Siem Reap, the Tourist Town that I Love 47

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bayon temple at night angkor wat complex siem reap cambodia

Pretty rare shot. Got lucky and walked by Bayon as they were setting up for a night concert.

One of the unexpected things I have learned in my recent years of travel is how much I love tourist towns. A city like Venice, which exists purely for tourism these days — love it. The little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, which is basically 90% there for tourism — feels comfortable. Cuzco, Peru — fabulous. Dahab, Egypt — my version of a beach heaven. They are complete contrasts from huge cities like London or Shanghai.

The towns that a lot of people look down on, as they don’t provide any sort of “real experience” of the country you are in, well, they are some of my favorite towns in the world.

Partly, I think my love for some of these places is part of my contrarian personality. Generally, I am predisposed to like things that people say they don’t like and dislike things that are popular. Of course, this doesn’t always match up. For instance, of those towns I just listed off the top of my head, I know plenty of people that also love Venice and Dahab. And I also love a lot of cities that are pretty universally adored, like Cape Town or Istanbul.

So now that I think about it, maybe it isn’t just my contrarian personality.

What I do know is that I have been traveling now for about three solid years, with an occasional month or so back home. Basically, I am now a perpetual traveler and I haven’t slept in one bed for more than about 10 days straight in three years.

My life has pretty much been about change and movement. Constantly.

So, sometimes I like pulling into a town like Siem Reap, Cambodia and seeing a half dozen cheesy expat bars that I know will have reasonable Western food and sports on television that I like watching. Sometimes I want the voices I hear around me to be in a language I recognize and can eavesdrop on. Occasionally, I like to be able to ask for the bill at the end of dinner without doing the hand pantomime for it, so they understand what I want.

I think this is likely the case because I have been traveling constantly. This isn’t a two week vacation where I am trying to capture as much “true local flavor” as I can, all crammed into each day, experience on top of experience. One of the bonuses to traveling for a living is that I really don’t feel much pressure to see it all in any place… because there is a high chance I’ll be back a year or two down the road.

Sometimes I just want recognizable and easy.

And sometimes, like in Siem Reap, I just want my nightly $3, hour-long foot massage and my two $1 beers, one for when they work my left leg and foot and one when they work my right.

That’s $5 well spent in a little tourist joint that no local would ever be seen in, except the workers. And frankly, I don’t feel bad about it at all.

So one of the things I really loved about Siem Reap was the hotel that I stayed in, not just once, but on two separate occasions in the last month. I am not a big hotel snob. I have stayed in some excellent ones and some… really horrible ones.

Mother Home Guesthouse in Siem Reap holds the distinction of having the nicest and most friendly people working there that I have ever come across. It is amazing.

motherhome guest house siem reap cambodia

Mother Home Guest House

Just a few of the highlights of this affordable hotel (about $15-20 a night).

One of the must-do’s in the area is sunrise at Angkor Wat. The folks at Mother Home will not only set up the tuk-tuk driver for you and make the call to wake you up at 5 a.m., they will also make you a nice little breakfast to take with you.

If you aren’t doing sunrise, the breakfast buffet, included in the price of the room, is one of the best I have encountered. A great combination of Western and Eastern food and unlimited brewed coffee. Thank God.

The rooms all have air conditioning, comfortable beds, and a feature that I particularly loved, a good sized desk to work on (wifi is free and included also).

I have had a couple friends of mine stay there in the past month, on my recommendation and they all have commented on how incredibly nice, attentive and friendly the staff is. They all said the same thing after a day there: “every time we come back to the hotel from going to Angkor or town, they meet us at the door with a moist, cool towel to wipe off our hands and face — and with a smile and welcoming hello every time also.”

It is one of the friendliest places I have ever stayed and one of the best spots to explore Angkor Wat from, in my opinion.

motherhome guest house room siem reap cambodia

room at Mother Home


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About Michael Hodson

I’m an attorney that took off on my birthday in December of 2008 to circumnavigate the globe without ever getting on an airplane. After 16 months, 6 continents and 44 countries, I made it all the way back home. Right now, I am back on the road writing about it all.

47 thoughts on “Siem Reap, the Tourist Town that I Love

  • Reine

    Absolutely loved it there, more so than Bangkok, but I guess they don’t really compare. Completely different vibes. Can’t wait to go back there one day!

    And that hotel is definitely awesome 😀

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Yea, I agree about Bangkok also. I like it fine, but haven’t hit my stride there either.

  • Andrew

    Sounds all about right. At some point you move out of the vacation mentality and into a lifestyle. This is true whether a stationary expat, a roaming one, an eternal traveler or just at home where you always know. At some point that sense of home has to exist somewhere, even if just in your own head.

    I like tourist towns for the people watching. Beer is not a bad addition though.

  • Steve

    So you’re staying in a nice hotel with all these wonderful amenities, for less than I pay for wi-fi at some hotels in the US? I might be a little bit jealous at the moment.
    Here’s hoping you enjoy your time in a familiar place (and judging from the video, you already are).

  • Emily in Chile

    I remember at the beginning of my time in Chile shunning all the American chains and gringo spots. Now plenty of them still aren’t my scene, but there’s a certain appeal to knowing the option of familiarity is there if you want it. And for $5 massages and beer, I’m sure even the most touristy-in-a-bad-way of spots looks pretty damn good!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I do manage to draw the line at American fast food outlets, but the rest of it… good in my eyes.

  • Amanda

    A friendly staff can really take a good hotel/hostel and make it great.

    And, for the record, there’s nothing wrong with loving tourist towns! 😉 One of my favorite towns in the world is Queenstown, New Zealand. And it doesn’t get much more “touristy” than Queenstown!

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I wish I shared your love of Queenstown. I need to give it another try. I think the reason I didn’t love it as much as many is that I’d just came from Wanaka, and really, really loved that little town.

  • Marsha

    Is it wrong that I’m really diggin the bed? Because I am. Nothin wrong with a tourist town if you can sleep in a bed like that…as for the $5 massage/beer combo? You had me at hello…

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      I am a big fan of good beds, which is a byproduct of spending so many nights in crappy hotel beds.

  • Baron's

    Superb…you got me sold….is a foot masage all they do?
    the room at mother hotel looks very decent…I can’t believe it can be had for 15 to $20 a night…that’s great …keep on informing us

  • Johnny Vagabond

    I loved Siem Reap, too, much to my surprise. Is that busker still doing his routine on Pub Street, where he tries to cut himself with a dull knife, then jumps through a flaming hoop? He rocked.

  • Barbara Weibel

    Sometimes I like the touristy towns and sometimes I don’t. In Siem Riep and Venice, though both are touristy, I still felt I had an experience that put me in touch with the local culture. But other places, like Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, that have virtually abandoned their culture in favor of chasing the tourist dollar to the point that they are just a little slice of America – well, they just make me shudder.

  • ElizabethJ_Bird

    One of the great things about tourists towns is you meet tons of other tourists. I gues some people would say this is a down side since you don’t get to meet the locals… but all those people are local somewhere. Just because you are in Cambodia doesn’t mean you can’t have a great conversation with a new friend from Brazil who will tell you all about the small town he grew up in and the amazing food his mother makes. He might also be a tourist but its still a great experience.

  • Andrew Graeme Gould

    I happen to love tourist towns, too, as they’re usually bustling with activity, and so there’s always a good photographic opportunity.

    A very informative post on this town.

    All the best from Santiago.

  • Nomadic Samuel

    I can understand your attraction to SR. I spent a lot of time there and in Battambang earlier this year.

  • Sarahsomewhere

    It’s wierd I’ve read about this Mother home Guest house quite a bit in the last few days! With service like that, and comfy beds, I’m sure they’ll get a lot of business. It’ll definitely be my pick in Siem Riep. Cheers!

  • Theodora

    I disliked the town of Siem Reap intensely, though our guesthouse was lovely. But then I really liked Luang Prabang, which is, I guess, more on the Venice side of touristy. Nuweiba over Dahab, last time I went to that bit of Egypt, but perhaps that will change.

  • Turtle

    I love Siem Reap so much! I was there about 5 or 6 years ago, just before the huge influx of tourists (but after Angelina). I hope it hasn’t changed too much…

  • Claire

    I loved Siem Reap and every time I read about it I want to go back! Had the best massage ever when I was there a few years ago. Also loved the food!

  • Emma Becker

    I am going to Cambodia on September this year. Besides Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are also listed to be visited. But still I have a question about a hotel you might have seen during your visit in Siem Reap. I booked the following hotel: Tara Angkor Hotel. You know if it is a good hotel? I heard good stories about it. What are the best attractions to visit in Siem Reap and in the surrounding?

    • Michael Hodson Post author

      Emma, the things to do in the area are pretty much… Angkor Wat. Can do 3-4 days there easy. No idea about the hotel you mentioned.

        • Emma Becker

          Still I have another question about restaurants in Siem Reap. I want to celebrate my birthday is in September as well, and want to have a fancy meal in Siem Reap. Some friend recommended the following restaurants; Tonle Sap, Tonle Mekong and the Tonle Chaktomuk. Do you know them by any chance?

        • Michael Hodson Post author

          Emma, I am horrible about remembering restaurant names, but oddly I had one of the 3-4 best Italian meals of my life there. There is some place a couple blocks off the Pub Street that is wonderful. Native Italians that moved there.

  • Emma Becker

    Dear Michael,

    Thank you for responding. I think if you say so I will have a look in person myself. Of course what kind of restaurants there are and if there are any good Italians.
    Good recommendation thank you!

  • Alicia

    Hello Emma,

    I read your message and wanted to help you, because I have been in Siem Reap a lot of times. The Tara Angkor hotel is a beautiful hotel and is ideally and conveniently located, Tara Angkor Hotel is situated only 6 km from the Angkor Wat Temples, 15 min drive from the Siem Reap International Airport, a few minutes stroll to the Angkor National Museum and a short ride to the city town center with an array of Cambodian souvenirs, shopping and culture. They have a few promotions that you can make use of if you haven’t booked already: Last minute bookings, summer sales, early bird promotion or Angkor temptations. Of course there are a lot more, but have a look at their website. It is not that far to the Angkor temples that I would advise you to see for sure. I would say, grab yourself a 3 day pass and find yourself a decent tuk tuk driver to take you to the farther ruins and for a drive in some of the outlying villages. If you’re up for it consider renting a bike and checking out Angkor Wat on your own. There’s a lot to see and do so a lot depends on your time and budget. A few temples I would strongly suggest you check out besides Angkor Wat itself are Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom and of course Ta Prohm just to see the amazing tree. The Banteay Srei temple is farther out of Siem Reap but has a very different feel than a lot of the others. If you want to do something else as well, you can visit the day and night market. I can really recommend these attractions. If you need to know more, let me know.

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