Siem Reap is all about the tourism. There are tourists and souvenirs everywhere. You’ll never be short of a tuk-tuk and won’t have to look twice to find one – they’ll find you. That doesn’t take away from its charms though. The people are lovely, there’s lots to do (shopping at the Night Markets, quad biking, zip-lining through the jungle), and many interesting things to see (temples, ancient ruins, villages, the Cambodian Circus). We had to narrow it down, so here are our five favourite things after five days in Siem Reap:
Obviously! This is the reason for the tourists and the main reason we came to Cambodia. It’s been a dream of both of ours for some time to see the ancient temple in person and it did not disappoint. We arrived at sunrise to get the compulsory photo (along with everybody else), then explored the temple. Words and pictures don’t do it justice. As we walked through Ankgor Wat and other surrounding temples like Bayon at Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, we were grinning, wide-mouthed with awe, or just constantly saying “Amazing!”. So worth the trip to fulfil this quest (Petra and Machu Picchu – you’re next in our sights).
Ok so this is about as touristy as you can get. A street filled with (as the name suggests) pubs. All offering some kind of discount offer to entice people in. Later in the evening the street is closed off and you can dance and drink and have fun – both in and outside of the venues. It might sound terrible to some, but as much as this sounds like it will be overrun by drunken singlet-wearers (yes, they are definitely there) it’s just fun. Nobody’s getting in anyone’s face or fighting (we were there in low season, so we can’t vouch for high season shenanigans). Once you’re done, you can grab a late night snack from one of the street vendors to enjoy in the tuk-tuk home with. We recommend the pancakes.
Yes, we always say food. The local Khmer food is so good though, that it had to make the list. Full of flavour without too much heat (although coming from Thailand we’ve adjusted to a bit more spice). Favourites were the Amok: a creamy, coconut-based curry traditionally with fish or chicken; Beef Lok Lak: stir-fried beef in a delicious pepper and lime sauce; and Chhar Trop: baked eggplant with stir fried minced pork. All washed down with a cold $1 beer. You won’t start seeking out western food here.
Siem Reap Brew Pub
We’re big fans of craft beer. Travelling through South East Asia has meant that we have had to sacrifice that love a bit and drink the local, mass-produced lagers instead (if you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with). So when a fellow zip-liner alerted us to the existence of a microbrewery in Siem Reap, only a few blocks from where we were staying, we were very excited. The Siem Reap Brewpub is a great venue, recently built, with some good beers. They brew five beers on site ranging from blonde to dark ale and even make signature cocktails with each one. The staff are attentive, enthusiastic and are happy to discuss the styles, flavours and aromas of each beer too. A relaxing afternoon respite from the Cambodian heat.
For a nation whose people were ravaged by civil war in living memory, they are a friendly and accommodating bunch. Openly acknowledging the past and how they’ve recovered (and are still recovering from it) with optimism and hope. At no point do you feel unsafe or unwelcome in Seam Reap. Unlike other cities we’ve visited, when asked if you want a tuk-tuk, a simple ‘no thank you’ is all that’s required and you can be on your way without harassment. On adventure activities like zip-lining or quad biking the teams there go out of their way to make sure that you feel safe and are having fun.
As we said, we went in low season so it was less crowded (but quite hot – stay hydrated, people!) so it may be different when it is busier, but we had a total blast. We’d recommend it to anybody.
How about you – have you been to Cambodia? What was your favourite part?