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While the emphasis of most visits to Siem Reap will be the temples at Angkor Wat (and for good reason), Siem Reap itself has a lot to offer! Read on to discover the Top 5 things to do in Siem Reap, besides temples!
1. Phare Circus
With apologies to sunrise at Angkor Wat, the Phare Circus may have been the best part of our visit. The price is incredibly reasonable at $18 for a ticket, the cast was shockingly talented, the ratio of humour, theatre, and acrobatics was perfect, and the cause is beyond admirable.
The show is only an hour so you can easily squeeze it in and still have time for a massage or trip to Pub Street, or even to get home and just relax.
If you only take the time to do ONE thing beyond a trip to the temples, make it the Phare Circus!
2. Siem Reap Markets
The Angkor Night Market provides a labyrinth of over 200 shops, offering a wide range of clothing and handicrafts. Even if you’re not interested in shopping, it’s certainly an interesting experience. You’ll be treated to a plethora of different souvenirs, from more traditional works, to the more generic tat you expect to find at all South East Asian markets. Here you can haggle over prices, and generally the more you buy the better the price you’ll get.
If you’re after a calmer, more rewarding experience, then you should visit the Made in Cambodia Market. Stalls here are run by independent artists and designers, as well as NGOs. The market was originally established by Shinta Mani Hotel in 2003 but is now located at King’s Road Angkor. The best thing about this market is that all the products are made locally, rather than at factories where the working conditions are questionable at best. You may pay a little extra for your souvenirs, which have fixed prices, but the money goes directly to Cambodian people to help better their lives and is supporting fair trade. You can therefore walk away knowing both you and the artist you’ve supported got a good deal.
You will undoubtedly also stumble upon the Old Market, located in the heart of town. Here you can find everything you could imagine! It is still a local market, and in the morning will be bustling with Cambodian people buying their produce and other essentials.
3. Experience a traditional Cambodian massage
You’re going to be exhausted from your day (s) visiting the temples, not to mention the lengthy flight or bus trip in. You deserve a massage, and at $10-$15 for an hour, you’d be foolish NOT to treat yourself to one.
A traditional Khmer massage is not too dissimilar from those I’ve experienced in most of SE Asia. Be sure to communicate the pressure you enjoy and expect a fairly routine procedure. They are not going to “read your body” and hone in on your energy; they are going to go through the motions fairly mechanically. For that reason, you need to make sure you’ve dialed in the pressure in the beginning so you can relax and enjoy!
4. Pub Street
Fifty-cent beer, overpriced food, and plenty of loud music; welcome to Pub Street! If you are wanting to experience some nightlife during your time, this is the place to be once the sun has gone down.
You can easily walk to Pub Street from most central hotels or take a tuk-tuk for less than $5 from anywhere in Siem Reap. They will have the local Angkor beer on draft for $0.50 in many places, as well as basic cocktails or mixers for $1.50. The craft beer lover will be excited to find some decent local crafts as well; especially exciting if you’re coming from Thailand where a decent IPA scarcely exists! I personally recommend the IPA and Mango IPA from Kingdom; easily the best beers I have had in Asia, and a bargain at $2!
If you want to save a couple of bucks, there are many food stalls at the Night Market just outside of pub street with traditional Cambodian (Khmer) cuisine for $3 or less. Consistency is tough to come by, so be prepared to receive very different plates despite using the same words for your order; I had three fish amoks and each one differed wildly from both the photos on the menu and from each other! For the really adventurous, you can try eating insects in Cambodia!
5. Angkor National Museum
Whether you’re interested in learning more about the ancient or recent history of Cambodia and Angkor Wat, a visit to the Angkor National Museum will provide insight and help you connect more deeply with the temples, and the country as a whole.
While I am not usually much of a museum person, I did find that the more I learned about the history of Angkor Wat, the more I enjoyed and understood what I was seeing during my time in Siem Reap.
Unfortunately, as of July 2022, it seems the Angkor National Museum is temporarily closed.