11 Things to do in Siem Reap
I arrived in Siem Reap in the evening and I was very surprised by what I found: an extremely vibrant, if touristic city, full of international restaurants and many many many bars. I mean when the “downtown” main street is called “The Pub Street”….I rest my case!
I spent 5 days in here and not only did I not get bored for a minute but I also managed to relax (the daily massages did help of course 😉 )
The city has transformed a lot throughout years it seems. I don’t know myself how it used to be but I can certainly vouch for what it is now: a young an vibrant city which has become an attraction in itself and not only the basecamp for Angkor Park but rather completing that. International chefs, creative bartenders and local and international artists, they all contribute to making Siem Reap what is it today.
It has also got an international airport that seems to get more traffic that the national one in the capital Phnom Penh!
But let’s just dig right in shall we? What can you do in Siem Reap?
Obviously this is THE most important sight of the whole country so I dedicated a full post to it previously
Again, I already wrote about this in a previous post which was fully dedicated with plenty of pictures
Ok, not really in town, actually still in the Angkor Park, but a totally different activity than hopping from one temple to another. Instead you can “fly” from one tree to another in the jungle canopy . It was the first I tried ziplining and I LOVED it! In fact, it was one of my favourites activities in this trip. So much fun!
I have seen this advertised in Chiang Mai a lot but for some reason I was not so drawn to it there. But when I realised that I could do this right inside Angkor Park, then…count me in!
The personnel is very professional with extreme attention to detail and makes you feel very safe….well… once you get used to it. There are always 2 sky rangers with you: one staying behind at the previous tree until everybody has “taken off” and one going first to the next tree and waiting/helping people with the “landing”.
4. Visit other temples
And I don’t mean the Angorian period temples. I mean the temples that are actually in use today and where monks live, eat, pray and learn. There are quite a few of them just walking distance from the center of the town.
- Wat Preah Prom Rath: the closest to the center and very colourful
- Wat Damnak: the biggest pagoda in Siem Reap but very quiet and peaceful and you can spend some time relaxing in its gardens
- Wat Bo: one of the oldest temples in town; I was lucky enough to be there at the time of evening prayer and the chanting of the novice monks made the whole experience even more special. A truly mesmerising moment.
5. Happy Hour & Pub Street
Just like its big brother Phonm Penh, Siem Reap is also happy hour central. With a main street called “The Pub Street” it is certainly not difficult to find a place to ….um, soak up the vibrant atmosphere. I usually don’t drink cocktails but a good wine is not easy to find everywhere in Asia so given all the reviews I read about the creative cocktails in Siem Reap I thought I’d give them a chance here. And for that, two of my favourite places were Miss Wong (a very cozy red interior trying to recreate the atmosphere of old Shanghai; ask for an Indochine martini 😉 ) and The Sun (a very popular place on the main Pub street). In fact, at The Sun I discovered my favourite cocktail, passion fruit margarita and I loved it so much that I even asked bartenders in other countries to prepare it for me 🙂 .
Oh and of course a Belgian bar/restaurant could not miss from the Pub St.
Other bars worth mentioning: Asana (Famous for it’s cocktails, it was not very happening though the few times I passed by), Heritage cocktail Bar (at hotel Heritage Suits near Wat Polanka, again not very happening)
6. Visit the Old Market (Psar Chaa)
One particularity of this market compared to the typical SE Asian markets, that one tends to get very familiar with after a while, is the fact that in the same place you have a wet and a dry market. So obviously you can find everything here: from fresh or even alive fish, meat chopped right in front of you, dried goods, to fruit, vegetables and even a separate area for clothes, homeware and not in the least souvenirs.
7. Get your caffein intake …with or without a cake
Similar to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap won’t disappoint when it comes to coffee houses. Here are some of my favourites
- Upstairs Cafe – definitely my favourite; a cozy, laid back place serving Illy coffee for those in much need of a kick
- Blue Pumpkin – the sibling of the one in Phnom Penh, the same relaxed atmosphere, same menu
- Peace Cafe – a little oasis close to Wat Damnak where you can also do yoga, meditation or all kind of similar classes as well as taking cooking classes
- Cafe central – very popular, in the old market area; again serving delicious illy coffee
- Kaya Cafe– apparently good for local deserts but I admit I have not tried them
8. Relax, relax, relax….with a massage
Whether you want a dirt cheap foot massage or a few hours of pampering at a spa, Siem Reap has got you covered there as well. There are so many spas that you can choose from. You cannot take a few steps without hearing the famous “you want massaaaaaaaage”….just like in Thailand and many other places in Asia. A very budget friendly and yet with acceptable quality is Master Feet, close to the central market. At the opposite end is Frangipani Spa, one of the longest running spas in town, a very popular one offering a wide range of treatments. At the higher end is also Bodia spa which I tried in Phnom Penh and it is a pure bliss.
9. See an Apsara dance performance
Some restaurants offer a dance and dinner show. Although it sounds very touristy, if you are really into discovering the cultural heritage of Cambodia, this is an integral part of it.
10. Experiment local food
Either by eating it or learning to cook it yourself. I only did the former and now I know that crocodile meat is not really “my thing”. However the Amok fish is one of my favourite Cambodian dishes. You can try it at Amok restaurant as part of “Amok degustation” menu. Or you can sample a tasting menu at Cuisine Wat Damnak, one of the best and most popular restaurants in town for genuine local cuisine. For a more modern atmosphere you can head to Champey where you can also sample some of the finest Khmer cuisine.
11. Arts and crafts
- McDermott gallery – John McDermont’s photos of Angkor are some of my favourites. He dedicated a lot of his time to understanding and photographing the remnants of the Angkorian civilisation and his sepia tone pictures are truly a work of art.
- Senteurs d’Angkor – a very inspired name. If you want all kind of oils, incenses, spices, little handicrafts an other local products I can highly recommend this shop
- WA Gallery (at FCC Angkor hotel) – owned by French couple, this gallery/concept store hosts treasures from all over the world not only Cambodia
Where to sleep in Siem Reap
More and more hotels are coming also with a pool nowadays which can be an excellent option to cool down after a few hours of temple hopping under the hottest sun. Unfortunately mine did not have one but it was one of the best hotels/guesthouses I stayed in during my trip. It was very clean, modern yet cozy and perfectly located 3-5 min walk from the center. Here are also a few pictures of Villa Medamrei
Are there any other must do/see that you would recommend?
Easy pinning 🙂