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For many travelers, Siem Reap is merely a gateway to the legendary Angkor. It’s tough for the city’s other sites to compete with the legendary and atmospheric ruins of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom spread over some 150 square miles. The temples and canals of the capital of the Khmer Empire were built over six centuries, from the 9th to the 15th, and have been recognized by UNESCO, and countless travelers, as one of the world’s most impressive archeological sites. At AFAR, however, we believe that traveling deeper means going beyond the most famous sites and seeing some of the lesser known ones too. By all means visit Angkor, as bucket-list worthy a site as one could imagine, but leave time for these other stops in Siem Reap before continuing on your journey:
Phsar Chas (Old Market): Siem Reap’s old market is not a tourist attraction, instead it’s where locals come to buy everything from clothes to jewelry, as well as produce and meat. Along the northern side of the market, food stalls sell the most authentic Cambodian cuisine you may ever eat. If you are feeling very adventurous, order a plate of fried tarantulas. As one AFAR traveler put it, with the huge variety of goods for sale, it’s a market that “constantly surprises you.”
Night Market: You can continue the shopping into the evening at the Night Market, which is targeted more to travelers. The market gets busy around 8pm—it’s an ideal option after a day exploring Angkor. You’ll find everything from tshirts to Khmer handicrafts. The vendors expect you to bargain and haggle over prices so don’t disappoint them.
Pub Street: Next to the Old Market, Pub Street is the center of nightlife in Siem Reap. Bars and restaurants cater to backpackers and locals. After you have spent a day living out your Indiana Jones fantasies in Angkor, come here for a night of drinking just like Angelina Jolie did when she was shooting Tomb Raider.
Tonle Sap: The floating villages on Tonle Sap lake provide a view of a different side of Cambodian life. It will take about an hour or two to get there from Siem Reap, and then you’ll find guide eager to lead you on a tour on their boats. Seeing daily life unfold and the stilted houses floating over the water, the big city bustle of Siem Reap will feel very distant.
Phare Circus: The Phare Circus is perhaps one of the most surprising cultural attractions of Siem Reap. It’s an hour-long performance (at 8 p.m. each evening) that mixes Khmer culture and modern dance as well as acrobatic displays, juggling, and fire walking. This spectacle is all for a good cause—the Phare Circus has trained some of Cambodia’s poorest residents and employs them in producing this unique show.
Photo by Balint Földesi/Flickr