What to Do in Siem Reap Cambodia?
The number one thing most people come to Siem Reap, Cambodia to do is to visit Angkor Wat. And there’s no arguing that this temple is extraordinary. It is one of the most beautiful places on the planet and it has a reverence and atmosphere that make it a full day excursion, at least. But it is not the only thing to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia. While it should definitely be on your list, it shouldn’t be the entirety of your list.
When I arrived in Cambodia, having just finished touring Laos, I stepped off the bus and got in a tuk-tuk. The tuk-tuk driver was trying to sell me on his friend's guesthouse, nothing ever changes in Southeast Asia it seems. I gave the address I wanted to stay at. It was a good place to meet new friends if you are traveling alone or with a small group and maybe want to get some advice about what to do in the country from those who have already been there for a while.
I found out about some of these other, “smaller” attractions just by asking those who had been staying in Siem Reap for a few weeks what they’ve done since they arrived, besides see Angkor Wat. Here are some of the other things we were able to do and see while in Siem Reap.
The Cambodian Landmine Museum
It’s no secret that Cambodia has seen civil wars, foreign incursions, and upheaval throughout its history. Like most of Southeastern Asia, it is still in development, largely because of this upheaval. War in the country led to millions of landmines being buried throughout the country over the last century. Thousands of these landmines are still buried, and they injure and kill hundreds of Cambodians every year. The Landmine Museum is funded by a NGO that is committed to removing these landmines and giving aid to those who are injured or whose family members are killed by landmines.
This Museum is truly unique, there is nothing like it anywhere else in the country or anywhere else in the world. It’s sad to see the effect these landmines (and the wars and strife that precipitated them) have had on the Cambodian people, but it is also fascinating to see how landmines are detected and how they are removed. Some of the most recent efforts include using specially trained rats to sniff out the landmines so they can be removed by experts in the field.
This museum is very close to the Banteay Srey Butterfly Farm, so if you want to do something a little bit lighter before you head back to the hostel or guesthouse, head out and take a look at all of the beautiful butterflies housed here.
The Floating Village
Depending on how much time you have in Siem Reap, taking a tour of the floating village is a great option. There are some different options so make sure you get the right deal, because some "tours" are not worth your dime and time. It is, however, usually a full-day experience, like visiting the temples in the area often is. This tour is a great way to see one of the most unique communities in the country.
You’ll see the beautiful floating homes of the people that live on and work on Tonle Sap. This freshwater lake houses hundreds of people, and along with the floating houses, you’ll also see the flooded forests and the conservation projects that are being undertaken here. It’s a great way to get out on the water and learn about the area.
The most famous market in Siem Reap is called Phsar Chas, or the Old Market. It’s the perfect place to learn about and to see what a Cambodian market is really like. With food of all kinds, from fish and red meat, to colorful spices, to even heaps of fried bugs, this is the best place to feel the energy of the people and to pick up some local fresh food, if you’re trying to save money.
If crispy fried crickets isn’t your speed, there are plenty of vendors selling other types of food, ranging from fried bananas to corn to pancakes. It was always fun to grab something to eat at one of the vendors selling premade foods and to walk around and see the colors, sights, and sounds of the market. If you’re too busy during the day to visit the Old Market while it is open, you can still get a sense for the intensity at a Cambodian market by visiting the night market near Angkor Wat.
Walk the City
If you haven’t yet planned some time just to walk around Siem Reap, you will be missing out. The city is beautiful, there are hundreds of examples of both traditional Cambodian and Chinese architecture, mixed in with the more modern, sleek buildings that both cultures are now favoring. Walking the city is really the only way to find the shops and activities that speak to you and what you want to do while you are in the city. You’ll find tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurants offering the very best of Cambodian food, you’ll find little shops, offering luxurious scarves and clothing you can take home as a souvenir.
Best of all, you’ll start to feel what it is like to be a resident of this city. You’ll get a feel for the energy and atmosphere, for the friendliness of the people, and for the love they have for their city. Take half a day to just explore what the city has to offer you.
Learn to Cook
Siem Reap is the best place to learn how to make some traditional Cambodian dishes while you are in the country. While you can take home some beautiful Cambodian goods to help you remember your time here, taking home a new skills and a few dishes that you know you can make, is even better. Siem Reap offers a range of different cooking classes, for a range of different skill levels. Don’t be intimidated by the style or techniques, Cambodian food is both simple to make and delicious, everyone can find something that they love.
Look for a cooking class that offers to teach you how to make a dish you’ve enjoyed at local restaurants or that simply sounds like something you could recreate when you return home. Most will teach you how to make a full meal, from start to finish.
What to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap is one of Cambodia’s most popular destinations, simply because it is so close to Angkor Wat and a number of other important temples in the area. Do not miss your opportunity to visit Angkor Wat, but also do not miss your opportunity to see what else Siem Reap has to offer.
© 2016 Sam Shepards