Top 10 Meaningful Things to Do in Siem Reap

December 8, 2015

It can be easy to get caught up in the party scenes when traveling, especially in Southeast Asia.

I’ve never really been big into partying at home or when traveling. Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people and having a few beers.  That is different. I’m talking about the staying out all night and not waking up until mid-day partying. Partying is not unique to a country despite possibly unique methods. The end game is the same.  When traveling I want to learn as much as I can about the history, people, and culture of the country I am in.  That is why I created a list of activities for you to get the most out of your time in Siem Reap. 

1. Angkor Archaeological Park – UNESCO World Heritage Site

The most noteworthy activity in Siem Reap is of course the Angkor Archaeological Park. Angkor Wat was chosen as the #1 sight in the world by Lonely Planet. It is the largest religious temple in the world occupying over 500 acres and is over 900 years old. The Angkor Archaeological Park includes over a dozen ruins that vary in importance, interest, and condition and are often spread kilometers apart. 

Costs and Tips: Deciding what ticket to purchase depends on what temples you want to see, your level of interest, and how much time you have available. The entry pass ticket costs are (US $20) for one day, (US $40) for 3 days, and (US $60)for one week. All ticket purchases include access to all of Ankgor Archeological Park. I recommend visiting Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Bayon Temple.

To help you plan your temple itinerary check out this interactive map of Ankgor Archeological Park or this downloadable map of the park.

Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom

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Bayon Temple

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2. Take a Cooking Class

My mother and I took a Khmer cooking course with Champey which is located right in town near the old market. The class started with a short walk to the market for a tour and an informative session on the ingredients we would be using to cook. Once we started cooking everyone had their own cooking station where we would be cooking a three course meal. Our course included Spring Rolls, Amok (a classic Khmer dish) and fried bananas. After we finished the course we were awarded with certificates of completion, a cooking book on the Khmer dishes we made, and a few small packets of the spices we used.

Costs and Tips: The course has two time slots (9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m). and (3:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.). The course is required to be booked 24 hours in advance and costs $25 USD per person.

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3. Eat at Bugs Cafe

If you are not into eating bugs from the side carts along the street Bugs Cafe is a way to get your bug fix in a more hygienic and culinary appealing way. The tapas and cocktail restaurant is a fusion of Khmer and French influences. Choose your insect of your choice (crickets, scorpions, grasshoppers, ants, bees, silkworms, and spiders). All the dishes can be served without creepy critters as well.

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4. Visit the National Museum

I recommend visitng the National Museum before visiting the temples of Angkor. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn about the museum until after we had visited the temples of Angkor. The museum gives an in-depth history of the temples of Ankgor as well as a history of the Cambodian people. Knowing the history before visiting the temple would give you a new lens in which to see the temples, making the visit that much more meaningful.

Costs and Tips: Admission to the museum costs $12 USD for adults and $6 for children. For an extra $5 you can rent a headset that gives you an audio walkthrough as you journey through the different parts of the museum. The museum is open daily April- September from (8:30a.m. – 6:00p.m.) and October-March from (8:30a.m.-6:30p.m.).

5. Go to Phare the Cambodian Circus

The Cambodian Circus exceeded all my expectations and is not what one would envision when you imagine your typical circus. The show starts out with dare-devil stunts accompanied by comedic undertones, the crowd undergoes quite an emotional rollercoaster. The show evolves into a narrative about Cambodia’s history and the Khmer Rouge.

Costs & Tips: Admission costs $18 USD for adults and $10 USD for children for general seating, but you can upgrade to seating B or A for a small price. I personally believe that the show is underpriced for the value. The Phare Circus helps fund the organization’s humanitarian work by helping disadvantaged youth find a trade.

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6. Get a Traditional Khmer massage or 3!

They say that Thai massages come from the Khmer massage. Given fully clothed and without oils, this experience involves pressure point massage using thumbs, hands, arms, knees and feet, as well as stretching movements. It is an invigorating therapy that relieves muscular tension, loosens joints and opens energy channel.

Costs and Tips: I’m not ashamed to say I indulged in three 90 minute massages, pure Khmer bliss. Massages are so cheap here its hard to justify not getting one. We stayed at the Chez Moi Residence residence, which had its own spa, but there are many places to indulge yourself! The massages were as cheep as $13.

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7. Rent a motorbike

Renting a motorbike allowed us to get outside of Siem Reap and see villages and rice fields. It is not very common in Siem Reap for foreigners to rent motorbikes because I was told that there has been many accidents in the past.

Costs and Tips: Renting a motorbike for the entire day costs us about $25 USD. When you rent a motorbike be sure to take a video of the bike before hand so nobody can pull a fast one on you. There are also quite a few motorbike group tours if you prefer having a guide.

8. Eat your heart out

Rice is a big part of Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine, so much so that Cambodians often greet each other by saying “Nyam bai howie nov?” (“Have you eaten rice yet?”). Some other aspects of Cambodian include their major focus on contrasts in their dishes, sweet and bitter, salty and sour, fresh and cooked. Curries are also typical, but less spicy than in other parts of Southeast Asia. Some popular dishes to check out are Amok, Balcha, and Sailor Machu Trey.

Costs and Tips: Khmer cuisine is ideal for veg heads and meat lovers alike. The restaurant choices are endless. Don’t believe me? Check out Trip Advisor’s list which boasts 803 restaurants. A few of the restaurants we like to eat at while in Cambodia are Haven, Peace Cafe, and Amok Restaurant.

9. Take a ride in a tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks are the main type of transportation in Siem Reap, well besides those handy dandy legs of yours. Tuk-Tuk rides are like a rickshaw attached to a motorbike. Tuk-Tuks are cheap, safe, and in my experience the drivers are always friendly, however this was my experience with all Cambodians!

Costs and Tips: The price of Tuk-Tuk rides vary on the distance that you are traveling and the time you have reserved. Typically most trips cost $1- $3 USD. 

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10. Shop at fair trade stores

There are plenty of opportunities to shop around Siem Reap such as the Old Market (Psar Chas Road) and the New Market (off Sivatha Blvd). You can find house products, fresh produce, antiques, silks, jewelry, and other souvenirs. You will also see a lot of mass-produced products that you can find all over Southeast Asia. Therefore I encourage you to look to fair trade as a shopping alternative.

Shopping at fair trade stores ensures that the people making the goods have fair working conditions and will be paid fair wages. Unfortunately many of the goods in the markets are not even made in Siem Reap. Due to the goods being made in fair conditions you will pay more, but they often will be of better quality. Most of all you can feel good because your dollar is going to a good place.

Tips: Here are a few recommended places where you can shop fair trade: Angkor Handicraft Association, AHA Fair Trade Village, and Genevieve’s Fair Trade Village.

These are the meaningful activites that I found and participated in while I was in Siem Reap. Did I miss any great activities? I would love to learn more about the activities you found meaningful in siem reap!
More about Eemma Iseman

2 Comments
    1. I loved my time in Siem Reap. I didn’t spend enough time there, so need to go back and do some of this stuff. Thanks for the list. 🙂

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