7 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Siem Reap

From sunrise over Angkor Wat and scrambling the Khmer Empire temples of Bayon and Ta Prohm to cruising the floating villages and learning to cook Cambodian cuisine, Siem Reap offers some must-do experiences that are essential no matter how touristy they may be. The star archaeological attractions shouldn’t only occupy you. Also allow some time to eat and drink—in Cuisine Wat Damnak and Miss Wong respectively—and kick back in atmospheric spots like Cafe Central.

Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
Crowds may swarm upon it daily from sunrise onwards, but exposure hasn’t dulled the impact of the largest religious monument in the world. Commissioned by King Suryavarman II in the 12th century as the centerpiece of the mighty Khmer empire, the structure is inspired by Hindu sacred design and is estimated to have taken around 30 years to build. The biggest surprise upon visiting might be learning that the vast complex of spires, moats, frescoes, cloisters, and balustrades was constructed in such speedy fashion. You won’t be alone while witnessing it, but sunrise over the iconic temple remains one of the essential experiences in Southeast Asia. A return in the afternoon when the camera-toting hordes have dispersed is also advisable.
812, Kampong Phluk, Cambodia
Kompong Phluk is a floating village located in the middle of Cambodia‘s largest lake, Tonle Sap. The term “floating” is a bit misleading: the houses are actually built on very tall stilts around 8 meters high. During the rainy season, the lake rises and covers the stilts, giving the illusion that the homes are floating in the water. We learned that these types of villages are built in the middle of the lake to make it easier for fishermen and rice farmers to gather during harvest season.
1 Vithei Charles de Gaulle Khum, Krong Siem Reap 17251, Cambodia
Opened in 1932 in the historic Royal Khmer compound, this landmark hotel was the first luxury lodging in the area, catering to well-heeled adventurers intent on visiting the storied ruins of the temples at Angkor. Everyone from Charlie Chaplin and Charles de Gaulle to Jackie O and, more recently, Angelina Jolie have slept within its dramatic, art deco walls. Just a short walk or tuk-tuk ride to central Siem Reap, the hotel, now part of the Raffles collection, features 15 acres of manicured gardens with more than 20,540 species of tropical plants, making it a relaxing oasis after a day spent exploring the temples. Following a major restoration by David Grace Designs in 2019, the 119 rooms, suites, and villas—some set in the original main building, others overlooking the garden or pool—are now a vision of French windows, hardwood floors, and marble bathrooms with Italian tiling and oversized rain showers. Some have added perks like furnished terraces, high ceilings, or four-poster beds. Elsewhere in the hotel, features like the 1929 metal-and-timber elevator, art deco black-and-white tiles, and classic conservatory have been refurbished but maintained.

The large central swimming pool is ringed by loungers, while the tucked-away spa has a sauna, Jacuzzi, and six treatment rooms for excellent, regionally inspired therapies. Both in-house and outside guests frequent the six drinking and dining options, which include the legendary Elephant Bar, the elegant Restaurant Le Grand (serving both Western and Royal Khmer cuisine), and the completely renovated Apsara Terrace, which offers a dinner-cum-cultural dance show three or five nights a week, depending on the season. The on-site gallery and boutique showcase high-quality local goods.
Better known as the Tomb Raider Temple since its starring role in the Hollywood movie of the same name, Ta Prohm has at least as much star quality as Angelina Jolie. Cloaked in dappled shadow and locked in the embrace of the vast root systems that are still reclaiming it for the jungle, the temple is arguably the most atmospheric ruin at Angkor Archaeological Park. Construction on Ta Prohm began in 1186 C.E.; it was built in honor of the mother of King Jayavarman VII. Modern-day visitors are not permitted to climb onto the crumbling galleries of its 39 towers due to safety concerns. Nevertheless, picking a route around the various structures, close courtyards, and narrow corridors sprouting with lichen, moss, and creeping plants is one of the most enthralling experiences at Angkor.
Pub Street Area , Mondol 1 Village 284, 2 Thnou St, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
While cute souvenir shops and even haute couture boutiques exemplify the changing face of the retail scene in Siem Reap, the city’s famous Old Market remains a heady hub of traditional trade and commerce. Located right in the heart of town, Psar Chas is amply stocked with lots of things that you might want to buy—as well as plenty of things you probably do not. That said, perusing the labyrinthine aisles full of silverware, silks, handicrafts, spices, stone carvings, and other assorted ephemera is worth a couple hours of anyone’s time. Stay calm and haggle politely with a smile on your face, and you’re sure to find a bargain or two.
Angkor Archeological Park, Angkor Thom, Krong Siem Reap 17000, Cambodia
Giant stone faces greet visitors as they enter the Bayon complex. This ancient Khmer center houses over 200 of these serene faces, with theories they were modeled after the bodhisattva (enlightened being) or the Bhuddist king, Jayavarman VII, who built the city center.
Wat Damnak market street, Village Krong Siem Reap, City 93108, Cambodia
To many gastronomes, the subtle flavors and spicing of Khmer cuisine makes it one of Southeast Asia’s great food secrets. That’s certainly the view of French chef Joannes Riviera, who has taken inspiration from Cambodia’s unsung culinary traditions to create one of the region’s biggest restaurant success stories. Cuisine Wat Damnak has received numerous accolades since opening for business in 2011. Using only the freshest local produce (think juicy tropical fruit, bamboo shoots, and fish from nearby Tonle Sap), Riviera devises regularly changing tasting menus that burst with creativity. Recent hits include a fish sour soup with green banana and rice paddy herb, and a duck confit curry with fresh rice noodles. Dinner is a steal at just $27 for five courses or $31 for six.
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Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
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