Touring the Angkor archaeological park in one day is not enough. But because we had a private car and driver, we were able to dictate our time and was still able to explore the town of Siem Reap despite the very limited time we had in the country. While on our way to Angkor Wat, I instantly had the regret of having only one day to explore both the UNESCO World Heritage site and the town where the site is located because of the town’s shady trees, cute cafes, shops, and architecture. Here are my 10 things to do to enjoy Siem Reap outside of the famous historic temples.
1. River walk. The town of Siem Reap is located along the Siem Reap river. Along the river, you would find many cafes and restaurants, most of which are hip and cool and Instagram-worthy, but could be expensive for Filipino tourists because prices are in U.S. dollars. If you are on a tight budget, don’t fret, enjoy the views and take lots of snaps of the many interior design and architectural inspirations along the river. Cambodia was part of the French Indochina, the region in Southeast Asia that was under French colony, together with Vietnam and Laos. It should not be a wonder when Cambodian architecture and urban planning resembles Vietnamese and Laotian neighbors, albeit in a humbler, smaller scale.
2. Temple visit. I know it may seem too much. I mean, after seeing Angkor Wat, could there be any temple as magnificent or worth to visit as Angkor Wat? Well, the answer is yes and no. If you are not keen on visiting another Buddhist temple and is interested in Angkor Wat for its engineering and architecture, then, of course that is fine. But if you are interested in the Buddhist faith, you would learn that there are other temples in Siem Reap worth the visit. Because we are interested in Angkor Wat for its engineering and architecture, we did not visit other temples but I saw at least two temples along the Siem Reap river.
3. Museum visit. After our one day tour at the Angkor archeological park, our guide, Kim, took us to the War Museum. Cambodia was plunged into extreme poverty and hardship not too long ago because of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge and this war museum commemorates that. Entrance fee to the war museum is $5. There is a national museum located near the area where we buy the Angkor day pass and I believe that museum focuses on the Angkor ruins. Entrance fee to the national museum is $12.
4. Souvenir shopping at old market. The old market near the river offers tourists and travelers many goods to bring home. My favorites would be the basket bags (priced $10-$20), wooden plates, essential oils, and Cambodian coffee ($7 one pack). I would prefer to shop at the old market for souvenirs than at the Angkor park. Although I find that most shops and sellers are pushy to let me buy more than one piece an item. Also, beware because some of the goods sold in Cambodia are not made in Cambodia.
5. Shopping for local arts and crafts. If you are more on helping the physically handicapped and promoting local arts, head to the other side where Blue Pumpkin is located and you will find small stalls selling silk and cotton scarves, more basket bags, local brand clothes and resort wear, woven fabrics. My favorites are the small hand-painted elephants ($5 for 3) and the paper products.
6. $0.50 Beer. My brother had a $0.50 beer drinking spree. And, if you enjoy beer, a taste of Cambodia’s local beer at $0.50 per glass is not bad at all.
7. Ice cream and coffee. We took refuge from the heat at Blue Pumpkin. It was just accidental as we were just walking around looking for a place to cool down. Blue Pumpkin is quite popular for its ice cream/gelato. One scoop costs $1.60 (+ 10% service charge) and my husband treated me to my favorite choco-mint ice cream. I noticed many cute cafes along the river, including the also famous Sister Srey coffee shop.
8. Pinoy band at Hard Rock Cafe. We discovered that there is a Pinoy band at the Hard Rock Cafe and they perform every Friday night. It would be nice to enjoy music by Filipinos. We were advised to come back to enjoy their music, but sadly, we were already off to Bangkok that Friday night.
9. Takyan game near the river. Sepak takraw is a popular game in our family and we enjoyed passing our time watching a takyan game among Cambodians in the side walk. They were so chill playing that we just had to stop and watch. I took this video of the takyan game.
10. Street food and people watching. I love that Siem Reap allows you to do both of these activities at one time. They set up tables and chairs along the river where you can eat and watch people. At the end of each day in a foreign land, I love to people watch, and Siem Reap was no exception. I love observing how locals do their thing. I took this video of a major Siem Reap street. I noticed that despite the volume of vehicles in a small street, it was not “noisy” at all, and I thought it was because no one seems to honk.
How to Get Around Siem Reap: Walking would be the best way to go because when you limit yourself to along the Siem Reap river, the sidewalk is shady. But you can also hire a remork (the Cambodia version of the tuktuk or pedicab). For us, we were dropped off by our driver/guide at one point in the river, near the old market, and we just walked along the river and met him again at the same place a few hours after.