Most people go to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, but the city has an interesting variety of things to see and do in its own right. These are all the coolest things to do in Siem Reap when you’re done exploring Angkor Wat.
Check out the Wat Preah Prom Rath temple
This quaint temple is located in the French Quarter and features modern construction, as opposed to the traditional Khmer stone architecture you’ll see in Angkor Wat. Aside from a beautiful garden with statues and stupas, the main hall has a colorful and peaceful interior lined with murals that depict Buddha’s life. Inside, you’ll find a seated Buddha in the center. I’ll share a tip that a local who was taking a mid-afternoon nap at the entrance shared with us: If you walk around the seated Buddha, you’ll find a statue of the reclining Buddha hidden behind the other one. As with all the temples, remember to take your shoes off before entering and dress conservatively.
Visit the APOPO Humanitarian Demining Center
The APOPO Center is a good place to get informed about the impact of landmines in Cambodia, and to learn how they’re using African giant pouched rats to demine the country. It’s a quick but really interesting stop in Siem Reap that is sad, enlightening, and uplifting. Cambodia is one of the world’s most severely mined countries in the world. In fact, the US dropped over 26 million bombs there during the Vietnam War (the more you know!), some of which did not explode as intended and still sever the limbs of people, animals, and children in the Cambodian countryside.
African rats are trained using conditioning techniques to sniff out TNT under the surface. Since they weigh too little to trip landmines, they allow for safe and quick identification and removal of long-forgotten mines. Part of the guided tour of APOPO includes a demonstration where they show you exactly how sections of minefields are split up and searched by the rats, who you get to see in action. Admission is $5 per person and tours last around 45 minutes.
Hit up the markets
Siem Reap is a vibrant city with a lot of shopping. As a tourist, you’ll find a lot of amazing crafts and handmade gifts in the city’s markets. The Old Market (Pshar Chas) offers a huge selection of clothes, jewelry, toys, and art. You can also have lunch in the food section of the market. If you prefer your shopping under neon lights, check out the Angkor Night Market, which comes to life after 5 pm. It has over 200 shops, bars, cafes, and plenty of opportunities to eat tarantula or snake. Remember that everything is negotiable; getting a good deal is part of the fun.
See the monks at Wat Damnak
Though you’ll see all sorts of paintings for sale featuring monks walking in front of Angkor Wat, you won’t see monks there. Monks in Siem Reap spend the majority of their time in places like Wat Damnak, which is a tranquil pagoda and learning center. It’s not very touristy, and it has a nice peaceful park and colorful Buddhist stupas. When we visited, we got to see the monks working to reconstruct part of the complex. A team of about 6 monks were pulling down a tree using just a rope. We didn’t want to interrupt or photograph them without their permission, but monks are generally friendly. If you say hello, they might strike up a conversation.
Take a Khmer cooking class
A cool way to learn about Cambodian culture is to spend an afternoon cooking Khmer dishes at Paper Tiger Eatery. You get to pick from a wide selection of dishes on the restaurant’s menu what your appetizer and main dish will be. While the restaurant prepares all your ingredients, you take a tour of the Old Market where you can buy spices and are given an overview of local produce.
After the market, you return to the restaurant to begin cooking. First you prepare all your vegetables and sauces, as your dishes require. Then you get to cooking, taking turns on the two burners. Despite working with a ton of different dishes, our teacher was able to seamlessly give everyone instruction on chopping, preparing, and sautéing everything. She also gives you some tips on how you can make the dish at home with substituted ingredients. As a team, we picked one dessert and worked on it together.
After everyone finishes cooking, you go down to the restaurant and enjoy the most beautiful meal you’ve ever put together with the other members of your class. Paper Tiger is right on Pub Street, so you can follow up your meal with a lot of cheap beer.
Enjoy the nightlife
Siem Reap is an amazing place to have a wild night out, and the epicenter of it is Pub Street (Street 08). Though there is one main street, which is identifiable by neon Pub Street signs, the entire area has a ton of lounges, clubs, bars, and restaurants. Unlike similar areas in other cities, the Siem Reap nightlife is a little more laid back with less people harassing you to come to their bar. You can actually enjoy zig zagging around the bars of Pub Street without feeling overwhelmed. And if it gets too crowded, you can duck into an alley and go to some of the cool places that aren’t on the main street like Miss Wong’s Cocktail Bar.
The area also has a lot of street food for when you’re drunk. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can eat come creepy crawlies like grasshoppers or scorpions. Pub Street is also a chill place to day drink, people watch and have brunch. Most of the places have “happy hour” specials which last from open to close, so you can get as wasted as you like for very little money.
Get the GPS-guided version of this and other Siem Reap guides on GPSmyCity here.