Spectacular sunrise at Angkor Wat temple
Cambodia,  Travel

My Top 8 Must-See Attractions and Activities in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, is a destination brimming with captivating experiences and cultural wonders that entice travellers from across the globe. Below is a list of my top 8 things you must see and do on your next visit.

1. Explore the Temples of Angkor

Chances are, if you’ve made your way to Siem Reap, it’s likely for the iconic UNESCO World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat temples, which rightfully claim the top spot on this list. Dating back to the 9th to 15th centuries, these temples represent some of Southeast Asia’s most cherished archaeological treasures. The vast Angkor complex sprawls over approximately 400km², encompassing a plethora of architectural marvels. Among them stand the world-famous Temple of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, the enigmatic Bayon Temple adorned with its iconic stone faces, and the picturesque Phnom Bakheng, offering breathtaking sunset views from its hilltop perch.

Adding to this impressive array is my personal favourite, Ta Prohm temple, distinguished by its stunning fusion of ancient ruins and colossal trees, with roots intricately intertwined with the temple structures. Each of these temples not only serves as a testament to Cambodia’s rich history and cultural heritage but also beckons visitors to embark on a journey through time, marvelling at the architectural prowess and artistic ingenuity of the Khmer civilization.

Depending on your duration of stay and level of interest, there’s a range of ticket options to choose from. As of 2024, a one-day pass costs $37 USD, a three-day pass is priced at $62 USD, and a seven-day pass is available for $72 USD. These passes grant access to all temples within the Angkor region. It’s important to note that the temples are open from 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM, so plan your visit accordingly. For further information or ticket purchase please visit the Angkor Enterprise website.

A gigantic silk cotton tree growing out of Ta Prohm Temple

2. Visit the Angkor National Museum

I highly recommend going to the Museum prior to visiting the temples. This will give you a better understanding and appreciation of the temples when you go to see them first-hand.

  • Price: $12 USD for Adults / $6 USD for Children (6-11yrs)
  • Audio Guides: $5 USD.
  • Opening Hours: 1 Apr – 30 Sep 08.30 – 18.00 and 1 Oct – 31 Mar 08.30 – 18.30

Tickets can be purchased through the Angkor National Museum website or upon entry.

The Angkor National Museum offers visitors a captivating journey through time. By utilising a blend of immersive and interactive exhibits, the museum provides an enriching exploration of the religious and cultural beliefs that defined the ancient Khmer empire. You will ultimately learn about the evolution of Khmer society from its humble beginnings to its glorious peak and further, discover the intricate connections between religion, society, and governance of the Angkor temples and monuments.

Angkor National Museum
Exhibits at the Angkor National Museum

3. Enjoy a Night Out on Pub Street

Your trip to Siem Reap is not complete without a late-night stroll down Pub Street, it is the nightlife hub of the town. Renowned as the vibrant epicentre of the city’s nocturnal activities, Pub Street stands as a testament to Siem Reap’s dynamic nightlife.

Pub Street on New Year’s Eve 2023

As a party strip, Pub Street provides a great setting for mingling with both locals and fellow travellers and gives you a chance to cut some shapes on the dance floor (if you feel like that’s something that’s been missing from your holiday so far). I would have to say Temple Club (with the open roof top) was probably my favourite, with XBar coming in a close second.

4. Check Out the HERO RATS at APOPO 

  • Entry Prices (2024): $10 USD for adults (consider the fee a donation to a great cause)
  • Opening Hours: Daily from 8.30 AM – 5PM (last tour is from 4.30PM)

Decades after the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia still grapples with the remnants of conflict: an estimated 4-6 million unexploded landmines are still littered across the country. Tragically, new victims are reported daily, adding to the toll of over 63,000 maimed or killed by these hidden dangers.

In Siem Reap, Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development (APOPO), an NGO, offers a beacon of hope. APOPO dedicates itself to training giant pouched African rats to detect and disarm landmines, a remarkable effort saving countless lives. 

This place will make you thing twice about the humble rat!

Giant Pouched African Rat at the APOPO Centre

Visitors are welcomed to the center where English-speaking guides elucidate APOPO’s vital work. The tour encompasses insights into Cambodia’s landmine crisis, followed by first-hand demonstrations of rats and handlers in action, showcasing the remarkable partnership that helps reclaim the land from the specter of landmines. AND if you feel inclined, you are you are permitted to get a photo oportunity holding one of these giants pouched rats.

For further information about the good work at APOPO or if you would like to make a donation or sponsor a Hero Rat, please click the link here.

This is Glen – the mine-sniffing, giant-pouched African Rat.

5. Get Tickets to Siem Reap’s Phare Circus

  • Ticket Prices: Start from $18 USD
  • Show Starts: 8PM and goes for 1 hour.

At Phare Circus, artists ingeniously blend theatre, music, dance, and contemporary circus arts to narrate captivating Cambodian tales spanning historical, folkloric, and modern themes. The energetic, youthful performers dazzle audiences with their infectious enthusiasm and exceptional talent. If you have time, it is a must-see modern cultural spectacle in Siem Reap. You can book tickets on the Phare Circus website.

Performers at the Siem Reap Phare Circus

Phare artists are graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak’s vocational training center in Battambang, established in 1994 by nine young men who returned from a refugee camp post-Khmer Rouge regime. They created a school to provide free education to the poverty stricken, socially deprived and troubled youths of Battambang. The school now has over 1000 pupils and has music, theatre and circus faculties. 

Phare The Cambodian Circus provides students and graduates with a platform and an opportunity to earn a fair income. This financial support not only lifts them out of poverty but also grants them self-esteem and independence.

6. Visit a Floating Village on the Tonlé Sap Lake

To get to any of the floating villages, you can usually arrange a tour from one of the many tour agencies in town. If you’re feeling more adventurous, you could just hire a motorbike and drive there yourself. I visited Kampong Phluk via motorbike. Upon arrival, I was stopped at a boom gate and told to park the motorbike before purchasing a ticket at the ticket office. Tickets were priced based on group sizes, with the minimum being $18 USD for up to 4 persons. I happened to meet a French couple that arrived at the same time as myself, and we split the boat cost four ways. I recommend taking some small change with you (a tip for the boatman is always nice) and being assertive with what you would like to do. They will likely want to take you to see extras like a “mangrove tour.” If you’re feeling up for it, go for it, but otherwise, don’t be afraid to say no.

The floating villages are known for their distinctive stilt houses.

Several floating villages near Siem Reap offer fascinating experiences, including Phnom Krom (located directly to the south), Kampong Phluk (southeast), and Kompong Khleang (further southeast). Perched atop wooden stilts, approximately 8-9 meters high, these houses present a unique sight, especially when water levels are low. Situated on the expansive Tonle Sap, meaning “fresh water,” which is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, these villages are part of one of the world’s most diverse and productive ecosystems.

Inside a boat on the way to the Kampong Phluk floating village.

Kampong Phluk village is inhabited by over 3,500 residents, predominantly Cambodian and Vietnamese, many of whom rely on fishing as their primary livelihood. Exploring the village by boat allows visitors to navigate through the narrow waterways, observing the daily activities unfolding among the stilt houses. Adjacent to the village lies a mangrove forest, offering opportunities for ecological tours and birdwatching. Kampong Phluk provides a captivating insight into the distinctive lifestyle of some of Cambodia’s less affluent communities, making it a unique destination for travellers seeking to immerse themselves in the country’s rich cultural and environmental heritage.

7. Have Dinner and Watch A Traditional Apsara Dance

While in Siem Reap, immersing yourself in an Apsara dance performance is an absolute must-do. Several shows in the area offer enticing packages that include both dinner and the performance, providing a comprehensive cultural experience.

Apsara dance, translating to “beautiful, youthful, and elegant”, encapsulates the essence of traditional Cambodian artistry. Originating during the reign of Suryavarman II (around the 12th century), these dances were once reserved exclusively for royalty. Today, they have transformed into remarkable spectacles accessible to both locals and tourists.

A traditional Apsara dance performance at the Apsara Theatre, Siem Reap

Featuring captivating dancers adorned in elaborate Khmer costumes, accompanied by enchanting music, these shows offer an unforgettable glimpse into Cambodian heritage. Experience the magic of Apsara dance in the splendid theatres of Siem Reap, where every performance promises to leave a lasting impression. I highly recommend the Apsara Theatre, they do a traditional Khmer dinner and a show for $34 USD (vegetarian option for $31 USD), they are open Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, dinner is served at 7.30 PM and the show starts at 8.30 PM – 9.30 PM.

8. Pamper Yourself With An Exceptional Massage

Feeling exhausted and achy after a day (or several days) of exploring the Angkor temples? Fear not! Siem Reap offers excellent options for a rejuvenating full-body massage. 

Secret Eden Spa – Siem Reap, Cambodia

I highly recommend The Secret Eden Spa; I’ve visited multiple times and found their services absolutely exceptional and competitively priced compared to others in town. Make sure to book in advance to secure your spot, as walk-ins are unlikely to be accommodated. Other highly rated  spas include: Relax Spa, Cool Sense Spa and Devatara Spa.

It’s worth noting that massages in Cambodia tend to be pricier than in neighbouring Vietnam and Laos, and some spas may charge considerably more than others. That being said, coming from Australia, you will get much more for your money here.

We hope you found this article helpful for your next trip. Thank you for visiting the Humble Traveller.