While Cambodia is one of the smaller Southeast Asian countries, it packs as big of a punch as all the other countries, and Siem Reap sits at the forefront of Cambodia’s historical legacy. In fact, today, the crumbling remains of the Khmer Empire are the biggest draw in all of Cambodia. After building up a kingdom that stretched into neighbouring Thailand and China, the Khmers fell, leaving behind an incredible collection of temple complexes, most notably Angkor Wat, which is located in Siem Reap.

In fact, the city’s proximity to Angkor Wat has turned Siem Reap into one of the world’s premier travel destinations; over a million travellers make their way to Siem Reap every year. There is, however, more to Siem Reap than Angkor Wat, and if you can, be sure to spare an extra couple of days roaming this charming city. 

Things to Do

Angkor Wat

This beauty owns the bragging rights to being the largest religious monument in the world. Without question, Angkor Wat and the Angkor Temple Region is the primary attraction for visitors to Siem Reap where these sites and attractions cover more than 300km of north-western Cambodia.  The Angkor Temple Complex was designated a UN Heritage Site and is made of hundreds of structures from the 9th to the 14th century. As you walk the complex, you will see, hear and understand the story of the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire.

This vast collection is a well-maintained look back at an empire that ruled a majority of South-east Asia for upwards of five centuries. The buildings that make up the complex range from partially renovated temples, pagodas and imperial residences to recently discovered ruins which have been virtually untouched for the last 500 years.

No article or photo about Angkor Wat can communicate the beauty and importance of the Khmer temples of the Angkor complex, so plan ahead and spend at least a week in one of the best holiday destination cities in Asia.

Eat Bugs at the Old Market

If temples aren’t your cup of tea, then head to the Old Market, or Phsar Chas. Here, you can get a feel for a real Cambodian market. Everywhere you look there are baskets of spices, varied and eye-catching arrays of fresh produce, and a variety of some of the more…unusual…snacks of Cambodia. Think crispy fried tarantulas and meats from octopus to chicken feet just waiting to be tasted and enjoyed.  

Bugs aren’t your style? Opt for the more reasonable and recognizable fried banana kebabs, or roasted corn on the cob. Even if you are busy during the day, you can get the market experience by heading to Angkor’s Night Market.

People-watch on Pub Street

Pub Street is Siem Reap's party hub, so grab a drink and soak it all in. People-watching is at its prime as the sun starts to set, so try starting your evening at the shop on the corner, Red Piano. There are cocktails named after the “Tomb Raider” movies, there are people joking, laughing and drinking, and there are people fighting and arguing and yelling. It’s everything you dream about and more for an entertaining and unexpected night of fun.

Watch a traditional Apsara dance

If your taste in nightlife is a little more sophisticated than the shenanigans that go down on Pub Street, then you can focus more on culture and get a look at one of Cambodia’s traditions—the Apsara dance. This Khmer dance show was named after the “heavenly dancers” that are portrayed on the Angkor temples.

Most visitors who want to see this dance will opt for a dinner and performance combo. This combo is offered at a number of local restaurants and even hotels, but be sure to do your research first. The shows can vary in their quality and so can the cost for the performance. Apsara Terrace at the Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor is known for its impressive classical dance and martial arts performances. The food served is delectable, but the prices reflect this quality; you will pay fine dining costs for an evening at Apsara Terrace.

Travel Tips

  • In general, Siem Reap is a pretty safe city, even at night. If, however, you are a solo female, you should try to walk home with travelling companions when leaving late-night spots.
  • If you rent a bike, don’t keep your bag in the basket, as it will be easy pickings for a drive-by snatch.
  • There are a lot of beggars around town and some visitors will quickly tire of seeing them on the streets. Keep in mind, life is tough for the poorest of the poor in Cambodia and they receive no support from the government. You don’t have to pay any or all of the beggars, but if you are so inclined, a contribution will be greatly appreciated.
  • When heading to more remote temples, always stick to the marked trails. Exercise great caution as there can still be UXO (unexploded ordinances) at these locations.

Siem Reap has history, ruins, temples, pagodas, delicious meals, and friendly locals. If you aren’t inspired to jump on a jet to Cambodia right now, then we aren’t sure what will get your travel bug going! Once you get your travel plan worked out, remember to consider international travel insurance as a beneficial addition to your Cambodian holiday.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Guyon Moree.