You’ll see curvaceous Apsara dancers adorning the walls of Angkor Wat and other temples at Angkor Archaeological Park, so do try to see a performance of Apsara dancers so you understand why these ethereal beauties were carved in stone time and time again. Apsaras weren’t merely entertainers – they were considered to be messengers of the gods during the Khmer Empire era when they performed sacred dances at ceremonies, including Buddhist rituals and funeral rites. These days they are storytellers. The highly skilled artists learn their craft at dance school for many years, starting from a young age.
The Apsara dance shows held nightly around town at restaurants and hotels feature interpretations of traditional myths from the Reamker (the Cambodian Ramayana) as well as choreographed folkloric dances. There is always a live musical accompaniment that can be as compelling as the dancers. Some, such as the nightly show upstairs at Temple Bar, are free but are mainly attended by a boisterous backpacker crowd and tour groups.
To best appreciate the complex choreography and stylized steps, gestures and poses of the dancers, you’re better off watching a show in a quieter location. The Park Hyatt hosts performances in the hotel's tranquil courtyard outside the restaurant and bar – they’re free, you just need to buy a drink. Belmond La Residence d’Angkor hotel also has an impressive show, however, you will need to pay for a sit-down meal and book a table close to the show.