Let’s face it, the majority of people come to Siem Reap for the temples. And they are certainly magnificent — the ancient buildings of Angkor are works of art dating back more than 800 years. While Angkor Wat is the main attraction, there are so many of these ancient structures scattered around the outskirts of the city that you could spend days and days roaming around. And when you are done with the ancient ruins, there are no shortage of operational pagodas to wander through.
And it is exhausting. Amazing, but exhausting.
So here’s a short list of what to do in Siem Reap when you’re all templed out.
Silk Farm and Artisans Angkor
The Silk Farm is well worth a look, even if silk products don’t particularly interest you. This enterprising set-up is free for visitors and includes a guided tour of the complex. You will see every stage of silk production from the mulberry trees to the silk worms and on to the extraction of the silk from the cocoons, dying and then weaving the silk into finished garments. The tour is less than an hour but incredibly interesting and will leave you in awe of the whole process and the skill of the weavers.
A tour is only about 30 or 40 minutes, so it is a great option if you have a midday or early afternoon flight. If you call the Silk Farm in advance they will send a free shuttle bus to collect you from your accommodation (ask your hotel or guest house staff to do this for you). It has two pick-ups a day – one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Or you can take a tuk tuk out at your leisure, which is my preferred option, and perhaps stop along the way to look at or sample the street food if you are game. Or continue on to Artisans Angkor in town.
Artisans Angkor aims to help young rural people develop skills and create long-term, sustainable work opportunities. It includes a range of skilled artisans who have been trained in traditional arts and crafts including stone carving, wood carving, silver plating, silk painting and lacquer products. It provides employment for more than 1300 people, including 900 artisans. There are workshops situated throughout Siem Reap province but the one in town is only a few minutes from the Old Market and Pub Street.
Explore the markets
Markets are one of my favourite things to visit, wherever I am. From gourmet farmers’ markets to the back alleys of village markets, or wandering through art and craft stalls. Markets have an energy and liveliness and in places like Siem Reap they are often the life of a community. Every small village has a market, even the small villages within the city. Try and find your local market in Siem Reap. Wander the backstreets and see what you stumble across. Many are just small but intrinsic to their local community. It’s a great place to pick up a genuine art piece if you are looking for something to take home.
Other markets you might want to consider are:
- Old Market (Phsar Char). Near the centre of town, Old Market is popular with locals and tourists. It’s small alleys are lined with clothes and shoes, household wares, spices and dried fruit. A large section is dedicated to fresh fruit and vegetables, fresh meat and prepared foods. You will also find a wide range of stalls stocked up with tourist items including kramas (the Khmer scarf), silk items, art and handicrafts. But be warned, many of the items in the old market are not genuine Cambodian products but brought in from Thailand and Vietnam.
- Phsar Leu. This big market is situated on National Road Six, a few kilometres from the river towards Phnom Penh. It is a thriving hive of activity and is like a big hardware, supermarket and department store all rolled into one. You can pick up your fresh fruit and veggies, buy your cleaning and household items, clothes, hair products, gold jewellery and kitchen wares. You can also get fresh meat. I have friends who regularly buy fresh meat from the local markets but I still need to source mine refrigerated. Give me time.
- Night Markets. The original night market in Siem Reap is situated off of Sivatha Road. It’s been a popular spot for tourists for some years and has many stalls selling a variety of arts and crafts. You’ll also find the place comes alive with bars and music. The original night markets proved so popular you will now find several night markets around the city centre, including one east of the river.
- Made in Cambodia Market. You’ll find this market in the grounds of the Shinta Mani Resort on Oum Khun Street, north of Old Market. At this market you will find high quality, unique products made by innovative Cambodians. They include internationally recognised artisans and designers from Cambodia as well as NGOs with enterprising projects to help give local, and often vulnerable, young people a sustainable income. You will find everything from locally-brewed liqueurs to hand-crafted jewellery, and hand-made soap to specialty peppers from around the world (including the famous Kampot pepper). The market is held every Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday from 4pm to 9pm.
Get out into the countryside
If you’ve got the time, hire a tuk tuk driver for a few hours, half a day or a full day and get out of town. The rural surrounds around Siem Reap are colourful and extremely picturesque, especially when the wet season starts.
Most tuk tuk drivers will have a few places up their sleeve they can take you to, if you specify what you want to see. Maybe it is rural settings, village life or sunsets. Find a driver with good English so you explain your needs and make sure you negotiate the price in advance. And have fun.
Stretch out with a yoga class
After all that time traipsing around temples, you might be in need of a good stretch and some relaxation. There are a number of yoga classes around town that run at different times. They are at different locations so you might want to do your research. A few to consider are the Angkor Bodhi Tree, situated in a quiet part of town, about two kilometres north of the Old Market, in a lovely Khmer style building. A bit further north, Peace Cafe also offers yoga classes. You’ll also find yoga and pilates at the Siem Reap Hostel.
Khmer lesson and monk chat
In the tranquil setting of the Peace Cafe, you can sit back and relax with a delicious juice or shake or a vegetarian snack and take in a free Khmer lesson. They are offered from 3pm to 4pm on most Saturdays and Sundays. It’s worth calling in advance to check because the lady who offers the classes is sometimes busy and can’t make it. But the locals will love it if you can pick up a few words and sentences to help you get by during your stay.
The Khmer lesson is followed by a free monk chat from 4pm to 5pm, providing an introduction to Buddhism for those interested.
There are many more things to see and do in Siem Reap but this is a quick round-up for anyone too exhausted by temple tours to search for options. Let us know your favourite experiences while here and enjoy Temple Town.