The primary reason everyone heads to Siem Reap is to see the ruins at Angkor Wat. However, there are other things to keep you entertained, including sights to see, activities to do and indulgences to enjoy.
Covering Angkor Wat in a matter of a few days is next to impossible. Unfortunately, not all travellers have the luxury of time on their side. While some travellers may be there for a week or two, others would only be hopping in for a couple of nights, on their way to another part of the region, or back home to where they belong. While it is perfectly okay to try and see all that a place has to offer, it is next to impossible to do so, unless, of course, you are there for the long haul.
So, for the time that you are there, the idea should be to catch a flavour of the place as best as possible, without breaking your back, or bank account.
If you have three full days to spend in Siem Reap, then you should have covered most of the highlights. This would include a visit to Angkor Wat, Pub Street and the night market and a few other interesting distractions.
Below is my take on what you should try and do. Think of it as a nice mix of serious sightseeing and some leisurely activities for the evening. Feel free to mix and match to your convenience.
In my list, it’s only on the third day that I have gone slightly overboard with my recommendations. But hey, you are on a holiday, right!
Day 1: Angkor Wat
I agree, while a day may not be enough to see all the wonders of Angkor Wat, a day trip is still a very good option. This makes more sense if you do not have too many days in Siem Reap and would still like to get a flavour for all things this place has to offer.
Ideally, your trip should start at Angkor Wat, the largest of the complexes. You can opt to start your day before the crack of dawn to capture the sunrise, or much later. From here, it’s a short drive to your next destination – Angkor Thom – Bayon, or the temple of many faces. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up with the number of giant faces through the complex. Another short hop and you are at Ta Prohm, also known as the Tomb Raider Temple. Time permitting, try and see if you can head to Preah Khan. It’s a short drive from Angkor Thom and is mostly overlooked by tourists on a day tour. End your day with the stunning sunset from Phnom Bakheng. Try and get there early grab a prime spot.
You can read a detailed insight into what to expect at each of these sites, including costs, getting there and the main temples to cover on a day trip here.
Evening 1: Find your favourite watering hole on Pub Street
If Angkor Wat is where you should be for sunrise and the rest of the day, then Pub Street is the place to be in immediately after sunset and through the night.
It might feel like a sleepy street during the day (well, nearly). But as it gets darker, the mood gets lighter to the beat of loud music, bright lights and some great party atmosphere. From beers going for 50 cents a pint, to bars and clubs that party all night long. For those who love to people-watch, make sure you get seating outdoors. It’s the best place to relax and watch as tourists walk up and down the street, in search of the best deals on meals, or a cool place with a good vibe.
Day 2: Ride a bicycle
Want to see the sights and sounds in and around Siem Reap at your own pace? Why not rent a bike. You should find lots of bike rentals along the roads. Or better still, ask at your hotel. They will be more than happy to help, if they don’t already offer it.
Better still, team up with other cycling enthusiasts. There are lots of bicycle touring companies that organise half and full-day tours to Angkor Wat and other parts of town that you would not normally get to experience. In fact, most of them include lunch and refreshments too. Scout around and try and get yourself the best deal.
Day 2: Visit Wat Preah Prom Rath and the river
Most visitors to Siem Reap make Pub Street their focal point. However, look above, beyond the roofs, and chances are you’ll spot a pagoda towering over all of them.
Right next to the river, Wat Preah Prom Rath is bang in the center of this area. And it’s a beautiful place to visit, sit around, and generally soak in the calm atmosphere. The grounds are huge, and house several buildings, including the pagoda, a university building and towers. Walk into the pagoda and you will get to see the reclining Buddha.
Interested in visiting this place? Read more here.
Evening 2: Enjoy some street food on the go
Snacking on street food in Siem Reap is a delicious idea. Walk around the night market and on Pub Street, and you will see lots of food carts parked by the side of the road, in front of bars. Why not try out your favourite meat, marinated in local spices and herbs, and grilled just the way you like it. If seafood is what you hanker for, then take your pick from a fresh selection. Add in some vegetables too, for good measure. It doesn’t cost much – around US$ 2 and thereabouts. Order two or three of the items that look good and it could be your dinner.
End the night on a sweet note. Stop by any of the ice cream carts and ask for a frying ice cream. There’s nothing fried about it. However, watching them go about making it is fun. Choose up to two flavours. They will then place it on a cold stone and proceed to mince and dice it, till both the flavours have been nicely blended. Add a few fruit cuts and nuts, and voila, your fried ice cream is ready. All for just US$ 2 per cup.
Day 3: Get a massage
Why not give those tired soles of yours a breather? Head to any of the massage centers on Pub Street, sit back and let the masseurs do their bit. From a foot massage and back massage, to even a manicure and pedicure, these centers provide it all. Prices start from as low as US$ 5 and go up, depending on what it is that you want.
However, for a truly relaxing experience, whether it is a traditional Khmer or Mekong massage, then I suggest you shop around, either at the hotel you are staying in, or at any of the spa centers around the city, and book yourself a session. They are rejuvenating and reinvigorating. And a must, after all that walking you will have done through Angkor Wat. Think of it as the perfect way to end your stay in Siem Reap.
PS: In case you are wondering why you’re looking at beautiful images of random umbrellas hanging from windows with absolutely no relevance to this article, it’s because I can’t possibly take photographs of myself getting a massage, right!
Day 3: Splurge for a night at Miss Wong’s cocktail lounge
If, for some strange reason, you suddenly tire of Pub Street and its cheap beers, bright lights, loud music and crowds of tourists looking for a good deal on their drinks and food, then why not do something totally different. Spend some time, and extra dollars, at a bit in a place that will take you back in time.
Miss Wong is an intimate cocktail lounge, down a small lane off Pub Street. Taking its inspiration from the speakeasies of the 1920s, this vintage Shanghai themed lounge beckons you with its red lantern that dangles tantalisingly from the doorway in that narrow alley.
Miss Wong Cocktail Bar is about five minutes from the night market. You can read more here.