Although Siem Reap city may have turned into a bit of a tourist trap over the past few decades, getting out into rural Siem Reap will give you a better taste of Cambodian life. Here you’ll find floating villages on lakes, bird sanctuaries, terraced rice paddies, and friendly locals. If you’re here to explore Angkor Wat, take your time and opt to stay for a few days. The sprawling temple complex covers a huge territory – over 400 square kilometres in total – and you certainly don’t want to be rushed while exploring the world’s largest religious monument.
Cambodia’s been through a lot, with over a century of violence behind it, and people who lived through the Khmer Rouge still bear its scars. The country has an unfortunate amount of poverty. But look beyond all that – the lush mountains, the kind smiles, the mind-blowing temples – and you’ll find that exploring Siem Reap and Cambodia is completely worth it.
Places to Visit in Siem Reap
- Siem Reap city
- Angkor Wat
- Kompong Khleang
- Kulen Mountain
- Floating village
- Angkor National Museum
- Tonle Sap
Unique Things to See and Do in Siem Reap
- Cruise Tonle Sap, and see the floating villages
- Spend a few days exploring the Angkor Wat site
- Watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat
- Hike Kulen Mountain
- Splurge on a high-end Cambodian meal in Siem Reap
- Attend a Phare show (think Cirque du Soleil)
- Visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum or Angkor National Museum
Siem Reap Culture
Siem Reap culture revolves around the Khmer people. What makes Cambodia and Siem Reap so special is that the people have developed a unique sense of identity based on the confluence of indigenous Buddhism and Hinduism. This very ideology is reflected in Angkor Wat: the massive temple complex was originally built as a Hindu complex, but later was reverted to Buddhism. Seeing Angkor Wat on your visit to Siem Reap is a must-do! It’s the largest religious monument in the world, after all.
When greeting someone in Cambodia, they’ll greet with a Sampeah. This involves pressing the palms together in front of the chest with a slight bow and a “Chumreap Suor” (kind of like Namaste). Even with tourists, it’s better to respect this custom than to shake hands.
The Khmer people also have a great love for music. Although much of the music scene has become very westernized, you can hear the Cambodian pinpeat ensemble on feast days in the pagodas. This is usually made up of many percussion instruments, like lead xylophones and tuned gongs. There are many classical forms of dance as well, including Robam Apsara (the most famous).
If you want to dig into the heart of Khmer culture in Siem Reap, visit one of the floating villages on Tonle Sap (the lake). Tonle Sap’s climate and location is ideal for fishing, and so you’ll see fishermen at work hauling in their daily catches. All the homes and buildings here are located on the water. You can cruise between the various floating households belonging to the Khmer, Muslim, and Vietnamese people, and visit some floating markets along the way. In places like Chong Khneas, there’s even a basketball court! Beyond the floating villages, you may want to witness the traditional rice cultivation in Kol Chhen, where green paddies and water buffalo work among stilt houses.
Feel like experiencing Khmer culture through its food? Try fish amok (fish mousse with fresh coconut milk and curry paste), or Khmer red curry. There’s also Khmer noodles known as nom banh chok, and lime-marinated beef salad known as lap Khmer.
Getting around Siem Reap
Other than rental car, getting around Siem Reap is most easily done by bus. Stick to the trusted names, like Phnom Penh Sorya Transport, Capitol Tous, and Giant Ibis. When in doubt, ask a local who knows. Tuk-tuks are also good options for shorter distances between towns or attractions.
In Siem Reap city, a moto with a driver costs about 2000r for a short trip. There are plenty of taxis to go around as well. Getting to Angkor Wat from Siem Reap is a breeze: buses, taxis, and tuk-tuks all make regular trips back and forth to the ruins. You can also arrange to do so with a local tour guide to Angkor Wat.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Siem Reap
There are really just two seasons in Cambodia: wet season, and dry season. Dry season takes place from October to late April, while wet season lasts from may to September. Travelling through the dry season is more comfortable, especially when visiting popular sites like Angkor Wat. However, peak tourism season takes place during this time as well.
There’s no real bad time to visit Cambodia and Siem Reap. If you want the quieter crowds at Angkor Wat, come during the rainy season. If you want to be more comfortable despite the chaos, come during the dry season.
Ready to plan your visit to Siem Reap? Check out these popular guides and trips.