1. Go temple-hopping around Angkor Wat
There’s no right or wrong way to explore Angkor Archaeological Park, but you can be strategic about it. Start with official ‘Wonder of the World’ and the largest religious site on Earth, Angkor Wat but get up early to see it at sunrise as they’ll be a lot of people with the same idea. Alternatively, go for a hilltop complex like Phnom Bakheng at dawn to avoid crowds (most people visit here at sunset). It’s best to do most of your exploring before the midday sun hits, although the ‘Tombraider Temple’, Ta Prohm, is a good one to go to in the afternoon, as it’s shaded (read: half-eaten) by tightly-knotted banyan trees. Get the three-day temple pass ($62) if you’re here for anything longer than a weekend break, as it’s worth taking time to explore the smaller, off-road temples like Preah Pithu, in and around the main city of Angkor Thom.
Opening times: Daily, 5am – 6pm. Some temples close earlier (Kbal Spean closes at 3pm).
Location: Angkor Archaeological Park.
Price: One day $37, three days $62, five days $72.
2. Get some context at Angkor National Museum
Put it all into context at this comprehensive museum, which explores the Buddhist and Hindu treasures found at the nearby temple sites and tells the full story of the powerful Angkor civilisation. As the museum gives an overview, rather than detailed explanations of the early Khmer royals and their grand schemes, it might be better to go before you visit the Angkor complex.
Opening times: Daily, 8.30am – 6pm, (until 6.30pm 1 Oct to 30 Apr).
Location: 968 Charles de Gaulle Blvd.
Price: Adults $12, Children under 1.2m $6.
3. Make time for Banteay Srei
Those looking to explore temples a little further out of the core complex (there are over 50 in this area!) should go to the tenth century Hindu temple Banteay Srei, around a 40-minute tuktuk ride from Siem Reap, and beautifully carved out of pink-tinged stone. The artwork is so delicate that it is said to have been made by women, hence the name ‘Banteay Srei’, meaning ‘Citadel of the Women’. Don’t forget your camera!
Opening times: Daily, 7.30am – 5.30pm.
Location: Angkor Archaeological Park.
Price: Banteay Srei is included in Angkor Park ticket (see above).
4. Go off track at Beng Mealea
For the more adventurous, you can make the one-hour trip outside of town to the mysterious twelfth century temple, Beng Mealea. Found deep in the jungle, it has the same ‘unearthed’ feel as Ta Prohm, but without the tourists queuing up to do an Angelina Jolie pose in front of it. Scrambling around piles of crumbling bricks and roots wrapped around sandstone, you’ll feel like the true explorer of a lost empire.
Opening times: Daily, 7am – 5.30pm.
Location: Angkor Archaeological Park, near Siem Reap.
Price: Not covered by the Angkor Park ticket; entrance is $5.
5. Visit a floating village
This is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, but the real treat is seeing how the fisherman and their families live. Wooden houses are built on long, sturdy stilts to avoid getting soaked by the flooding that makes this area so perfect for fishing. You can book a boat trip to villages like Chong Khneas (the best-known) but beware: it can feel very much like a tourist trap, the locals see hardly any of the money from your entrance fee and you may have your photo taken so it can be sold back to you on a decorative plate! Instead, try Kompong Khleang, a little further out, but retaining its intended purpose, as a working Khmer community. The stilt houses look at their most scenic during the wet season when the water levels are high (May to October).
6. Party on Pub Street
Siem Reap’s Pub Street is full of life at all times of the day. Café Central comes highly recommended for daytime coffee gossiping. By night, neon lights guide the way to a frenetic mix of Khmer and Western restaurants, like Red Piano, which serves one of the best Khmer curries in town. And we can’t forget about playfully named Angkor What? a bar and club that keeps on partying late into the night.
7. Cycle around town
Most hotels and guesthouses offer daily bike rental, and there’s no better way to explore Siem Reap than to bike around town without a plan or map. Follow the river that cuts through the center of the city and explore the many side streets off it. From as little as $2 a day, you can even get to the Angkor templex complex by bike, giving you the freedom to explore at your leisure (and saving you a pretty penny in tuk tuk fares).
8. Quad bike in the country
Siem Reap is surrounded by an incredible mass of countryside that provides some insight into the make-up of this bustling city. The latest adventure trend here is to go quad biking where you can bump along the orange dirt tracks, whizz past the endless canvas of flat green land and then have that quintessential Cambodian experience of watching the sun go down over the rice paddies.
9. Shop at the Night Market
Who said Siem Reap’s night time action happens at the bars? The Angkor Night Market will dazzle you with Khmer artwork, local handicrafts and sumptuous street food. The best part is it’s just a two-minute walk from Pub Street, so you can make it part of the evening festivities. Dine round the back for the cheapest deals, where vendors provide canteen-style outdoor tables at which to eat your lok lak (stir-fried beef) or barbecued pork skewers. There are places to sit down with a drink inside here too, but watch out for the questionable karaoke-style entertainment!
Opening times: Daily, 5pm – 12am.
Location: Angkor Night Market, Stung Thmey Village, Siem Reap.
Price: Free to get in.
10. Get a $3 massage
Yes, you read that right. Masseurs dot the busy streets after the sun goes down, offering sit-down 30-minute massages for as little as $3, or about £1.20. If you want more home comforts, you will pay around $20 for an hour at top-notch places like Khmer Relief Spa – still a bargain compared to back home. These quick massages are perfect end to your day if you’re all ‘templed out’ or to reinvigorate yourself before going out to dinner.
11. Feed the birds
Head to Tonle Sap Lake and spend the afternoon at Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. Home to some of Southeast Asia’s most endangered feathery friends, take a boat tour around the sanctuary’s marshes and explore the lake for about $20-25, depending on how many there are in your group. Arrange a tour ahead of time with the not-for-profit organisation SVC – you can even spend the night at the research station on the lake if you want to be up with the birds at dawn.
Opening times: Daily, tours by arrangement.
Location: Tonle Sap Lake. Boats leave from Chong Kneas dock (two hours trip).
12. Visit the Landmine Museum and School
Only open to tourists since the 1990s, Cambodia is a country still living through the legacy of its difficult, and only too recent past. A visit to the Landmine Museum is a great chance to learn about its history with its powerful neighbour, Vietnam, as well as the legacy left by the totalitarian Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Founded by a former child soldier, Aki Ra, it’s a place of historical importance and quiet reflection. Visiting the museum also supports local children at the Relief Center, originally set up by Aki Ra to care for child victims of landmines.
Opening times: Daily, 7:30am – 17:30pm.
Location: Angkor National Park, 7km south of Banteay Srey Temple.
Price: Adults $5, Children under 10 get in free.
13. Watch the sunset at Srah Srang
You might pass this man-made lake on your way to or from the many Temples of Angkor, but it’s worth a stop in itself. There once was a ‘floating’ temple out on the reservoir, but all that remains are the sculptural serpents which guard over the shore. During the day, there’s little to see, but in the long balmy evenings, local youngsters gather at the water’s edge to watch the sunset blaze and glitter on the water. Sunrise is a treat, too.
- Pamper yourself with a pedicure
All that time traipsing about in flipflops means your feet need a little pampering of their own, and one of the nicest things to do in Siem Reap, and indeed, Cambodia, is to get your (toe)nails done. Far cheaper than back home, you can get a friendly $5 pedicure with a splash of bright coloured nail polish at a choice of beauty parlours on and around Sok San Road near the old market, and elsewhere in Siem Reap. So sit back in your oversized armchair, enjoy the temporary blast of air-con and relax.
- See artisans at work at Angkor Handicraft Association
Fancy buying some authentic souvenirs to take home? Skip the hassle of the markets and head to the AHA’s Fair Trade Village, where the money goes directly to the makers and the entire organisation is not-for-profit, supporting the local community and ensuring their trades are sustainable. Beautiful hand-woven bags, intricate jewellery, silk scarves and paintings abound, and you won’t find the pushy service (or the mass-produced goods) that you can get elsewhere. Join in by booking a pottery, jewellery or bag-making workshop at the Backstreet Academy at the back of the market for some proper cultural exchange (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Opening times: Mon to Fri, 10am – 7pm.
Location: Road 60, Trang Village, Sangkat Slorkram Commune Siem Reap (on the way to the Temples ticket office).
Price: Free to get in.
How to get to Siem Reap
Fly from London to Siem Reap to find the biggest range of fares. China Southern operate a low-cost route from Heathrow to Siem Reap via Guangzhou, or you can travel via Bangkok with Thai Airways.
Siem Reap is a fairly small airport with limited connections, so it can be worth looking for flights to Phnom Penh, and then getting the bus or a short domestic flight to Siem Reap.
Compare different routes to Siem Reap using our flight search below:
Where to stay in Siem Reap
Bargains abound in Siem Reap, with good-quality hostels like Hostelling International offering beds from just £7. For smart, simple accommodation that’s a level up, check out Babel Guesthouse, set in a quiet location south of the river (doubles and triples from £20 a room).
Those after a luxury stay can hole up at Angkor Miracle Reflection Club, a 5-star resort near the airport that’s like its own little village, complete with shops, cafes and restaurants and a bar by the pool. What more could you ask for, for $42 a night?!
*Published March 2017. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.
Becki Enright is a British Press award-winning travel blogger and writer (with specific Southeast Asia, East Asia and Middle East expertise) and a Travel PR consultant at Borders of Adventure. Her writing focuses on adventures with a social conscience and journeys to change perceptions, with insight into social, historical, political and economic factors that shape the country. Becki regularly reports on misunderstood destinations, and if travelling to a well-established or popular destination, aims to find a different angle on it in order to entice readers to dig a little deeper. Her motto? Travel differently, adventurously, responsibly and with purpose. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
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