Let’s be honest: what would a visit to Siem Reap be without a trip to the Angkor Temples? Just a short tuk-tuk ride away from the city centre, the Angkor Archaeological Park is one of the largest and most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. It contains diverse remains from the Khmer Empire spanning from the 9th to 15th centuries, the most stunning of which are its temples. Angkor Wat is by far the most famous, with its famed sunrise and sunset views, though many visitors most easily recognise Ta Phrom with its tree-root-strangled doorways from the Tomb Raider film. And if you like a "peace and silent" place, the Bantey Srei Temple will be a good choice.
Just under 50 km from Siem Reap, lies one of Cambodia’s most mysterious and enchanting archaeological sites: Kbal Spean. Also known as the River of 1000 Lingas, this is a holy place where sacred Hindu images have been carved directly into the riverbed. The images date back almost 1000 years and are just one of many places of interest within the park, making it an ideal day out. From Kbal Spean, visitors can also hike to Preah Ang Thom, a massive reclining Buddha statue carved directly into a sandstone boulder, and to a series of waterfalls with natural swimming pools at the base. Best of all, though there aren’t many foreign visitors who make it to Phnom Kulen, you’ll be in good company with locals making pilgrimage.
Got your fill of ancient Khmer art at Siem Reap’s archaeological sites? Then check out Cambodia’s modern creative scene with an evening at Phare, the Cambodian Circus. This show has been lauded as one of the most entertaining and innovative performances in Cambodia today, and best of all, it’s not just good fun – it’s also for a good cause. Started by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit Cambodian organisation promoting arts training for vulnerable groups, the circus and acrobatic school is a way for young Cambodian performers to learn employable skills in the arts. Shows at Phare frequently feature a mix of traditional and modern performance, and deal with themes like love, family life, discrimination, gender roles, and even the repercussions of war.
It’s hard to miss Siem Reap’s Pub Street, with its neon signs and cries of revelry coming out of every bar. This is the go-to area for nightlife in town, and a visit to Siem Reap isn’t complete without an evening exploring. Looking for a bit of class with a cool cocktail? Drop by Miss Wong, a joint inspired by 1920s Shanghai. Prefer a bit of grunge and live music? Catch a show from a local band at Laundry Bar Or maybe you just want to dance til dawn with other backpackers? Temple Club and Angkor What? are the go-to spots. Whatever your flavour, you’ll find it on Pub Street, so grab some friends and try ‘em all!
While exploring the Angkor ruins, you’ll most likely notice carved images of dancers making their way across the temple walls. These Apsara dancers represent one of Cambodia’s oldest art forms, a traditional dance performed by young women with famously graceful movements. The Apsara dance is still alive and well in Cambodia, so stop by a show in Siem Reap to see history in action. Temple Balcony on Pub Street features a free performance, but it’s usually overshadowed by the crowds in the restaurant and bar. Though a bit more pricey, the performances at the Raffle Grand Hotel D'Angkor and the Angkor Village Hotel come with dinner and more professional dancers. There are also other shows that combine dance performances with shadow puppetry or martial arts. Pick up a ticket, and prepare to be mesmerised.
If you’re ready to get out of the lively, though touristy, heart of Siem Reap, make a beeline for the countryside to explore its smaller villages. But we bet you can’t guess our favourite way to do so! Go on, we’ll give you a second. Ready? It’s not just walking, or hiring a tuktuk, or hitchhiking…but quad biking! Getting out on your own four wheels is a fantastic way to explore the real Siem Reap because it gets you up-close-and-personal with the villages. With kids running and waving as you drive past, plus the view of verdant gardens along the roads, taking a quad bike tour is an experience you won’t find many places else in Southeast Asia. And forget those sunset shots from Angkor Wat – watching it illuminate the sky over rural rice terraces is an image far more enthralling, and a truly unique experience.
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