I have always been a wanderlust as far as I can remember. I never miss a chance to explore the unexplored. This time I headed to the vibrant city of Siem Reap in Cambodia. Although I wanted to visit the famous Angkor Wat temple I also wanted to feel less like a tourist. Do you recognize? Therefore I did some research to the lesser known sites of Siem Reap. Here is my list of some unique sites in Siem Reap off the tourist trail.
Explore the lesser known temples of Angkor Wat
Siem Reap is one of the most vibrant towns of Cambodia with many attractions, coffee shops and restaurants. One of its major attractions being the archaeological wonder of Angkor Wat.
Angkor Wat is one of the most famous temples in the world. It is also one of the largest monuments of religious beliefs. The temple was built in the 12th Century as a mausoleum for King Suryavarnam II. There is one large tower surrounded by four small towers and if you want to see them all it will take you a couple of days.
Don’t forget to bring a passport size picture. Visit Angkor Wat at sunrise and don’t stop like many others at the entrance and the water, but walk inside. Then watch the sunrise not at the entrance, but at the east side of the complex.
Photo by Sarah Depper
I have selected two of the lesser known temples of the Angkor Wat complex I really liked. The first one is the Bakong Temple. This is a modern Buddhist inspired temple that is located to the right of the east gateway of Bakong. The actual temple was built in the 9th century by King Indravarman I who dedicated this temple to Lord Shiva and it has got the architecture of Ko Art Style.
The temple has figurines of nagas, rakshasas, garudas and Yakshasas which will keep you spell-bound for some moments.
Another temple I loved was the Baksei Chamkrong. This small temple is located in the north of Phnom Bakheng and towards the south entrance of Angkor Thom. I thoroughly enjoyed the designs, sculptures and the archaeological beauty of this temple. This was the first ever temple at Angkor.
2. Great street eat locations
What better way to explore Siem Reap than through its food. I don’t know a single traveler that doesn’t like food so this is a great way to literally taste Siem Reap. Although Cambodia is not well-known for its food the Khmer cuisine is really underestimated. Siem Reap boost with delicious local food stalls. Enjoy a freshly made coconut waffle at Psar Wat Po market, the best Nom Kachay at the largest wholesale market or crispy shrimp cakes at the Old Market. There are some more great food places on 2 Thnou Street at the end of Pub Street.
3. The best shopping in Siem Reap
Siem Reap has some great boutiques, galleries and little shops where you can easily fill your bags. Some great places are the shops at Alley West, Theam’s House and Pop-Up Shop. Alley West is lined with lovely boutiques where you can find a variety of clothes, jewelries and bags. Explore, admire and buy. Grab a freshly brewed coffee at Art Deli and continue your shopping journey. For a great and complete shopping guide check out the blog of Grantourismo Shopping the gorgeous stores of Siem Reap.
4. Learn about the silk production at the Angkor Silk Farm
The Angkor Silk Farm is a place that I couldn’t give a miss. Handicrafts are one of the major occupations of Cambodia and silk is an important part of their tradition, culture and costume. They also export Cambodian silk to various parts of the world.
It is a great place to watch the whole process of silk farming right from collecting the cocoons. The Angkor Silk farm offers free guided tours of the process from the mulberry bushes cultivation to the production of silk fabrics and accessories.
You can take a break from the Angkor temples and watch how silk is made in a more or less primitive style.
Visit Phnom Kulen National Park
The Phnom Kulen National Park is located 30 km northwards from Angkor Wat. Also called the Mountain of Lychees, a holy place for many local people. You can see some gigantic stone elephants and lions covered with moss at Srah Damrei and Damrei Krap. Furthermore it has obscure old temples hidden in the jungle, which are absolutely worth discovering. Don’t miss out on the tangerine-coloured temple tower of Prasat O’Paong. One of the highlights in my point of view. The park is also home to some pretty waterfalls and the most friendly people I have met during my Cambodia trip.
Dive into Angkors history
The Angkor’s National Museum is a must go if you are an archaeological enthusiast. They have some excellent historical artefacts on display. To my wonder, the museum has 8 galleries that showcase different exhibits that are important for the history of Cambodia. However, you would not find many visitors to this vast
The museum remains open from 8:30am to 6pm every day and charge 12 USD entrance fee.
Apart from these places I wanted to just walk around the city and get the vibe of the local culture and taste the local delicacies. This has given me immense joy in understanding a place from the locals, listening to their stories and understanding their development.
A place to unwind
The River Garden
After an active day exploring Siem Reap, you need a nice place to unwind and process all the amazing things you have seen. A wonderful place to stay in the middle of a lush green garden is The River Garden. It is gorgeous with delicious food. Another great place is the Golden Mango Inn. Rooms range from 18-25 USD, but you have the feeling that you are in a luxury hotel. They have an extensive breakfast choice and an exquisite outdoor pool. O yes, they also provide lovely massages for only 5 USD.
Off the Beaten Track
As an explorer I have always found it interesting and enticing to go to the places that are not really the tourist spots. While in Siem Reap I took a bicycle and went to villages nearby. The lush green fields and the paddy plantations, quite typical of the south eastern countries mesmerized me with its simple beauty.
The charming and meandering roads towards the village market were also quite fascinating. It was refreshing and rejuvenating to ride through the lush green fields and relax in the clean air. This is an extraordinary and unusual memory that will remain etched in mind for long years to come. If you are taking a bicycle to explore the countryside, bring a visit to this lovely local restaurant that makes one of the most delicious food I have eaten. The catch of the day and rice are excellent. This restaurant doesn’t have a website or address. It is on the road to Phnom Krom and the floating villages. It is located next to a shop selling silk souvenirs and it is one of the first hammock restaurants you meet when leaving Siem Reap.
Siem Reap is one of the few places on earth that can give you the perfect combination of heritage, culture, lifestyle and cuisine. This place is always flocked in by tourists from various parts of the world. Most of these tourists come to see the Angkor Wat, the world heritage site, but Siem Reap offers more to its visitors than just the temples and museums. If you want more inspiration for your Cambodia trip have a look at our 2-weeks Cambodia: in search of the hidden gems.