Siem Reap, a city in northwestern Cambodia, is renowned worldwide for its proximity to the iconic Angkor Wat temple complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site. For those considering things to do in Siem Reap, exploring the ancient temples of Angkor, including the majestic Angkor Wat and the tree-root entwined Ta Prohm, are top activities.
The city’s bustling Pub Street offers a lively atmosphere with a plethora of bars, restaurants, and shops, making it a popular spot for both locals and tourists. Nearby, the Angkor Night Market provides an opportunity to shop for traditional Cambodian crafts and souvenirs.
Beyond its historical and cultural attractions, Siem Reap is also known for its vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries showcasing Cambodian art and craftsmanship. For those seeking the best places to visit in Cambodia, Siem Reap’s blend of ancient history, cultural richness, and contemporary creativity makes it a must-visit destination.
Table of Contents
Attractions & Things to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
1. Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world and the crowning jewel of Khmer architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage site was originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the god Vishnu, transitioning to a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. The temple’s complex design and intricate relief sculptures make it a must-visit.
Travel Tip: Purchase the Angkor Pass, which gives you access to the park and multiple temples. Go early in the morning to witness the breathtaking sunrise behind Angkor Wat.
2. Ta Prohm Temple
Ta Prohm is unique among Angkor’s temples. Large trees have overgrown its ruins, and their roots intertwine with the temple’s stones, giving it a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere that feels straight out of an adventure film. In fact, it was used as a location in the movie “Tomb Raider.”
Travel Tip: Visit Ta Prohm early in the day or late in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and experience its mystic ambiance in relative solitude.
3. Bayon Temple
Bayon, the central temple of the ancient city of Angkor Thom, is known for its serene and massive stone faces that tower over the complex. The faces are thought to be representations of the king himself, Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, or a combination of both.
Travel Tip: Climb to the upper terrace for a close-up view of the faces and a panoramic view of the surroundings.
4. Angkor National Museum
Before or after visiting the temples, the Angkor National Museum can provide context and deepen your appreciation of the Khmer civilization. It showcases a range of artifacts and offers multimedia presentations about the history and culture of the Angkor region.
Travel Tip: Spend a couple of hours here to absorb the detailed history, which will enhance your understanding and experience of the temples.
5. Pub Street and Night Markets
After a day of temple exploration, Pub Street and the surrounding night markets offer a lively atmosphere to relax, with a variety of restaurants, bars, and street food vendors, as well as souvenir shopping opportunities.
Travel Tip: Try the local cuisine at the night markets, where you can find delicious Cambodian dishes at very reasonable prices.
6. Banteay Srei
Often referred to as the ‘Jewel of Khmer Art’, Banteay Srei stands out for its intricate and well-preserved carvings in pinkish sandstone. This 10th-century temple is located about 25 kilometers (16 miles) northeast of the main group of temples.
Travel Tip: Due to its distance from the main Angkor complex, combine your visit to Banteay Srei with other sites on the Grand Circuit to make the most of your day.
7. Cambodian Cultural Village
This theme-park-like attraction aims to introduce visitors to Cambodian culture and history. With miniatures of important historical buildings and performances of traditional dances, it’s an entertaining way to learn about the country’s heritage.
Travel Tip: Check performance times on arrival to plan your visit around the shows you are interested in.
8. Floating Villages of Tonlé Sap
The floating villages of Tonlé Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, offer a unique glimpse into the life of Cambodia’s rural communities. During the wet season, the lake swells to over five times its size, making these floating structures an ingenious adaptation.
Travel Tip: Opt for a guided tour to get a respectful and authentic experience, and try to go in the morning when the water is calmer and the heat is less intense.
9. Apsara Dance Performance
An evening of Apsara Dance, where dancers in elaborate costumes perform traditional Cambodian ballet, is an enchanting way to immerse yourself in Khmer culture. The dance is a beautiful interpretation of ancient myths and is recognized by UNESCO as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.
Travel Tip: Dinner shows are popular; booking in advance ensures you get a good seat with an unobstructed view of the performance.
10. War Museum Cambodia
The War Museum in Siem Reap provides insight into Cambodia’s recent turbulent history, especially the period of the Khmer Rouge. The museum offers guided tours by war veterans who share personal stories, adding a powerful dimension to the exhibits of weaponry and military vehicles.
Travel Tip: Be prepared for emotional stories; this experience can be quite profound and is not suitable for young children.
11. Artisans Angkor
Artisans Angkor is a social business aiming to revive traditional Cambodian craftsmanship and provide job opportunities to rural artisans. Visitors can tour the workshops and see skilled artisans at work on silk painting, wood carving, and stone sculpting.
Travel Tip: Don’t miss the chance to pick up some high-quality souvenirs here; the craftsmanship is exceptional, and your purchase supports local artisan communities.
12. Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Phare is not your typical circus; it’s an energetic, storytelling performance by talented young Cambodians using music, dance, acrobatics, and modern circus arts. It’s an entertaining and inspiring night out that also supports a good cause—the Phare Performing Social Enterprise educates and empowers disadvantaged young people.
Travel Tip: Book tickets in advance for the best seats, and consider visiting the Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang to see where these artists train.
13. Kulen Mountain
Phnom Kulen is a sacred mountain that holds great significance to the Khmer people. It’s home to a reclining Buddha, waterfalls, and ancient carvings in the riverbed.
Travel Tip: Wear comfortable shoes for hiking and bring a swimsuit if you fancy a dip in the waterfall pools. It’s also cooler here than in the city, so it’s a good escape from the heat.
14. Preah Khan
Preah Khan, or ‘Holy Sword,’ is a temple that was once a combination of a city, temple, and Buddhist university. Much less restored than Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm, it provides a more rugged look into the past and fewer crowds.
Travel Tip: This temple can be a maze, so consider hiring a guide to understand its history and navigate its complex corridors.
FAQ About Things to Do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
What are the must-visit temples in Siem Reap besides Angkor Wat?
Apart from the iconic Angkor Wat, make sure to visit Bayon Temple with its serene stone faces, Ta Prohm where ancient tree roots envelop ruins, and Banteay Srei, known for its intricate carvings.
Can I explore Siem Reap’s countryside?
Absolutely! Siem Reap’s countryside offers a glimpse into rural Cambodian life. You can take a bike tour, visit a local farm, or take a quad bike adventure through the rice fields and villages.
Are there any cultural shows in Siem Reap?
Yes, Siem Reap hosts various cultural shows including the Phare, The Cambodian Circus, and Apsara dance performances. These shows are a great way to understand the local culture and history.
What are the best markets to visit in Siem Reap?
For a local shopping experience, visit the Night Market for souvenirs and the Old Market (Psar Chas) for a range of goods. For foodies, the Made in Cambodia Market offers local crafts and street food.
Is there an opportunity to learn about Cambodia’s history in Siem Reap?
Definitely. The Angkor National Museum and the War Museum Cambodia provide deep insights into the region’s ancient history and more recent past.
Can I enjoy outdoor activities in Siem Reap?
Yes, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy activities such as ziplining through the jungle at Angkor Zipline, hot air ballooning for aerial views, or golfing at one of the scenic golf courses.
Are there any wellness activities in Siem Reap?
Siem Reap offers various wellness options such as yoga retreats, meditation sessions, and a variety of spas where you can enjoy traditional Khmer massages.
What local cuisine should I try in Siem Reap?
Don’t miss out on trying Amok (a coconut milk curry), Lok Lak (stir-fried beef), and Nom Banh Chok (Khmer noodles). Street food tours are also available for a taste of local flavors.