Angkor Wat usually comes very high up on most first-time travellers' list of things to do in Siem Reap and Cambodia when planning a trip to this beautiful region. Contrary to common belief, Angkor is not only one temple, but consist of hundreds of temples of various shapes and sizes, and, not only that, Siem Reap has much more to offer...
Based locally in Siem Reap with years of experience from the tourism and hospitality industry, your local team at angkorhotels.org has compiled a list of Top 10 things to do when in Siem Reap. We've found that some of the sights and attractions are just too spectacular and difficult to leave out, but we do recommend visitors to take their time and, if possible, stay another day so we have also included a few insider's tips and things to do that are not listed in every guidebook.
Be amazed by Angkor Wat and the ancient temples of Angkor
Perhaps no longer so much off the beaten tracks, but there are still many obvious reasons as to why Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Bayon, Ta Prohm and the ancient temples of Angkor allure so much attention and come high on many visitors 'to do lists' when travelling, not only in Cambodia, but in the whole of Southeast Asia. Built between the 9th and 14th century AD, the region served as the capital of the great Khmer Empire. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument ever built and of the major reasons first-time visitors travel to Siem Reap and Cambodia. Even though it's possible to see the main temples in one day, we would strongly recommend not to rush it, but rather allow at least three days to take in the atmosphere at a leisurly pace and also try to visit some of the less visited temples.
Enjoy the vibrancy of Tonle Sap Lake
Designated as an UNESCO ecological biosphere in 1997, the Tonle Sap or the ‘Great Lake’ is also Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Located 30 minutes south of Siem Reap, the lake is alive with a variety of bird species and other wildlife and a number of fishing communities literally float on it. During the monsoon season, the Tonle Sap river which connects the lake with the Mekong river reverses its flow. Water is pushed up from the Mekong into the lake, increasing its area and its depth. This leads to the flooding of nearby fields and forests. The floodplain then becomes a perfect breeding ground for fish, making Tonle Sap one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world. You can explore Tonle Sap on the various boat tours that last from two to three hours to tours that include an overnight stay on the lake.
Shop with a concience and soak in the atmosphere at local markets
Buying locally made products is a great way to contribute to any country's local economic growth. With a plethora of local shops and local community-based initiatives, this is very much the case in Siem Reap. In and around Siem Reap's Old Market and various Night Markets there are many shops and market stalls selling handicrafts, silks, silverware, jewelry, carvings and the like. Many of the shops also have a pro-active stance with regards to giving back to the local community and shopping in Siem Reap, especially in and around the local markets, can be a truly unique, fun and rewarding experience. Our Siem Reap shopping guide provides tips and information about shopping in Siem Reap, as well as some socially responsible places to shop.
Explore the secrets of Khmer Cuisine and sign up for a Cambodian Cooking Class
Despite its relatively small size, Siem Reap offers an impressive range of restaurants and dining venues where you will find something to please any palate. Whilst eating out can be a real treat, we believe it is worth digging a little deeper and explore some of the secrets of traditional Khmer cuisine. Learning how to catch and prepare crispy fried tarantulas might be reserved for the truly adventurous, but signing up for a local cooking class is a great way to get a feel for the local ingredients and impress your friends and family when returning from your travels.
Relax, revitalize and rejuvenate with traditional Khmer massage and spas
Even though the main attraction for many first-time visitors travelling to Siem Reap is the magnificent temples of the nearby Angkor temple complex, Siem Reap has a wide range of massage and spa treatments to rejuvenate tired feet and sore limbs. From as little as US$ 5 per hour you can find yourself quickly revived by a soulful foot massage after a long day trekking or languish all day at a spa to be preened from head to toe from heat treatments, to body scrubs, to aromatherapy. Pure bliss...
Experience traditional Khmer dancing and Apsara dance performances
Many people would argue that a trip to Siem Reap and Cambodia is not complete without attending a traditional Cambodian dance performance. This ancient art form and beautiful dances have played a major part in Khmer culture for more than thousand years and have seen a great revival over the last few years. You will find many places with regular shows and performances in Siem Reap and socially concious places like, for example, Soria Moria Boutique Hotel have traditional dance performances which also support good causes.
Uncover Cambodia's turbulent recent history at the Cambodian Landmine Museum
Located on the way to the beautiful Bantay Srey temple, the Cambodian Landmine Museum houses an amazing collection of defused landmines and unexploded ordnance of which Aki Ra, a Cambodian ex-child soldier who has helped to clear thousands of mines and UXOs across Cambodia, has amassed over the years. Through the displays and artifact, visitors get a real sense of what Cambodia and its people has been through over the last few decades.
Give blood and learn more about the Angkor Hospital for Children
The Angkor Hospital for Children (AHC), is a charitable organization which was founded by renowned Japanese photographer Kenro Izu in 1999. The hospital provides treatment and care to local children as well as children from neighboring provinces. The Friends Center at Angkor Hospital for Children gives visitors a unique opportunity to visit the hospital and learn more about its various programmes. The Friends Center also displays prints donated by Kenro Izu and hosts rotating art and photography exhibitions. As blood banks are in scarce supply in Cambodia, visitors are welcome to donate blood at the hospital. Entrance is free of charge and more details available at the visitors centre.
Visit a wildlife conservation centre at Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB)
Located near Kbal Spean, about one hour north of Siem Reap. ACCB is the first nature conservation center in Cambodia. The aims of the center are rescue, rehabilitation, breeding and reintroduction of threatened wildlife, in combination with an environmental education programme, promoting wildlife conservation and training local villagers in the sustainable use of natural resources. Free guided centre tours Monday to Friday at 13:00. Other times can be arranged on request.
Explore Siem Reap and Angkor on a White Bicycle and maximise your ethical Imprint
Whilst local transportation options such as the 'remork' (a Cambodian moto trailer often referred to as 'Tuk-tuk') can be easily arranged to get around, an increasing number of travellers also find that Siem Reap and the surrounding temples can be easily, independently, and enjoyably explored by bicycle. Taking on the temples on two wheels allows visitors to explore the temples at their own pace and many use the opportunity to pedal down some back roads and visit local markets. Not only is this an environmentally sound option, but The White Bicylcles uses its revenue from the bicycle rental service provided at selected accommodation providers in Siem Reap to fund small-scale, rural development projects. Thus, for only US$ 2 per day you don't only minimize your carbon footprint, but will also maximize your ethical imprint.
When compiling this list of things do do in Siem Reap, we quickly realised that it's difficult to shorten things down to a Top 10 list when it's so much to see and do other than the temples! We have a fair few activities that nearly made it to the list and the newly opened Flight of the Gibbon Eco-Adventure in Angkor with ziplines and suspended skybridges amidst the treetops has already got much positive feedback and is pushing hard to make it to the next revision. So, therefore, please feel free to visit our Facebook page, let us know what you think and suggest your own favourites and things not to miss when in Siem Reap.