'll get what you need in change. The US dollar is the de facto currency in Cambodia and most prices are quoted in dollars. Thai baht can be spent here but accepted rates are variable and can be from as little as 2 or 3% above value to as much as 25%! If you have baht, you would do better to change some in town rather than try to spend it as you go and surprisingly, there are money changers that offer rates better than the banks in Thailand!
The best place to change money is at any of the number of money changers scattered around town. There is always a concentration around the markets. Rip-offs are rare. More common currencies (Japanese yen, euros, Aussie dollars, Brit pounds, Thai baht) usually pose no difficulties, though rates may vary slightly from changer to changer and a little bargaining is sometimes necessary. However, the more obscure the currency is, the less likely the money changer will know the actual rate nor be willing to offer a fair rate as it may be more difficult for them to reconvert the notes later. It's also been our experience that the money changers will offer a better rate than the hotels and even the banks regardless of what currency you're changing!
ATMs that accept international cards and dispense US dollars are all over the place. See below for more comments about the money dispensed from ATMs. There is also a Western Union near the intersection of Sivatha and Route 6 next to the old police station.
For what it's worth, which isn't much, the riel exchanges at about 4,050 riels to one US dollar. The currency in non-convertible and any riels you leave the country with will become souvenirs.
Condition of money - For Cambodian riels you will see some bills so worn and torn you might have trouble figuring out what denomination it is. US dollars, however, are a different story. Though in general the acceptance of overly worn money isn't as problematic as it used to be (don't know why, really), in general, the higher the denomination of the bill, the more condition matters with rips in particular the biggest barrier to passing off a bill. For US $50s and $100s you'd do well to make sure all your bills are prisitne and new. $20s can be a bit ugly, but shouldn't have any rips or tape, a minor rip in a $10 probably won't keep you from spending it but a big rip will. $1s and $5s nobody cares for the condition, except for large tears.
Also potentially problematic are what they call "small portrait" bills. This is the older US currency design where the portraits are smaller (mid 1990s I believe is when they were replaced?). 5s and 10s are spendable without too much fuss, 20s can be a little difficult to spend and 50s and 100s can be quite difficult to spend as quite a few businesses will flat out not accept them.
Why so difficult to spend worn, torn, or old bills? Two reasons. One of course, is improved counterfeiting technologies. As banks are scrutinizing money much more carefully than before, a lot of businesses are becoming much more careful about the money they accept. The second reason is that as the US dollar is not an official currency there is no central bank to clear out old bills so as they become excessively worn they become worthless.
The best course of action is to see that your US dollars are new and crisp. Then everyone will be happy to accept them.
If you are receiving money from a bank or money changer, check every bill and don't be shy to turn one back if you don't like the appearance of it. And don't assume because you got cash from an ATM that the notes are fine. Knowing that residents will hand back questionable bills, banks often put their dodgiest money in the ATMs thereby dumping them on tourists who might not know any better. If possible, make your withdrawals from an ATM attached to a bank during business hours and don't be shy to take one inside to exchange it.
Internet - Internet shops are all over the place. Most charge around $0.50 to $1.00 an hour and the connections range from usable to downright shitty. Actually, the connections are pretty much the same everywhere in town, the problem is that most of the businesses do not know how to maintain their equipment. Of bigger concern now, is the likelihood of security compromised computers. Given the ease now that one can install key-logging and other forms of spyware onto a computer and never need to return again to monitor the results, it's probably safe to assume that every public computer is potentially compromised and you should never conduct any kind of financial or banking transaction, or really anything that puts your security and finances at risk. It is simply too easy now to steal this stuff off a public computer. If you're going to be on the road awhile and need to conduct transactions back home, make purchases, etc, just invest a couple of hundred dollars in a netbook or tablet. They are small, easy to carry, and with WiFi everywhere now, you'll get plenty of use from one. If by any chance you subscribe to the silly notion that this somehow makes you less of a traveler, well good for you, then you don't need to be using internet cafes either...
Hiring a motorbike - You can't. Tourists are not permitted to rent and operate motorbikes anywhere in Siem Reap province. If you see a foreigner on a motorbike, chances are they live here and are exempt from the ban. The law is usually enforced only around the temples, anyway, and even foreign residents get a load of garbage from the park employees if they try even to drive through the area, never mind the roads are public national roads. For more information on the history of this on-again off-again rule, read this.
So you need transport - Most people end up in remorques. More likely you'll hear the word "tuk-tuk" used, but remorque is the proper terminology and is what's used in the vernacular. But whatever it is, it's likely how you will get around. A ride around town is a dollar. Period. Don't fall for the "one dollar per person" crap. It's a dollar. Period. If you were by yourself, he gets a dollar. So your friend jumps in, it should still be a dollar. For the temples let your hotel or guesthouse sort you out with a driver. There is no need to book one in advance over the internet. Also, be a little cautious with the guys at the bus stops, some of them are fine, but there are a few there that are there because they've been fired from practically every guesthouse in Siem Reap and have no place else to go. There is more information on this here, read items #18 and #19.
Shopping - The Old Market area has
numerous chic handicraft and souvenir shops and more seem to be opening
up every month. Most of these are western-owned and offer a rather interesting
selection of locally-produced items. The market itself is home to dozens
of locally-owned souvenir stalls that all offer pretty much the same cheap
assortment of t-shirts, postcards, and bric-a-brac, much of it made not
in Cambodia but in Thailand, Malaysia, or China. For something unique,
head to one of the boutique shops, for a simple Angkor Wat t-shirt or
a few postcards, try out the market. And if you must purchase one of those
stupid land mine shirts (and do ask yourself why you want to do this),
please wait until you've left the country to put it on. Artisans d'Angkor
is definitely worth checking out. The Angkor Night Market should also
be on your agenda. Guesthouses, restaurants, tours and more All text and photographs ©
1998 - 2010 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written
permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.
Shopping - The Old Market area has numerous chic handicraft and souvenir shops and more seem to be opening up every month. Most of these are western-owned and offer a rather interesting selection of locally-produced items. The market itself is home to dozens of locally-owned souvenir stalls that all offer pretty much the same cheap assortment of t-shirts, postcards, and bric-a-brac, much of it made not in Cambodia but in Thailand, Malaysia, or China. For something unique, head to one of the boutique shops, for a simple Angkor Wat t-shirt or a few postcards, try out the market. And if you must purchase one of those stupid land mine shirts (and do ask yourself why you want to do this), please wait until you've left the country to put it on. Artisans d'Angkor is definitely worth checking out. The Angkor Night Market should also be on your agenda.
Guesthouses, restaurants, tours and more
All text and photographs © 1998 - 2010 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.