Some countries are just fantastically immersive. You step in and all of a sudden, you are entirely engulfed by the wealth of culture, tradition, and practice. Siem Reap is one of those places, and I would love to be able to take you on this journey.
We will explore some well-known things, while others a little less so. In the end, it is all about looking through Siem Reap – things to do for you and me!Let’s go!
Let us be honest here, there is no such thing as a trip to Siem Reap without visiting a few temples. This is a country with a history and culture so magnificent, and it would be an insult not to experience at least a few.
Right off the bat, you have to visit the most famous of the temples, Angkor Wat. As a traveler, I try not to visit the more tourist-friendly places, as I enjoy the peace and uniqueness of a more remote location. This time, however, I will make an exception, purely based on how exceptional Angkor Wat really is (1).
In the blinding heat, it is all too easy to rush through this. This, however, would be a mistake. Spirituality is too important in today’s materialistic, ever-rushing world, and I would like to suggest taking a day or so to tour the temple loop. After all, Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world !
Besides the historic Angkor Wat, however, lie a bunch of different temples for you to explore. Bayon, for its maze-like complexity, or Ta Phrom, the location for Angelina Jolie’s ‘Tomb Raider’, are among the big two, with many smaller temples in between.
With all this tradition so well-preserved, it would be so easy to spend your entire time in Siem Reap purely visiting temples (2).
You really should not, because there is so much else to do. Let’s explore some more!
Asia, as a whole, is famous for its distinct use of spices and styles of cooking. South East Asia, in particular, has made a name for itself worldwide when it comes to comfort food. Keep in mind, however, that some of the food on here may be a little… out of your comfort zone.
Cambodian food is traditionally filling and full of warm spices. The food here at Siem Reap is exactly that, and there are many spots for you to visit. May I suggest a visit to Mahob Restaurant to try their “Hot Stone Chicken” (3)?
If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, however, head over to the Bugs Café for something a little more exotic! The name says it all, with the café/restaurant serving up delicious insects for your culinary enjoyment. This beats standing on the roadside, eating bugs cooked in day old oil, for sure (4).
Once you’re done with the cooked foods, it’s time to explore the fresh fruits of the tropics! A quick visit to the Old Market is in order here, and while they do not at all cater to tourists, you will quickly find that the Cambodian people are happy to help.
Whether it is the more widely available mandarins and apples, or the exotic dragonfruit and starfruit you desire, the Old Market has it all. Experience the hustle and bustle of the local life here where it all happens (5)!
P.S. The Old Market sells fried tarantulas, too, if you’re feeling brave!
Sure, you could take a taxi everywhere. You will be spending a little more money, but most cab drivers speak English, and you’re almost guaranteed to go where you are headed. Where is the fun in this, where is your sense of adventure?! If you really want to see the city, ride a tuk-tuk!
For those of you not familiar with one of these odd little contraptions, they are essentially motorized rickshaws – talk about bringing the past into the 21st century! These neat little things zip around the small streets as efficiently as the bigger roads, and you will not find a more popular form of transport here in Siem Reap (6).
Unfortunately, there are no tuk-tuks available for hire when it comes to longer trips, out of Siem Reap, for example. Tour buses, mini buses, boats, and private hire cars are really popular for those (7).
Subsequently, if you feel like you want to be in control for your own travel within Siem Reap, it really is not the easiest thing to do. Motorcycle hires are quite common in the region, but the government is beginning to crack down on the relatively high number of motorcycle accidents involving tourists.
As I mentioned before, the tuk-tuk is the way to go (if you don’t want to cycle)! Why not travel like the locals while directly supporting the locals, right?
Yes, you have probably heard of Pub Street in Siem Reap, where both the locals and the tourists go for a good time; and no, this is not about that Pub Street.Affectionately known as the “Khmer Pub Street”, it is actually approximately 10 minutes away from the main Pub Street (your tuk-tuk driver should know where it is).
Granted, most shops and food stalls are not labeled in English, which might make it a little harder for you, but the crowds are a little further away, so it’s worth it, right?
As a quick tip, ask your hotels before you leave for their recommendations! Because this is not the biggest tourist spot for late nights and lazy drinks, the local hotel staff would be far more knowledgeable than, let’s say, your next-door neighbor.
Most will inevitably end up at the Triangle Club, with its open-plan setting and relaxed atmosphere. Where else would you rather be at the end of a long day in the busy city, than right here, talking to your friends over some cheap Cambodian beer (8)?
Siam Reap is quite landlocked... with the wondrous exception of the Tonle Sap Lake (joined to the Mekong River by the Tonle Sap River). As such, much of the region’s agricultural activities center around this body of water, and many are looking to protect this natural resource.
Around the middle to the end of the year, the rainy season allows the lake to grow up to seven times its size. As such, the number of fish expands beyond belief, bringing in a whole bunch of birds! If you are an avid bird watcher, come by the Prek Toal and Bird sanctuary. You may even spot a hornbill or two (9)!
Speaking of Prek Toal, the floating villages are someone of a legend around the world. There are many for you to choose from, but I would like to warn you beforehand – choose wisely.
In general, the ones closer to Siem Reap city, such as Chong Kheas, tend to be a lot more touristy than one further away, such as Kampong Khleang. Personally, I have been to both, and I enjoyed the more localized tour of the latter, so I’ll let you take your pick.
-If you happen to find yourself planning a trip to Siem Reap anytime soon, good on you for finding this piece! I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed visiting Siem Reap.
Make sure you comment below on your thoughts! Maybe I missed out on your favorite place or activity, be sure to tell me about it. Share it around, too, you never know who may need it.
Hi! My name is James Wilson, adventurer and traveler. I was born in New York City, am 29 this year, and have been traveling since I was 19. New places fill me with an unexplainable joy, so let me share some of my experiences with you!