For a small town, Siem Reap offers an amazing range of activities.
Here’s our pick of things to see and do – even if you only have a day…
Sunrise to Lunchtime
Early birds (and even not-so-early birds) will want to get up in time to watch the sun rise overAngkor Wat. The ticket booths open at 5am, but it’s a good idea to arrange tickets a day in advance if time permits. The most popular spot is by the reflection pools in front of the temple (the right-hand pool is less crowded than the one on the left), but great views and a different perspective are also available from the top of Angkor Hill, inside Phnom Bakheng. Bring a packed breakfast to keep you going, because the next part of the day requires some legwork…
The Angkor Archaeological Site covers 400 sq km and includes more than 45 temples, so you’ll need to focus your energies in order to avoid temple fatigue. We suggest concentrating on the highlights – Angkor Wat and a few choice temples inside Angkor Thom.
Once the sun is up, stroll around Angkor Wat to the East Gate and enter through the ‘back door’ to avoid the crowds as much as possible – get a water blessing by a monk as you leave. From here, continue a mile north to Angkor Thom, once the Khmer capital. Stop at the South Gate for a photo before continuing to the Bayon, Angkor Thom’s former state temple. Admire the lower gallery of bas reliefs with scenes of everyday life before climbing up to see the serene smiling faces that the Bayon is famed for. Next, stop at vertiginous Baphuon and climb to the top for lovely views. Still inside Angkor Thom, see the Terrace of the Elephants and ornate Terrace of the Leper King before taking a break and assessing your energy levels.
Fans of Tomb Raider may wish to slurp a bowl of noodles at one of the local stalls and push on to Ta Prohm to see its dramatic root-draped walls. Others may prefer to return to Siem Reap for a break and an early lunch…
Lunchtime to Cocktails
For lunch, head to Chanrey Tree, an excellent Khmer restaurant with a gorgeous garden courtyard, all set in a traditional house by the river. Order the crispy rice cakes with Natang dip (minced pork, shrimp, coconut milk, peanuts) and deep fried frangipani flower to start, followed by calamari (with kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass, basil) and honey-roasted Khmer chicken with young jackfruit and lemongrass.Once rested and refuelled, head to Psar Chaa, Siem Reap’s old market and one of its liveliest. Head through the touristy perimeter to the centre of the market, where you’ll find stalls selling a huge range of fresh produce – as well as local specialties including sausages, shrimp paste and fish sauce.
The area around Psar Chaa is home to some great shops selling jewellery, cosmetics and accessories, making it a rewarding place to wander. A short walk from Psar Chaa is Artisans d’Angkor, where you can also see artisans at work carving stone and wood into beautiful Buddha statues, as well as silk painting, and lacquerware. Slightly further afield, Theam’s House is the home of one of Cambodia’s finest artists and has a tranquil garden, small museum, art gallery, and more workshops where you can watch artisans hone their crafts. There are fantastic gift shops at both where you can buy quality souvenirs.
If you don’t feel like shopping, spend the afternoon learning about Khmer cuisine with Chef Sothea of the excellent Mahob Khmer restaurant. The classes start at 2.30pm, either at the restaurant or Chef Sothea’s organic farm – opt for the latter. Order wine and beer to sip while you cook up a delicious Cambodian menu – though try not to eat too much, as you’ll need to have an early dinner tonight.
At 5pm make a beeline for the bar at the classy FCC on the riverside, or quirky Asana, a bar in the Old Market Quarter’s last traditional wooden house where you can try the owners “Khmer cocktails”, flavoured with local herbs, spice and roots.
Cocktails to Bedtime
It’s time for an early dinner – we have a circus to see – so book a table for 6pm at one of Siem Reap’s many wonderful restaurants. Try Cambodian homestyle cooking at Sugar Palm (their fish amok is particularly good) or go for refined flavours at elegant Malis. Wherever you dine, aim to be finished by around 7.15pm…Siem Reap’s Phare: the Cambodian Circus is not your average circus. There are no animals, no ringmaster, no clowns – only hugely entertaining and massively talented young Cambodian performers who use acrobatics, balancing acts, juggling, contortion and comedy to tell distinctly Cambodian stories. For many visitors, an hour at Phare is one of their favourite memories from Siem Reap.
To celebrate making it this far, after the circus it’s time to retire for a drink to celebrate the end of a wonderful day. Try Miss Wong, one of Siem Reap’s best bars. It’s secreted down a little lane parallel to Pub Street; look for red Chinese lanterns outside, sit down and relax!
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