Exploring Beyond the Temples
When Siem Reap crosses the mind, you may think of how your breath will be taken away as you watch the sunrise behind Angkor Wat, or how you are going to find yourself lost in the heritage of Cambodia as you uncover the history behind each unique temple, but does your mind ever stretch further than just the iconic temples? It is very easy to be captivated by the thousands of meticulously built structures that scatter the province, and so you should be. They give the outside world a glimpse into understanding the iconic heritage of this beautiful country, yet once you step a little outside the temple bubble you will uncover so much more!
The UNESCO World Heritage Site is nestled amongst one of Cambodia’s national parks, but just an hours drive away you can find yourself lost in the idyllic Phnom Kulen National Park. With cascading waterfalls, caves and panoramic views over the jungle it is easy to spend a day exploring the 37,000 hectares for a chance to see the 800 species of plants, 40 species of mammals & 200 species of bird that call the area home. After a morning hike you can cool off by diving into the pools below the waterfalls, before putting up a hammock and being lulled into a nap by the jungle chorus.
Another natural wonder not to be missed is Tonle Sap Lake which is just 15km south of the city centre. It is the largest freshwater lake in southeast asia, and reaches 5 Cambodian provinces. Being home to over 300 species of freshwater fish, as well as tortoises, snakes, turtles, crocodiles, otters, & more than 100 varieties of water birds including storks and pelicans, would give you reason enough to visit the lake but there is another spectacular reason to visit. Many fishing communities live in floating villages on the lake, as the lake provided an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. You can easily take a boat and visit the different Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating houses, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, floating markets, clinics, schools, basketball course, and even a floating pigsty!
It would be hard for you to visit Siem Reap and avoid its diverse food scene, but it is definitely an area that is worth giving some extra time to experiment with your taste buds. If you are daring, try the local snacks of crickets or spiders, washed down with a fresh fruit shake which can be purchased along the river for only $1. For the real taste of Cambodia though you have to try a delicious amok curry, loc lac or fresh mango salad. There are plenty of local stalls and restaurants where you can develop your local tastes, and if you like what you are eating why not join a cooking class and learn how to whip up a storm at home too? If you do want a bit of a change though, Siem Reap has you covered with restaurants covering a range of cuisines such as Greek, Italian, Mexican & Thai. After eating a feast the best spot to spend your evening relaxing is down on the riverside, where you can find little pop up bars dotted along under strings of fairy lights. Not only do they give you the perfect after dinner atmosphere, but they sell some of the tastiest cocktails for only $2! Much better than the $5 ones you find on pub street!!
Now if none of those activities tickle your fancy you could always awaken your creative side. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s artistic heart, which you can see oozing from every market stall or from the interior of a quirky cafe. New exhibitions pop up regularly all over the city, so you can always find a gallery to lose yourself in and find a unique masterpiece to purchase to ensure you have a piece of Cambodia to take home with you. You can also find incredible hand crafted items at various market stalls, but in particular the Art Centre Night Market boasts some of the most delicate items. If you are truly blown away by the crafts, why not try your hand at them too? You can find workshops on skills such as traditional weaving, recycling trash into treasure, painting, stone carving & pottery.
Siem Reap is bursting with heritage to be learnt not only with its impressive temple complex but it also has a range of museums to further increase your knowledge. From the Angkor National Museum to the War Museum, you can ensure that you are educated in Cambodia’s history, gaining a true understanding into just how impressive the country is.
Angkor Wat may be what brings you to Siem Reap, but soon you will realise this city is so much more than just Angkor Wat’s hotel. Whatever your interests may be, you will be far from twiddling your fingers! Aside from what I have already talked about, there are an array of other activities to take your fancy such as yoga classes, crazy golf, hundreds of swimming pools to laze in & even a zipline adventure park in the jungle! Do you really need any more reasons to visit?!