Siem Reap is Cambodia’s top tourist destination and is one of South East Asia’s hottest destinations. While most of the tourists come to Siem Reap to see the Angkor temples, I have provided below a list of the top 10 things that one should do to get a holistic view of Siem Reap and its various charms.
1) Watch the Sunrise at Angkor Wat
It is the sunrise photo of Angkor Wat and its reflection in the temple pond that brings travelers to Siem Reap. While the main Angkor Wat temple and all the other temples around it are really beautiful and intricate, the sunrise has its own special way of making you feel that time has stopped and you are in heaven. The only flip side is that this means an real early morning rise, but the good thing is the much more bearable and pleasant weather.
2) Explore the old market or French quarter
The old market or the French quarter of Siem Reap is the heart of the city during the day time. The locals buy their fruits, vegetables, fish, clothes, shoes and many other goods here. The touristy shops are also located on the fringe of it. It is a great place to understand local day-to-day culture and see true Cambodian life. A lot of restaurants and souvenir shops can help the tourist indulge in something outside the local culture.
3) Get lost amidst Bayon’s 216 faces
Bayon is massive and mighty. In my opinion, it is Siem Reap’s best temple. It’s size, its 54 towers and its 216 faces leave nothing to the imagination. Simply amazed is how you will feel once you step your foot inside this temple. It’s war scenes, its size, its different faces and its variety of smiles make you feel like you want to stay here forever.
4) See Tonle Sap’s Floating Life
The Tonle Sap is one of the reasons why Cambodia is a big exporter of river fish. The lake has its own highs n lows. During the monsoon season, the waters of the mighty Mekong flow into the lake and make it rise in level, while during the dry months, the waters flow from Tonle to the Mekong. This weird ecosystem has given rise to a huge variety of marine species and a human species too that is always floating. If you go to Chong Khneas or Kompong Phluk, you will see how people live their lives without ever having solid ground below them. They have floating schools, churches, gas stations, houses, restaurants, markets and more.
5) Fish Amok
There are lots of traditional Cambodian dishes to eat, but Fish Amok, a coconut based curry dish made from Tonle Sap fish is the highlight. For vegetarians, there is a vegetarian version too, that is made available at all restaurants. In addition, crocodile meat and other exotic fish species can be tasted for those with a flexible palate.
6) Buy a Angkor Painting
There are a lot of painters who live around the Angkor temple area. These people are excellent sand and oil painters and can draw out a Bayon face, face of Buddha, a natural sunset moment, a cultural theme and more in the most realistic way. Their paintings are cheap for the tourist, but are lots of money for them. Such paintings are also available at the markets all over Cambodia, but if you buy it directly at the source, the money goes directly to the painter and you can also see some live painting action.
7) Nightlife of Pub Street
In the day, Siem Reap is all about its temples, paddy fields, lotus fields and the Tonle Sap. In the night, it is only pub street, a small crisscross of lanes in the old French quarter of Siem Reap. Here, one can indulge in some local beer, some sweet Cambodian whiskey, have interesting conversations, shake a leg and basically unwind from a tiring Siem Reap day.
8) Donate Blood at Angkor Hospital
Cambodian healthcare is in serious need of blood to treat its various patients. If you wish to help, you can donate your blood at Angkor hospital that lies in between the Siem Reap town and the Angkor temples. In return for an unit of blood, one gets free tickets to a local performance.
9) Fish Spa at Pub Street
Big, medium and small sized fishes eat our dead cells and make your skin glow. Well, I am not saying that, but that is what the fish spas of Siem Reap advertise. They promise that their fishes will remove all their dead cells and make their skill look young. Many tourist give it a try, but jump out of the fish tank immediately as they feel very ticklish. Some have seen great results. You should give it a try and see how you fare!
10) Ride a bicycle across this historic city
Siem Reap has a very colonial look to it and its pace is very different from Ho Chi Minh, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, its big brothers. This easy pace allows you to explore this town at leisure and nothing like a bicycle to visit its narrow streets, vibrant markets and forested temples.