Siem Reap, Cambodia:
Siem Reap is a well-frequented destination in Cambodia, and is best known for Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple complex. While it is easy to spend a few days in awe at the magnificence of the ancient ruins, it is easy to overlook the city of Siem Reap itself! Siem Reap offers a bit for everyone – hostels to 5-star hotels, bars to fine-dining, and adventure tours to leisure activities.
What to do in Siem Reap?
1. Visit Angkor Wat: If you have ever been to Southeast Asia, you will know that each city has a temple. After 3 days of backpacking in Southeast Asia, you will have already been completely “templed-out.” (‘What? another Wat’?) Yes. ANOTHER ONE.
Nonetheless, Angkor Wat is without a doubt a must-see if you plan to visit Southeast Asia. The UNESCO site is comprised of temples as well as canals and reservoirs that, when combined, extend 400 square kilometers! The sheer extent of the Angkor ruins offers a better insight at the breadth of the former Khmer Kingdom. Angkor is undoubtbly one the most important archeological sites in Southeast Asia.
Recommendation: Hire a tuk tuk for $10-$15 USD a day to tour Angkor Wat and its surrounding ruins (Bayon, Ta Keo Mountain, etc.). Alternatively, you can also rent a bike or a scooter for the day to get around to each complex.
Tip: Make sure you pick up your admission pass BEFORE heading to any of the ruins. Passes may be purchased at the main entrance on the road to Angkor Wat. (There is a sign off the side of the road directing you to where you need to purchase your tickets.) Passes are sold in one-day ($20), three-day ($40) and seven-day ($60) blocks that must be used on consecutive days. You will need to take a photo during the sale of your purchase, and you MUST carry your pass with you at all times.
2. Get “Templed-Out” at Angkor’s other temples: Angkor Wat is magnificent in all its glory. However, you MUST visit Angkor’s other ruins! Here are a few noteworthy ruins to name:
Bayon – Bayon is a well-known and richly-decorated Khmer temple. Bayon was built around the 12-13th century as the official temple of Buddhist King Jayavarman VII. The site was later was altered by later Hindu and Buddhist kings in accordance with their own religious preferences. Perhaps the most distinctive feature of this complex is its MANY smiling stone faces.
Ta Keo Mountain – Ta Keo is one of the tallest monuments in Angkor. It is believed that this was the first to be made of sandstone. However, the temple was left unfinished at the start of the 11th century. Even in its ‘abandoned’ state, the temple complex is quite impressive. While it is unknown as to exactly why construction was abandoned on Ta Keo, it is believe that lighting (an evil omen) had struck the temple, and so, construction was halted.
Ta Phrohm – Another popular temple is Ta Phrohm. Perhaps best known for having been filmed in Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm was founded by the Khmer King Jayavarman VII as a Buddhist monastery and university. Unlike most Angkorian temples, Ta Prohm is in EXACTLY the same condition in which it was found. Prohm is a beautiful temple, bound by massive roots of huge trees. The French discovered it in the 19th century, but decided against a full-scale restoration as the giant trees were so merged with ancient walls that eventually they became whole. Today, Ta Phrohm one of the most visited complexes and my personal favorite!
Recommendation: Make sure that if you hire a taxi for the day, he/she brings you to these sites in combination with your Angkor Wat tour.
3. Ride a tuk tuk! (…and Make Friends with a Local)
Tuk Tuk are wildly available in Siem Reap, as with most of Southeast Asia. Hire a Tuk Tuk for the day for $10-$15 USD to take you around town, or to the temples in Angkor. Tuk Tuk drivers will not only arrange transportation as well as tour but are also friendly and make great local companions.
4. Pub Street: Once the sun sets, Pub Street is the place to be! On Pub Street, there is great nightlife, music, club crawls, and even fine-dining?! Yes. Siem Reap truly has it all. A well-frequented bar is Angkor What? Have an Angkor Beer for $0.50USD.
5. Go Shopping: Intersecting Pub Street is the local night market. Here, you can purchase cheap local handcrafts and goods. Edible bugs, anyone?? You can have that too! While many are not on par with eating critters, it certainly does make for an interesting photo-op.
6. Eat Cambodian BBQ: A bit reminiscent of Korean BBQ , Cambodian/Khmer BBQ much of the same. With your choice of various cuts of meats, you prepare your own food! It is often served rice noodles and vegetables to go with it. If you are really adventurous with your palate, some restaurants even offer exotic flair such as snake or ostrich.
7. Try Amok: Amok is a traditional dish that you MUST try whilst in Cambodia. Amok is a type of Khmer curry paste made from lemongrass, turmeric root, garlic, shallots, galangal and fingerroot, or Chinese ginger and is typically prepared with fish. However, many restaurants will cook chicken or beef in exchange for fish, if you ask.
8. Aspara Dance: Aspara is a traditional dance that conveys a story. Tickets can be purchased online for $25 USD at Smile of Angkor.
9. Get a Massage: Siem Reap has numerous massage parlors! You can opt for the popular foot massage or even a fish foot massage (if that’s to your liking).
10. Land Mine Museum: Cambodia has a war-torn past. The Khmer Rough and Vietnamese occupation contributed to the country’s instability. As a result, millions of land mines and unexploded objects were left behind following decades of conflict. The Cambodia Land Mine Museum is staffed by victims and orphans of mines, who are living testament of the very dangers of the land mines.