Siem Reap is a rare Southeast Asian city that politely crams your days with spectacular jaw-dropping ancient temples, enables you to soak in a five-star resort swimming pool, then jousts you down a street with endless nightlife options.
When you’re hungry you have delicious traditional Khmer food, when you’re are exhausted you can choose from countless massage parlors offering an hour massage that will cost you $3USD, probably less than the amount you will spend giving to the gang of children following you around selling you bracelets. Siem Reap has it all… you just have to know where to look.
Siem Reap Points of Interest
I took a private wooden boat on the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, to see the floating villages. It is a unique experience to observe this way of life. The villages are vast with schools, markets, and a crocodile farm. Women with small children holding their pet snakes canoe up to our boat. They charge you $1USD to take a photo of the child with its pet. You can peer into the houses as you float by. They have furniture, televisions, and hammocks on the porch, laundry hanging outside, and people going about their daily lives.
In the heart of town, take a tour of the old market known as Psar Chas. It’s an abundant labyrinth of clothing, jewelry, spices, souvenirs, handicrafts, and exotic fresh produce. It’s one of the best Siem Reap points of interests–if no other reason, you can eat while you explore.
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world. A crucial Cambodia travel tip: when you’re planning your trip to Angkor Wat, timing is everything. Get up early and make it in time to watch the sunrise over the temple as it reflects into the pool of water in front of it. It is worth losing sleep over. The sunrise is magnificent and there will be fewer tourists. You also beat the heat.
Angkor Wat was built during the early years of the 12th century by the Khmer King Suryavaram II as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. Breaking the tradition of previous kings Angkor Wat was dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, it later became Buddhist.
Once I walked inside the massive ancient structure, I marveled at each intricately carved column. Entire walls are filled ceiling to floor of stone carvings about the belief systems shedding light on the way of life of the ancient Khmer empire. The carvings on the walls depict episodes from the Hindu epics the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The western gallery shows the Battle of Lanka. The southern gallery depicts heaven, earth, and hell of Hinduism. It’s truly one of the most incredible Siem Reap points of interest.
Angkor Thom, which translates into “Great City,” was the last capital city of the Khmer empire established by King Jayavarman VII in the later part of the 12th Century. In consists of four massive faces carved out of rock, each one looking towards different compass points. It is a jumble of 54 towers, 216 repeated faces, and little rooms, which make up Bayon, the king’s temple.
The jungle appears to have swallowed Ta Prohm, the temple made famous in the movie Lara Crofts: Tomb Raider. Giant trees grow out of the ruins surrounded by jungle. The temple’s stele records indicate that the site was home to more than 12,500 people including 18 high priests and 615 dancers, with an additional 800,000 people in the surrounding villages.
Pub Street is one of the most fun points of interest in Siem Reap because it’s bursting with restaurants, backpackers, tourist, tuk-tuks competing for your business, dive bars, lounges, and nightclubs. Suddenly after dinner, the street transforms into a dance party. At one point I stood in the middle of the street listening to the clubs blasting music from opposing sides. A girl around eleven years old came up to my group of friends and provoked a dance off. Her dancing ability was by far more impressive than anyone in the groups, which made it well worth the money we gave her.
A list of Cambodia travel tips would be incomplete without plenty of great restaurant suggestions:
If you want culture I suggest you watch a traditional Apsara dance performance. The costumes and dancers are beautiful; their graceful gestures narrate a classical myth.
Apsara Terrace at the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor is known for its impressive classical dance and buffet. The Temple Balcony offers a free Apsara performance and traditional Khmer cuisine.
Cooks N’ Tuk Tuks is the place to go to learn to cook authentic Cambodian. Khmer chefs will guide you through the local markets and teach you about the ingredients you will need to create your dish. The fish amok is Cambodia’s national dish was a fun experience to learn to make, as are the spring rolls and green mango salad. You can also buy a cookbook whose proceeds support a local NGO.
Support the local kids at one of Siem Reap’s teaching restaurants. These restaurants hire street kids a put them to work, helping them become supportive members of society. And the food is the best authentic Khmer you will find. These helping and delicious restaurants are Green Star, Sala Bai, and Jardin des Delices.
Vacation Rental Siem Reap can book your accommodation and set up all your tours, even planning itineraries for you, so you can make the most out of your Siem Reap adventure.
I had so many special moments in Siem Reap – from the sunrise over Angkor Wat to exploring the floating villages, but the most memorable came on Pub Street, ironically as I don’t believe many people remember much after a cheeky visit down Pub Street. My friends and I stood in the middle of the street between two night clubs dueling for our attention by playing their music louder than the other. The street was starting to turn into a full on dance party. A little girl, around 7 years old walked up to our group selling bracelets.
With her little wooden box full of bracelets she had strapped around her neck like a cigar tray on a Vegas casino waitress – she challenged us all to a dance off. We stood in a circle and watched as one by one this little girl out danced anyone who challenged her – to a level of “It’s obvious she won that round – I wouldn’t even try it again, George.” She impressed the crowd so much that her tip jar began to overflow. More than that – it appeared that she was really enjoying herself – in a culture that is struggling to make it every day, watching this little girl have fun was a priceless moment.
If you’re plotting out your Siem Reap points of interest, don’t forget to check out our curated packing list. Between our helpful Cambodia travel tips and our fresh, colorful accessories and apparel, you’ll have everything you need to travel in style.