Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia best known for its temples and turbulent recent history. Siem Reap is located in the northwestern portion of Cambodia, and is the gateway to the greater Angkor region, the former capital of the Khmer Empire. The temples of Angkor are surely the highlight of Siem Reap, but travelers would be missing out if they didn’t explore the city a little further.
The people of Cambodia have been through very tough times in the last few decades. in 1975, The Khmer Rouge emerged victorious in the Cambodian civil war and began forcibly depopulating the country. This began the Cambodian genocide that killed upwards of 3 million people, nearly 25% of the country’s population. Cambodia has a struggling economy that generates a notable amount of revenue from tourism. Being based out of a tourist resort town like Siem Reap, you won’t see what life is like for most Cambodians. Keep this in mind when exploring the area. You may feel like the tuk-tuk drivers or street vendors are harassing you, but they are just hustling to make a living. Once you see that, you’ll realize that despite the relative struggle, the people of Siem Reap are usually very warm and friendly, especially to those traveling with children.
So, what is there to experience in Siem Reap besides endless temples? Well, here’s a list for you to explore around this ancient city:
1. Get to understand this magnificent place more by visiting the Angkor National Museum
Looming large on the road to Angkor is the Angkor National Museum, a state-of-the-art showpiece on the Khmer civilization and the majesty of Angkor. Displays are themed by era, religion and royalty as visitors move through the impressive galleries. After a short presentation, visitors enter the Zen-like Gallery of a Thousand Buddhas, which has a fine collection of images. Other exhibits include the Pre-Angkorian periods of Funan and Chenla; the great Khmer kings; Angkor Wat; Angkor Thom; and the inscriptions.
Some of the standout pieces in the collection include a late-12th-/early-13th-century seated Buddha sheltered by a naga (mythical serpent-being); a 7th-century standing Vishnu from Sambor Prei Kuk in Kompong Thom; and a stunning 10th-century lintel from the beautiful temple of Banteay Srei.
As the museum is entirely air-conditioned, plan a visit during the middle of the day to avoid the sweltering midday temperatures at the temples of Angkor. Audio tours are available for US$5 and are useful for those who want a more comprehensive understanding of the exhibits on display. Wheelchairs are available free of charge for visitors with mobility impairment.
2. Enjoy nightlife on Pub Street
Pub Street Siem Reap is the nightlife hub of the town, featuring rows of backpacker-friendly bars and pubs, packed nightclubs and international restaurants. The street opens throughout the day and late into dawn. The main road – Street 08 – is where you can find the iconic bars and clubs and the liveliest atmosphere – they’re well-known for their US$0.50 draft beer offers. Running parallel is Alley West and The Lane, each hosting cocktail bars, cafés, art galleries, and souvenir shops. A 5-minute stroll from Angkor Night Market, Pub Street is great for enjoying a night of bar-hopping in Siem Reap. The whole street is blocked to motorised vehicles from 5pm, making it safe to explore on foot at your own leisure.
As Pub Street’s most famous bar, The Angkor What? is heaving until dawn, with a mix of backpackers, flashpackers, young, old and everyone in between gathering on the dance floor. Expect debauchery, loud music, plenty of dancing and super-strong buckets, well, by the bucketload.
Temple Club is another Pub Street stalwart, attracting the crowds until the early hours. Open throughout the day, it also serves food, has a sky lounge and hosts cookery classes. Apsara shows take place in the early evening before the tunes get pumping.
Cambodian BBQ lives up to its name serving great Cambodian barbecues, and then some. They have a great selection of exotic meats available, including crocodile, snake, ostrich, and even kangaroo! Cooked over hot coals, the food has that real smoky barbecue flavor, served with some tasty sauces, as well as free refills of rice, noodles and vegetables. Dining at the restaurant might be a highlight of your trip to Siem Reap – it might be the first and fun time you’ve ever tasted such unusual meats. The prices are reasonable, and the service and food quality are highly maintained. You can go for an endless grab of greens and veggies with a steady supply of broth served with your meaty meals.
3. Food hunting at a Night Market
If you are not into partying all night, then night market is the place for you! Siem Reap’s original night market near Sivatha St. has sprung countless copycats, but it remains the best and is well worth a browse. It’s packed with stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, souvenirs and silks. Island Bar offers regular live music and Sombai offers infused organic rice wines for those who want to make a night of it. Founded in 2007 to preserve traditional Khmer handicrafts and improve the lives of Khmer people, this outdoor market offers one-of-a-kind goods such as silk paintings, shadow puppets, handbags made from recycled materials, as well as intricate stone carvings embellished in silver or brass.
Made in Cambodia Market offers a wide range of live performances, tasty local food, and Cambodian souvenirs by renowned local artisans. Held every Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday, this vibrant outdoor market takes place in front of Shinta Mani Resort Siem Reap. Goods sold at Made in Cambodia Market are pricier compared to most markets in Siem Reap, but the uniqueness and quality of clothes, cosmetics, jewellery, paintings, and toys are well worth the splurge. Highly recommended is the Sombai rice spirits, which is infused with cinnamon, mangoes, star anise, and red chillies.
4. Shop at a floating village
One of the cool things to do around Siem Reap is to take an eco-trip to Tonle Sap Lake, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. The area floods expanding from 2,500 square km to 12,000 where locals live in houses on stilts. A 2-hour boat ride will get you to one of the Tonle Sap floating villages where you can then make stops at crocodile farms, find souvenirs and eat delicious food. You can even have a sunset dinner on the lake.
5. Release all your stress with some cheap but good massage
Thailand isn’t the only place in southeast Asia that has cheap massages. In Cambodia you can get them for anywhere from $1-7 at massage shops around the city. So if you have some time to kill or maybe decided to bike to Angkor Wat there is no better way to relax.
6. Fly through the Cambodia Jungle
Experience the beauty of one of Cambodia’s most prized sites during this five-hour zipline tour through the ancient Angkor Archaeological Park. You’ll travel up seven staircases, across four hanging bridges and soar through jungle tree tops on 10 ziplines during this tour. Groups include two guides and are capped at nine participants to ensure a safe and personalized experience on the 21 platforms along the course. The trip includes round-trip transportation and a traditional lunch, as well as choice of six departure times and two different packages.
7. Shopping spree at old market
The Siem Reap Old Market on the west side of Siem Reap River is where the local population head to in the early mornings to shop for a wide array of fresh vegetables, seafood, and meat as well as household items. Locally known as Psar Chas, it’s the oldest Khmer market in Siem Reap and a must-visit for those looking to experience the local lifestyle. The open-air market is covered by a massive roof, offering ample shade from the sun if you’re here on a scorching afternoon. While the stalls aren’t as refined as the ones you might find at newer markets like Angkor Night Market. The wet section of Old Market is located close to the central food court, where local vendors display live seafood in fish tanks and butchered poultry atop ice trays while the dry section offers tropical fruits, household appliances, pre-packaged snacks, as well as local condiments such as prahok (fermented fish paste). The Old Market, located between Pub Street and the riverside, is truly the heart of Siem Reap. As the most popular and central market, it is frequently visited by both tourists and locals. Many locals, expats and businesses buy their fruit and vegetables here. Average English is spoken here.
Because we are not able to travel as freely as before the pandemic started, there are now various kinds of virtual tours over the web! And one of them is this special live virtual tour by MyProGuide. The best part of MyProGuide’s live virtual tours is that you can interact with the tour guide and the other tour participants in REAL-TIME! Why don’t you give it a try? I guarantee you’ll enjoy it!