Visitors come here for the temples (thanks ‘Tomb Raider’!) but there is a lot more to see and do than you probably first thought. With an ancient history dating back to 802AD, Siem Reap is fast becoming the backpacker epicentre of Southeast Asia with many things to do, easily accessible temples, accommodation that gives you more bang for your buck and really cheap food and drink options (‘Pub Street’ is always interesting to visit at night).
You may soon tire of the temples but there are lots of other inexpensive day-trips to try as well, including heading to Kulen Mountain or visiting a fishing village, where all the homes and amenities are on large stilts.
Here are our top things to do in Siem Reap in Cambodia and reasons why the city should be high on your travel list:
Things to do in Siem Reap
1. Angkor Wat temples
OK we will start with temples because if you’re reading this, it is 99.9% likely that you’ll be heading out to the legendary temples of Siem Reap whilst in Cambodia. Most people visit Angkor Wat, Bayon and Ta Prohm temples respectively, and either go independently using a taxi or cyclo / rickshaw driver or via a tour company. Our hotel had a list of prices for different transportation options and we found it was nice and easy booking with them.
You will need to pay in order to visit the temples and the entry fee is packaged as either a 1 day, 3 day or 7 day pass. Read more about purchasing a temple pass and visiting Angkor Wat in our temples in Siem Reap travel guide >
2. Pub Street
The experience of exploring tranquil temples followed by the night-time antics of Siem Reap’s renowned ‘Pub Street’ is a jarring juxtaposition – we think of it as an ‘added bonus’. Marked by large ‘Pub Street’ signs and an array of brightly lit decorations, this is a neon avenue of loud bars and restaurants which are very popular with backpackers. There are numerous happy hours all with ridiculously cheap drinks offers (50 cent beers), and many restaurants advertise exotic bites such as ostrich or crocodile skewers!
We’ve always enjoyed our nights out on Pub Street drinking at one of the many outdoor tables along the street – but it can get a little intense with touts trying to tempt you into their bars. The best advice we can give is to keep your wits and not get too drunk, plus maybe do a few spot checks on Tripadvisor, as we read about some bars that get consistently bad 1* reviews, always seemly tried to overcharge or even ‘scam’ customers.
Also be careful when you are walking along near Hospital Street, known for its ‘happy pizza’. Cambodia Happy Pizzas are generally cannabis topped pizzas and whilst I was out exploring one day, I was offered dope several times by various street vendors, with police officers in close proximity.
3. Siem Reap food tour
Food tours are a great way to learn about and taste authentic Cambodian cuisine and we would highly recommend booking a morning food experience with Siem Reap Food Tours. They were the first food tour company to run in the city and have been featured in a New York Times article.
The tour takes you out of the city via rickshaw into beautiful countryside, visiting colourful and bustling local markets, noodle and rice wine makers and other off the beaten track spots along the way. Our guide Steven was excellent and had a great rapport with the locals. It was definitely one of the most interesting food tours we have ever done on our travels and when we next return to Siem Reap, we would love to do their evening night market experience!
Watch our Siem Reap Food Tours YouTube video!
4. Old Market
The Old Market (Phsar Chas) was our favourite market, catering to locals as a household goods and wet market during the day, and for tourists as a souvenir market both day and night. The items sold here are very affordable and is the perfect place to pick up your elephant print ‘temple pants’ – but remember that the clothing is cheap but not good quality and may not last more than a few washes.
5. Siem Reap Night Markets
More craft and souvenir markets pop up after dark so don your hottest haggling hat as you descend on the the Noon Night Market, Angkor Night Market and Siem Reap Art Centre Night Market. Love them or loathe them, you have to barter here to get the best prices and there are very few ‘fixed price’ stalls that display the prices.
We found that once we’d enter into a night market alley, stall-holders were relentless in trying to get you to purchase their souvenirs. After that, we made a conscious decision to get all our shopping done in one evening (mainly magnets for our fridge and the ubiquitous Siem Reap beer t-shirts).
6. Kulen Mountain
Home to the sacred Wat Preah Ang Thom site of worship and the revered River of a Thousand Lingas (with a riverbed displaying carvings of Hindu Gods believed to date back to around 800AD), Kulen mountain is also home to several large and wonderful waterfalls that featured in the Tomb Raider movie, which you can swim in. We visited as part of a day tour – read more about our Kulen Mountain trip here >
7. Kampong Phluk floating village
Kampong Phluk is located 13 miles outside of Siem Reap town and is a fishing village constructed on stilts on Tonle Sap lake (the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia). This was a fascinating place to visit and we loved watching the locals go about their daily lives. We visited as part of a private day tour with Asean Angkor Guide, and had our own boat captained by a 12 year old boy! (seriously!) Read more on our dedicated Kampong Phluk Floating Village blog here >
8. Cambodian Landmine Museum
The Landmine Museum is located within the Angkor National Park (about a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap) and is the most popular attraction in Cambodia, after Angkor Wat. The museum aims to educate visitors about the impact of mines and the importance of clearing landmines in Cambodia and contains a collection of items from the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese occupation. Money raised by the museum goes towards supporting amputee children affected by the mines and to fund a new school. A donation of about US$1 per person is required to enter the museum.
9. Wat Preah Prom Rath City Temple
Obviously most visit here for the famous Angkor Wat or Ta Prohm temples a little out of town – however, if you are staying in Siem Reap for a few days, this is a tranquil city based Buddhist temple just across from the river that has several worship halls and pretty pagodas and built in the 12th century.
Whilst a little underwhelming compared to the temples on the outskirts, this is a nice way to escape the city traffic and moped madness of Siem Reap – we also saw monks here performing blessings on several occasions. There is also a rather unusual ship structure in the courtyard outside the temple.
10. Siem Reap River
Running through the centre of town, this isn’t so much a bone-fide tourist attraction as just a nice walk with several bridges to cross or relax on. There are stretches out of town that are very tranquil, with the water almost mirror-like in its quality – nearer the urban areas, you can also see locals trying their hand at catching fish using large nets. If you are walking along the river, remember to double up on your dose of mosquito repellent.
11. Made in Cambodia Market – King’s Road
A Cambodian crafts market set near to the river that has a village feel to it, this is a pleasant shopping experience as it was probably the only place we came across in Siem Reap where were were allowed to browse and shop at our leisure, and not be constantly bombarded by stall-holders. Everything sold in this market is made in Cambodia and is open everyday from 12pm until 10pm (there is live traditional Khmer dance or acoustic music shows every Friday – Sunday at 6pm).
If all that shopping in the heat proves too much, there are several onsite bars, restaurants and cafes to choose from including some that have an alfresco deck overlooking the Siem Reap river.
12. Cooking Classes
Cooking classes are really good fun and a perfect activity for foodies who want to learn more about Khmer cuisine and how to cook dishes such as Cambodian Amok. Cooking classes are also a great rainy day activity if you want to do something a bit more interesting than getting drunk on Pub Street. Click here to book a Morning Cambodian Cooking Class.
13. Phare, the Cambodian Circus
This 1-hour evening Circus Show is super popular with tourists and features a blend of modern and traditional theatre, comedy, music, dance, acrobatics and more. The Circus performs every night at 8pm – book your Phare the Cambodian Circus tickets online here >
14. Eating and drinking in Siem Reap
Around the busy Pub Street and old market area you won’t be short of food options – there are so many restaurants and food stalls selling affordable and tasty shakes, snacks, desserts and meals. Here are a few places we ate at during our short stay in Siem Reap:
If you are a backpacker on a budget then we found some wallet friendly late night food options opposite the old market – the area was super busy with locals and drunk tourists and it was quite hard to find an empty table. Once we found one we each ordered a very filling and tasty $1 plate of stir fried MAMA noodles and vegetables.
Our favourite cheap place to eat in Siem Reap was a food stall called Family Rice Noodle and Chive Cake – located on Wat Bo Road and on Sivutha Blvd (the latter doesn’t appear on Google maps but it is there!). They have indoor seating and serve Cambodian Chive cakes which are made from glutinous rice flour, filled with chives and fried in a shallow pan. They are DELICIOUS and possibly one of our favourite snacks from our Cambodia trip. A cheap $1.20 set meal from this stall gets you a plate of stir fried noodles (char mee), a fried egg and a chive cake, plus they also sell cans of ice cold beer – heaven.
If you are a veggie and struggling with the food options in Siem Reap, then you’ll be relieved to know there are a few restaurants in town which are purely vegetarian/vegan. We visited Banile Vegetarian Restaurant one evening which although it was a really cute place to eat in, we would recommend you only order the hot food dishes as Neil ate a cold pasta salad and had a bad stomach for days afterwards! We definitely give a thumbs up though to the fresh fruit smoothies and the ‘fish’ and chips (the ‘fish’ is made from banana blossom).
We also ate at a restaurant called Maybe Later Mexican Bar & Grill which was recommended to us by the guys who run the Siem Reap food tour. The place had a really fun decor and we enjoyed eating their fish and beef tacos and guacamole for lunch one day.
If you want to seek refuge from the craziness of Pub Street, Miss Wong’s is a beautiful bar located in a nearby side street. They serve a variety of delicious cocktails and light bites in a vintage 1930’s Shanghai surrounding.
Siem Reap accommodation
We there a fantastic variety of accommodation in Siem Reap. We visited the city twice in 2018 and stayed in 2 different and very affordable mid range hotels from the same hotel chain – Golden Temple Hotel and Golden Temple Villa Hotel. Both hotels had incredible service, great facilities and were within easy walking distance to Pub Street and the night markets. They also throw in heaps of free extras with your booking such as airport pick up, massages, snacks and dinners!
On a budget?
These backpacker hostels are highly rated and in super locations:
Got some cash to splash?
Here are some super nice places if you really want to treat yourself on your Siem Reap trip!
How to get to Siem Reap
Most visitors will arrive in Siem Reap by air and there are regular direct flights from nearby countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and China. Tourist Visas are available at the airport and cost 30 USD for 1 month (bring a passport photo with you).
The airport is located 6km from town and outside the terminal is a ticket booth for registered taxis into town (should cost around $6-7). All of the hotels we have stayed at include a free airport pick up.
If travelling from other places in Cambodia or neighbouring countries there are a variety of different companies offering modern air-conditioned buses/vans that go to Siem Reap. Search for the best public transport options to Siem Reap with 12Go Asia below:
How to get around Siem Reap
Siem Reap town is very easy to explore by foot as it is quite compact. Tuk tuks are the local taxi and are cheap and very easy to find if you want one (by the end of your trip you will be sick to death of being asked if you want a tuk tuk ride). They can accommodate up to 4 people and usually are about $2 a ride inside the main town. Look out for the cool Batman themed tuk tuks!
We would also recommend using Grab taxis (the Asian equivalent of Uber) – they are widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap (plus the full price of the journey is displayed on your app before you hit ‘book’). Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
Check out our other South East Asia blog posts
- Bangkok on a Budget – Backpacking in Thailand
- The ultimate guide to Hoi An, Vietnam
- Highlights of Hanoi, Vietnam (plus a few lowlights)
- The best street foods to try in Hoi An
- Be aware in Marble Mountains – how I was robbed in Da Nang, Vietnam
- Top things to do in Langkawi, Malaysia
- Exploring Kuala Lumpur from above – KL Tower and Eco Forest Park
- Exploring Bangkok at night by Tuk Tuk
- A Thai cookery class ‘with a twist’ in Bangkok’s flower market
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