Siem Reap was often called the "Gateway to Angkor Wat," but this Cambodian city is much more than just a home base to explore Angkor Wat. While you should definitely take time to explore the ancient Khmer Empire archaeological site, Siem Reap has delicious food, fun nightlife, and plenty of culture. Although your 48 hours will go by quickly with so many fun activity options, you will, with no doubt, have a wonderful time.
Whether you fly into the Siem Reap airport, or come into Siem Reap on a bus, first head to your hotel, hostel or guesthouse and ask to book a tuk tuk for 5am. Visit the Phare Cambodian Circus, which is a unique circus similar to Cirque Du Soleil. This theatre includes a story, dance, music and circus arts including Cambodian history and culture. Opened in 2013, it was founded by a group of Cambodian refugees in order to offer employment opportunities for Cambodian artists.
You will definitely want to catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat and get a one-day Angkor Pass, so have dinner after the show, and get some sleep as you will be waking up early the next morning.
Start off your visit to Siem Reap with the main attraction...Angkor Wat. Although it might be difficult to wake up before sunrise, it is definitely worth it to visit Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise at around 6am. There are 2 main ways to view Angkor Wat, by renting a bicycle or hiring a car. After exploring the 800 year old grounds, if you haven’t had something to eat before the sunrise, head for breakfast at a restaurant around the monument.
After enjoying Angkor Wat and breakfast, jump in a Tuk-Tuk and head to the neighbouring ancient city of Angkor Thom. This is definitely not to be missed, as it is home to the Bayon temple and its 216 gigantic faces. Finally head to root-riddled Ta Prohm, which you might remember from Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.
If you did choose to have breakfast before the sunrise, you might be hungry and you can choose to have lunch at one of the many authentic restaurants around Angkor. Try some fish amok or amok trei (steamed fish curry), at Sugar Palm. This restaurant is in the style of a traditional Khmer timber house. After eating, utilize your Angkor day pass, and get a taxi to travel 30km to Banteay Srei. This rural area houses a 10th century sandstone temple that most tourists do not choose to visit. Although its size cannot be compared to the main temples of Angkor Wat, there are very beautiful and can be explored for a while. If you are not in the mood to visit another temple, there is also a Butterfly Centre that is home to around 30 species of Cambodian butterflies and moths. This full-enclosed butterfly centre is a wonderful experience.
Now as night nears, head back to your hotel to freshen up and get ready for the night.
You will have definitely worked up an appetite from visiting temples all day, head to one of Siem Reap’s creative restaurants owned by different young Cambodian chefs. Good options include, Mie Cafe, The Embassy, Mahob Khmer, or Pou Restaurant and Bar. If you would like to try something elevated, head to Cuisine Wat Damnak from French chef Joannès Rivière. This Cambodian-French cuisine elevates Khmer cuisine. It is on the list of Asia’s 50 Best restaurants, and is the only Cambodian restaurant ever to appear on this list. The menus are refreshed every two weeks, and you will definitely need to make reservations.
If you aren’t too tired and enjoy a bit of a party, head to Khmer Pub Street for a local experience of Siem Reap nightlife. Pub Street has many bars and pubs to have a good time until the early hours of the morning. A few favorites include Miss Wong, Asana and The Village Cafe. Located on the street parallel to Pub street called The Lane, Miss Wong is known as one of the best bars in Siem Reap. Make sure to try one of the cocktails such as the China White, or Rose and Lemongrass Martini. Around the corner from Miss Wong is Asana. This bar is laid back and contains cocktails made with Khmer herbs, spices and roots. You can even sign up for cocktail making lessons. Try the Little Sweet cocktail, made from Bombay gin, wild ginger, turmeric, lime, and sugar cane juice. This is a great choice for those who want to escape the craziness of many of the Pub Street bars. Finally, the Village Cafe hosts “Funky Fridays” with a DJ or other parties depending on which day of the week. Head upstairs to check out the makeshift art gallery hosting some of Cambodia’s local artists.
You will most likely need to check out of your hotel, so ask them to hold your bags while you enjoy the rest of your 48 hours in Siem Reap.
For your last morning before leaving, participate in a morning cooking class for breakfast. Learn how to cook Cambodian specialties while experiencing local cuisine.
Since you will most likely still be full from your morning of eating, walk it off with a bit of shopping. Grab a tuk-tuk and head to the Old Market in the historic area of Siem Reap. The mornings are very busy here, so it will be nice to view the markets when they are relaxed in the afternoon. Make sure to walk around and specifically view the shops Senteurs d’Angkor, Kokoon, Christine’s, Gardens of Desire, Smateria and Wild Poppy. Then find another tuk tuk to take you to a few other shops: Ambre, Eric Raisina’s, and Theam’s House.
Your 48 hours have come to an end, so head back to your hotel to grab your bags. Either get ready for your next destination, or prepare to head back home. Although 48 hours will never seem like enough, hopefully you enjoyed your 48 hours in the enchanting Siem Reap.