1. Visit temples
Siem Reap is often referred to as ‘Temple Town’ for good reason. The Angkor Archeological Park is located a few kilometers outside of Siem Reap and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Khmer Empire stretched across much of mainland Southeast Asia between the 9th and 15th centuries A.D and Siem Reap was at its center
The park is a vast area covering 400 square kilometers and is home to many ancient sites, including the world famous Angkor Wat temple. The area is much bigger than many people anticipate before their arrival. Other well-known temples inside the park include Angkor Thom (Bayon), and Ta Prohm (Tomb Raider movie temple) as well as many other ancient temples and sites. It’s good to get to a know some of the history of the various temples you visit, otherwise it can become overwhelming, especially if you try to pack them all into one day.
Remember, depending on the time of year, Cambodia can get quite hot, so it’s a good idea to pace yourself throughout the day – it’s not a race. Siem Reap is now a major destination for travelers, just like the pyramids in Egypt or any other world famous site, therefore don’t expect to be alone. However with this said, the area is huge, so with a little planning and advice, you can avoid many of the crowds to have a better and more fulfilling experience.
2. Go on a countryside tour with Sabai Adventures
All the tours are designed to give you an authentic and unique insight into Cambodia. Get off the beaten path and see the country away from the main attractions and busy crowds of Siem Reap.
The tours are a great way to experience the beauty, history and culture of Cambodia with dedicated and knowledgeable guides. Visit traditional villages seldom seen by foreigners, explore ancient temples, pass along rice fields and see a fascinating culture.
3. Eat local or international food
Nowadays, there’s no shortage of restaurants in Siem Reap. New ones are always opening for business. There are plenty of good establishments to choose from with varying price ranges, from local street side stands to sophisticated fusion cuisine. Enjoy a wide selection of local and international dishes.
Many of the restaurants and bars in Siem Reap are found in and around Pub Street and the Old Market area. However, there are some great finds outside of this area. These places are often quieter with a more relaxed ambiance. Don’t be afraid to get in a tuk-tuk and seek out some of the harder to find places as these hidden gems can often be worthwhile.
If you’re looking to know a little more about Cambodian food, here’s a good article featured in CNN Travel 10 meals every visitor to Cambodia should try
4. Get lost in the Markets
Siem Reap has a number of markets in town. The more touristy markets with souvenirs, t-shirts, silk scarves can be found in the downtown area, this includes Old Market and any of the night markets around town. Test your luck bargaining as most of the shop owners expect people to haggle, but remember they have to make a profit and eat too, so find a reasonable price that works for both of you.
There are no shortage of day and night markets within walking distance in the downtown area of Siem Reap. The largest local market is called Psar Leu and is located a few kilometers from downtown traveling south along National Rd. 6 towards Phnom Pehn.
Not much in the way of tourists stuff as mostly locals shop here. The market has a bustling gold exchange, tailors, an assortment of products and if you’re feeling extra adventurous, check out the area where meat is cut and sold in the back. If you do, please remember to be culturally sensitive and open-minded.
5. Check out Phare, the Cambodian circus
During your time in Siem Reap, take a night to check out Phare, the Cambodian circus. This is a wonderful organization that began in Battambang as a way for young people to express themselves through the arts. Today, the organization performs nightly in Siem Reap under a big top circus tent. But don’t be confused with the mainstream concepts of a ‘circus’. There are no top-hat ringmasters making lions jump through hoops or any other animals performing tricks, as it is human performers only. And this group has soul.
The show is a mix of traditional storytelling combined with cultural themes as the artists perform incredible acrobatics, dance sequences, and a variety of other spectacles. The shows incorporate humor, love, humility, suffering and many other contemporary Cambodian social themes throughout the performance.
Shows start at 7:30pm every evening and tickets can be purchased through most hotels, travel agents or directly from the venue. They change the show every few weeks or monthly, depending on the troupe’s schedule as they often tour around the world. Check out their website for more info if you want to see which shows are on while you’re in town, Phare Circus Cambodia
6. Rent a Bicycle
Get yourself a bike and cruise around town. The Siem Reap River cuts through town, meandering towards the Tonle Sap in one direction, and Angkor Wat in the other direction. The street running alongside the river is good choice for an enjoyable bike ride. Also, cycling is a popular way to visit the temples.
There are many shops around town that rent a variety of bikes, from single gears to proper mountain bikes. Just remember, Cambodia can get very hot, especially midday, and the area inside Angkor Archeological Park is huge, so keep hydrated and pace yourself. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been returning home on my motobike and have seen foreigners who are about to collapses as they’re heading back to town from a day of sightseeing. Also, take precaution out there, Cambodian roads rules aren’t exactly conventional.
7. Visit the Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Villages
The Tonle Sap lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and at the heart of Cambodia. The lake is extremely important to the ecological biosphere of the area. As the lake floods during rain season, the surrounding areas are irrigated, making the soils ideal for growing rice and other important agricultural products.
The lake is also a major source of fish which is a vital part of the Cambodian diet and economy. Tonle Sap floating villages are communities that make their living from the lake. These villages live in houses built on stilts and also in floating houses that move depending on the time of year.
Visiting the floating villages is a rare opportunity to see an very unique culture and lifestyle. There are an estimated 1.2 million people living in villages surrounding the Tonle Sap lake. Due to a large increase in tourism, the communities closest to Siem Reap have become saturated with visitors and the dynamic of the villages has changed from authentic fishing villages to tourist traps.
I recommend the Sabai Adventures Jeep tours that visit villages further away from Siem Reap town. These tours visit places that are still authentic fishing villages with charm and character. Tonle Sap lake and floating village Jeep tours.
8. Coffee, cocktails, and WiFi
Looking for a change from temples sightseeing, or simply want to do have a lazy relaxing day? There are plenty of cafes and cocktail bars around town to lounge around in, drink coffee and people watch. Some are air-conditioned while others have fans. If it’s too hot for a coffee, there are plenty of cocktail bar choices as well.
Stroll around town, along the alleyways in the French Quarter, down Sok San Street and you’ll come across countless places. Most places in Siem Reap have WiFI, so if you need to connect, catch up with family or update your social medias statuses, this can be done almost everywhere.
9. Talk to locals
In all my travels, Cambodians are one of the friendliest people I have ever come across. Getting to know the locals can be one of the most rewarding experiences you will have on your visit to the Kingdom.
Cambodian people are very approachable and often very social. Sometimes they can feel shy around foreigners, especially the people outside the tourists hubs, as they often worry about not speaking English properly. Once they get to know you, they are extremely welcoming and kind. There have been numerous occasions when I have been walking through local areas and have been invited to join a party or gathering.
10. Get a massage
After a long day exploring temples and various sites around Siem Reap, there’s a good chance you might be in a need of a relaxing massage. Well, you’re in luck. A quick stroll around town in almost any direction and you’ll find plenty of places to work on your aching muscles and joints.
With plenty of variety and choices, from lounge chairs on the sidewalk to boutique spas, there’s no shortage of massage parlors in Siem Reap. Price ranges from around $5 an hour (basic place) and up in the better establishments.
There’s also the fish massage places out on the sidewalk. Dip your feet into a tank full of fish that nibble off the dead skin cells on your feet. Not for everybody, especially those like me with ticklish feet.