Every year hordes of people pour into Siem Reap to explore the famed Angkor Temples. The crumbling facades of ancient temples, their never-ending corridors, and mysterious courtyards are definitely the highlight of a trip to Siem Reap. If you want a complete low down on The Angkor Temples, make sure you read our Guide to Angkor : 10 Temples That You Must See (opens in new tab)
But there is so much more to Siem Reap that just the Angkor Temples. There are bike tours, cultural programmes and chaotic markets, which are essentially hectic labyrinths of affordable shops, busy massage parlours, and street food joints. The spirit of Cambodia lies on these busy streets and you can’t leave the city without exploring them first. Here are our favourite things to do in Siem Reap and once you have witnessed Siem Reap through our eyes, we also have a way for you to win a dream holiday (keep reading) 🙂
#1 Take A Cooking Class
Believe it or not, one of our most memorable experiences in Siem Reap was actually a Khmer Cooking Class. We opted for a 4 hour class and we were whisked away to a small village on the outskirts of Siem Reap by the company’s tuk-tuk driver.
We spent the morning acquainting ourselves with a local family and Cambodian spices and herbs. The afternoon was spent marvelling at whiffs of exotic herbs (Thai basil anyone?) and grinding spices in a pestle and mortar. I was most excited about making Chicken Amok, the most popular curry in Cambodia, from scratch. As the curry boiled furtively, the smell of the coconut cream combined with the lull of the countryside and the sun’s bright rays lent a bit of magic to the proceedings.
Then it was time for the good stuff – EATING all that food 🙂 In case you’re wondering, we made raw mango and peanut salad, chicken Amok and coconut balls stuffed with locally-sourced palm sugar. The chef laid a table for us in a wooden gazebo in the middle of a lotus pond and we spent a long time devouring the freshly-made food.
We took the cooking class with Beyond Unique Escapes, a tour company that prides itself on responsible tourism. The cooking class costs $22. We had individual work stations and the cooking area was extremely hygienic. We would highly recommend them because the people at Beyond Unique Escapes believe in educating underprivileged kids and adults and giving back to society in every way they can.
#2 Visit the Markets
The labyrinthine alleys of Siem Reap’s markets are the quintessence of the Cambodian spirit. They’re noisy, disordered, and so seductive. Where else will you find fresh-fruit smoothies for under a dollar? We would fly back this instant to Cambodia just for the luscious fruits on offer.
We shalt forge ahead, despite the fact that all rational thought is currently clouded by visions of mango, watermelon, and banana smoothies 😉 Make sure you bargain for souvenirs, trinkets, and loose cotton trousers at Psar Chas (Old Market), get a fish pedicure or massage at the Old Market, and explore Pub Street after a long day at the temples. The graffiti-laden Angkor What bar (see what they did there?) is a fun place for a beer bucket or two. If you’re after a quieter local bar, there are dozens of them off the main street.
If you enjoy going off the beaten path, visit the Psa Leu fruit and vegetable market. It’s chaotic, even grubby, but there’s not one tourist in sight. It provides the perfect opportunity to intermingle with locals.
#3 Take your tongue for a ride
There is some amazing food on offer in Cambodia. Everything from Amok Chicken to rice-noodle soup, grilled fresh-water fish to stir-fried vegetables is scrumptious. Cambodians pride themselves on simple and fresh ingredients and this lends an unbeatable flavour to Khmer cuisine.
However if you’re up for a bit of an adventure, you can also try deep fried snakes, tarantulas, crickets, and spiders. Who knows, you might want a bag full of tarantulas instead of popcorn the next time you watch a film 😉
Now if you want to take your mind for a ride, you might want to try Cambodia’s notorious “Happy Pizzas”. Amsterdam might know how to crack ’em hash brownies but Siem Reap sure does know how to dish up a Happy Pizza. Go to Ecstatic Pizza Restaurant by Pub Street – that’s all we’ll say!
#4 Witness an Apsara Dance
This is the tricky one – Apsara Dance, a classical Khmer dance, might be important to the art and culture of Cambodia but it has been commercialised beyond belief. The dance itself is pleasurable so it should be on your list of things to do in Siem Reap.
But try not to opt for a package that includes access to a dance show and buffet dinner. We went for the Apsara Dance at Kulen 2 and wouldn’t recommend it at all. The bog-standard buffet is served before the performance. But it’s quite a dampener because it leads to a lot of commotion even during the show as well.
The Apsaras (celestial maidens) were gorgeous and the stage setting was fantastic but we really didn’t enjoy the show. Do you have any recommendations for Apsara Shows in Siem Reap? Leave them in the comments below – they’ll help other readers 🙂
#5 Visit buildings which lie outside the Angkor Archaeological Complex
Don’t restrict yourself to the Angkor Archaeological Complex. Siem Reap has so many pagodas, temples, and cultural buildings, some of which are more fascinating than the buildings that form a part of the Angkor Archaeological Complex. If you see an interesting building, make sure you go in for a gander. Who knows what you might find 🙂 One of the gems we discovered was a massive cemetery commemorating victims of genocide in Cambodia and soldiers who fought against it. It’s a nameless complex, but look how gorgeous it is
And this is how we will become millionaires and fly back to Asia 😉
We had to take part in this really cool game from The Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG) that has been doing the rounds of the internet lately. The concept is simple. The IHG Rewards Club offers points that can be redeemed for flight tickets, hotel stays, day trips, and more. Here’s the fun part. IHG is actually awarding a MILLION points (which equals over £5000) to 5 people – this is enough to cover flights, accommodation, day trips, and a bottle of champagne or two. All you need to do is decide how you would redeem the million points. You have to spend your million points in under a minute – trust us, it is much more difficult than it sounds. After a gazillion tries, we finally managed to decide how we’d spend our points within 60 seconds . Of course we chose loads of travel-related goodies (see below) 🙂 You can play the IHG millionaire game here .
We picked flights to Asia and Paris, another cooking class, and donated quite a few points to charity. What did you pick? Tell us in the comments below 🙂
Looking for a hotel in Siem Reap? We stayed in a gorgeous hidden boutique hotel. Read about our experience at Pavillon D’ Orient.
Stuck on packing for South East Asia? Check out our Wears from Vietnam and Cambodia for a spot of inspiration.