More than temple-hopping!
Siem Reap, Cambodia is most famous for its temples, especially Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phrom (aka the Tomb Raider temple). Nothing can compare to the thrill of being in these beautiful, ancient places, imagining yourself living during the time they were built, and thinking about the thousands and thousands of people who have stood in your exact spot. Seeing the temples is definitely the main reason many people visit Siem Reap.
However, there is so much more to Siem Reap than just the temples, and as a traveller you definitely need to check out what other things you can do in this charming city, like…
Bar hop on Pub Street
Pub Street is full of so many interesting restaurants and bars that it’s hard to know where to begin! Many places have happy hour with Angkor or Anchor beer on tap for as little as USD 25 cents a pint (and you know how much we love happy hours…). Places like The Sun, Red Piano, and Il Forno offer up Cambodian, Western and Italian food for decent prices, and bars like Picasso and Angkor What? are famous among backpackers. Linga Bar offers an LGBT-friendly atmosphere, and Miss Wong has an enticing old Shanghai style, playing lounge versions of popular songs.
Take a class
You can find tons of amazing classes in Siem Reap that will help you learn more about the culture and daily life. For instance, the Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre offers pottery and pottery painting classes (USD 20). Instructors help you learn to use the pottery wheel to make five pieces, then show you traditional Khmer pottery etchings so you can complete a piece on your own. You can choose one piece to have them fire in the kiln and have it delivered to your hotel the next day. Bonus: 100% of the profits are reinvested for the preservation of local art and training for disadvantaged members of the community.
If you’re not great with arts and crafts, try cooking. Beyond Unique Escapes offers full and half-day options (starting at around USD 24) and teaches you to cook typical Cambodian dishes like Khmer mango salad, fish amok and sticky rice balls with palm sugar. You also do a short tour of a rural farm to learn about the most common ingredients in Khmer dishes and how they’re grown. They even give you a free recipe book so you can recreate the dishes at home.
Finally, end the night with a traditional Khmer cocktail at Asana’s Sombai cocktail making class (USD 15). Sombai is an infused rice wine produced in Siem Reap, similar to rum. In this class, one of Asana’s bartenders will teach you how to mix together spirits, herbs and sweets to make a refreshing cocktail, the perfect way to end a long day.
As a plus, each of these classes offers hotel pick up (and often drop off) via tuk tuk, so you don’t even have to worry about finding your way there!
Experience Phare, The Cambodian Circus
No, this isn’t your typical ‘circus’. Phare is a truly incredible performance that tells traditional Cambodian tales in a distinctly original and modern way. The dynamic performance shows off the talent of the artists, who incorporate all different aspects of Cambodian art and culture into their productions. A mix of theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, juggling, aerial acts and contortion, this energetic performance is a result of a social enterprise that supports an NGO school and a professional arts training centre in Battambang, Cambodia (read more about it here). A must-visit in Siem Reap!
Explore the markets
Hong Kongers won’t find themselves too out of place in the Night Market and the Siem Reap Arts Centre Night Market. Take the haggling skills you acquired at Temple Street and bring them with you to Siem Reap to pick up souvenirs like Cambodian silks, jewellery and a kroma, the traditional Cambodian head wrap.
Massages are everywhere and very cheap in Siem Reap. You can get a fish massage (not recommended if you’re ticklish) anywhere around Pub Street, or head to places like Islands or Namaste for foot massages for about USD 4. Bodia Spa and Lemongrass Garden Spa both come highly recommended, with pricing menus available online. Body and Soul Massage offers head and shoulder massage and body wrap packages for around USD 30, and will even let you substitute a facial for the body wrap if you ask politely. In addition, Body and Soul offers massage classes and has a boutique that sells aromatherapy products, locally sourced honey and coconut oil cosmetics from Coco Khmer.
Siem Reap is a fabulous, multi-dimensional place, so while you’re there, take a chance to explore different activities in the city!