Cambodia is easily on the top of my favourite countries to visit in South East Asia. It is rich in history, the people are the friendliest bunch and the food is great. I visited Siem Reap in January 2014 and wished I had stayed longer. Here are my suggestions on the things to do when in Siem Reap:
1. Watch sunrise at Angkor Wat
No one leaves Siem Reap without visiting the largest religious monument in the world. Do expect throngs of tourists (more people than you think are willing to wake up at 4am), they tend to crowd around the lotus lake at the west side across the moat and if you get a good spot at the front, the view is pretty amazing. I personally prefer the east area, albeit further, it is a good spot for a long shot of the temple, reflections on the lake are easy to capture and most importantly, crowd free. View more photos of Angkor Wat here.
2. Go on a temple run
Aside from Angkor Wat, there are several other underrated temples that are worth going. One can easily spend 3 whole days exploring every temple in the area, however if you are tight on time the ones that you should cover are Bayon (1000 Faces), Ta Prohm (where Tomb Raider was filmed), Banteay Srei and West Mebon. Pre Rup is a pretty good site to watch the sun set. One suggestion, trust me and get a guide if you can, they are not that expensive and will provide you with interesting information on the temples; without the background stories all temples look the same after awhile.
3. Kayak on Tonle Sap Lake
Known as the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, Tonle Sap is known as another tourist trap as visitors go to visit the Khmer floating villages. The villagers are certainly used to this and I have read stories on how travellers are often approached by the kids begging for money and the area of the lake is overcrowded that it ruins the experience. Determined to find another way, I signed up with Unique Kayak Tours who offered us the opportunity to explore a quieter part of the lake via a kayak (as opposed to the big touristy boats). The scenery was stunning as we paddled through palm trees, rice paddies and mangroves, the atmosphere was peaceful and serene, we even got to visit the local (floating) homes (one with a crocodile farm!) and to end it all a spectacular sunset over the Tonle Sap lake.
4. Zip line across Angkor Park
What better way to explore the Angkor Park where most temples are located, from a bird’s eye view? Well frankly you would not be able to see much as you are mostly above the trees, but nevertheless it was a fun experience to zip line from tree to tree in the world heritage site. Check out Flight of the Gibbon.
5. Hang out at Pub Street
Pub Street is Siem Reap’s party hub with a backpacker vibe. Eat a scoop of ice cream at Blue Pumpkin, have a drink at Red Piano (where Angelina Jolie frequent when filming Tomb Raider), party and meet new people at the Angkor What? bar, and eat fried bugs and snakes on a stick.
6. Watch a Cambodian circus
No one I know has ever regretted going for Phare, the Cambodian Circus. The show is uniquely Cambodian and entertaining to say the least. And ticket proceeds go to a good cause to support the talented performers.
7. Eat Khmer food
Cambodian cuisine reminds me a little of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine. With their staple food being rice, side dishes are often prepared with plenty of herbs, leaves, pickled vegetables, dipping sauces, edible flowers and other condiments. Popular dishes are Amok, Lok Lak, Kuy Teav (my favourite) and Bok L’hong.
8. Ride an ATV across a paddy field
I never got the chance to do this, but friends of mine who have claimed it was an awesome experience. If you have done so let me know how it went!