Things to Do in Siem Reap
Hah. The title of this blog post is almost a joke. What to do in Siem Reap?? ANGKOR WAT. That’s what. That’s really why I was there and boy was I unprepared. I don’t know what I thought was in Angkor Wat but I thought it would take me a day to see it all. Hah. That’s so funny BECAUSE there are so many temples in this part of Cambodia that you can easily spend a week here, exploring everything. Well, that’s a reason for me to go back now isn’t it?
So if I had any advice for you before heading to Siem Reap, Cambodia it’s that you should do your research and make a plan. Don’t just show up for four nights like I did. Know what you’re getting into! (You would think I’d be good at this by now but I’m really not. Who has this much time for all this planning? Many people think that I am a planner but here’s a hot tip — I like the idea of a plan better than actually making the plans. This is why I appreciate a good tour where someone just drives me around and feeds me.) Here’s my take on what to do in Siem Reap:
Sleeping in Siem Reap
I stayed at the brand new J7 hotel and it was very nice. Many people will like it here. My room was HUGE and really nicely kitted out. In the hotel industry, you’re supposed to judge the luxury level of a hotel by the size of the bathroom and I don’t think I’ve really seen a bigger bathroom than the one at J7. There was both an indoor tub and an outdoor tub. (There were also a lot of mosquitoes though so I’m not sure I would recommend the outdoor tub.) That being said, the hotel fittings all felt a bit rushed and imperfect. (Sawdust still in the corners, carpentry not completed and fully stained, etc.) Also, the food at the hotel was good but not as good as the food at The Plantation in Phnom Penh so I ventured off property more often here. The J7 had only just opened when I stayed there so not every tuk tuk driver was familiar with it, but those in the know said it was the newest luxury hotel in Siem Reap. Service was *very* eager to please (too eager, maybe?) and the gym was very nice. The pool was a little basic and weird for me — I think there are some insurance incidents waiting to happen — but it was still nice. In short, the J7 is a good option for Siem Reap but I’d probably stay somewhere else next time. Book the J7 Hotel.
Things to Do in Siem Reap: Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat Tour: I booked a full-day tour with Urban Adventures to see Angkor Wat. I think this was one of the best tours I’ve ever done because the group got along together so well. Oddly, I had one of those “six degrees of separation” moments with a couple on the tour — something I really love about traveling! We had a ton of laughs and thoroughly confused our very kind and somewhat corny tour guide. (Someone had taught him a lot of really bad jokes in English that I’m not sure he really understood.) Along with Angkor Wat, we also visited Tah Prohm and Banyon Temple. The Banyon Temple was particularly beautiful. I really can’t believe they let tourists climb all over this stuff. We only just scratched the surface of what you can see in Siem Reap so if you only have a short time in town, book this tour, but if you have more time, book a two or three-day tour package to see more of the temples. Book this tour.
Things to Do in Siem Reap besides Temples
Obviously, most people are in Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. But here are some things to do in Siem Reap besides temples…
My first night in town, I signed up for (another) Urban Adventures Food Tour. If you are looking for things to do in Siem Reap besides temples, you MUST do this tour. It was so great and my tour guide was really friendly and funny and nice. I was the only person on the tour, which was great except that Cambodians *really* want you to enjoy their food so I felt a bit more pressure than usual to eat everything. Because of the suffering the population experienced during the rule of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodians eat a lot of interesting things…like insects. I’m cool with silk worms but it was hard for me to do the crickets. (I can’t believe I actually wrote that sentence) I recommend this tour for the insect experience alone! We ended the tour at a touristy restaurant with average food — Phanha Khmer — which I would not recommend. (Although the beer was cold which is always a plus.) But honestly, otherwise, this tour was great and it was nice to have one-on-one time with a Cambodian and get all my questions answered. Book this tour.
This is a 90-minute performance that blends riveting theater with folk music and Cambodian stories. Many of the young circus artists are from challenging social and economic backgrounds. By attending a show, you’ll support the charity Phare Ponleu Selpak and discover the work the organization does to help vulnerable children and adults in Cambodian society. Again if you’re looking for things to do in Siem Reap besides temples, this is a great option. Book tickets for Phare.
I highly recommend this Tonle Sap sunset dinner cruise as another thing to do if you’re looking for things to do in Siem Reap besides temples, On this 4-hour evening tour, you’ll visit the floating village of Chong Khneas, glide past lotus fields and stilted houses, visit a crocodile farm, and enjoy a typical Cambodian meal. Buy this tour.
Shopping in Siem Reap
Artisans Angkor: One afternoon, searching for things to do in Siem Reap besides temples, I hired a tuk tuk to take me to Artisans Angkor, a well known location for real Cambodian handicrafts. I honestly wanted to buy everything in the shop. I came away with a decorative box and a lot of coasters (gifts for all my friends and family) and some napkins and…you get the point. If you like really nice tchotkes, this is the place for you. (After a while, all craft markets start to look the same because everything is from China or India but this place was very different and very high end.) I highly recommend visiting.
Spa in Siem Reap
Bodia Spa: Angkor Wat is hard work, so I booked myself in for pretty much every beauty treatment I could possibly have at this popular spa. I was assured that most tuk tuk drivers knew where it was but mine didn’t! It’s a very short walk from Pub Street and there’s a cash machine right around the corner in case you needed more money like I did. (The national currency of Cambodia seems to be U.S. dollars.) I really enjoyed my treatments here. The decor is modern and soothing. I would definitely recommend checking Bodia Spa out if you’re in town. Although I was fine with the prices, there are probably cheaper options.
Restaurants in Siem Reap
Malis, along the Siem Reap River: This is a very beautiful, high-end restaurant. Portions were huge and really meant for two and I was dining solo. In hindsight, I would have skipped the starter and just focused on my main. Service was absolutely lovely and kind although some of the servers were a little too focused on watching Westerners eat. (As opposed to Amok below, where they probably have decades of history with tourists and don’t stare in fascination so much.) Expensive for what it was, but the setting was really really nice so if you’re kinda done with street food, cheap eats and hotel food (like I was), this is a great option.
Amok, Pub Street: This place came highly recommended in all the guidebooks although everyone warned that the service was a little crazy. Well, it certainly was. At one point, they delivered my food to another table, who ate all of it, even though what they actually ordered was nothing like what I had ordered. (Spring rolls and the ubiquitous beef amok.) After my first lunch here, they put me in a tuk tuk “with the owner” who they promised wouldn’t try to rip me off. (It was my first tuk tuk ride in Siem Reap.) He immediately tried to rip me off. All that being said, I liked the decor of Amok and the quirkiness cracked me up. “Oh, did you want to actually eat here?” seemed to be their general attitude. Good people watching on Market Street too. The food was just so-so but remember I was spoiled by the beef amok at The Plantation.
So if you were wondering what to do in Siem Reap BESIDES for temples like Angkor Wat, I hope that helps. It’s a fun little town and there’s a lot more here than just temples. Plan accordingly! In fact, definitely make a plan. Don’t just show up like I did! In hindight, I would have done one full day at Angkor Wat and then a day or food touring and spa-ing and shopping and then I would have done a 2nd day of temples because I only saw the basics. In short, there’s A LOT to see and do here but it’s also just a great place to chill.