If you’re in Siem Reap, you’re going to Angkor Wat. But what is there to see and do beyond one of Asia’s most famous temples?
Cambodians are immensely proud of Angkor Wat – the temple
even features on their national flag – and rightly so; it’s an awe-inspiring
complex and the largest religious site in the world.
The surrounding area
(20USD for one day, 40USD for three days) features a series of incredible temples
radiating out from Angkor Wat itself and many of these are just as fascinating
as the central temple, with must-sees including the smiling stone faces of
Prasat Bayon, the intricately carved Elephants Terrace and the overgrown site
of Prasat Ta Prohm where tree roots and religious buildings are inextricably
More remote temples, such as the red sandstone Banteay Srei and
the lesser-visited Beng Melea are also incredible sites, but after a few days
of touring around ancient temples in the mud (in wet season, from May-October)
or dust (in dry season), you shouldn’t feel guilty if you want to take a break
from crumbling religious structures and carvings.
Fortunately, the adjacent city of
Siem Reap, which has expanded
rapidly in recent years to service the
tourist crowd, has plenty on offer for
when you need a break.
When you’re tired of templing
For slightly less noble pleasures, the tiny Sombai distillery (176 Sombai Road, +855 95 810 890) is well worth a visit. They take traditional Cambodian rice wine and infuse it with all manner of teas, fruits and herbs to produce some very tasty liqueurs, presented in hand-painted bottles. Call in advance to book a small tour of the low-key
workshop and an all-important free tasting.
Tonle Sap Lake, located 15km south
of the city, provides a good change of scenery with boat trips available out to
floating villages and markets during wet season. In dry season, visitors get
the spectacle of whole communities of houses teetering high above them on
stilts. Either way, making your way out to the lake to watch the sunset with a
few beers at a floating restaurant is worth the trip; just be aware that
reports of tourists being overcharged by the boat drivers are common – take a
tuk tuk driver you trust, or check with your hotel to see how much you should
pay before you leave (prices vary depending upon your destination and the
When you want some
As with those in much of southeast Asia, in the mornings
Cambodia’s markets are vibrant, bustling onslaughts on all of your senses at
once and not to be missed. The Old Market in the city centre is touristy, but
still sees plenty of local trade, while a little further out, the Phsar Leu
Market (7 Makara St) is worth a trip if you’re looking for a rustic, ramshackle
and wholly more authentic market experience. Here you’ll find stalls selling
everything from snails and pigs’ heads to fresh coconut and pineapple,
pharmaceuticals to blinging jewellery – all under one roof.
After dark, Siem
Reap’s night markets take over. When you get sick of wandering past the same
fake football tops and beer brand T-shirts, head to the central Angkor Night
Market (Angkor Night Market St) where you’ll find, well, more fake football
tops and beer brand T-shirts, but also a range of stalls with independent,
hand-crafted goods for sale. Bargain hard.
For a more refined (and more
expensive) take on local arts and crafts, there’s Artisans Angkor
(Chantiers-Ecoles, Stung Thmey Street, +855 63 963 330). Here, you can tour the
workshops during the day, before inevitably being led to the large gift shop
where items such as pure silk scarves will set you back 89USD. If you like, you
can also pick up a giant totem for 3,500USD.
When you’re hungry
Pub Street is
at the heart of Siem Reap nightlife and while the name may conjure up visions
of Sanlitun’s Bar Street at its worst, it’s also home to a number of the city’s
best restaurants and some surprisingly laidback bars.
The three branches of
Khmer Kitchen (both on and adjacent to Pub Street) are good places to sample the local cuisine, as the name suggests,
with authentic flavours at reasonable prices. The same can equally be said of
the nearby Genevieve’s (Sok San Road, +855 16 984 892) and Amok (Between The
Passage and Old Market, Street 9, +855 63 966 441); the former also offers some
Western dishes while the latter’s menu features a tasting platter of its
namesake dish, a creamy coconut-based curry, with four different varieties that
is well worth sampling.
More adventurous eaters will find an assortment of
insects, usually deep-fried, on sale from street vendors up and down Pub
Street, but the best place to really experience these delicacies is Bugs Cafe
(351 Thmey Village, Angkor Night Market Street, +855 17 764 560). Here, a
French owner has joined forces with a Cambodian chef to put together a menu of
‘insect tapas’ – dishes such as ‘tarantula donuts’ (8USD for three) and
stir-fried scorpions with a spicy papaya salad (7USD). The former tastes mostly
of the deep-fried batter and the latter has a crunchy texture and an unusual,
but likeable, flavour. Even if you’re unsure of their culinary merit, you get
some good photos to freak out your friends back home.
Another place where
you’ll find insects on the menu is Marum (#8A,B Phum Slor Kram, +855 17 363
284), a training restaurant for disadvantaged locals, where a beef stir fry
comes with red tree ants (6USD). There are plenty of non-buggy options however,
and the food, served in a lovely courtyard space, is tasty. Similarly, Haven
(Chocolate Road, +855 78 342 404), another training restaurant, boasts a
peaceful garden and excellent menu.
If you’re looking for something a little
more upmarket, then pay a visit to Cuisine Wat Damnak (Wat Damnak Market Street), which made it onto the Asia’s 50 Best listlast year
(just – it was number 50). It serves two seasonal set menus (for 24 and 28USD)
of dishes with a focus on local ingredients, such as Cambodian wild cinnamon
Drinks-wise, look no further than Asana (Street 7, +855 92 987 801).
The last traditional Cambodian wooden house in the Pub Street vicinity, its
combination of being tucked away down a quiet alleyway and boasting a decor of
large beds and hammocks is enough to make you want to stay until closing. The
friendly staff and decent, reasonably priced drinks (cocktails from 4USD) seal
Where to stay The area around Siem Reap –
and, in fact, large swathes of the city itself – is a near-constant dust bowl
during the dry season, so after a day spent in the back of a tuk tuk and
clambering around ancient temples you’re going to want to come back to a hotel
with a nice pool. Fortunately, there are plenty of these, with even small
guesthouses often augmented by pleasant swimming areas. Some of the best value
examples of this are in the Wat Bo area of the city, with spots such as Suon
Angkor Boutique (from 210RMB per night; +855 17 571 852) and La Residence Wat
Bo (from 390RMB per night; +855 63 968 575) being both far enough from the main
roads to be reasonably quiet but close enough to the centre to still be
walkable from Pub Street.
To really unwind in style, the Heritage Suites Hotel
(from 1,000RMB per night), pictured above, offers recently
refurbished suites with private patio areas and outdoor showers (in addition to
indoor ones) and even your own hot tub with the higher end rooms. On Tuesday
nights the hotel hosts traditional apsara dances and a barbecue beside the
outdoor pool, while every Thursday the beautiful historic main building is home
to a lively jazz night. Even better, the premises boast an excellent spa and
their airport pick-up and drop-off service uses a gloriously restored vintage
Know before you go A visa on arrival service is available
at the country’s major entry points for 35USD, though be aware that asking for
tips at passport control (both in and out of the country) is common. Stand your
ground and refuse to pay and they’ll usually back down.
How to get there Dragon
Air will fly you from Beijing to Siem Reap, with a stop in Hong Kong, from
around 5,000RMB return on Ctrip. If you’re unwilling to take in a stopover en
route, Air China has a direct flight but prices can get much higher.