Having lived in Siem Reap for several years, here are some firsthand travel tips I have learned so you can stay safe and make the most of your visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia.
The word is out – Siem Reap, Cambodia, with some of the world’s top-rated landmarks and friendliest people in the world, has finally become a mainstream travel destination. Millions of backpackers, families, and luxury travelers are visiting its temples, and with affordable flights, increase in accommodations and improved infrastructure, there has never been a better time to visit.
But a common question always arises for first-time travelers to the Kingdom of Wonder: Is Siem Reap safe?
The short answer is yes. Siem Reap is very safe and despite the presence of millions of tourists, there are only a handful of incidents reported each year. Siem Reap also has it own English speaking police force designed to help tourists, making it easy to navigate the system in the unlikely event something goes wrong.
While Siem Reap is safe, it is always a good idea to be cautious when traveling. And, when planning ahead, you can usually remove the chance of any possible safety issues. Here are our tips for navigating Siem Reap and staying safe during your journey:
Book your accommodation & pick-up service in advance.
Some travelers, especially backpackers, like to wait until they arrive in the city to book accommodation. The idea is that one can shop around and negotiate a cash price directly with the hotel. While this might make sense in some locations, it is simply not the case in Siem Reap.
I have found that it is always cheaper to book your accommodate online and in advance. With lots of new properties online, prices have never been more competitive, especially in the summer, where multiples hostels are advertised at $1 per night and boutique hotels can be found in the $20 range.
Still not convinced? Well, there is another reason to book online. The overwhelming majority of hotels offer free-pickup in Siem Reap. That’s because it’s common for taxi drivers to take guests to alternative accommodations (where they can get a hefty commission). After booking your accommodation, email the hotel directly with your flight or bus number. A friendly tuk-tuk driver will be waiting to welcome you to Cambodia.
Get a local Sim Card
Several years ago cell phone service was terrible in Cambodia. You could occasionally get 3G in the city, but it would drop off in the countryside, making it impossible to get a connection at the temples and other famous tourist sites.
Times have changed, however, and 4G is now available and reliable across all networks. In addition, companies have begun providing affordable traveler sim cards. Available at the airport as well as in the city, they cost around $5 and will offer unlimited data for a week.
While one of the best parts of traveling is disconnecting, the affordability and convenience makes it worth having. It also ensures you will be able to call someone if any issues arise, further ensuring your safety in Siem Reap.
Use Grab for transportation.
Taxis are notorious for ripping off tourists worldwide. But there is good news in Siem Reap. GrabTaxi, the Singapore based ridesharing app, is now available in Cambodia. It can be used to book all transportation from two-person rickshaws to tuk-tuks (the most common form of transportation in Cambodia) and cars. Grab is a very safe way to get around town as you select exactly where you want to go and can how you are getting there on its map. If there is an issue or dispute, you can call the number which will notify their office in Siem Reap.
Another benefit of traveling with Grab is the cost. It is almost always cheaper than what you will be able to negotiate with a local driver, who often charge tourists more than locals. In fact, with a base price of only 3000R ($0.75), it is becoming quite common for Cambodians to use Grab so they can save money as well.
Visit attractions, especially the floating villages, with reviewed tour companies.
Angkor National Park, home to Angkor Wat and other famous temples, is controlled by the Apsara Authority. They have done a great job ensuring Angkor Wat is safe and there are virtually no scams.
Nevertheless, some of the other popular attractions in Siem Reap are not as well supervised. This includes the Tonle Sap lake, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, that is the home of the impressive floating villages. While they are worth seeing, tourists traveling alone sometimes have issues being overcharged.
The best solution to this is to book a group tour. Prices are very affordable, allowing you to actually save money on a floating village tour when you factor in all the expenses. As these companies are registered, and on Tripadvisor, they take their reputation seriously and ensure guests have a positive experience.
Always drink at established restaurants and bars.
The most important tip I can give about being safe is to watch where you eat and drink at night time. Travelers diarrhea is very common in Cambodia, as food at the market, including meat, is fresh and never refrigerated. While street food is always fun, undercooked meat can mean spending more time in your hotel room than the temples.
An easy way to avoid this is by going to reviewed restaurants. They have a tourists stomach in mind and always purchase their meat in the morning where it is then refrigerated. Washing fruit and vegetables with clean water before cooking is also standard practice. Simple hygienic things like this can make a world of difference for travelers.
Besides food, alcohol can also be a concern. Any expat in town will tell you to avoid mobile/tuk-tuk bars which are scattered around the famous old market. They are not licensed which means that “brand name” vodka they are serving could actually be local rice wine. When drinking, go to brick and mortar establishments which are required to display a business license.
About the Author: Living in Cambodia for 10 years. He is currently developing socially responsible travel experiences in the Siem Reap & Tonle Sap regions. Read more blog posts from Eddie here: https://medium.com/@eroohan