Most visitors to Siem Reap are there simply to see the Angkor Temples. While the Angkor Temples are no doubt the greatest and most impressive attraction in the area, the town of Siem Reap is also able to offer travellers some interesting diversions.
Siem Reap offers a wide range of hotels from budget hostels to five star luxury. Many of the newer hotels are situated a few kilometres outside of the centre of the town, but the main hub of Siem Reap can be easily reached by tuk tuk. Tuk tuk drivers can be found outside most hotels and for around $2 will drop you in the centre of town.
Love to Cook, Shop and Relax
There are quite a few interesting things to do in and around Siem Reap during the day. A couple of the local restaurants offer cooking classes and this is a great opportunity to learn more about Cambodian cooking, a cuisine that is often overshadowed by its neighbour, Thailand. Another option is to take a day trip out to the villages in the surrounding area to meet locals and see what life in rural Cambodia is like.
For those who love to shop, the Centre Market offers a range of souvenirs and clothing. Remember to bargain, although in general the prices are pretty reasonable. It’s a great place to find silk scarves, although quality varies, so shop around. And once sights have been seen and trinkets have been bought, why not round off the day with a relaxing Khmer massage? There are a number of massage parlours offering massages, from foot massages to full body massages, at very reasonable prices in clean and relaxing surroundings.
Make a Donation
For many visitors to Cambodia, the poverty of the locals is a shocking eye-opener. While there are many charities that one can make donations to, possibly one of the most helpful and personal donations visitors can make is a blood donation at the Jayavarman VII hospital. Dengue hemorrhagic fever affects thousands of people, particularly children, in Cambodia each year and a constant supply of safe blood can become an issue.
Visitors wishing to donate blood are free to arrive at the hospital at any time where blood is taken by friendly nurses in a clean and hygienic clinic. It leaves one with a sense of having done a little more for these warm and welcoming people than one would ordinarily be able to do while on holiday.
Spoilt for Choice
There is no shortage of dining options in this bustling little town and most eateries can be found either on the appropriately named Pub Street, or the small side streets leading off the main drag. Just about every cuisine is represented here, from Indian to wood-fired pizza, but if you’re looking for authentic Cambodian cuisine, the Khmer Kitchen is an excellent choice. Situated on an alley just off Pub Street, this family run restaurant offers delicious Cambodian food at reasonable prices. Try the Amok, a very mild curry dish made with coconut milk and served with rice.
For more authentic Cambodian food, try some of the street stalls that set up each evening near the Lantern Market. The stalls are fairly clean, but as with any street food, pick a stall that is busy as this means it’s less likely that fresh produce will be left sitting out for long periods. There is something about eating bowls of fried rice and drinking freshly squeezed lemon juice while watching the world go by from a plastic chair that makes one feel they’re really experiencing the local life.
If mixing food and entertainment appeals, then why not book in for dinner at one of the local restaurants that offers dinner with an Apsara dance show. Apsara is the traditional dance of the Khmer people and is closely related to traditional forms of dance found in Laos and Thailand. The costumes are elaborate and quite stunning, and the dancers will have you transfixed with their grace and agility.
Shop by Lantern-Light
After a day of sightseeing, eating, being massaged and shopping, why not try a bit more shopping, or a spa experience with a twist? Each evening a night market, called the Lantern Market, is set up where visitors can browse for local crafts. The quality is generally very good and clothing, handbags and scarves are well constructed. It’s a great place to pick up a traditional Khmer scarf, made from durable cotton in a range of colours, which prove to be very versatile.
Another highlight of the market is the pools offering reviving foot massages, performed by fish! The fish are in fact Turkish Spa fish, or Doctor fish, which feast on dead skin. It sounds pretty gruesome, but once the initial tickling sensation has faded, it’s very relaxing sitting with your feet in a pool of cool water while you feet are chewed till beautifully soft. There are two stalls which provide this service, but head to the one nearer the back of the market – it’s around $3 for as long as you like and less crowded.
Siem Reap is a small town that has grown due to tourist demands, but it has retained much of its charm. It’s a good base for visiting the Angkor Temples, but has many delights of its own to keep visitors entertained.