[Update: Want the newest stuff? Of course you do! Check out our updated Top 10 Things to do in Siem Reap post from May 2015 that includes a professionally edited 2 minute video by clicking here. ]
1. Angkor Wat
Like this list would start with anything else! Usually the only thing people know about Cambodia and certainly the only reason people venture north to Siem Reap is to see this amazing wonder of the world. And you know what? It’s worth it!
Granted, that is a much easier statement to make if you fly in on Air Asia for $60 from Kuala Lumpur (my recommendation) than if you take the hellacious 10 hour bus ride from Bangkok (not my recommendation), but regardless of how you get there, you’ll be blown away.
I could yarn on and on about Angkor Wat, but they say a picture is worth 1,000 words, so I’ll just give you two suggestions and then let the rest speak for itself.
First, definitely get up to go at sunrise. Yes, its 4:30 am and yes that sounds crazy, but it really does make the experience that much better.
Even if the sunrise itself isn’t so great (like the day we went), being at such a sacred and majestic place that early in the morning is magical.
My second suggestion is to not dilly dally outside of the temple after the sunrise occurs. Before you know it, the temples will be overrun with large (and noisy) Korean and Japanese tour groups, even at this early of an hour.
Sneak in to the temple right after sunrise, before the rest get mobilized, and you’ll have this amazing place all to yourself. Those 15 quiet and peaceful minutes I had alone in the temple were hands down the best part of the trip.
2. Rent a driver for the day
This is usually done by people who are going to see Angkor Wat, but it deserves its own special mention because you aren’t just having a person drive you around, you’re having an experience.
Our driver, Bunthy, was one of the nicest, most genuine human beings you could ever meet, and as he was ferrying us around between the ruins, we not only learned a TON about Angkor Wat itself, but also amazing information about Cambodia, it’s history, it’s current political state, Bunthy’s family, the state of education in Cambodia, a normal lifestyle for a Cambodian person, and any other question I could think to fire off to him.
This interaction is the one major advantage to renting a car for the day (prices usually start at $30, but we talked him down to $25 and then ended up giving him a $5 tip anyway!) rather than a tuk-tuk.
You’ll have plenty of opportunities for renting a tuk-tuk around town, and its definitely something you should experience, but for the day trip around Angkor Wat, you won’t be able to converse or learn near as much from your driver, seeing as you’ll be sitting in the back of a noisy, motorbike drawn carriage.
And if you go in summer, as I did, the A/C alone is worth the extra $7.
Get in touch with my good buddy Bunthy and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! Call or WhatsApp (855)-12-972-469 or even shoot him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
3. Eat a frog
I’m no stranger to eating weird foods, but usually its not as enjoyable as it is comedic. Eating a frog is completely different; it’s delicious!
And not in a “it’s delicious for a really weird food” type way, but in a legitimate “I’d love to have 3 frogs for dinner two times a week” type way. As cliche as it sounds, it tastes like chicken, just juicier and more flavorful.
For $1? Looks like I’ll be flying in the staff from Khmer Family Restaurant to cater my next party. Frogs for everyone!
4. Get a fish massage
While the idea originally started on Khao San Road in Bangkok, it has quickly moved across the border and found a foothold in Siem Reap as well. And, believe it or not, it’s even cheaper here!
$1 will buy you 15 minutes and a free beer, so when you ask me why you should put your feet in a tank full of goldfish, my answer would be “why not?” And if you really need a reason, just believe the men when they tell you your dead skin is feeding the gold fish. It’ll placate the animal love in all of us!
5. Eat dinner in a bathtub
Madam Beergarden Under Construction (yes, that’s its real name) is as famous for its awesome food as it is for its crazy décor, and that’s saying something!
While dining on some of the best and cheapest eats in Siem Reap you can “lounge” in a sawed in half bathtub, among other interesting objects that dot the beergarden.
Whether you come for the food or the atmosphere, you won’t be disappointed!
6. Indulge Yourself on Pub Street
One of the good things about Pub Street and the surrounding areai is that most bars 50 cent draft beers for happy hour. An even better thing: Happy Hour lasts “all day” or “from open to close”, depending on which sign you choose to read!
So no matter what time you decide to prowl Pub Street, a 50 cent draft is never far away. I can’t think of a better way to beat the heat than relaxing a street side pub and having a few drafts for less than $2!
Angkor What is the bar that started it all, but really, you can’t go wrong with any of them (I mentioned beer was 50 cents, right)? Here’s a list and map of most of them. And just in case you get lost, the town has now erected a neon flashing sign to point all foreigners in the right direction!
7. Haggle in the markets
Handbags, t-shirts, bathing suits, or live chickens…whatever your fancy, the street markets of Siem Reap have it all. And while the prices are already low by our standards, it’s fun to engage in a little friendly bargaining!
My typical starting point is half of their first asking price. Just remember, these people could use the extra dollar much more than you, so have fun with it, but don’t push too hard.
8. Stay at a boutique hostel
As more and more tourists flock to Angkor Wat, so do the big hotel chains; there is even a Park Hyatt scheduled to open next year!
But with Cambodia being the 3rd most corrupt country in Asia and the gap between the rich and the poor seismic, why not do a small part in giving back by staying at a locally run guesthouse or boutique hostel? Not only will you get a more authentic experience, but the service will be second to none and the price you’ll pay will probably be half of what you’d pay at a Western-run hotel. It’s a win-win for everyone!
There are plenty in the area, but if you want a recommendation, head to the Golden Mango. Sony and his staff are some of the nicest people in the world, the building and pool are really nice, and the free breakfast is both tasty and filling.
9. Ride in a tuk-tuk
There is no more authentic Southeast Asian experience than riding in a tuk-tuk, an open air wagon pulled by a motorbike that serves as a taxi. For traveling through town, where the roads are congested and lanes are just a suggestion, a tuk-tuk will be just as fast as a regular taxi and easily half the price.
Plus, you’ll get to enjoy all the sites, sounds, and smells that make Siem Reap Siem Reap. And if you’re lucky, you may even witness a fistfight (see 0:33 of video below).
10. Eat a traditional Cambodian meal
Cambodian food certainly doesn’t get the publicity that it’s neighbors do but its delicious in its own right. Some people may even prefer it to Thai food as the flavor is more subdued and its certainly less spicy.
Two of the most popular traditional dishes are amok and lok lak. Amok is fish covered in crushed peanuts, coconut milk, and egg, that is wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed, whereas lok lak is a marinated beef stir fry served with special Cambodian seasoning. Both come with rice, as does most every dish in Cambodia.
There is no better place to try these dishes, and much more, than at Khmer Kitchen, a Cambodian-run restaurant right off of Pub Street that is as cheap as it is delicious. Additionally, you’ll get a pretty good rendition of either one of these dishes at the stalls that line the area around Angkor Wat.
While Angkor Wat gets most of the publicity, and justifiably so, there are still many really cool and authentic things to do in Siem Reap. So if you find yourself venturing to northern Cambodia to see this amazing Wonder of the World make sure to try out some of my top 10 to make your trip even that much better!
If you’ve been to Siem Reap, what suggestions do you have? Are there things I’ve left out? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!
And don’t forget to check out our updated list (with a much better, professionally edited video) of the top 10 things to do in Siem Reap.