It is not a secret that most travelers visit Siem Reap mainly because of Angkor Wat – The largest single religious monument in the world.
But Siem Reap has a lot more to offer than just Angkor Wat. If you are curious to know more about Cambodia’s culture, if time and money are not an issue – here are my top 5 activities for you to do in Siem Reap.
1. Explore the Angkor Archeological Park – UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Angkor archeological park is home to some of the world’s most impressive temples. These temples were built by the Khmer civilization between the 9th and the 15th centuries.
And even though Angkor Wat, is the most popular temple in Siem Reap, let me tell you that you will be surprised at how beautiful and breathtaking the other temples are, as well.
In my opinion, all temples around the park are worth seeing. However, even if you are short of time, the ones you simply MUST visit are the Bayon Temple, Ta Phrom, Banteay Srei and of course, Angkor Wat. Visiting Angkor Wat at sunrise is a breathtaking experience and will leave the memory etched in your mind forever.
2. Discover Cambodia’s countryside
If you are an adventurous soul, you could immerse yourself in Cambodia culture in a quite unique way – experience the countryside by scooter! There are tours that offer you just this sort of experience.
You get to visit picturesque villages and rice fields. You could visit schools and interact with the students. Learn from the villagers why they build their homes on stilts. This is the perfect opportunity to connect with the people of the village and their everyday activities.
The people of the village are trusting, happy and friendly, quite unlike those in the city. Everywhere we passed or stopped by we were welcomed by a rousing “helloooo”. It’s a simply heartwarming and priceless experience. The warmth and the friendliness of the people will highlight your visit to this wonderful country that is so rich in history.
Please click here to see my full article and pictures of my countryside experience with Khmer ways.
3. Phare – The Cambodian Circus
Phare – The Cambodian Circus, is not a Broadway show, so forget the fancy venue and props. Open yourself to be part of a real Cambodian show – a circus with a difference! This is a high energy show that was put together by an NGO with one goal in mind – to help kids from the streets, orphanages and struggling families in the community. Most of the proceeds from the show go towards educating these talented kids.
Apart from the thrill of seeing a circus (and who doesn’t love a circus?), our main reason to attend it was to support the NGO. And we were pleasantly surprised to see how energetic and talented the performers were! They connected with the crowd and the passion for what they do came through their contagious smiles.
It was a fun show, hugely entertaining and very memorable.It was a wonderful blend of balancing acts, acrobatics, juggling, rope climbing and fire dance, all of those laced with comedy. It was impossible not to laugh out loud and immerse oneself in the enjoyment of it all. It’s absolutely worth the $15 ticket.
Tip: Arrive 30 minutes earlier to be able to grab a good seat. All the seats/benches face the stage in a semi circle, so you’ll be able to get the best view in front of the stage. Do make sure you wear something light, to keep you cool. Take along some extra money for souvenirs, food and donations.
4. Visit the night market
Unlike many other night markets through South Asia, I was very satisfied with my visit to the old market in Siem Reap. What a delight it turned out to be! The stall holders were friendly and polite, quite different from other markets we have visited so far. There was no aggressive haggling over prices. It was all friendly and pleasant and made for a fun experience dealing with them!
The streets around the market area are brightly lit and filled with clothing, crafts, souvenirs and galleries lined with works of artists inspired by the Angkor archeological park.
Should you not be in the mood to go shopping, there is a relaxing bar in the back with an extensive menu of beverages. And if you’re hungry, you have the convenience of ordering food from one of the outdoor restaurants nearby, and they will bring it to your table at the bar.
If you’ve done some hardcore shopping, you will probably be tired. So, if you feel like getting pampered, you have more than a few options around the market. A full body massage begins at $8 and you get an hour of relaxation. But don’t expect anything fancy just the basic level of hygiene. And if you are a stickler for hygiene, it is better to opt for something that would suit you best although you may need to dig a little deeper into your pocket. Just remember the saying – you get what you pay for. If you want the ultimate experience in massage, get ready to pay at least $25 for a high quality massage. Not bad considering what you have to pay in most western countries
Tip: Plan on visiting the market after 7:00PM if you want to have plenty of variety to choose from. If you turn up earlier, you will find more than half the shops are still shut!
5. Beatocello – Free concert to help save lives
Every once in a while I come across people that inspire me in one way or another, but I’ve never heard of anybody doing what Dr. Beat Richner has done for the Cambodian people. Since 1992,Dr. Richner has built 5 hospitals – mostly with donations funded by the Swiss government and Swiss individuals. He also organizes fund raising concerts on a regular basis.
Every Saturday at 7 P.M. Dr. Richner offers a free cello concert at the Jayavarman VII Children’s Hospital. The Venue is open to everyone who wants to enjoy his music or wants to contribute to this charity. At the end of the show, Dr. Richner shares a very touching and inspiring video about the children’s hospital.
If you want to support his efforts to give Cambodian children a better future, do go to his show. But if you are overseas, the hospital takes online donations. Just remember, It’s never too little or too late to donate.
Click here to contact the Kantha Bopha Children‘s Hospitals donation page.