If you are having Siem Reap tours, Angkor Wat is a must. However, spending every day to discover temples may be a bit boring. In this blog, I will give you more ideas to help you choose the best things to do in Siem Reap that suit you most covering from history to adventure experiences. Moreover, I will also share with you some tips to beat the tourist crowd.
Best things to see and do in Siem Reap – Tips to escape tourist traps
Having breakfast on Tuk Tuk
You can start your day with a special kind of breakfast experience in Siem Reap by enjoying a healing journey while savoring delicious local food in a different setting. Embark on our Tuk Tuk ride and indulge in a delicious breakfast spread while taking in the beautiful sights and sounds of the city. It’s always a perfect way to start your day and make lasting memories on your trip.
Angkor Wat Temples
If you search for attractions in Siem Reap, Angkor temples is definitely a must. Still, Personally, my top temples are Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm where Angelia Jolie filmed the movie Tomb Raider and Banteay Srei – the Citadel of Women. These attractions can be covered within two full days.
As you walk through the vast complex of Angkor Wat, you can’t help but marvel at the grandeur of the largest religious monument in the world. Since it’s a major tourist attraction spot in Cambodia, so you can find lots of tourists here.
To stay away from crowds, it’s better to visit at sunset. There is no doubt that watching the sunset at Angkor Wat is one of the must-do things in Siem Reap. If you are a first-time visitor, please read our blog about A beginner’s guide to explore Angkor Wat to have an overview about best time to visit, transportation, and the price ticket.
A boat trip on Tonle Sap lake
There are two main Tonle Sap floating villages, one named Chong Khneas and the other one called Kampong Phluk. For a trip on Tonle Sap Lake, you should have a half of Siem Reap day tours there. The floating village of Chong Khneas is located approximately 10 kilometers south of Siem Reap. You will have a chance to enjoy an exciting boat trip on a traditional wooden boat. Along the way, opportunities for photos are endless. Also, you will encounter fishermen, children going back from floating “schools”, women picking wood on the lake, etc.
For nature lovers and those who prefer a less crowded place, Kompong Phluk is an ideal place. To see this floating village, you will be taken into the heart of the mangrove forests on margins of the lake. Kampong Phluk is a group of three villages where stilt houses are built within the floodplain of the Tonle Sap, situated around 16 kilometers southeast of Siem Reap. These villages are mostly Khmer people and there are around 3000 villagers.
Riding Ox Cart
After a few fantastic days touring the temples, you may look for something different and local, and this really ticked the box. Highly recommend if you want to see true Cambodia and the Khmer people. You start the day with an oxcart ride and are taken through the countryside for an off-the-beaten-path side of Cambodian tourism. A pleasure to be with a true local who was informative and genuine. A visit to a local village market was insightful and then being taken to his home to meet family and experience rice debunking just added to the whole experience. It ends with a delicious lunch full of local cuisine.
If you like to see the sites in a more original state…Beng Mealea is a must-go. As it is situated nearly 70 km outside Siem Reap, it receives few tourists. The tranquility and the rawness of the site always impress. The only other people I saw there were 1 monk and 2-3 other tourists but otherwise it felt like our own private discovery in the jungle.
Much of the temple is overrun with trees and vines – although the guide knew all the secret paths. Very much of the beaten track – and very different to all the other temples in Angkor. This is without a doubt the most picturesque and photogenic of all the temples. Though it is over an hours trip by tuk tuk, the drive it is definitely worth it.
After spending a good hour there, make sure you combine it with Banteay Srei and the Landmine Museum on the way back into town.
Visit Banteay Srei
Visiting to Banteay Srei is like stepping into a fairytale! 30-40 minutes drive from the rest of the Angkor temples, this one is worth driving out to if you are in Angkor for 2 days or more. Banteay Srei is a true masterpiece of ancient history! The red coloured stone and intricately detailed art style make it distinct from the other Angkor temples. Those on the sandstone walls are absolutely breathtaking corner that reveals unique architecture and detailed ornamentation, leaving visitors in awe of the fine craftsmanship.
On the way back to town, your tuk tuk driver can take you to a palm sugar maker, and the local market to get a flavor of life in Cambodia. Or if you don’t want to go to a ton of things, then you can choose to visit a local home instead to experience a part of their life. However, to do that thing it’s better to go with a knowledgeable local guide to help you connect with them.
Note: If you are only in Angkor for 1 day then skip this and prioritise Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm.
Cambodian Landmine Museum
This is a humbling experience. Cambodian Landmine Museum is a bit far from the city, but definitely worth checking out. The sheer number of UXO on display is sobering, while the story of the founder and his work is very powerful. An orphan at 5 and a Khmer Rouge child soldier at 10 years old, he was taught to lay landmines. After surviving the war, he learnt the true horror of landmines on his people and devoted his life to change. He ended up clearing tens of thousands of mines like the ones he had installed himself. He adopted scores of kids who losts limbs and eyes from mines, and hundreds more have attended his school. If you choose to visit there, it will be a pleasure to leave some money at the souvenir shop, especially as they have some really good books.
By visiting this museum you not only learn about this important piece of Cambodian history but also support the victims of the land mines so make sure to stop by!
Angkor National Museum
This beautiful and informative museum is good to see before you go to Angkor Wat. It not only showcases some of the finest sculptures and artifacts from Angkor, it also gives an overall understanding of the history of the people of Cambodia; their origins, religions, and meaning of amazing carvings at Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples.
This museum is beautifully laid out and provides thorough, well-written explanations of Khmer history in faultless English. The audio tours are available at a small cost, but still very good quality and so is the labeling. Looking at the amount of rooms in the museum, you may think there’s not a lot, but if you are a history aficionado, you may spend a couple of hours at least. Partly because there are excellent videos (with seating areas) throughout the museum, all available in a variety of languages.
I would recommend the museum as a start to every visit here, it’s really a shame more people aren’t making the time. Highly recommend.
Take a quad tour
It would be a great adventure if take a quad bike with your family as it will be a unique and exciting way to the Cambodian countryside. It not only delivers an adrenaline rush but also unveils a hidden side of Siem Reap away from the typical tourist spots. Riding through the Cambodian countryside allows you to discover the authentic charm and beauty of the region.
Having the entire experience just for your family, alongside your kind and helpful tour guide will make it even more special. If you’re eager to explore a different side of Siem Reap beyond the usual tourist-facing experiences with guides who go above and beyond, choosing to do this exclusive adventure is your ticket to an off-the-beaten-path experience.
Phnom Kulen National Park – Cool off at Kulen Mountain
Siem Reap is hot all year round and Siem Reap temple tour with thousands of tourists may be tiring. Why don’t you take a morning to drive to the countryside to Phnom Kulen Mountain? It takes around two hours drive from the central town of Siem Reap to this place. This activity fits active people as it contains climbing up to the waterfalls on the top. Therefore, swimwear and sunglasses will be needed for swimming and relaxing by the falls.
Furthermore, a bonus point of this attraction is the fact that you will not find many tourists here, mostly local people going there for a picnic with friends or family. For local people, the place is opened for free, yet entrance fee for foreign travelers costs US$20 per adult and can be paid on the spot.
Enjoy a dinner with a traditional Apsara Dance
Apsara dancers are sculpted on the walls of Angkor temples. There is no better way to see them in persons than having dinner with Apsara Dance Show. In order to have a nice view, a pre-reserved table is highly recommended. Crystal Angkor Restaurant is one place that arranges this kind of dinner. Hence, you can take a cab to address Roud 30, Krong Siem Reap. They serve both Khmer and Western dishes at around US$15 per adult, price updated in December 2019. A small note, please make sure that your cameras are fully charged as taking a photo with Apsara dancers is a lovely way to keep your memory long.
Buy a ticket and join the Phare circus in the evening
For family vacations, this a is very fun activity to add on your schedule. The kids certainly love the show. This activity is voted as the top shows and outdoor attraction by thousands of users on Tripadvisor. There are different types of tickets and the main difference is the view. A or B tickets work very well for me, personally. You can book tickets online via Phare circus website or get this arranged by your travel agent. This show is not only entertaining but also inspiring.
By the way, a part of the profit goes to help poor teenage Cambodia to study to have a better future. Consequently, the show is performed outdoors and quite crowded. Hand fans will be provided upon your arrival but you should prepare for an hour living with high temperature.
Stroll for a walk along the Siem Reap River
Adding a stroll along the Siem Reap River to your bucket list when traveling to Siem Reap is highly recommended. As you meander along the riverbanks, you’ll witness the ebb and flow of daily life. Local fishermen casting their nets, children playing along the shores, and vendors offering their wares create a vibrant and authentic atmosphere.
Pub street in Siem Reap – best place for a night out
Pub street in Siem Reap is the only place in Siem Reap that opens until early morning. For major hotels in the central, a tuk-tuk at about US$1 – 2 will bring you to the most crowded place around Siem Reap. Also, there are nice music from local/western-style pubs, night market with Siem Reap street food such as fried insects or nice and cheap Khmer T-shirts, local beer, etc.
Try street food at the night market
Cambodia is famous for a rich street food tradition and Siem Reap is not an exception. Therefore, to explore and learn about the local cuisine in Siem Reap, enjoying street food must be added in the list.
You can find different snacks available on Cambodia’s streets at different times of the day. When you walk on the Siem Reap’s streets in the early morning, you can see many vendors offering breakfast dishes such as kuy teav and bai sach chrouk at small roadside stalls. In late morning through afternoon, roving vendors sell fresh cut-up fruit and sell many restoratives like spring rolls and barbecued beef skewers tucked into baguettes and topped with a green mango slaw in the late afternoon.
Some other street food favorites include iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk, fried noodles, chive cakes and paté sandwiches. You will find these dishes sold by roving vendors pushing carts around town and at small restaurants that set up shop on the sidewalk.
In short, with 15 things to do and see in Siem Reap above, I trust that your journey will be full of experiences and joys. Let’s have a look at this Classic Glimpse Of Siem Reap 4 Days, temples are still the key but other activities will complete your time in Siem Reap Cambodia.
Trang Nguyen – Travel Specialist