Nestled in northern Cambodia, Siem Reap sings the tale of a bygone era. Intrepid backpackers and tourists alike arrive in the city to learn about its ancient magic and heritage and explore its burgeoning modernity.
Siem Reap is best-known as the gateway to Angkor Wat. Such is the revered status of the temple, we won’t even argue. Yet, the spirit of the Khmer Empire combines with the bustling French Quarter and Old Market to create a city that celebrates the past and present in a harmonious fashion.
Besides the Angkor temples, you’ll find plenty of things to do in Siem Reap itself. Days spent wandering the downtown streets bring an assortment of eye-catching colonial architecture set between mom and pop restaurants. Here, you can let the aromas and history guide you. At night, the traveling world descends on the tantalizing night markets and Pub Street where you can tell the tales of your day’s adventures.
14. Psar Chaa (Old Market)
Those who have traveled, especially to South East Asia, know that a trip to a market is a quintessential portion of their must-do lists. For those with family at home hoping you will come back with souvenirs of your time abroad, then a visit to the Psar Chas is called for.
The Psar Chas, also known as the Old Market of Siem Reap, is a local haven. It’s home to over 300 stalls selling various souvenirs, clothes, and even incredible street food for those looking for a bite. When we say souvenirs we do not mean just your standard magnets or “My Family Member Went To Cambodia” memorabilia, but items much more illustrative of the local culture.
A few hours getting lost among the intricately sculpted wood pieces, stunning silk fabrics, and handmade textiles is a must.
13. War Museum Cambodia
While in current times Cambodia is seen as a beautiful and peaceful country, the late 1900s were the contrary to the Cambodian people.
A visit to the War Museum will offer a unique and thought-provoking experience of one of the devastating reigns of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
At your own pace or with the use of the free guide resource provided at the facility, you can begin your deep dive into the poignant history. The museum provides ample information through its various exhibits. These even include artillery and machines such as a T-54 tank and a Mil Mi-8 helicopter on display.
We, however, recommend making use of the free guide, as each guide has their own story. Whether they be a war veteran, a witness or landmine victim, each can provide a very invaluable insight into an important time in Cambodian history.
12. Kbal Spean
Located roughly one hour Northeast of Siem Reap in the Kulen Mountain range is the compelling Kbal Spean. The eye-catching body of water, also known as the River of 1000 Lingas, is a significant cultural and archaeological site.
After a moderate 1.5km walk up to reach the river, nature enthusiasts and history buffs alike will get a unique experience. Prepare to immerse yourself in the beauty of the surrounding rainforest while trekking along a beautifully carved sandstone riverbed, adorned with a number of Hindu and Buddhist symbols and Lingas. These sacred lingas symbolize fertility and spirituality.
As you discover the intricate carvings along the river, you will be provided with a deeper insight into the spiritual beliefs and artistic backgrounds of the ancient Khmer civilization.
11. Banteay Srey Butterfly Center
A captivating attraction located within Siem Reap is the Banteay Srey Butterfly Center. With its mission based around the conservation and study of butterflies, this center provides a utopia for nature lovers and photographers.
Boasting more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies, this center is one of the largest fully enclosed facilities in South East Asia. You can expect the incredibly passionate staff to help walk you through the complete life cycle of the butterfly, from egg to caterpillar and then cocoon.
For only $6 per adult, this is a must-visit for those looking to wander lush gardens while also learning about the importance of butterfly conservation and the delicate balance of ecosystems.
10. Angkor Night Market
Best known for its lively atmosphere, the Angkor Night Market is awash with colorful stalls and enthusiastic vendors.
Home to a number of food stalls and restaurants, this Night Market is a food lover’s paradise. You can start your experience with large offerings of local and international cuisines. Visitors can indulge in savory street food ranging from grilled meats, noodles, and for the very adventurous, fried crickets.
Once you’re full of delicious offerings, make sure to browse shops selling everything from clothing, spices, jewelry, or authentic Khmer -style wood. Prices are negotiable at the market, so you can try your hand at haggling for a good deal.
The market is open 7 days a week from 4pm to midnight. But it is best to arrive before 6pm if you are looking to avoid large crowds.
9. Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity
An impressive institution, the Angkor Center for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) is dedicated to preserving the rich and exotic biodiversity of the Angkor region in Cambodia.
Upon opening in 2003, this center was the first nature conservation center to be opened in the country of Cambodia. Its mission is to provide a safe home for animals that have been confiscated from illegal trade or injured as a result of human activity. The wide range of veterinarians and caretakers work an incredible amount to get the animals ready for release back into the wild.
Tours of the facility are offered daily starting at either 9am or 1pm, with only a minimum donation of $5 asked in return. With consideration of its proximity to the Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei, this is an easily accessible and worthy visit for those especially interested in the ACCB mission.
8. Kulen Waterfalls
If you journey 1.5hrs northwest of Siem Reap, you will find yourself at an impressive marvel within the Phnom Kulen National Park. These cascading falls within a lush forest are known as the Kulen Waterfalls.
A day trip to the Kulen waterfalls can offer opportunities to swim in the refreshing pools formed by the falls and relax to the soothing sounds of rushing water. For those looking for a bit more adventure, there are a multitude of trails nearby, ranging from leisurely walks to more thrilling hikes.
The Kulen Falls have a story beyond their beauty, this site is known for its cultural significance among the Khmer people. The falls served as a source of water for the ancient civilization and were believed to have sacred powers. For this reason, it is asked that you be mindful in respecting local etiquette.
7. Siem Reap food tour
Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s most universally known cities, has more to boast than just temples and architecture. One of our favorite ways to get to know a city is to eat its local cuisine.
A great way to experience the flavorful and unique fare Cambodia has to offer is via a Siem Reap food tour. Get your appetite ready because Khmer cuisine is best known for its bold flavors, aromatic spices, and the use of fresh ingredients.
Small group tours via tuk tuk are a great way to explore the city while trying traditional dishes such as beef loklak or fish amok, all while getting to know your local guide. If you’re seeking even more thrill, look into a Vespa Food tour and experience all the local specialties while whizzing through the city streets on the back of a scooter!
6. Cambodian Circus Show
Experience the magic of a circus performance that will leave you in awe. Phare Circus, a concept that originated in Cambodia, gained recognition for its unique ability to combine native folklore, history, and everyday life. This allows the audience to connect to the spectacle in a new way.
Dubbed “Circus with Purpose”, the Phare Circus performers are all students and graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak School. The school provides many community development programs. These create employment and training opportunities for young artists and work to help break a cycle of poverty.
For those looking for an immersive blend of dance, culture, acrobatics, and resilience, then the Phare Circus is an absolute must. With the performers being recognized on the world stage and being invited to perform at renowned locations such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Sydney Opera House, you know it is an experience you cannot miss.
5. Kampong Phluk floating village
Situated in the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia is the unique floating village of Kampong Phluk. Kampong Phluk, meaning “Harbor of Tusks”, is a network of homes built rising out of water using bamboo pillars and wooden planks. When visiting during the wet season, the water rises to a certain level, giving the homes a floating effect.
We recommend opting for a boat tour of the village that picks up from Siem Reap. As you tour the floating village, you will learn about the culture and way of life of those who have adapted to the ever-changing water levels. Such as their heavy reliance on fishing and farming to sustain life in their village.
For those looking to extend their journey, you can opt to take a second smaller boat through the flooded floating mangroves that surround the village for a different perspective.
4. Cambodia Landmine Museum
With Cambodia’s long history of battle and conflict, the Cambodian Landmine Museum is an impactful reminder of the lasting implications of war.
Founded by Aki Ra, a former child soldier who was forced into battle at the age of nine. Aki Ra used the museum to display the horrors landmines had on Cambodia. In doing so, he uses the proceeds to clear landmines and provide aid to wounded and orphaned children.
Providing visitors with a wealth of knowledge regarding landmines and UXOs, the museum also serves as a repository for landmines that have been found and cleared from the Cambodian countryside. Visitors can see the mines on display and learn about the process of clearing them.
3. Pub Street
Located in the heart of bustling downtown Siem Reap is Pub Street. This is a vibrant area filled with exciting nightlife, enticing restaurants, and infinite entertainment.
Pub Street is lined with countless pubs and bars. The restaurants range from street food to fine dining and traditional Cambodian to western-style menus. With cheap beers and cocktails served out of chamber pot buckets, there really is something for everyone.
Along with all of its food and drink options, there is also lively entertainment. You can enjoy live music, comedy shows, and even theater performances. The street is closed to road traffic, so there is ample space to walk around or dance. If you are looking for a memorable night out in Siem Reap, pub street is the place to be.
2. Angkor National Museum
Home to an extensive collection of artifacts, art, and sculptures from the ancient Khmer Empire is the Angkor National Museum. The museum is a great way to take a deep dive into the history and culture of this captivating country.
The main building is a grand structure spread over two floors where visitors will find a wide range of artifacts from the ancient Khmer Empire, such as clothing, weapons, tools, and jewelry.
The Angkor National Museum features more than 20,000 books and manuscripts related to Khmer culture and history. It’s an impressive resource to learn about the culture and geography surrounding you.
Make sure to look into one of the many lectures, workshops, and activities offered for a fun and educational day.
1. Visit the Temples of Angkor
Undeniably the most famous sights in all of Cambodia, drawing crowds from around the world are the temples of Angkor. Built between the 9th and 15th centuries, the temples represent the pinnacle of Khmer architecture and are recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Most recognizable is the Temple Angkor Wat. Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the entire world. The temple is surrounded by a large moat and its walls are embellished with the longest continuous bas-relief in the world.
Don’t just stop at Angkor Wat, however, make sure to add the temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm to your list. The temples of Angkor are an astonishing legacy of the Khmer Empire and something you cannot miss while visiting the country of Cambodia.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
There are a handful of great areas to stay in Siem Reap, so there is bound to be a spot that suits you best. Those wanting to be among the action and history should stay in the French Quarter. It’s close to some of the best attractions and boasts attractive colonial architecture.
On the edge of the quarter, you’ll find Mango Kesararam Hotel. This is a budget-friendly 3-star hotel with daily breakfast, air-conditioned rooms and private balconies. You’ll also be within walking distance of the Old Market and the famed Pub Street.
To enjoy more peace and quiet, head over the eastern side of the Siem Reap River. Here, quiet neighborhoods combine to offer a more authentic vibe and great food. It’s also home to the 5-star Central Indochine D’angkor Hotel, boasting luxurious amenities, an outdoor pool, spa house and several dining options.
How to get there
You’ll have a full breadth of options to choose from when deciding how to get to Siem Reap. Travelers will be able to fly directly from major South East Asian cities, such as Singapore, Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
Those who don’t fly directly from overseas will likely travel from Phnom Penh. You can also fly, although you’ll find buses, trains and private transport. Whichever way you choose, these on-ground journeys take from 5 to 7 hours on average.
Approximate travel times
- Phnom Penh – 5 hours by car, 6 hours by bus
- Battambang – 3 hours by car, 4 hours by bus
- Sihanoukville – 10 hours by car, 12 hours by bus
- Kampong Cham – 3.5 hours by car, 5 hours by bus
- Poipet – 2 hours by car, 3 hours by bus
- Bangkok (Thailand) – 8 hours by car, 9 hours by bus
Best Time to Visit Siem Reap
While November through to February is by far the best time weatherwise to visit Siem Reap and, of course, Angkor Wat, these are also the busiest, most expensive months. Many Europeans come for their Christmas holidays so the temples, ruins and hotels are all packed.
As the humidity is lower and there is almost no rain, the conditions are best for sightseeing and enjoying outdoor activities. Temperatures remain high at 30 to 34°C (86 to 93°F) but do cool down a bit in the evenings. This period also sees exciting boat races held for its Water Festival along the Tonle Sap River.
Despite it being the hot season and temperatures soaring to 36°C (97°F), many still visit in March and April as the monsoon hasn’t yet started. Its Giant Puppet Parade and all the fun festivities for Khmer New Year are great events to attend then.
As May to October is the rainy season, tourist numbers and prices are largely low. There is a spike in July and August though as many head here on their summer holidays. Visiting then is a bit of a lottery as you may be lucky and get clear blue skies instead of heavy tropical downpours.