1. Temple run at the Angkor Archeological Park
Amidst the quaint city alleys, French-colonial structures, Chinese-inspired shophouses and rice paddies, Siem Reap is the backpacker’s gateway to the millennium-old ruins that represents the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the dozens of temple ruins that litter the Angkor Archeological Park are as magnificent and awe-inspiring as the Pyramids of Giza, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. In short, it’s one of those things that should be on every traveler and adventurer’s bucket list. While the temples are just buzzing with curious tourists, you can still capture the mystery and wonder of the ancient temples of Angkor. In fact, this item deserves a whole separate blog post. Read here:
2. Embark on a street food trip
Siem Reap is a food-lover’s paradise. Don’t miss out on the chance to sample an amazing array of cuisines from local Cambodian fare to Western dining options. For the ultimate street food adventure, sample the many offerings in the Old Market and Pub Street Areas. The choices are endless! In true Jeepney Stop tradition, where food is considered Holy Grail, the gastronomic adventure is described in detail here: Food Trip Chronicles: Eating My Way Through Siem Reap
3. Shop for kitschy handmade souvenirs at the Old Market
A visit to Phsar Chas, Which is Khmer for Old Market, is an important part of any Cambodian travel experience. A semi-covered area with small shops and stalls, the Old Market is Siem Reap’s most popular traditional market that caters to both visitors and locals and offers a varied selection of souvenirs and food. If it’s too hot to go market-shopping during the daytime, you can opt to visit any of the multitude of Night Markets around the city, off Sivatha Boulevard. Haggling at the local market is a true cultural shopping experience.
4. Have a drink or two (or more) in Pub Street
With beer at 50 cents for a mug of Angkor Draft and even 35 cents/ mug during Happy Hour (Triangle Bar and Restaurant), there’s no excuse not to go drinking with friends or even by your lonesome. Trust me, after a long day of Temple Running, an ice cold draft is just what you need. For non-drinkers, I highly recommend the fresh Lime or Lemon juice. It’s the perfect combination of tart, sweet and super refreshing! Pub Street is just teeming with bars and restaurants for your enjoyment. A personal fave is the cheeky Angkor What?, a huge bar with graffiti, neon paint and black light. The beer is $4 per pitcher and the music is great, some rock, rnb, hiphop with none of those trashy pop tunes. For the hardcore partygoers, Temple Club right across the street is the place for you with live DJ’s every weekend.
5. Lose yourself along Siem Reap’s alleys
Off Pub Street and West Alley are some of the quaintest French-colonial architecture that you’ve ever seen in a small Southeast Asian city. In fact, Siem Reap’s alleyways lead you to some hidden restaurants and bars that make you feel as if you’ve escaped the city altogether. The small passageways are clean, shaded and quiet. It’s the perfect place to get lost in, relax and have a cup of coffee on a lazy afternoon.
6. Take a turn around Bayon Temple on an elephant
If you have to do something expensive around Angkor Archeological Park, hop on a friendly and gentle elephant and go around Bayon Temple for $15 per person. While the ride is definitely rocky and a tad awkward (especially in the photos, it’s hard to look cool while trying to be balanced on an elephant), it’s a fun and unique experience. For an extra $1, feed the elephants with a whole pineapple! The view is definitely unparalleled.
- 7. Meet new people, talk with the locals
One of the great things that you experience when traveling is the opportunity to meet new people from other countries and make friends with some locals. We met some rowdy British guys who turned out to be great company, although they couldn’t hold their jaeger shots very well. I also enjoyed talking to some locals who honored us by sharing their life stories. One unforgettable individual was Vuthy, a 28-year old Cambodian waiter slash disc jockey and entrepreneur with a really blessed life. His journey was far from smooth after losing his mother and sister at the age of 3. He escaped the orphanage at the age of 9 to get away from bullies and ended up selling newspapers in the streets. A very kind American women on assignment for USAid ended up adopting Vuthy and raised him in Cambodia for 19 years. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and has been to the US twice for a short vacation. Vuthy’s mother has long returned to the States and waits for Vuthy to join her as soon as all his immigration papers are in order. Truly, a touching story.
8. Try a foot reflexology massage by the side of the road
I’ve had Swedish massage treatments in very high-end spas and resorts, affordable reflexology sessions with a blind masseuse and even an authentic Thai massage in Bangkok but nothing beats the roadside Foot Massage in Siem Reap. For $3, you get a 30 minute foot and back massage, with Free wifi and a can of local Angkor Beer! I am not kidding you.
9. Cruise around Siem Reap by TukTuk
The main mode of transportation in Siem Reap, the Tuktuk costs around $1 for short distances and $6 for a tour around the city’s attractions. We visited the Golden Palace, Royal Gardens, Temple and Killing Fields around Siem Reap with a quiet drive along the riverside. While very similar in concept to the local tricycle (motorcycle and sidecar) in the Philippines, the TukTuk is a bit different because the 4 seater passenger car is located behind the motorcycle. It’s actually very comfortable especially during the late afternoon when the harsh sun lets up and the weather is a bit cooler.
- 10. Visit the Angkor Artisans Workshop or Senteurs d’ Angkor
After trekking around the temples of Angkor, wrap up your cultural expedition with a trip to the Artisans d’ Angkor workshop for a firsthand look at Khmer arts and crafts techniques. Get a free guided tour where master artisans (who are also deaf and mute) show you what goes on behind stone and wood carving, lacquering, silver plating and silk painting. The finished products are sold in the artisan showroom. As much as I wanted to take home some wood and stone figurines, the items were a bit too pricey for my budget not to mention too heavy for my backpack. Also, the artisans specializing in sandstone carving at the workshop are also sent over to the Archeological Park to help with the temple restorations.
If you are a lover of all things bath and body pampering-related, you will definitely love Senteurs d’ Angkor. Visitors get to see the process of producing natural, handmade soaps made from coconut oil, moisturizing creams, balms, candles etc. While I wasn’t able to visit the actual workshop, I went gaga at their outlet store near the riverside market. I bought a set of soaps made from Lemongrass, Green Tea, Lotus and local Cambodian flower – Frangipani. Smells so heavenly that I can’t wait for bath time wohoo!!!