Top Things to Do in Siem Reap
Set in the northwest of Cambodia, Siem Reap is famous for being the gateway top Angkor and the massive temple complex of the ancient Khmer Empire. This vast array of temples and intricate stone buildings includes the well-preserved Angkor Wat, the main temple, which now figures on the nation’s flag.
A low-key but modern gateway city, Siem Reap has its share of boutique hotels, large resorts, and numerous galleries and spas. This charming gateway to the temples of Angkor is much more than a stopover on the way to Angkor. Filled with vibrant night markets, traditional craft shops, bird sanctuaries, rustic fishing villages, and the Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap is a place to go to, rather than stop at on the way to somewhere else. Within the boundaries of Siem Reap Province, you can rejuvenate yourself at the country’s oldest Buddhist temple, watch Apsara dance performances over a refreshing drink, and spend a relaxing day floating on the waters of Tonle Sap Lake.
Things to Do and See
From the Angkor National Museum to the Old Market and the Night Market, Siem Reap has a wealth of attractions both in and around the city and province that make it more than worth visiting, and not just for the Angkor Temple Complex.
While it can be said that Siem Reap is more than just Angkor, no visit to this area of Cambodia would be complete without stopping to admire the well-preserved temple of Angkor Wat. The crowning glory of the Angkor Temple Complex, this amazing structure has stood the test of time well, and was recovered from the dense jungle that had engulfed it to reveal the ancient Khmer history and culture of Cambodia. You can take a bus to the site, and walk around the temple, or get a tuk-tuk tour that drives you around the temple complex to see more than just Angkor Wat.
Dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, this beautiful temple is a construction in miniature that perfectly represents the delicate craftsmanship of its builders, with exquisite decorations and elaborate wall carvings, this temple is unusual in Khmer architecture die to its scaled-down size. Set some 25km north-east of the main group of temples, it once belonged to the medieval capitals of Yasodharapura and Angkor Thom.
Another temple that is located far outside the main complex of Angkor is Beng Mealea, which means “lotus pond”. Lying on the ancient royal highway to Preah Khan Kompong Svay, it was built as a Hindu temple, but contains many carvings and motifs that depict Buddhist practices. Comparable in size to Angkor Wat, though a little smaller, it is believed to have been one of the Khmer empire’s larger temples, and the center of an important town on the route to the temple complex.
Terrace of the Leper King
Located in the northwest corner of the Royal Square at Angkor Thom is the unique terrace on which sits the ancient statue and altar of the Leper King. Built by King Jayavarman VII, it takes its name from a 15th century statue of the Hindu god, Yama, the god of death. However, while the name is very apt, it was named as such not because of the god, but because when it was discovered, the statue was discolored and had lichen attached to it, reminiscent of a person with leprosy. The site is believed to be an ancient cremation site, and fits with the legend of the Angkorian king, Yasovarman I, who died of leprosy some time after the site was built.
Angkor National Museum
The Angkor National Museum is an archaeological museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and presentation of Angkorian artifacts. The building provides information and education on the art, culture, and civilization of the Khmer Empire. Opened in 2007, the museum covers the golden age of the Khmer Empire, and makes use of modern technology to provide this ancient message. There are eight galleries of art, culture, and civilizations artifacts, and the museum has a very strict no-photos policy in place.
War Museum Cambodia
Located near National Highway No. 6, between Siem Reap City and the airport, the War Museum Cambodia is one of the most unique collections of war relics in the world. The purpose of the museum is to keep the memory of the civil war in the minds of the people, to prevent the chance of it happening again, and to preserve for posterity the unique collection. The museum hosts a vast array of vehicles, artillery, weaponry and equipment, such as a Soviet T-54 main battle tank, a Chinese Shenyang F-6 fighter, a Soviet Mil Mi-8 helicopter and the Soviet D-44 85mm field-artillery gun. Some of the most savage fighting of the civil war was held in Siem Reap and nearby Odor Meanchey, which makes the site one of particular importance to the locals of the province.
Preah Prom Rath Pagoda
If you have had enough of the ancient ruins of Khmer temples, and want something fresher, then head to the river for an absolute delight of Buddhist architecture. Lying by the river in Siem Reap, the Preah Prom Rath Pagoda sits next to a beautifully embellished bridge. Its high ornate gate leads one into a garden of intricate beauty, and to a stunning, colorful pagoda, a full Buddhist university, and several beautifully decorated towers that are dotted around the site. The site is also the home to a giant reclining Buddha, which was erected in honor of the monk with the rice pot, who stands on the replica of a boat in the courtyard in front of the pagoda.
Tonle Sap Lake
The unique ecosystem of Tonle Sap is one of the most popular places to visit in Cambodia, and is the best freshwater lake in the country. Surrounded by floating villages, the lake is home to a myriad of migratory bird species, hundreds of species of fish, and two of the 23 remaining species of macaque monkeys. Tours across the lake by boat are a great way to see the lake, propelled by the boatmen with their legs, not their hands, and remember to keep your hands inside the boat and watch out for the crocodiles.
Pub Street and Siem Reap Night Market
This area of Downtown Siem Reap has a nighttime vibe that is comparable to that of New Orleans at Mardi Gras. There are dozens of restaurants selling all kinds of food, both local and foreign, and spas where you can relax, get a massage, or try the traditional Cambodian J’Pong heat and herbal treatment. Most of the spas have pools inside where you can get a “fish pedicure”, which can be a little ticklish as the small fish eat the dead skin on your feet. The night market is full of deals on items you can find in many such markets across Asia, but a little searching can be rewarded with some excellent finds.
Artisan’s Angkor is a trade school for disadvantaged Cambodians in Siem Reap, where the students make all kinds of local handicrafts, which fly off the shelves of the colorful school store as fast as they can make them. The school makes everything from silver-plated ornamental boxes to vividly colored scarves made of local silk, and it is all of high quality.
Street Food Tour of Siem Reap
Consisting of a three hour tour of some of the best spots to sample the amazing street foods of Cambodia, this tour will pleasure your palate, and tantalize your taste buds as you try the skewered meats, soft-boiled duck eggs, and deep-fried crickets. Feast your senses on the aromatic aromas before disembarking to find streets thronged with stalls that sell exotic fruits and sizzling snacks that will delight and amaze with their unique flavors. Try the fried tarantulas and crickets on sticks, and the delicious Khmer fried chicken and green mango smothered in chili sauce and salt.
The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center
This unique museum offers Cambodians and tourists to get up close and personal with safe landmines, understand how they work, and what people can do to help rid the world, and especially Cambodia, of this ongoing threat. Landmines are still a problem in some parts of Cambodia, and a lot still has to be done to clear the country of these horrifying weapons. Just 30 minutes from Siem Reap by tuk-tuk, this museum also contains a relief center where Khmer children who are considered “at risk” live and are educated. The relief center also includes a farm behind the museum, where staff grow vegetables to supplement the food for the children.
Floating Villages of Siem Reap
Lying out in the waters of the Tonle Sap lake are the famous floating villages of Siem Reap, and they are one of the top attractions for tourists to the area. The floating villages form several communities of people that live on the lake, and there are four main villages which are accessible from Siem Reap. Chong Kneas, Mechrey, Kampong Phluk, and Kampong Khleang are all whole communities that have their homes, schools, shops, and restaurants floating out on the waters of the lake, or sitting on stilts, and are only accessible by boat ride. The villages all cater well to tourists, and have a selection of local crafts available in the shops, as well as several Korean restaurants, an organized “Lake Clinic”, and a big fishing and shrimping industry.
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