Siem Reap, Cambodia surprised us- what was once just the gateway to the temples of Angkor, is now a bustling tourist destination, with a lot to keep you busy once you’ve had your fill of ancient temples and city ruins.
We spent a week in Siem Reap at the end of our month in Cambodia as a family. Waker and I had visited Siem Reap on our honeymoon ten years earlier and didn’t have high expectations of the city itself. However, where we expected a boring tourist zone, we found innovative restaurants, a mix of high and low-end shops, and a city that was pleasant to walk around and explore.
Siem Reap is the most touristed city in Cambodia, so expect some crowds, but you’ll also find museums, markets, lively streets of restaurants, and even mini golf. In this post, we’ll cover all the things to do in Siem Reap other than temples, where to stay in Siem Reap, how to get there, and how to get around Siem Reap while you are there.
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What is Siem Reap Known for?
Siem Reap, Cambodia is known as the home of the Angkor Wat Archeological complex, generally referred to as Angkor Wat. This is a bucket list destination for many travelers and is what brings most people to this city that was once the seat of the Khmer Empire.
The Temples of Angkor
The temples of Angkor are amazing, and the reason Siem Reap has become the top tourist destination in Cambodia. Please don’t visit without seeing the impressive ancient structures of the city of Angkor!
We’ve got a full post on how to visit these extraordinary structures. However, once you’ve had your fill of temples in Angkor National Park, there is so much else to do in Siem Reap.
The Best Things to Do in Siem Reap Other than Temples
These are the best things to do in Siem Reap after you’ve visited Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples. Siem Reap is a vibrant city, with many family-friendly activities.
1. Stroll Pub Street
Pub Street is the center of tourist nightlight in Siem Reap, and wandering here can be a lot of fun. On this 100-meter strip officially called “Street 8”, you’ll find lots of restaurants, bars, loud music, some massage places with fish tanks out front (the kind that nibble the dead skin off your feet), flashing neon lights, street food, and lots of tourists.
Take your time here, enjoy the over-the-top feel of it, and then move on to more authentic areas in town. We recommend eating at Paper Tiger- it’s got a huge menu including some vegetarian options, fun pictures of Tin Tin on the menu, and the food is good (try the vegetable lak lak).
2. Take a Siem Reap Street Food Tour
A food tour of Siem Reap is a great way to dive into Khmer culture. You’ll taste all sorts of traditional dishes, from Cambodian BBQ to chive cakes and Beef Lok Lak, get to ask lots of questions, and start to understand Khmer culture.
Many of these tours take you to a local market where you can taste crickets and other fried bugs if you wish (we declined). Lasting anywhere from 2 1/2 hours to 5 hours, these tours are great for the whole family. They’ll get you off of the tourist path, and you’ll know exactly what you are tasting!
3. Watch a Performance of the Phare Cambodian Circus
Don’t miss the Phare circus! There are no animals involved, just talented human performers. This Cambodian circus was started to get underprivileged kids off the streets and teach them skills they could use to earn a living.
The circus is a mix of modern dance and acrobatics, with a loose storyline woven in that changes periodically. You’ll see fun costumes, flipping, balancing, and lifting.
The doors open at 5:30, the happy hour lasts until 6:30, and the show starts at 8:00. We arrived just after 5:30 to have dinner and take advantage of happy hour and found the place pretty empty.
There were 6-8 tables set up with different food options around the edge of the tent, you walk around and order what you’d like, then sit at tables in the middle to eat. You can easily eat dinner here- there are lots of fun options from vegetarian curry to rice balls, spring rolls, and coconut desserts. When we attended it was a rainy evening, but the seating area is covered.
Around 7 pm there was a short performance by kids in the Phare Circus program in the open area where food is served. It was so fun for our kids to watch other kids working on these dance skills!
The performance area has steeply tiered seats, so you should have no problem seeing over the people in front of you. They hand out bamboo fans when you walk it, but we didn’t find it particularly hot inside (and we visited at the end of August).
We opted for tickets in the Preferred Open Seating (B), which is in the center, but up above the Preferred Reserved (A). The Preferred Reserved get a cushion to sit on, and a souvenir water bottle. The other option is Open Seating (C), which is off to the sides.
We felt that B was the right choice- our seats were great, we had a clear view, and it wasn’t crowded around us. These seats are “open”, so they are not assigned.
You will want to line up to enter when the doors open at 7:30 to get seats in the middle. The performance space is not huge, so really there are no bad seats. We actually moved up a row for a better view, rather than wishing were down lower and closer to the stage.
Along with choosing your tickets, you can also opt to add in a backstage tour!
4. Shop in the Old Market
Officially called Psar Chas, the Old Market is a series of market stalls down by the river. This is the oldest market in Siem Reap. You’ll find mostly souvenir stalls on the outside rows- be sure to bargain for anything you decide to buy. You’ll find keychains, t-shirts, and other standard fare. As you move through the stalls inside the covered building you’ll find jewelry stores, handicrafts, and meat and produce markets. This market is the most bustling in the morning when locals are doing their shopping.
This is a great place for souvenirs, produce, housewares, and even small odd items. For example, we picked up some elastic line for restringing bracelets in this market.
5. Watch an Aspara Dance Performance
Aspara dance is a traditional form of dance in Cambodia- depictions of these dancers are all over Angkor. It is believed that at one time there were more than three thousand dancers at the court of Jayavarman VII, who performed only for the king. The art form was largely lost after the fall of the Khmer Empire and then resurrected in the early 1990s.
Expect to see dancers in intricate costumes and headdresses moving with their heels touching first, toes up, and lots of intricate hand positions that dancers train for from an early age.
This experience includes a 90-minute Aspara dance show, dinner while you watch, and pick-up from your hotel to make it all flow smoothly.
You’ll experience several kinds of traditional Aspara dance including classical and folk. Travelers give the experience five stars and speak highly of the food, which at many other venues can be bland.
The performance takes place at Amazon Angkor, a newer venue, which is between 5-10 minutes’ drive from the center of town. You’ll find a pamphlet on your table that helps explain the dances and the symbolism of the movements. You’ll see the Dance of the Coconuts, as well as the Dance of the Fisherman among others.
Book Now: Aspara Dance with Dinner and Transport
6. Learn about Landmines and Hero Rats
Visit the APOPO Vistors Center to learn how rats are used to clear landmines in Cambodia. This is a very kid-friendly way to introduce kids to information about landmines, including the different types, why they are hard to find, and how non-profit groups are working to remove them across Cambodia.
You’ll meet a retired rat who used to clear landmines, get to watch her do a demonstration, and then get a chance to hold her if you like. You’ll learn why this particular type of rat is used, how long they live, how they are trained, etc.
We thought the kids might be nervous to hold the rat (she was quite large), but E(6) jumped right it with a big smile on her face!
At the end of the tour, there is a short video that tells the stories of a few people who lost limbs or other parts from landmines on their farms. The video is in Cambodian with English subtitles, so I had to whisper read it to our youngest as she can’t read that quickly. Neither child found the video disturbing, it’s very well done.
Plan to spend around 60 minutes at the center. You’ll want to arrive in advance of your tour, we arrived just at the start and had to rush a bit through the written descriptions before the guided part of the tour began.
There is a small charge for the tour, of $8 per person, kids are free. You’ll need to book in advance- if you just want to visit the APOPO Visitor Center, you can call, email or text to make a reservation: email [email protected], or call/Whatsapp +855 81599237 or +855 61799237.
You’ll need the email or number you used to make the reservation when you arrive. The center is about a 10-minute drive from the center of Siem Reap, you can easily take a tuk-tuk.
If you want to combine a trip to APOPO with a larger exploration of Cambodia’s rather dark history, this 4-hour private tour includes a visit to the APOPO center, the Wat Thmei Killing Fields, and the Angkor National Museum.
We opted not to take our children to the killing fields either in Siem Reap or in Phnom Penh, but you can decide at what age you feel they are appropriate.
7. Putt Through Temples
When you need a break from temples and museums, consider a round of mini golf at Angor Wat Putt! This mini golf course is set up so you putt through replicas of the Angkor temples, which makes it fun. I actually got a hole-in-one! We went on an overcast day and had the place to ourselves.
The place is outdoors in a garden-like setting with a bit of cover, but it’s designed more to provide shade from the glaring sun than to protect you from rain. During hot days they have misters to help you stay cool. There are 14 holes, we made it through 9 before the rain came.
Open 8 am – 8 pm every day, each round is $5 per adult, $4 per child. It’s about a 14-minute drive south of the center of Siem Reap.
8. Take a Cooking Class
A cooking class is a great way to learn about Khmer culture! This three-hour class starts with a menu- choose the three dishes that you’d like to make, and then head to the market to select your ingredients. You’ll also pick fresh herbs from the garden surrounding the kitchen to add to your dish.
For your dishes choose regional specialties like fish amok, Cambodian curry, spring rolls, or green mango salad. You’ll cook your Khmer dishes, then enjoy eating them! This class is limited to 8 students and makes a great family activity. Pick-up from your local hotel is included.
Book Now: Khmer Cooking Class with Market Trip
9. Buy Crafts in the Made in Cambodia Market
We found the Made in Cambodia Market to be the best shopping in Siem Reap. This market isn’t huge, but everything is beautiful- no junky souvenirs here!
You’ll find handmade jewelry, artwork, items made with Cambodian silk, locally made alcohol and ice cream, as well as all sorts of other treasures. We ended up doing quite a bit of shopping here! Once you get inside, it’s covered, so don’t worry if it’s raining, as it was for us. Open Noon – 8 pm.
10. Explore a Floating Village
Just over an hour’s drive from Siem Reap is Tonle Sap Lake- the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Here you’ll find floating villages that are complete with stores, schools, and even hospitals.
We looked into whether we could hire a tuk-tuk to drive us to the pier to arrange to see the floating villages on our own, but with the reduced tourism in Cambodia, you’ll need a tour guide who knows the locals and knows exactly where to take you.
On this half-day tour, you’ll be picked up from your hotel, and then drive about an hour to the main pier. From here you switch into a boat to head to the floating village of Kompong Phluk. You’ll see how the stilt village operates including their fisheries and hospital, and learn about this traditional lifestyle.
You’ll then have the option (which is strongly suggested, so not really optional) to pay an extra $5 for a canoe ride through the mangrove forest before returning to open water. If you choose the afternoon option, you’re likely to see the sunset from the water.
This four-hour tour has a maximum of 10 travelers and strong five-star reviews. Keep in mind the lake is much higher from October to January, water levels can get quite low through the dry season months.
Book Now: Floating Village Tour
11. Visit the Cambodian Landmine Museum
The Cambodian Landmine Museum is focused around the story of founder Aki Ra. He was first orphaned, then became a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge at age 10. After he returned from the war, he began clearing landmines manually and taking over the care of children hurt by the landmines.
The museum focuses on educating about the history of the Cambodian conflict, the dangers of landmines, and working to stop their use. This museum is appropriate for kids, it focuses on the positive impact that any individual can make, as well as safety and removal.
This small museum is located about 45 minutes north of the center of Siem Reap. Some families like to combine it with a visit to APOPO to learn about removing mines, others combine it with a visit to the nearby Banteay Srei Temple.
Tickets cost $5 for adults, children 12 and under are free.
12. Feel Blessed at Wat Preah Prom Rath
This large Buddhist temple is very close to the Old Market. Here you’ll find a Khmer-style pagoda, a reclining Buddha, as well as a seated Buddha. One of the first things you will notice is the large cows with golden headdresses.
This is a working monastery, and you’ll probably see monks moving about. It’s a lovely, quiet place to explore with colorful wall murals and many statues. It is most famous for reclining Buddha which was installed in 1500.
13. Take a Countryside Cycling Tour
A bicycle is a great way to see the countryside around Siem Reap and learn more about how the local people live today.
This five-hour cycling tour includes your bike and helmet as well as snacks. You’ll bike around rice fields and into local villages. You’ll make stops to see a local market, a mushroom farm, a lotus far, learn about distilling rice wine, see some temples, and even learn about a few village handicrafts.
This tour gets all five-star reviews. Kids-size bikes are available, expect to bike 15-20 km on this tour. You’ll have a maximum of 12 travelers in the group. Water and snacks are included.
Book Now: Siem Reap Countryside Bike Tour
14. Explore the Coffee Shops of Siem Reap
Siem Reap has some wonderful coffee shops, these are great places to take a break and get out of the heat or rain. There are several chains you’ll see around town, but there are also a handful of delicious, locally-run smaller cafes.
Many of these (like The Little Red Fox Espresso Cafe) are easy to find if you are looking for them, but you probably won’t stumble into them on your own. Many have additional seating on the second floor, so don’t walk away if you stick your head in and only see a few tables. They are very kid-friendly and have juices or icy mixtures the kids love, some even have games the kids can play.
Check out our full list of great coffee cafes in Siem Reap! These will also take you down some streets with fun shops and great restaurants.
15. Get a Massage
Siem Reap is a great place to get a relaxing massage! Compared to Thai massage, Cambodian massage tends to be less stretching (what I often refer to as “forced yoga”) and more pressing and pulling.
Do be careful to choose a shop with a good reputation, there are many that are just not very good. Google Reviews is a great way to find a highly-rated shop close to your hotel. Expect to pay around $7-9 USD for an hour massage. Many hotels will offer their own massage services, though the price will be higher.
Our kids also got foot and leg massages which was a great way to introduce them gently to the joys of massage, in a way they could feel comfortable, and we could all be together.
16. Visit a Famous Cocktail Bar
Consider visiting one of Siem Reap’s famous cocktail bars! The two most famous are Long’s Bar and Miss Wong.
Long’s Bar is a stop on every tourist’s trip through Siem Reap, and for good reason- the beer is cold, there’s air conditioning, and it’s the only guaranteed non-smoking bar in town. There is an extensive menu that includes local dishes as well as pizza and pasta, which makes this a great family-friendly place for dinner. You’ll often also find live music here.
Miss Wong is a beautiful cocktail bar that looks like 1920s Shanghai, with dark wood, glowing lanterns, and high-end antiques. Its namesake, Miss Wong, was painted many times by the artist Vladimir Tretchikoff, you’ll see these portraits hung around the bar.
We took the kids here, and while there were no mocktails listed on the menu, the staff were happy to create a mocktail version of whatever they chose. There is some food available, but I wouldn’t recommend going here for a full meal.
The kids loved the menus printed on fans with Miss Wong’s image. This quiet, formal atmosphere is very different from Long’s, but worth a stop just to see the beautiful interior and enjoy a delicious cocktail.
17. Visit the Angkor National Museum
The Angkor National Museum chronicles the rise and fall of the Khmer Empire which stood from 800-1431. With extensive trading ties to the region, the empire thrived until it was overtaken by Thai armies in 1431.
Eight galleries in the museum explore the history, religious beliefs, and legends of the Khmer people who built the city of Angkor. You’ll find a gallery of 1,000 Buddhas, and many artifacts from the Khmer era, from statues to stone inscriptions. There is a full model of Angkor Wat which is interesting to see before you visit the actual structure.
This is a great place to go on a rainy or overly hot day- the museum is quite spacious, and there are several videos to watch as you move through the exhibits.
A lot of text panels are included, though you can also opt for the audio guide. Admission is $12 for adults, children ages 6-12 are $6, and children 5 and under are free.
18. Spend a Rainy Day at the Mall
Wondering what to do on a rainy day? Tired of museums? Check out the Heritage Walk mall and cinema!
An easy walk from downtown Siem Reap, they have a large chess board, free wifi, and a cinema. This is a big new development, so not all the storefronts are filled up, but you will find a Starbucks, bubble tea, a toy store, and a MiniSo. MiniSo is one of our favorite Korean shops- they have everything from cosmetics to socks to toys and accessories, mostly for less than $10.
Check the schedule for craft activities on the weekends.
19. Visit the Waterfalls of Kulen Mountain
Phnom Kulen National Park is located about 30 miles (48 km) north of central Siem Reap, or about a two-hour drive. Kulen Mountain, or Phnom Kulen, meaning “lychee mountain” is a sacred place. It is believed to be where King Jayavarman II declared independence from Java in the 800s, and where the stones used to build Angkor were sourced.
The river is called the “River of a Thousand Lingas” because lingas (phallic symbols) are carved into the sandstone just below the water level. At the Phnom Kulen Waterfalls, you can swim in the pool just below the falls.
This small group tour visits a temple with Cambodia’s largest reclining Buddha in sandstone, then continues to the 1000 Linga River and Kulen waterfall. You’ll have a chance to take a dip before starting the journey back to Siem Reap.
Travelers give this tour 5 stars- they speak highly of the tour guides and appreciate the air-conditioned van for the long ride. This tour takes 5-7 hours, so expect this to take most of the day. The tour has a maximum of 12 travelers.
If you prefer, you can also take a private tour to Kulen Waterfall.
20. Visit the War Museum Cambodia
The only war museum in Cambodia, this place used to be called the Siem Reap War Museum. The museum covers over 5 acres, entirely outdoors.
You’ll find a collection of materials used during the Civil War including Chinese, American, and Soviet-made weapons. Items include tanks like the T-54, a MiG-19 jet, and field artillery guns.
Most of the artifacts are not in great condition- they were largely pulled from the jungle and now remain sitting outdoors. Signage is minimal, but you can get up close to the exhibits.
It can be muddy here, so avoid visiting just after a rain. This museum is great for those with a strong interest in military vehicles, and a skip for those who are not.
Admission is $5 per visitor, cash only.
21. Visit a Water Park
If you’re looking for a fun way to cool off, there are two water parks close to Siem Reap to consider. The first is Water Park Khnar Siem Reap. It has three water slides leading into a pool, and a splash pad water playground.
I stumbled on this one before we arrived. It gets great reviews online, but when I asked around in town (including expats), no one seemed to know about it.
The second option is Wake Park Cambodia– this is where we were referred to when we inquired about the other water park. Also with great reviews, this park has a wake-boarding course, as well as a water playground course “Aqualand” where you climb and bounce around the obstacles. There are lockers and showers, as well as a cafe and a sandy beach.
We hit a patch of rain and weren’t able to try either park, but I think the best choice largely depends on the age of your kids. Older kids would love Wake Park, while the main draw at Water Park Khnar is the playground and splash pad for smaller kids.
When is the Best Time to Visit Siem Reap?
December, January, and February are the best time to visit Siem Reap. While you’ll find temperatures over 30 C (86 F) all year round, the weather is the driest during these months.
January through March is considered high season and brings the most crowds. April and May are the hottest months in Cambodia, with the rainy season covering May to October.
We have visited Siem Reap twice- once in January, and once in August. Both times we enjoyed our visit. During our August visit, we did have a few rain showers, but they tended to be sporadic and did not stop us from enjoying the day.
How Many Days Do You Need in Siem Reap?
2 days is the minimum you should spend in Siem Reap to see the most popular temples and explore the town. We highly recommend that you spend 3-4 days, and devote two full days to exploring the temples, and 1-2 days to other activities in and around Siem Reap.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
You’ll want to stay in downtown Siem Reap, in walking distance to the river, the main markets and the cafes. From most hotels, you will need a taxi or tuk-tuk to reach the Angkor complex as well as some of the sites farther from town.
Recommended Hotel: Siem Reap Urban Boutique Hotel
This three-star hotel is where we stayed, in a family suite with two twin beds and one queen. The breakfast each morning is quite substantial- you choose a hot meal and they make it fresh. While all of the food was good, we found that the more local options with noodles were tastier than the Western breakfast options (though the kids stuck with ordering the pancakes).
The location is excellent, you can walk to Pub Street and the old market easily. The rooms are large and clean. There is a small swimming pool as well if you have hot weather. The staff was very friendly and helpful.
Book Now: Siem Reap Urban Boutique Hotel
How to Get Around Siem Reap
Grab is the most popular ride-hailing app in Siem Reap. This is what you’ll want to use when you are going a longer distance and need a car, or if you want to call a tuk-tuk to your location.
For most daily excursions, you’ll want to take a tuk-tuk. They are open-air and come in several sizes, so can fit most families. You can call a tuk-tuk via Grab, or you can negotiate with a driver on the street.
We like to use Grab to get an idea of what the ride should cost, and then negotiate from there. Grab will quote you in Cambodian Riel (about 4,000 Riel to 1 USD). With Grab, you can pay on the app with your linked credit card, otherwise, you can pay cash to the driver. Short drives will often be less than one dollar, so it makes sense to use Riel.
For example, we found that Grab quoted us just over 7,000 Riel for a trip from our hotel in downtown Siem Reap to get to the APOPO Visitors Center when hailing a tuk-tuk on the street, we would probably pay 8-10,000 Riel, but not have to wait for a vehicle. With a difference of about 50 cents, it isn’t always necessary to use the app.
We highly recommend having some local currency even though restaurants and larger establishments in Siem Reap all print their menus in US dollars. Street stands and tuk-tuk drivers will charge you more if you are rounding to the nearest dollar.
For details on hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take you around the Temples of Angkor, head over to our full post on visiting the temples.
Using US Dollars in Siem Reap
US Dollars are the currency most used in Siem Reap. While the Riel is the official currency, US dollars are widely accepted across Cambodia. While this may seem easier for US travelers, there are a few things to be aware of.
First, Cambodians will not accept any US bills that are not perfect. If there is a small tear, or they are too wrinkled, they will not take them. Cambodian banks charge a fee to accept these bills, a fee that merchants do not want to pay.
Check your bills when you are given change, and make sure no one is giving you a degraded bill as change- you won’t be able to spend it elsewhere in Cambodia.
Secondly, using US dollars means everything is either rounded up to US dollars, or you will receive change in Riel. No US coins are used in Cambodia. When negotiating with tuk-tuks or buying street food, we prefer to use Cambodian Riel.
How to Get to Siem Reap
Siem Reap is fairly easy to get to from anywhere in the world. You can fly directly to Siem Reap International Airport (REP), or Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH).
From Phnom Penh, you can take a bus to Siem Reap. It will take about 5-6 hours, and cost about $15.
FAQ: Things to Do in Siem Reap Cambodia
We recommend at least three days in Siem Reap, more if you want to have time for museums and tours.
You’ll need two days to visit Angkor, plus time to explore markets, do some shopping, and see the Circus.
We spent 6 nights in Siem Reap and didn’t have time to do everything!
Yes, there is a lot to do in Siem Reap. As this is where most tourists to Cambodia go, there is a lot happening, from markets to classes to water parks.
Yes, Siem Reap is a fairly safe city. While we aren’t often out late at night, the main touristy area is quite safe.
You can wear whatever you like in Siem Reap. The local population is used to tourist fashion, though it’s best to not expose too much skin. You can wear shorts and sleeveless tops without attracting too much attention.
Be aware that for the temples inside Angkor, both men and women must have their shoulders covered. Unlike many places, a scarf is not considered acceptable for this. Bring a button-down shirt, or wear a T-shirt on the days that you visit the temples.
There You Have It: Things to Do in Siem Reap Cambodia
These are our top things to do in Siem Reap after you visit the Angkor Archeological Complex. Siem Reap is a vibrant city with a mix of shopping, restaurants, coffee shops, museums, and entertainment.
Whether you want to explore Khmer cuisine on a street food tour, relax with a family game of mini golf, check out a water park, or head to a museum, there are plenty of things to do in Siem Reap.