Travelers to Siem Reap will be surprised to discover that the ancient capital of Cambodia offers more than the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat. In fact, there are many other amazing things to do in and around this wonderland, and here I recommend 8 of the must-have experiences beyond the Angkor Wat visit, from the lovely temple of Banteay Srei to vibrant nightlife in Pub Street.
A smiling family selling vegetables in a market in Siem Reap
1. Visit Banteay Srei
When compared with other Angkorian temples, this 10-century Hindu temple looks tiny, yet its charm is unparalleled. Its exquisite sandstone carvings are among some of the finest in the world, thus it is known as the "jewel of Khmer art" and is extremely popular with tourists. Banteay Srei refers to the "citadel of the women" or "citadel of beauty" which is said to be associated with the intricacy of the carvings on the wall. Therefore, the temple is believed by many to have been built by women. The surroundings of the temple are also nice with many trees and water lilies, making it perfect to have a stroll.
Location: Banteay Srei District, Siem Reap
The delicate carvings on the wall of Banteay Srei
The lovely buildings inside Banteay Srei
2. Visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum
Founded by the soldier Aki Ra who returned to the villages to defuse the landmines that he had planted, the Landmine Museum aims to teach visitors the importance of landmine clearance. Visitors will get a great sight into the use and impact of landmines on the Cambodian population. The proceeds are used to help clear landmines, build rural schools and improve the living conditions of the children in the Relief Centre. Don't forget to use the free audio guide which helps explain the displays and the history of the landmine.
Opening hours: 7:30 AM - 5:30 PM
Location: Angkor National Park, 7km south of Banteay Srey Temple, Siem Reap
3. Take in Phare the Cambodian Circus
If there is a show you should watch in Siem Reap, it is Pare the Cambodian Circus. Considered to be Cambodia's answer to Cirque du Soleil, it is more than a conventional circus. The performance is a perfect mix of theater, music, dance, and acrobatics, telling the country's unique stories of the past and present. You'll be stunned by the energy, enthusiasm, and talent of the young artists, many of whom came from impoverished backgrounds. Tickets are used to support the Phare Ponleu Selpak, an NGO school from which the performers of the Cambodian Circus graduated. Animal lovers will be happy to find that no animals are involved in the show.
Tip: book tickets well in advance during the high season (November - March)
Location: Ring Rd south of the intersection with Sok San Rd, Siem Reap
Opening hours: 8:00 PM daily
The breathtaking Phare the Cambodian Circus in Siem Reap
4. Explore the Old Market
Located in the center of Siem Reap, the Old Market is well worth spending an hour or two. Whether you're hunting for your ideal souvenirs, looking to taste authentic local snacks, or simply wanting to see the bustling local life, it is the right place to go. You'll find cheap and cheerful T-shirts, shoes, silk scarves, handicrafts, and fresh produce from vegetables to seafood. If you are a food junkie, hit the food section at the center of the market and sample some Cambodian noodles, baguettes, soups sausages, or Bai Bach Chrouk (a popular Cambodian breakfast served with pork slices, rice, and scrambled eggs.
Tip: Keep an eye on your valuables as the market can get crowded.
Location: Psar Chaa Road, Siem Reap
Opening hours: 7:00 AM - 8:00 PM
The Old Market
A stall selling souvenirs in the Old Market
5. Take a boat ride on the Tonle Sap Lake
If you are tired of seeing the Angkor temples or simply want to try something new, why not head to the picturesque Tonle Sap Lake and explore the charming floating villages? Tonle Sap means great lake, and is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, connecting five provinces and millions of Cambodians living around it. There is a lot to see and do here. You can hop on a boat and marvel at the bustling everyday life, watch boats zooming past, fishermen throwing out nets to catch fish, or just admire the lovely water hyacinths.
A couple seeing the sunset in Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap
Boating is a wonderful way to catch a glimpse of the local life
Location: Lower Mekong Basin
6. See Angkorian artifacts at the Angkor National Museum
This is a worthwhile stop before touring the Angkorian temples. The modern Angkor National Museum not only showcases the glories of the Khmer empire, but also offers visitors an excellent chance to understand Angkor's history, culture, religion, and politics. It is air-conditioned, well laid -out, and easy to navigate through the various themed galleries. The Galleries of 1,000 Buddhas has a fine collection of Buddha statues and relics, which helps explain the influence of Buddhism on the Cambodian people from ancient to modern Cambodia. Other galleries include Khmer Civilization, Religions and Beliefs, Great Khmer Kings, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, etc. Get an English audio guide at the entrance to make it easier to comprehend the displays and their history. There is a café if you need refreshments, and a gift shop to take a look.
Location: 968 Vithei Charles de Gaulle Blvd, Khrum 6, Siem Reap
Opening hours: 8:30 AM – 6:00 PM (April - Sep) 8:30 AM – 6:30 PM (October - March)
7. Spot wildlife at Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity
Located 12 km north of Banteay Srey is the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB), a wildlife reserve providing shelter for some 45 endangered species of over 550 animals rescued from illegal trade. It is possible to see pileated gibbons, silvered langurs, Bengal loris, Asian palm civets, leopard cats, turtles, green peafowl, sarus crane, and storks. These threatened creatures are well cared for so that they will be released back into the Cambodian forests one day.
A brief introduction of the silvered langur in ACCB
Regular guided center tours are available at 9 AM and 1 PM from Monday to Saturday. To take the tour, visitors are required to give a minimum donation of 3 USD. Proceeds go to the feeding of the endangered animals and supporting the local communities.
Location: Kbal Spean, Phnom Kulen National Park, Siem Reap
8. Unwind at the Pub Street
Known for its vibrant nightlife, Pub Street neighboring the Night Market is a fantastic place to find a spot to relax for the evening after a long day of seeing the sites. The street is teeming with bars, restaurants, and shops, which are great to eat, drink or shop at a reasonable price. In restaurants, you'll find a diverse range of dishes from Khmer to Italian, Mexican, Chinese, etc. to suit every taste. In bars, you can have an incredibly cheap locally-made beer. Even if you don't feel like eating and drinking anything, it is still worth taking a leisurely walk or doing people watching.
People partying in the Pub Street
Location: Street 08, Krong Siem Reap