Like most tourist destinations, Cambodia was hit hard by the pandemic and Siem Reap in particular. For the first time in decades, the temples of Angkor were empty. Still today, the temples only see a fraction of the thousands of tourists that once swamped this Unesco World Heritage site everyday.
Over the last two years, Siem reap underwent major roadworks, giving it a major facelift and new infrastructure. Now that the dust is finally settling, a new city is emerging, with new roads and cycle paths, ready to welcome travelers from all over the world… there’s never been a better time to visit.
1. Get inspired by local talents
Over the years, Siem Reap has attracted its fair share of creative people. COVID may have taken its toll but the city is still rich in talent, with artists and entrepreneurs of all kinds hiding behind every corner. Fashionistas will love Eric Raisina’s French inspired haute couture or Romyda Keth’s Ambre, a favorite among the local elite.
For those looking for a show, the Phare Circus never fails to amaze nor do the Apsara Dance Performances at the Apsara Theatre. This traditional dance is centuries old and an important part of Cambodian culture. And to let it all sink in, don’t forget to check out Siem Reap’s thriving coffee scene, with coffee shops such as Bean Embassy, Dialogue or Crane that marry art, design and local fare.
2. Lose yourself in the sun
Oftentimes, it’s the simple things, the ones we take for granted, that end up making the biggest impression. Golden Hour - the last hour before sunset and the first hour after sunrise - is one of those things. Whether it’s in the morning or the evening, Siem Reap has a plethora of locations that will blow your mind. Angkor Wat is an obvious choice but there are many other options. Phnom Krom, a hill south of the city is a local favorite. Also, you could simply watch it from a rooftop at one of Siem Reap’s trendy bars.
A personal favorite of mine is the sun rising over Srah Srang. This ancient reservoir is a fascinating relic of the Khmer Empire and is often referred to as the “King’s pool”. You’ll also find loads of eateries all around Srah Srang, from street food to roast chicken or simply coffee.
3. Escape into nature and discover unique wildlife
Despite being Cambodia’s second largest city, Siem Reap remains a small town by most standards. Surrounded by countryside, nature is never all that far. Whether it is the world famous Bird Sanctuary at Prek Toal on the Tonle Sap lake (Southesast Asia’s largest), or the Elephant Sanctuary in the foothills of Kulen Mountains, animal and nature lovers are bound to get their fix.
If you really want to get out and away from people, then there is nothing better than grabbing a mountain bike. Get immersed in the countryside, cycle down dirt roads from village to village, or summon your inner Indiana Jones to reach a temple lost in the jungle… or, quite simply, go for a relaxed ride around the West Baray - an ancient reservoir of epic proportions - and watch the birds fly over the lake following the fisherman as they bring the nets in for the day.
4. Peace, spirituality and well-being in Siem Reap
If you’re looking for an active holiday, Siem Reap is the place for you. You can hike, cycle, golf or, if you’re looking for something a little more intense, Khun Khmer, Cambodia’s very own style of boxing. In between all this action though, why not take a break, turn inward and focus on your mental well-being, and make sure you return home with a sound body and mind.
Home to the biggest religious monument in the world, Siem Reap has a very special energy. Find a peaceful place to meditate, go on a yoga retreat or go to a local pagoda for a water blessing and experience first hand contemporary religious culture. And you can always just spend the day at the spa and let go of all that stress.
5. Siem Reap's greatest secret: the people
Travelers come to Cambodia the first time to visit the temples but almost always come back for the people. Voted “Friendliest People in the World”, Cambodians are most certainly the highlight of any trip to the Kingdom of Wonder. Their infectious smile, creativity and resilience is uniquely inspiring and a highlight for those who choose to spend a little extra time here. Whether it is your guide, tuk tuk driver, or waiter at a local eatery, you’re bound to make connections.
Find your way to Siem Reap on our Cambodia Bike, Hike & Kayak Tour and make the most of the convenience of a fully supported tour, with local insight from our expert guides. This 8-day adventure will take you beyond the well-worn tourist highlights to show you what makes this country really tick.