Siem Reap, Cambodia is a charming and vibrant city in SE Asia that attracts tourists from all over the world. The city is most famous for being the gateway to the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat, but there are plenty of other things to see and do. Join us as we explore the five best things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
1. Explore the Ancient Temple Complex of Angkor Wat
No visit to Siem Reap is complete without exploring the ancient temple complex of Angkor Wat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the largest religious monument in the world and number one of the five best things to do in Siem Reap.
You know I’m all about the temples lately. I can’t stop writing about them and scrolling through my pictures! You can easily spend an entire week exploring the various temples and structures of Angkor Wat.
Some of the must-see sights include
- Angkor Wat
- Ta Prohm
- Bayon Temple
Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat Temple is the largest and most famous temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park. It was built in the early 12th century and is considered one of human history’s most outstanding architectural achievements. The temple is known for its stunning beauty and intricate carvings depicting Hindu mythology scenes. Today, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination.
Ta Prohm is a temple in the Angkor Archaeological Park, known for its role in the Lara Croft Tomb Raider movie. The temple is overgrown with trees and vines, creating a unique and otherworldly atmosphere. It literally looks like you’re exploring a movie set. Huge boulders lay in piles where the walls collapsed. And the gigantic trees are just reclaiming the area for the jungle. It’s stunning.
Bayon Temple is one of the most famous and recognizable temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. The incredible stone faces carved into its towers and walls capture your imagination as you gaze at them. 54 towers (one for each Cambodian province at the time), each holding four faces.
Bayon was built in the late 12th century and was originally a Hindu temple but was later converted into a Buddhist one. So you can see many traces of both religions. We explored here right when the temple opened, so it wasn’t crowded or too hot yet.
2. Take a Cooking Class
Another of the five best things to do in Siem Reap is to take a cooking class. Cambodian cuisine blends local ingredients with flavors from Thailand, Vietnam, and China. We love cooking classes to learn about local ingredients and techniques while experiencing the culture firsthand.
We try to find classes that also take you on a market tour. Sometimes, we have already explored the market ourselves, but it’s very different when you go with a local. The guide shows you fruits and vegetables, and even if we’ve seen something similar in the US, it probably has local uses we don’t know. And it keeps surprising me how many green herb-like vegetables we’ve never seen before.
There are plenty of cooking schools in Siem Reap that offer classes for both beginners and advanced cooks. Learn how to prepare traditional Cambodian dishes such as fish amok (Noelle’s favorite), beef lok lak (Steve’s favorite), and mango sticky rice (delicious, calorie-filled dessert.)
Here are three of the best cooking classes in Siem Reap:
Le Tigre de Papier
We went to a class at Le Tigre de Papier. It’s a popular restaurant on Pub Street that offers cooking classes for visitors. We recommend Channy’s excellent teaching skills and relaxed style. The classes are held in a beautiful, upstairs garden-like setting led by an experienced chef who shares her passion for Cambodian cuisine. We learned to prepare fish amok, Khmer curry, and fresh salad rolls. Plus, Steve got to set some bananas on fire for dessert!
La Table Khmère
La Table Khmère is a cooking school in the back of the restaurant that focuses on traditional Khmer cuisine. Two daily classes are held in a beautiful colonial-style house in the heart of Siem Reap and are led by local chefs passionate about sharing their knowledge of Cambodian food. You’ll learn to prepare dishes such as prahok ktis (a dip made from fermented fish), green mango salad, and banana flower salad.
Cooking Class in a Local Home
Angkor Wat Travel Tours is a locally-run tour operator. You’ll explore a local market for the freshest ingredients before heading to a local’s house for a cooking class. They offer four Khmer dishes, including Fish Amok and Tom Yum soup.
The flavorful and mildly spicy soup quickly became one of our favorites the first time we tried it at home. So eating it in Cambodia was over-the-top amazing. Making your dishes in a class means you control the spice level, so you can cook like a local without committing to the peppers!
Although I only listed three, Siem Reap has various cooking classes catering to all experience levels. So whether you’re a beginner or a chef, taking a cooking class from a local is an excellent way to learn about Cambodian culture and cuisine while having fun in the kitchen.
The dish I’m the most excited to cook once we’re back home in our truck camper is fish amok. It’s like a mild but highly flavorful fish curry, and I ate it every chance I got in Cambodia. I liked trying different versions of it at various restaurants and food stalls. But I think I need to purchase a mortar and pestle for a more authentic cooking experience at home.
3. Experience the Nightlife on Pub Street
Pub Street is the heart of Siem Reap’s nightlife scene. The street is lined with bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The atmosphere is lively, and the music is loud. You can find everything from craft beers, to local cocktails and excellent street food.
It’s a great place to meet new people since restaurants and bars are packed tightly. We chatted with people worldwide but also had restaurants to ourselves when we ate early dinners. So the choice is yours regarding how much interaction you want.
Pub Street is the liveliest area in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and it’s a must-visit for anyone looking to experience the city’s nightlife. Our hotel, Siem Reap City Angkor Boutique, was a block off the street, so we heard music till late, but it didn’t bother us. It was a perfect location.
Here are some Pub Street highlights:
Food and Drinks
There is an abundance of food and drink options available on Pub Street, from local street food to international cuisine. You can try local delicacies like fish amok, beef lok lak, and Khmer curry or opt for burgers, pizzas, or kebabs.
There are also plenty of bars and pubs where you can enjoy local beers, cocktails, and wines. Pub Street is a street (or three) of pubs and restaurants with every kind of food and drink you want.
Pub Street comes alive at night, and the atmosphere is buzzing. You’ll find live music, DJs, and dance floors, with bars and clubs open until the early morning hours. The energy is contagious, and you’ll surely have a great time.
We turned in early since we hit the temples early each morning, but we could hear the party, and it sounded fun! We listened to a lot of 1960s and 70s American music. And I’m not sure if that’s because we were out and about earlier in the evening with other older tourists or what. Later at night, we heard techno and much younger dance music from our hotel room’s balcony. So maybe they play “oldies for the oldies” and more hip music as the night progresses.
No trip to Siem Reap is complete without getting a fish massage. Shops set up large fish tanks full of small fish about two-three inches long. There’s a bench across the top while you dip your feet into the water.
It was super fun and also terrifying and a little weird. But I’m glad we did it, and I would certainly try it again.
The area around Pub Street is also a great place to shop for souvenirs and local handicrafts. Stalls and shops sell everything from t-shirts and magnets to silk scarves and artwork. More shops are open at night than during the heat of the day. So we often ate dinner and walked through the market before returning to our hotel in the evening.
Lastly, Pub Street is an excellent spot for people-watching. It’s a popular gathering place for locals and tourists, and you’ll see people from all walks of life. So you can sit back, relax, and take in the sights and sounds of this vibrant area while drinking a very cheap beer, 75 cents US.
Overall, Pub Street is a must-visit destination in Siem Reap. You’ll find it all here whether you’re looking for food and drinks, nightlife, shopping, or entertainment. It’s a great place to let loose and have fun, and you’ll leave with many fond memories.
4. Visit the Local Markets
Siem Reap’s local markets are a feast for the senses. But, of course, the Old Market is the most famous market for its fresh produce, meat, and fish.
You’ll also find clothing, souvenirs, and handmade crafts. Another famous market is the Angkor Night Market, which I mentioned above, near Pub Street. It is open until midnight and offers various goods, including clothes, jewelry, and local handicrafts.
Siem Reap is known for its vibrant and colorful markets, where you can find everything from fresh produce and spices to handicrafts and souvenirs. Visiting local markets is a great way to experience the culture and interact with the locals.
Expect some haggling, but don’t be like some tourists we saw who were just plain rude, trying to pay the bottom dollar. This area felt the extreme effects of the global pandemic and lockdown. So it hurt my heart to see Westerners haggling to demeaning levels for an item with a starting price of $10 US. A bargain is great, but the sellers must also make an income.
Here are some of the best local markets in Siem Reap:
Also known as the Old Market, Psar Chas is one of the largest and most popular markets in Siem Reap. Here you can find various goods, from fresh fruits and vegetables to clothing, souvenirs, and jewelry. The market is open every day from early morning until late at night.
Parts of Psar Chas look and smell very local, which is sometimes difficult for Westerners. Meat hangs from hooks or is displayed on counters, so the mix of aromas sometimes seems a little overwhelming. But it is a don’t-miss visit.
Phsar Leu Thom Thmey
Phsar Leu Thom Thmey means Upper Market or Large Market and is another Siem Reap market offering more options than you can fit into your suitcase. It is divided into sections of fresh produce, clothing, electronics, and souvenirs. It’s a good place for bargain-hunting.
We usually explore markets independently, but a tour would probably key you in on much more than we recognize happening.
Angkor Night Market
Angkor Night Market is a popular night market that offers a unique shopping experience. Many handicrafts, souvenirs, clothing, and local artwork are here. The market is beautifully designed with restaurants, bars, and live performances, making it a great place to spend the evening.
Siem Reap has a wide variety of markets that offer a unique shopping experience. Whether you’re looking for fresh produce, handicrafts, or souvenirs, there is something for everyone. In addition, visiting local markets is a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and interact with the locals.
5. Explore the Floating Village
The floating village of Chong Khneas is just a short drive from Siem Reap. The town is home to thousands of people who live in stilt houses along the banks of the Tonle Sap Lake. The water was low when we went, so it’s a village on stilts. However, I’m sure it makes more sense to call it “floating” during the rainy season since the waters are much higher.
You can take a boat tour of the village to see the local way of life. You’ll see floating schools, churches, and markets and have the opportunity to visit a local school.
A boat tour of the floating villages in Siem Reap is a unique experience, although if you’re short on time, I would likely forgo this visit. On the other hand, Steve and I really enjoyed the tuk-tuk ride to Chong Khneas. We loved seeing how locals live. But the overall experience left us with mixed feelings.
Seeing Traditional Village Life
The floating villages of Siem Reap are home to thousands of people who live and work on the water. A tour of the floating villages allows you to witness traditional village life and learn about the local culture. You’ll see how the villagers live and work on the water, and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with them to learn about their way of life.
The reality is that our boat guide either didn’t speak English or didn’t want to talk over the loud boat motor. So we experienced more of a sightseeing tour where we drew our own conclusions about traditional village life. We did stop at the local school to drop off supplies and see it and the church.
Read more about our Tonle Sap experience.
Seeing the Stunning Scenery
The floating villages of Siem Reap are located on the Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The lake and its surroundings offer stunning scenery, with beautiful sunsets, lush vegetation, and abundant wildlife. You’ll take a small boat from the larger motorboat through the mangrove forest. It’s a peaceful ride through quiet waters. Our guide whistled quietly during the trip, making it a relaxing experience.
Overall, taking a tour of the floating villages near Siem Reap is a good experience that offers a unique glimpse into local culture. Whether you’re interested in experiencing traditional village life, seeing stunning scenery, or stopping in a village for lunch along the way, there’s something for everyone.
Final Thoughts About Five Best Things To Do in Siem Reap
Siem Reap surprised us with how much we loved the town, the temples, the fish massage, and the friendly locals. From exploring ancient temples to experiencing the local food and nightlife scene, this fascinating city has no shortage of things to see and do. Add these five activities to your Siem Reap itinerary for an unforgettable trip.