Many travellers may come to Cambodia solely to visit the temples of Angkor Wat, one of the most popular attractions in Southeast Asia, but there are many other interesting things to do in Siem Reap. Over a million tourists a year pass through Siem Reap, making it the fastest growing place in Cambodia outside of Phnom Penh, the capital city and with history dating all the way back to the year 802 it’s no surprise it’s such a popular destination. Here are my top things you must do in Siem Reap.
- Angkor Wat
Four miles north of Siem Reap is Angkor Wat and despite so many other things to do in Siem Reap, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat is still the primary draw for tourists. The temples, which not to be mistaken as one temple, were constructed in the 12th century by the Khmer people. There are scores of temples, some restored and some still overgrown with jungle. The scale of Angkor Wat is overwhelming; a three-day pass (US $40) is necessary to enjoy even a fraction of the carved reliefs and ruins away from the main temple site.
- Kampong Phluk
Only a handful of tourists make the 13 mile journey from Siem Reap by boat or bus to Kampong Phluk, which has helped the village retain much of its authenticity. Kampong Phluk is a small fishing village constructed on stilts in the swamps around Tonle Sap Lake, the largest and most stunning lake in Cambodia. This is the place to go to see daily Khmer life away from the influence of heavy tourism.
- Land Mine Museum
Since the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and the Vietnamese occupation in 1979, Cambodia has struggled to get life back to normal through their war-torn past and Siem Reap did not begin to stabilize even for tourists to visit until the 1990s. However a devastating effect of the Khmer Rouge is the millions of land mines and unexploded objects left behind by decades of conflict. There are many legless beggars in the town who are a living testament to how dangerous these artefacts still are in the present day. Although devastating, the Land Mine Museum is a real piece of Cambodia away from the tourism glam.
- Angkor National Museum
Visiting the Angkor National Museum before Angkor Wat will give you an insight into the history of the Khmer civilization and will enhance your visit to the temple ruins so make sure you do the two hour walk through the museum beforehand. The museum houses thousands of artefacts recovered from Angkor Wat and the surrounding areas in an impressive building. This museum well worth the US $12 entrance.
- Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary
The Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary has become one of the most important breeding grounds for endangered water birds in Southeast Asia. Located in the marshes of Tonle Sap Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in South East Asia, this bird sanctuary provides a chance to tour by boat and see rare birds outside of captivity.
- Wat Thmei
Siem Reap suffered horribly under the Khmer Rouge, and the area’s victims are commemorated today in this monastery. A glass-walled stupa on the premises holds a mass of bones belonging to massacre victims. Like its counterpart Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, Wat Thmei provides a stark reminder of the insanity that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s. Wat Thmei can be found about 540 yards west of Angkor Wat.
- Balloon Ride Over Angkor Wat
Now I didn’t do this but I wish I had! Just west of Angkor Wat, a touring company offers an exciting and different way to appreciate Angkor Wat without fighting the hordes of tourists. Seeing the site from 600 feet in the air gives a new perspective on just how massive the temple complex really is. Balloon rides start at US $35 and prices go up for longer tours.
What are your favourite things you must do in Siem Reap?