Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Only got a couple of days to get to know a new city? Our Big Five City Guides can help. We break each destination down into culture, history, food, shopping and relaxation must-sees and dos. We call them our Big Five and they’re everything you'll need to experience the essence of a new city. Here, Samantha Wasson checks in from Siem Reap - tourist central in the magical Kingdom of Cambodia, and the jumping off spot for the majestic temples of Angkor...

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Siem Reap is synonymous with temples and a visit to Angkor Wat is an obligatory and much-anticipated part of any holiday here.

There’s actually a whole array of historical and gastronomical wonders on offer in this tourist hotspot. As with many places in South East Asia, it can also be a great place to do very little, but where’s the fun in that?

Here’s a city guide to the top things to see and do in Siem Reap.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap: The Bayon. Image: Bigstock

History

For such a beautiful country, Cambodia has experienced some seriously tragic historical events and there’s no end of historical things to see and do in Siem Reap.

One lasting impact of the civil and military conflicts that have dogged the country for decades is the unexploded ordnance (UXO). A Cambodian man named Aki Ra has cleared an incalculable amount of the deadly stuff and founded the Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Centre outside Siem Reap, to raise awareness and funds for the ongoing efforts to rid the Cambodian countryside of this scourge.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap. Image courtesy of Cambodia Landmine Museum

Aki Ra works with Landmine Relief Fund president and ex-USA army officer Bill Morse, who is often present at the centre to provide informative and moving details of the landmine clearing process. Be warned – you will probably cry.

Culture

It’s impossible to think of Siem Reap without thinking of Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world. It is indeed a sight to behold (particularly at sunrise), but for me there are other temples that are just as special.


Listen to our tips for Talking Travel on five must-sees and dos in Cambodia:


It’s definitely hard to go past Ta Prohm of Tomb Raider fame. There’s something about seeing nature reclaiming its territory from the ruins of an ancient civilisation that is truly magical. The Angkor Thom complex is equally impressive, with the Bayon faces at its centre.

If you can go further afield, getting out to Banteay Srei could well be the highlight of your temple circuit. The colours and carvings are spectacular and you’re then perfectly positioned to head to the Landmine Museum and the Butterfly Centre.

Whichever temples you choose to visit, this will undoubtedly be an absolute highlight of the things to see and do in Siem Reap.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap. Image: Photodune

Food

Lots of tourists and expats swear by the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC), but for a really good feed you can’t beat Madame Butterfly. The atmosphere is luxurious and the food is so good it’s impossible to order just one dish.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap. Image courtesy of Foreign Correspondents Club

Go with someone who will share the fried eggplant, Khmer crepe and the heart of banana flower salad (but will let you have the bigger portion!).

For a completely different experience, Cooks in Tuk Tuks will take you on a tour of a local food market to purchase ingredients, then to the River Garden restaurant where you will prepare a three-course Cambodian meal.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap: Cooks in Tuk Tuks. Image courtesy of River Garden

The best part? You get to feast on your fabulous creations.

Shopping

Markets are king when it comes to shopping in Cambodia, and the Angkor Night Market with its vast array of handicrafts and souvenirs, as well as two bars, is the place to be.

Central Market offers an enormous array of harem pants and other clothing favoured by backpackers, so if you want to look like you’ve hitched from Mumbai to Bangkok, this is the market for you.

The fresh food section is a serious eye opener.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap. Image courtesy of Angkor Night Market

If you’re after something of higher quality and artistic value, with a price tag to match, Artisans d’Angkor will be more your style. Not simply a shopping experience, here you can also see the artisans at work.

From ceramics and silks to weaving and woodwork, a tour of the centre is both interesting and educational.

Relaxation

After traipsing around the temples some R&R is in order and there are plenty of relaxing things to see and do in Siem Reap.

For pampering paired with a good cause, visit Seeing Hands Massage, where the masseurs and masseuses are vision-impaired locals.

While you’re out at Banteay Srei, take a detour to the Butterfly Centre, which despite its small size, houses the largest collection of butterflies in South East Asia. Guides will teach you about the different species present and their lifecycles, and wandering around as butterflies land on you is a lovely experience.

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap

Top things to see and do in Siem Reap. Image: Samantha Wasson

Another great way to unwind is to take a boat tour of the floating villages on Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia. While the brown lake is not much to look at, it’s definitely worth it for the different perspective on Cambodian life it affords.

There are moments, however, when all you can see in any direction is murky water – and for those of us with overactive imaginations, that can be a little freaky!

Do you have any tips for top things to see and do in Siem Reap? We would love to hear from you. Please leave us a comment.

Additional images: Bigstock/Photodune

 

Samantha Wasson

About the writer

Samantha Wasson is a freelance writer and former educator who lives in Sydney but whose heart remains in Vietnam, where she lived for three years. She has travelled extensively in Asia, Europe and the United States, with a brief sojourn in Africa. Highlights from Samantha’s international escapades include: studying German in Freiburg, volunteering with an elephant rehabilitation project outside Chiang Mai and travelling by motorbike through the Mekong Delta. Lowlights include: ‘climbing’ Mount Kinabalu, nearly dying on the Great Barrier Reef and being ripped off in Beijing. She has worked for MSN/Officeworks, Swinburne University, Deakin Business School, Aussie Home Loans, Seek, TAFE Queensland, ARI Registry Services, SocietyOne, Acquire, School Places, Ivanhoe Grammar, Australian Teacher Magazine, Lead Generation and 2SER. A lover of literature and travel, Samantha subscribes to Augustine of Hippo’s observation that ‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’.

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