Siem Reap is a city in northwestern Cambodia that was little more than a tiny village swallowed up by the jungle a hundred years ago. Since it’s recovery it has become a popular tourist destination because of the Angkor Temples. Although Angkor Wat is what draws in the crowds of tourists each year, there is so much more to be discovered around town.
1. PHARE THE CAMBODIAN CIRCUS
Phare features performers from an arts education program in the nearby village of Battambang. Disadvantaged students are given the opportunity to learn and develop their artistic skills through a free education. The students of the circus school put on an impressive show to help raise money for this program. Although pricey compared to other activities around Siem Reap ($15), the proceeds go to a great cause.
One of our favorite activities was actually a cooking class at Le Tigre de Papier. The three hour class began with a walk through the local market followed by a guided preparation of three dishes each. My favorite part was sharing all of the dishes at the end and sampling a variety of Khmer food. It was also great for me as a vegetarian that we were allowed to pick the dishes we cooked and instructor was extremely helpful in educating me on how to make dishes veg-friendly!
3. PUB STREET
Right in the middle of all the tourist action you will find Pub Street. Day or night it is a hub of activity. Tons of delicious restaurants, upbeat bars and overlooking balconies. And by midnight the area should be full of travelers dancing, singing and making new friends as the adjacent night clubs spill into the street. In the surrounding alley ways you will find just as many interesting places to pop into so head on over to the aptly named Pub Street and explore.
4. APSARA SHOW
When you do visit Angkor Wat you will discover hundred of intricately carved walls covered in Apsara dancers. It can only make you wonder what they are like in real life. Fortunately there are quite a few Apsara shows each night in a number of places. Some nice restaurants will offer dinnertime shows with an included buffet. If you are looking to save money, Temple hosts a free show but you will still be expected to order drinks or dinner when you are seated.
5. STREET MARKETS
Where to Stay
SIEM REAP HOSTEL
The Siem Reap hostel was a bit expensive compared to the other places we stayed at $8 a night but it was well worth it! The atmosphere was extremely social and the air-con was just right. Oh and did I mention the comfy beds? Yeah these bunk beds were not only spacious but the most comfortable beds we found during our entire trip. It’s an added bonus that there’s a pool and the place is beautiful. I guess I should also note that it is conventiently located to Pub Street.
SIEM REAP DOWNTOWN HOSTEL
When we first arrived, the Siem Reap Hostel was full so they sent us down the road to the Siem Reap Downtown Hostel. This hostel cost us $5 each for a private with a fan. The best part was definitely the Bamboo Garden that included an outdoor pool full of floaties. All expenses are tallied up against your reservation and paid upon checkout.
What to Eat
ITALIAN AT L’OSTERIA
After weeks of traveling in Thailand, Cambodia’s western food options were like a little slice of heaven. All my food craving prayers answered. Italian is my absolute favorite and L’Osteria hit the spot like nothing else could. Everything we tried from the eggplant to the ravioli was delicious!
BANANA PANCAKES ON THE STREET
They don’t call it the banana pancake trail for nothing! We could always count on finding some delicious banana pancakes wherever we went in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Unlike a traditional pancake, the dough is tossed until it is thin and then pan fried. Although the name, these treats can be filled and topped with any delicious goodies. My favorite was a combination of banana, nutella and sweet milk. In Cambodia, they actually roll them up instead of cutting to make them easier to eat on the go.
PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA
In the other countries we visited, something just wasn’t quite right about the pizza but in Cambodia they do pizza and they do it well. While there are Italian places dedicated to authentic pizza, we found that you could pop down just about anywhere and find a delicious slice.
BLUE PUMPKIN ICE CREAM AND OTHER TREATS
Blue Pumpkin is a cafe that is slowly taking over the city one ice cream scoop at a time and for good reason. The stuff is delicious. We couldn’t sit down at any restaurant without seeing the Blue Pumpkin ice cream on offer. And if you go into the actual cafe there are so many more goodies on offer. Our favorite? The macaroons.
VIVA FOR $1.50 TACOS
Viva offers great food at an even better price. Tacos are cheap and come stuffed to the brim. While the margaritas were good I preferred to stick with the $0.50 drafts. And my absolute favorite meal was the fried chimichanga at our friend Jaz’s suggestion.
While Siem Reap boasts a wide array of authentic western restuarants, you should also try the local dishes! A few Khmer favorites include amok, curry, lok lak and mango salad.
ANGKOR FAMOUS – free popcorn with drinks, enough said
CHARLIE’S – fun atmosphere and nice staff, a great place to lounge and make friends
WAREHOUSE – head here Saturday night for karaoke
ANGKOR WHAT – a bit like a dingy college bar but that’s what makes it so fun
TEMPLE – the closest thing to a night club on Pub Street and just across from Angkor What
SIEM REAP PUB CRAWL – hosted by X bar just beyond pub street, a great way to meet people plus you get a free vest!! (American’s that means frat tank)
Wondering how to get to Siem Reap? Check out this post to learn more about transportation to Cambodia and the visa process.