Most tourists visiting Cambodia fly into Siem Reap with just a handful continuing on to less known areas such as Kampot or Kratie. It’s the country’s most popular city and rightfully so. But what exactly can you expect to find there? Here are five things that every tourist should do in the colourful city of Siem Reap.
1) Angkor Wat
OK. So, this one doesn’t really need mentioning. World Heritage Listed, UNESCO Site and downright stunning, Angkor Wat is the main reason millions of tourists flock to Siem Reap every year. Tens of ancient temples, each with unique architecture and a fascinating history make Angkor Wat a must-do in Siem Reap.
You’ll need to spend at least three solid days if you want to see all the main temples. Bring lots of water, some good walking shoes and an umbrella if you’re going in the rainy season.
Guides can be booked beforehand although many temples have guides or vendors with guide books waiting out the front. For more useful information, see our free downloadable PDF on how to survive the journey with minimal hassle.
2) Pub Street
The main tourist haunt in the city, Pub Street boasts 50c draught beers, ridiculously cheap cocktails, Khmer and international cuisine and night clubs where you can party until the break of dawn. This is your one -stop shop if you want to unwind after a long hard day of temple-hopping. It’s definitely not the cheapest place to eat but the roof-top bars and live music do create a jolly atmosphere. And you can always opt for the $2 street tacos if you’re looking for a purse-friendly option.
The musicians from the Land Mine Survivors Band can often be found playing beautiful music on this and other streets so be sure to check them out and support their wonderful work.
If you want a more serene dining experience, however, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes around that provide peace, quiet and delicious food for reasonable prices. For a list of establishments that give back to the community, see HERE.
3) Royal Gardens
The Royal Gardens in Siem Reap are a modest but pleasant affair. It’s a small territory near the peaceful Siem Reap River, a few hundred metres north of Pub Street. The walk down to the gardens along the river is quite enjoyable, with a few interesting animal sculptures and park benches under giant, shady trees making it the perfect place to escape the sensory overload that is Pub Street and the Old Market.
Bright green hedges and four proud lion statues guarding a water feature are the key elements of the gardens, as well as the Royal Residence which stands humbly in the background.
The most interesting thing in this garden is the local life that can be observed within. Teenagers gather to share gossip and young men play a fascinating game called Jianzi which is akin to hacky sack. The players are really talented and can kick the ‘ball’ from behind themselves with amazing accuracy!
4) Old Market
Located right beside Pub Street, the Old Market is where to go if you want cheap food or souvenirs. The outside stalls offer clothes and handicrafts including the well-known “Cambodian” T-shirts and beautiful wooden utensils, while inside you’ll find seafood, meat, fruit and veg and a great variety of pungent smells! Make sure you try the coconut sugar rolls (rice paper filled with coconut and brown sugar).
After a few days of climbing ancient temples, your tootsies will need some TLC. Luckily for them, Siem Reap is full of well-priced massage parlours and cheap street-side massage shops. The former will set you back about $12 for a 60-minute foot massage and you’ll most likely get a cup of tea before or after. The latter is a bit less formal, with massages taking place in deck chairs on the side of the street. Even though there’s no tea, the significantly cheaper price (about $4) and strong masseurs make it a very attractive option.
There is a particularly good spot located at the Night Market. They have a large, drop-down screen that runs short feature films about the history of Angkor Wat. During Happy Hour (13.00-14.00), massages are half-price!
Apart from the most famous complex of temples in the world, Siem Reap does have some rather interesting temples located right in the city centre. While not as old and regal as the Angkor Wat collection, they have their own kitschy charm created by colourful statues dramatically reenacting ancient buddhist tales. The best ones we found were HERE and HERE.
7) Bike Tour
Siem Reap can be a bit overwhelming with its torrents of tourists and endless traffic. If you want to escape this hustle and bustle and see some stunning Cambodian countryside, then you can opt for a rural bicycle tour.
This will take you out into the sticks where rice fields stretch far and wide and water buffalo reign. You will forget what the beep of a tuktuk horn sounds like as you cruise down red dirt roads and soak up the pristine nature.
There are several companies that offer these insights into country life in Cambodia but the one we would recommend is Butterfly Tours, a student initiative offering foreigners the opportunity to meet, eat with and stay with local families. For more information, see Cambodia – Countryside Tour.