Most famous for the site of the ancient city of Angkor, Siem Reap is often defined by the ancient temples that surround it. But there’s much more than just that: learn about its food, culture and alternative activities in this guide.
Ever since French explorers discovered Siem Reap in 1907 the town and its history have been a fascination for the Western world. Tourists have travelled there to visit its beautiful temples, most famously Angkor Wat, and experience the culture of Cambodia.
For much of the 1970s and 80s the nation was ruled by the dictatorship of Pol Pot and Siem Reap was virtually inaccessible to tourists. Upon the regime coming to an end in the 1990s travellers began to return. Angkor Wat temple is currently one of the world’s must-visit sights, attracting over 2 million visitors per year.
Things to do
There’s no doubt that Siem Reap’s main attraction is the city of Angkor. Built between the 9th and 15th centuries it now survives as a complex of buildings and temples, most famously Angkor Wat. With Angkor Wat alone covering 200 hectares it’s easy to spend a day just wandering through and exploring this ancient capital.
Angkor Wat at sunrise is a breath-taking sight and, for many, the number one activity on their list when they visit Siem Reap. For photography fans, getting a photo of this is a must though this can be a tricky task amidst the crowds surrounding the temple at sunrise. We’d recommend checking out this guide on getting the perfect shot.
As incredible as Angkor Wat is, to think of Siem Reap as simply a ‘ticket-office’ to one of the world’s seven wonders is a misconception. We definitely recommend staying in the area after our Southeast Asia tour ends and checking out some of the town’s other awesome activities.
Your first port of call (pun intended) should be the floating village. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh-water lake in Southeast Asia and upon it sits a community of fisherman and their families in a literal ‘floating village’. Their wooden houses lie upon stilts amidst the water they fish in. Take a boat trip that will give you a tour through this selection of market stalls, schools and even churches.
If you’re looking for something completely different to temples, take an hour’s journey out of Siem Reap to learn about one of the area’s traditions: beekeeping. The beekeepers will give you a tour explaining the art of their work and how they are trying to turn it into a sustainable business.
What to eat
Cambodian cuisine has lots of delicious dishes and plenty of them can be found in Siem Reap. Amok fish is a staple Cambodian dish and can be found throughout the city. It’s a yellow curry generally using catfish or whitefish. It’s easy to recognise as it’s normally served in a fresh coconut or sometimes wrapped in a banana skin.
As for something a little sweeter, you can’t go wrong with Khmer cakes. Made up of taro and mungo beans it creates a nice blend of something that is sugary but not sickly. It has a crunchy outside and the soft inside is generally made up of the mung beans along with some dried fruits.
Street food stalls can be found around the town to grab food. We always like to pay a visit to the night market. It’s got a more modern, built-up feel than the street food stalls around the city but it’s a great place to grab some tasty food before heading for a night out on the town.
When to visit
Siem Reap’s hot and humid temperatures stay relatively the same all year round, lingering between 25-30°C. What does differ is the rainfall. Dry season, in November to April make for a popular time to visit as there’s less rain and more comfortable temperatures. Between May and October, daily afternoon showers are likely with the wet weather peaking in June.
Looking for the best possible Angkor Wat sunrise photo? The equinoxes in March and September are when you want to go.