Travelers would be forgiven for thinking that Angkor Wat is the sole reason to come to Siem Reap. From bicycling around the temples, to viewing them by hot air balloon, or more daringly from the seat of a helicopter or an ultralight, it might seem that everything there is to do revolves around viewing and exploring the temples of Angkor.
In reality, there is enough to keep travelers in Siem Reap for a week, long past the average 3 day temple visit, without a hint of boredom creeping in. Here’s a Siem Reap to do list to fill your leisurely days in this lovely town.
1. Get Your Education On
Siem Reap has two museums that are very much worth a visit. One is the Cambodia Landmine Museum (entrance $3) which I wrote about in 2009 here. A small museum that focuses on Cambodia’s little known struggle with these crippling devices, it is highly recommended. Alone, the touching life story of the founder of the museum is enough to justify the time to visit and the cost of admission. And what’s that you say? You have a pass to visit those Angkor temples? Well it just so happens the Landmine Museum is en route to famously pink temple Banteay Srey.
On the other end of the spectrum, The Angkor National Museum (entrance $12), which I wrote about here, is a big and flashy intro to Khmer art, architecture and history. It features many sculptures that were long ago plundered from the Angkor Temples and gives them a new safe home in beautifully designed galleries.
2. Fill Another Suitcase
As my dear sister once said, “Those who say money can’t buy happiness aren’t shopping in the right stores.” My sister would like Siem Reap. While the usual tourist trinkets can be found around town in places such as the Night Market and Phsar Chas, there are many more unique options to uncover. The streets in the old market area are filled with unique women’s clothing boutiques, handmade jewelry studios and galleries lined with works of artists inspired by the great nation of Cambodia. Favorite include Artisan’s De Angkor, which focuses on traditional arts like silk work and stone carvings and offers free tours to it’s silk workshop, Garden of Desire, which features delicate jewelry on stunning displays, and Jim McDermott Gallery, featuring the work of many talented photographers.
To bring home an even more special souvenir, head to Khmer Ceramics, where in addition to purchasing handmade home goods you can stretch your creative muscles and create your own traditional Khmer pottery. The experience plus one fired and glazed piece to take home costs are reasonable $15.
3. Be Entertained
Seeing an Apsara dancing show while in Cambodia is a must-do. The vast majority of performances are dinner-and-show setups, but exceptions exist. For the most casual viewers, Temple Bar features a free show in it’s restaurant every night at 7:30, though you are of course expected to order dinner or drinks from the reasonably priced menu. Arrive early to get good seats! King Pub Street offers a similar set up. On the opposite end of the Spectrum is the lights and laser heavy Smile of Angkor show (tickets $38-48) which I covered here. More background on Aspara and a comprehensive list of performance venues can be found at Canby Publications.
4. Be Pampered
If you are craving an afternoon lounging by the pool but your guesthouse or hotel has only a hot tub to swim in, don’t despair. The lovely River Garden Guesthouse offers free use of it’s pool to those who purchase a drink or snack at the poolside bar and grill.
But when it comes to the ultimate form of relaxation, the spa visit, Siem Reap is somewhat of a mecca. On the budget end of the spectrum, you can get an hour long foot rub for about $3 or let fish nibble away at your toes at one of the city’s ubiquitous Mr. Fish stalls. If, like Mark, you believe that $3 is not enough compensation for subjecting another human to touch your feet for an hour, try more lush options like Bodia or my personal favorite, Frangipani, where a luxurious, top quality one hour massage will set you back a whopping $25.
5. Get Out
Outside the borders of Siem Reap town lies a beautiful countryside, and a lake that is the lifeblood of the nation. A boat trip to Tonle Sap Lake is highly recommended. There are three main villages visited by tourists, including Chong Khneas, Kompong Phluck, and lastly Kompong Khleang, which I recently visited. Another fun way to get out and explore is via the extremely popular tours offered by The Happy Ranch, a ranch that offers tours of the countryside by, you guessed it, horseback.
6. Give Back
Cambodia is a place likely to stir emotions in even the most casual visitor. There seems to be endless need everywhere you look. Luckily, there are almost as many ways to give back and be a positive presence in Cambodia, starting with following these simple guidelines. You can also easily shop and eat at NGO run establishments that give back to the community such as Common Grounds Coffee, which supports www.peopleforcare.org or Beau Fou Boutique, which supports www.globalchild.org. For entertainment that feels good, take in the weekly donation based cello concert given by Dr. Beat Richner, which annually raise $5 million for Cambodia’s childrens’ hospitals. Alternatively, just ask your hotel or guesthouse about special events happening during your visit. By chance we ended up at a charity Bingo game at a trendy new bar that kept us laughing all night.