Siem Reap is best known for the Angkor Temples, but there’s much more to see and do in this historic section of Cambodia. For first-time (or repeat) visitors, the spectacle might seem a bit intimidating—so here are a few of the major attractions that any tourist ought to explore when in this extraordinary land.
• Visit the Angkor temples: The temples are what everyone’s here for, and Angkor doesn’t disappoint. A photography tour will reveal the hidden highlights. The best time for photos is sunrise—go in April to see the sun crest the horizon immediately behind the main shrine’s dome and to maximize the chances of a haze-free day. Or rent a bicycle at any of the stands in town and spend the day seeing the main temple circuit—Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm. Either option gives plenty of time to see the big three and any smaller temples that catch the eye.
• Visit the other temples: Siem Reap has more than just Angkor Wat when it comes to temples. Visit Beng Mealea, where tourists can see what the temples would look like if left to nature. Full-day tours typically combine with a trip to Koh Ker, an ancient capital city, or stop at Banteay Srey 2, a rarely visited temple and working monastery where monks can be heard chanting. For a taste of the “real” Cambodia, sign up for a tour of the Tonle Sap fishing villages, where one can see traditional stilt architecture and floating rice paddies, and talk to local fishermen who might invite you home for a fresh lunch.
• Hire a tuk-tuk tour guide: Tuk-tuks are the local taxis and the easiest way to get around Siem Reap. Visitors can get anywhere in the main city for $2, while good negotiators should be able to talk drivers down to a dollar. Anyone who tips the driver well will have a friend for life, plus an eager tour guide who will show them the best of Siem Reap.
• Eat bugs at the Old Market: At Phsar Chas, the Old Market, visitors can get a feel for a real Cambodian market. Baskets of spices, multicolored arrays of fresh produce, crispy fried tarantulas and meats from octopus to chicken feet create a bizarre foodie circus. For those looking for something a little tamer, there are hawkers selling fried banana kebabs, roasted corn on the cob, or banana-chocolate pancakes (the vendor at the corner closest to Warehouse has a loyal following). Those too busy temple-touring during the day can still get the market experience at the Angkor Night Market.
• Get a fishy foot massage: After a long day of temple-trekking, worn-out feet deserve a little TLC to prepare for the next day’s adventures. Spas offering reflexology, massages and more can be found at any hotel, but the independent Frangipani also gets consistently high marks and Spa Indochine’s traditional treatments are freshly prepared with local ingredients each day. For those not looking to splurge, the area around Pub Street is lined with dozens of shops. A half-hour reflexology treatment runs about $5, or try a “fish massage”—tiny fish will nibble dead skin from one’s toes.
• People-watch on Pub Street: Pub Street is Siem Reap’s party hub, so grab a drink (or a scoop of Siem Reap’s best ice cream at Blue Pumpkin) and soak it all up. Start the evening at Red Piano on the corner. The French cuisine is good but it’s best known as Angelina Jolie’s haunt while filming Tomb Raider. Continue down the road to find a spot for dinner. All the restaurants offer reasonably priced Western and local food but Soup Dragon’s eponymous fare always brings a crowd, and just two doors down is Angkor What? bar. Inscriptions on the walls and tables attest to this old favorite’s popularity.
• Watch a traditional Apsara dance: Get a look at more traditional Cambodian culture with a Khmer dance show named for the “heavenly dancers” adorning the Angkor temples. Most tourists opt for a dinner and performance combo offered at any of a number of local hotels and restaurants, but get a recommendation as cost and quality vary widely. Apsara Terrace at the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor is known for its impressive classical dance and martial arts performances and delectable barbecue buffet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
So there you have it—surprises galore in an ancient land filled with age-old and modern delights alike. Happy exploring!
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