Although the vast majority of tourists visit Siem Reap because it is so close Angkor Wat, there are many more things to do in the city besides going to the famous archaeological site. Siem Reap is one of the busiest and liveliest towns in Cambodia, filled with interesting attractions, historical sites, temples, both Buddhist and Hindu, cultural sites, villages where locals still make their handicrafts the old-fashion way, etc.
Things to do and attractions in and around the town
Perhaps the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when thinking of attractions in Siem Reap itself is- the Old Market (Psah Chas). Psah Chas is an open-air market, very popular with tourists for its stalls selling anything from souvenirs, silverware, silk, wood and stone carvings, to food, including dishes with rice, fish, and the Cambodian specialty- prahok, a type of fermented fish paste. The food menu does not end here; one can also try baguettes, fried tarantula, and spiced frogs. The Old Market is right in the center of town, very hard to miss.
Angkor Silk Farm was established by Artisans d’Angkor for the revival and perpetuation of traditional sericulture in Cambodia. The guided tour includes all aspects of silk farming and production, from the raising of the silk worms, to dying the silk, to weaving the final product. A free shuttle bus leaves at 08:30 and 13:30 from Artisans d’Angkor in Siem Reap, and the tour lasts for around 2 hours. Of course, this is the best place to buy some homemade silk products from the area, known throughout the world for its quality.
Apsaras Dance & Dinner Shows are presented by several restaurants and hotels in Siem Reap, as part of their offer. Most shows include the four genre of traditional Khmer dance: Apsara Dance, Masked Dance, Shadow Theatre, and Folk Dance.The dances performed here are abbreviated for tourists, but are nevertheless worth seeing.
Banteay Chhamar is an ancient temple far from Siem Reap. It was built under the reign of King Jayavarman VII during his monumental building program, and is dedicated to his son who died in battle fighting the Cham. This is a large monastic complex in forest overgrowth, and has had only some minor restoration. It has an abundance of exceedingly well preserved bas-reliefs, and the face towers. It takes a whole day for the round trip to this site, but it is worth it.
Banteay Samre, built in the distinctive Angkor Wat-style of construction and art, is a large, relatively low-rise temple. It was built around the same time as Angkor Wat, and the influence can be seen in the towers and railings which strongly resemble the towers of Angkor Wat. To get to Banteay Samre, tourists need to take a road through villages and paddies to the eastern end of the East Baray.
Banteay Srey translates from Khmer roughly as the ‘citadel of the women,’ but this is a recent name that most likely was applied because of the pink sandstone and the delicate carvings. This 10th century temple is dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, and is listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The walls are covered with deep, intricate carvings, each one carved with superb detail. A visit to Banteay Srey can be combined with a visit to Banteay Samre. The temple area closes at 17:00, and it is located about 38 kilometers north of Siem Reap.
Banteay Srey Butterfly Center (BBC) is one of the most visited tourist spots in the country, with the largest butterfly exhibition in the Southeast Asia. Situated about 25km from Siem Reap, the center also contributes to the welfare of the community by training local people to rear butterflies for sale and exhibits, locally as well as abroad. Some of the species featured here are Atlas Moth, Blue Glassy Tiger, Dark Blue Tiger, etc. The BBC stands out for its unique plant and floral varieties that include, but not limited to, multihued orchids and red ixora chinensis. The BBC is on the way to Banteay Srey Temple, and is located about three kilometers from the Landmine Museum. It is open throughout the week from 09:00 to 17:00, and admission fee is $4 for adults and $2 for kids.
Beng Melea is a jungle temple is more than one square kilometer in area, and is mostly overgrown by vegetation. It has been left the way it was discovered, similar to Ta Phrom Temple. From Siem Reap, the road to the temple is a graded dirt road, and the trip takes 1-2 hours. However, flooding can occur in the rainy season. An Apsara Authority admission pass is not needed, but there is a $5.00 entrance fee.
Chau Say Tevoda is a Hindu temple, which has a central sanctuary, two libraries and four gopuras which are at the four cardinal points on the compass. To the north is Thommanon Temple, which has a similar design and floor plan to Chau Say Tevoda. Although most of the carvings are Hindu related, there are also Buddhist related reliefs which were added by King Jayavarman VII. From the temple, a walkway to the east leads to the Siem Reap River a short distance away.
Wat Damnak Pagoda, set along Wat Bo Road, is the largest pagoda in downtown Siem Reap. It was originally a royal palace during the reign of King Sisowath. It’s fitted with traditional Khmer architecture, stone sculptures of Buddha, frangipani trees, and a pond filled with colorful water lilies. Wat Damnak Pagoda is also known for housing the Centre for Khmer Studies. This bright pink library was opened in 2010 and has over 11,000 books, journals, encyclopedias, directories, maps, guidebooks and daily national newspapers in English, French and Khmer languages. Pagoda is located on the east side of the Siem Reap River. A tuk-tuk to here should cost no more than US$2.
Angkor Wat is the most famous ancient temple site in Cambodia, and visiting the ancient Angkorian temples is the reason most visitors come to the country, and to Siem Reap. With its five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters into the sky, it is truly a monumental, and awe inspiring sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was at one time the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. The ruins of Angkor Wat are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and the entrance to the park is located about 3km north of modern-day Siem Reap. A regular temple pass is not required for remote sites, but some sites have their own admission fees: Phnom Kulen ($20), Koh Ker ($10), Beng Melea ($5).
Phnom Bakheng (Bakheng Hill), was constructed on the highest hill in the area, and it was the first major temple to be built at Angkor after the capital was moved from Roluos in the 9th century. The foundation of this temple mountain was carved from the existing rock. The hilltop location of Phnom Bakheng offers some spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. There is a road up the hill to a clearing short of the summit, and elephant rides up and down the hill are offered from about 16:00 until sunset. The fee for the elephant rides is $15 per person to go up the hill, and $10 per person to go down the hill. It is located northwest of the Angkor Wat site.
Siem Reap Crocodile Farm is located on the road to Tonle Sap Lake, south of Siem Reap. It houses over 1,000 South China crocodiles, ranging in age from 1 year to 50 years old. It also features a store selling leather handbags, wallets, belts, etc. made from crocodile, sting ray, and snake skin. The entrance fee is $0.50 for Cambodian Nationals, and $3 for foreigners.
Siem Reap Shooting Range is located just outside downtown Siem Reap. This outdoor shooting range can accommodate up to 20 people at a time and features numerous paper target practices as far as 25 meters. Visitors can choose from a wide range of rifles, machine guns, and handguns, including AK47, M16, M60, and Revolver 38. Opening hours are 9 am to 5 pm.
The Ruluos Group of Temples, located 12km east of Siem Reap, along National Highway No. 6, is the 9th century group of temples named for the nearby town of Roluos. This group of ancient structures is what remains of Hariharalaya, the first important capital of the Khmer Empire It was the Khmer capital for more than 70 years under four kings.
Obviously, there is so much more to see and places to visit in Siem Reap and its surroundings than just the most famous site in the country. Of course, Angkor Wat is, and will remain the most popular site in these parts for a long time, but the sites and activities listed above are only a part of what can be done in this lively and interesting old town. Museums, tours, cultural villages, parks, and many, many more thing can be experienced here, and, quite frankly, it would be pity not to. Hopping on a tuk tuk and heading to explore some of this sites is definitely a must in the old town.