Things to Do in Siem Reap
This great lake covering 1,000 square miles (2,600 square kilometers) is not only the largest body of fresh water in Southeast Asia, it’s also a UNESCO-designated biosphere due to its remarkable natural features. The flow of water in Tonlé Sap changes direction twice during the course of the year, expanding and contracting with the seasons.
Phnom Kulen National Park, which sits north of the famous temples of Angkor Archeological Park, features Khmer landmarks in a gorgeous natural setting. Visit to see waterfalls streaming from a holy mountain, natural pools, the phallic carvings at Kbal Spean (the River of a Thousand Lingas), and a popular Buddhist shrine.
When Aki Ra, founder of the Cambodia Landmine Museum, was a child, he was recruited as a child soldier in the army of the Khmer Rouge and spent much of his formative years fighting. After the war he returned to try and remove and defuse by hand many of the thousands of mines he planted during his time with the army. In 1997 he founded the Cambodian Landmine Museum and School to care for kids wounded by landmines.
Today, the facility houses more than three dozen kids from throughout Cambodia who've endured various forms of physical, emotional and familial hardships. They're all given an education, including English language classes, and eventually a university or trade school scholarship.
While visitors aren't allowed into the children's home, they are encouraged to visit the museum, where proceeds go toward supporting the kids' relief center. Museum exhibits include mines, guns, mortars and other weaponry from Cambodia's 35 years of war, as well as a mock minefield where guests learn the difficulties of locating and deactivating mines.
Perched on the floodplain of Tonle Sap Lake—the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia— Kampong Phluk is a floating community of around 3,000 villagers. Visit to see how the residents live—in stilted homes and depending on fishing as a livelihood.
Beng Mealea is located 40 kilometers east of the main Angkor Wat complex. The temple was mainly constructed from sandstone, with its architectural style identical to that of Angkor Wat. Because of this, it is thought that Beng Mealea was built in the 12th century under the reign of Suryavarman II.
The temple grounds are surrounded by a gigantic moat and was once entirely consumed by jungle. This atmospheric temple is oriented toward the east, with entranceways from the other three cardinal directions also. If entering from the south, visitors will find themselves amid piles of chiselled sandstone blocks, sweeping vines, and mysterious dark chambers.
The layout of the temple consists of three enclosed galleries situated around a central tower, which has now completely collapsed. There’s a well-preserved library in the northeastern quadrant, plus extensive carvings of scenes from Hindu mythology and long balustrades formed by bodies of the seven-headed Naga serpent.
While the decaying structures and overgrown temples of Angkor Wat remain among the most popular destinations in Siem Reap, the rare collection of stone carvings along the Stung Kbal Spean River, typically known as simply Kbal Spean, continues to bring art and archaeology lovers outside the city and beyond Angkor.
The impressive carvings that line the riverbed, also known as the "River of a Thousand Lingas", pay homage to the Hindu god Shiva. During the 11th and 12th centuries, artisans chipped away at delicate sandstone leaving intricate phallic symbols, mythological creatures and religious images along the shores. Visitors must trek two kilometers up rocky, uneven terrain to spy the hand-carved statues. Some argue the hike is more trouble than it’s worth, but most agree that travelers seeking to connect with nature and explore Cambodia’s rich and colorful history will appreciate a trip to Kbal Spean.
Refurbished in 2018, the 5-acre (2-hectare) War Museum Cambodia is devoted to the weapons of Cambodia’s many conflicts. The collection, which you’re allowed to handle, runs from tanks and fighter planes to small arms and rocket launchers. One room focuses on the landmines that have caused such suffering in Cambodia.
A large, air-conditioned wooden pavilion on the grounds of Siem Reap’s Angkor Village Resort, the Angkor Village Apsara Theatre hosts classical Khmer dance performances with a live orchestra. Shows typically include the graceful apsara (nymph) dance and scenes from the Hindu epic known as the Ramayana, with a Cambodian-themed dinner.
Opened in 2007, this modern, interactive museum showcases Khmer civilization and the Angkor era. Eight different galleries put the period in context with artifacts gathered from sites including Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Topics covered include religion and belief, the great Khmer kings, the pre-Angkor period, and ancient costume.
Believed to have been built during King Suryavarman II’s reign in the first half of the 12th century, Wat Athvea is one of several Hindu temples around Siem Reap that remain shrouded in mystery. Less visited than the nearby temples of Angkor, it’s a worthwhile detour for those looking to escape the crowds.
More Things to Do in Siem Reap
One of Siem Reap’s oldest temples, Wat Bo is known for its collection of well-preserved wall paintings from the late 19th century. Though Wat Bo is a Buddhist temple, these paintings depict the Reamker, which is Cambodia’s interpretation of the Ramayana—an epic Hindu story about the love between Rama and Shita, the strongest man and the most beautiful women of all time. There is also an impressive collection of Buddha statues.
It won’t take long to explore Wat Bo as it’s not that big of a temple. However, the paintings are well preserved and, in addition to illustrating the Reamker, the paintings also give insight into daily life in this area. A sharp eye might catch foreigners painted into the scenes, get an idea of what fashion looked like in those days and perhaps spot the likeness of French soldiers. It’s a quiet respite from the liveliness of Siem Reap and a nice break from the expansive temples of nearby Angkor Wat.
Set back from the west bank of the Siem Reap River, Wat Preah Prom Rath temple boasts a history that may date back to the 13th century. However, everything to be seen here was built after World War II. Colorful statues and lush gardens in the heart of downtown offer the chance to see how Cambodian Buddhism is practiced today.
Travelers looking for cold beers and cheap food almost always find themselves in the throes of chaotic Pub Street. Local taverns, unique vendors, musicians and traditional dancers line this paved pass, giving Siem Reap’s entertainment Mecca a true party vibe.
Pedestrian-only streets mean it’s easy to wander between stalls selling traditional crafts, ice-cold beers and spicy hot soups. Food here is as popular with locals as it is with travelers. Strong-stomached visitors can sample frog legs, beetles, snake and crispy grasshoppers, while the less adventurous can head indoors to dance at bumping disco techs, or simply saddle up to one of the numerous outdoor tables and sip cool drinks while absorbing all of the city’s energy.
There’s a reason why most businesses in the city give their addresses in relation to Siem Reap Old Market (Phsar Chas). Its well-stocked stalls selling Buddhist treasures, hilariously misspelled t-shirts, jewelry and other souvenirs are a must-stop destination for travelers visiting this ancient city.
Friendly sellers used to foreign visitors make it easy to haggle for the best deal at this market in the heart of Siem Reap. The narrow passes between vendors are typically jam-packed with locals and travelers creating an energy that’s as kinetic and alive as nearby Pub Street. Hungry shoppers can wander to the food stalls on the northern side of Phsar Chas, which sell traditional dishes prepared on the street, as well as the farm fresh ingredients locals use to prepare the evening’s dinner.
Recognized as the first nature preservation in Cambodia, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) is known for its wildlife rescue, animal rehabilitation, and endangered species breeding programs.
Center visitors can tour the grounds under the direction of expert guides who are well informed about the unique challenges facing the protection of Cambodia’s wildlife. From the pileated gibbons to silvered langur, the Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity houses animals found in few other places on earth. Visitors leave impressed by the well-kept grounds, knowledgeable staff, and diversity of animals. And whether it’s combined with a trip to nearby Banteay Srei or visited as a destination all its own, this conservation center treats visitors to a one-of-a-kind experience.
The Siem Reap Art Center Night Market is open from morning until late in the evening, but it is more of a night market than an art center. Close to the Old Market (Phsar Chaa or Phsar Chas), the site boasts a wealth of stalls selling crafts, souvenirs, the obligatory elephant pants, and snacks.
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