Whether you’re backpacking Asia or just visiting the famous Angkor temples, here are 18 of the top things to do in Siem Reap Cambodia.
Siem Reap is an incredible place to visit, especially for budget travelers. It is rich in history and culture. The food is flavorful. The locals are kind and the backpacker community is strong.
If you’re backpacking Southeast Asia, or just looking for somewhere affordable and interesting to visit, consider visiting Siem Reap Cambodia.
The Buddhist temple, Angkor Wat, is definitely the most famous attraction in Siem Reap. Angkor Wat is just one temple in the entire Angkor Archaeological Park, which is full of numerous historic sites from the ancient Khmer Empire.
Siem Reap is worth visiting for the temples alone. They are a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site that should not be missed when touring Southeast Asia.
But there is plenty more to do here besides touring temples! There are bustling local markets, interesting museums, and fun day trips to take. So if you’re wondering what to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia, read on!
The Best Things To Do In Siem Reap Cambodia
Located in northwest Cambodia, Siem Reap is quite popular among travelers. It’s actually one of the most popular destinations in Cambodia, due to its proximity to the famous Angkor temple complex.
Siem Reap is located a 5.5-hour drive northwest of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh. You can catch public transport if you’re traveling Cambodia by land.
But Siem Reap International Airport has flights to and from numerous destinations throughout Asia, so it may be easier to just fly into Siem Reap directly.
Of course, the best things to do in Siem Reap are the temples. I won’t go into detail about each one, but I’ll mention some of the more noteworthy ones. I’ll also include fun things to do in Siem Reap besides just seeing temples.
Note: You need a visa to visit Cambodia.
Every traveler entering Cambodia needs a visitor visa.
You can apply online or just apply for it when you arrive at the airport. It costs $36 USD and is valid for 30 days.
Visit iVisa to book your Cambodia visa before you arrive!
Now let’s get into the best things to do in Siem Reap!
1. Stay in a Cheap Backpacker Hostel
If you’re a traveler in Southeast Asia, you need to have a classic hostel experience.
Not only are hostels insanely cheap in this part of the world, they are usually super fun and full of unique people.
Siem Reap is home to the cheapest hostel I’ve ever stayed in: Siem Reap Pub Hostel for $3 USD per night. That’s right, $3 PER NIGHT!
And the hostel was nice. It has a rooftop pool, friendly staff, and cozy beds. It has a 9.6/10 rating on Hostelworld, and has over 1,500 reviews from travelers.
And that’s just one of the many cheap and amazing hostels in Siem Reap. If you browse Hostelworld, there are about 30 hostel options. The cheapest ones cost $3 – $6 USD per night for a dorm bed.
Most hostels will help you organize your tours of Angkor Wat as well. It’s likely you’ll find other travelers to tour the temples with, which is especially handy if you’re a solo traveler.
2. Eat the Local Curry
One of the best things to do in Siem Reap is eat the local curry.
A classic Cambodian curry is called Amok and it is so delicious. The traditional Amok has fish in it, though you can get a vegan option as well.
The fish is slow cooked with lemongrass, turmeric, coconut cream, and other spices so it is super flavorful. It’s a pretty sweet and mild curry without too much heat.
Served in a handmade bowl of banana leaves with rice on the side, this Cambodian curry is one of my favorite meals I’ve had abroad.
You can find a good one in any authentic local restaurant around Siem Reap.
3. Book a Tuk Tuk Tour of the Angkor Wat Temple Complex
If you’re wondering how to book a temple tour in Siem Reap, the easiest and cheapest way to do this is to book at your accommodation when you arrive.
Whether you’re staying at a hostel or a nice hotel, just enquire at the front desk about booking temple tours and the staff will help you organize it.
The two most popular day tours to take in Angkor Wat Archaeological Park are the Grand Circuit and Small Circuit.
For both, your local guide will drive you from temple to temple by tuk tuk so you don’t have to worry about where you’re going.
Small Circuit will start with Angkor Wat and a few other nearby temples. Grand Circuit will explore lesser-known temples further away from Angkor Wat. I recommend doing both, but if you only have one day, do the Small Circuit as it hits the most impressive temples.
On the first morning, your tuk tuk driver/tour guide will drive you to the official Angkor Park Pass Ticket Counter at 4:30am to buy your temple pass. The ticket prices are:
- 1 Day: $37
- 3 Day: $62
- 7 Days: $72
3 days was the perfect amount of time to spend at the temples in my opinion. If you’ve come all the way to Siem Reap Cambodia, you’ll want more than just 1 day to see all the temples. If you have time, book the 7 day pass as it’s only $10 more than the 3 day.
Visit the official Angkor Enterprise website for more information about the park passes and temples.
If you feel more comfortable booking your temple tours in advance, you can do so online. Get Your Guide has some great, highly-rated tours. But your tour price won’t include the Angkor Park Pass, so you’ll have to buy that separately when you arrive.
4. See Angkor Wat at Sunrise
If you’re wondering what to do in Siem Reap, seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise has to be on your list.
Not only is Angkor Wat the most famous and well-known temple of the entire Angkor Archeological Park, it is maybe the most visited attraction in Cambodia.
It’s the largest religious monument in the world, and is definitely one of the most famous temples in the world.
The Buddhist temple of Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built in the 12th Century. The tall spires that tower over the stone temple complex, surrounded by palm trees and a glassy lake, are an iconic sight to see.
Witnessing the sunrise over this famous temple is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Read more about the history and significance of Angkor Archeological Park on the UNESCO World Heritage Site website.
5. Enjoy the Serenity at Neak Pean
Neak Pean, sometimes called Neak Puon, is another beautiful Buddhist temple in Angkor Archaeological Park.
It’s special because it sits atop a circular island in the middle of a small pond. That pond is set in the middle of a man-made island, which lies in a larger lake.
That may sound confusing. But the important part is that Neak Pean is a peaceful little temple surrounded by water.
Green trees and forests surround the pond, creating an oasis of tranquility amidst the ancient Khmer temples and ruins. You’ll most likely visit this temple during a Grand Circuit tour.
Read next: 22 Solo Travel Tips
6. Buy Some Classic Travel Pants
An important thing to note before visiting any temples in Asia is the dress code. For Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, and most other religious buildings, you have to cover your shoulders, stomach, cleavage, and knees.
The only difficult part of this is… the heat! Southeast Asia is very hot.
To stay cool when visiting temples, you need long pants, shirts, or skirts that are super lightweight.
You can bring clothes from home, but why not blend in with the other backpackers in Cambodia and buy some classic travel pants?
I’m talking about the long, loose, colorful, patterned pants, skirts, or sarongs that you always see backpackers wearing. They usually have an elephant print on them and come in vibrant colors.
As tacky as they may look, they are so comfy and are ideal for exploring temples in Southeast Asia.
You can buy them at a local market for super cheap!
7. Take A Cambodian Pottery Class
If you need a break from exploring temples and you want to try something fun and creative, consider taking a Cambodian pottery class.
Ceramics are usually a staple of any culture, so it can be cool to try making your own with help from a local.
This pottery class hosted by Khmer Ceramics and Fine Art Centre only costs $25 USD and has a 4.7/5 star rating on Get Your Guide.
This is one of the more unique things to do in Siem Reap, so if you have some free time give it a try!
8. Watch Nature Take Over at Ta Prohm
Another one of the most impressive temples near Siem Reap is Ta Prohm. Also built in the 12th Century, this is maybe the next most famous temple in the area after Angkor Wat.
Locals have purposely avoided restoring this temple, except to clear paths when the rubble gets dangerous. The result is a fascinating intermingling of nature with the manmade structure.
Giant trees are growing on top of temple walls. Roots squeeze themselves in between doorways and greenery flourishes amidst the stone.
If you’re doing a Small Circuit tour, you’ll visit this temple soon after Angkor Wat.
Ta Prohm is a magnificent place, and it’s definitely one of the best things to see in Siem Reap Cambodia.
9. Visit the Angkor National Museum
If you’re a real history lover who wants to see more ancient culture beyond the temples, visit Angkor National Museum.
This archaeological museum has huge displays of artifacts from the height of the Khmer Empire, mainly from the 9th-14th Centuries.
The Angkor National Museum is located in downtown Siem Reap, close to the Khmer Ceramics Fine Arts Center. Consider visiting after you take a pottery class!
It’s open every day from 8:30am to 6:30pm. Visit the website for more info!
10. Shop at the Local Markets
Local markets in Southeast Asia are often the heart and soul of a city. Siem Reap is no different! There are a few amazing street markets here where locals sell their produce and handicrafts.
The Old Market in the historic center of Siem Reap is the most popular market for tourists. You can walk to it from most accommodations around town, and it is full of beautiful clothes, paintings, figurines, sculptures, ceramics, and more.
For an evening shopping spree, visit the Angkor Night Market or the nearby Noon Night Market.
Whether you want to buy a pair of elephant travel pants, pick up some fun souvenirs, or just browse, the markets are some of the best Siem Reap attractions.
11. Tour a Floating Village on Tonle Sap Lake
For an interesting and enlightening day trip from Siem Reap, take a tour of a floating village.
Just south of Siem Reap lies Tonle Sap Lake, which is home to a number of local floating villages. The most visited one is Kompong Phluk Floating Village, where houses are built on top of wooden stilts.
If you visit during the rainy season (June – November), the water level will be closer to the base of the buildings. During dry season (December – May), the water level drops and you can see the stilts holding up these beautiful villages.
The locals live off of fishing and farming, and there is even a school and temple in the village.
A guided tour will show you how the locals live, and open your eyes to one of the more remote and unique cultures and lifestyles of the world.
12. Climb Baphuon for an Amazing View
Another stunning temple in Angkor Archaeological Park is Baphuon. It is sometimes called the “Temple Mountain” because it is massive, with 3 levels and a terrace at the top.
All the temples are impressive, and this one is extra special once you climb to the top.
You get an incredible view overlooking the temple grounds and the nearby temples in the distance.
We climbed this one at the end of our first day of temple touring. We had done a Small Circuit, starting with Angkor Wat at sunrise and covering 5 other temples.
After 8 hours of exploring in the heat, I was so exhausted but I still hauled myself up the Baphuon stairs and the view from the top was so worth it.
13. Find Your Favorite Local Restaurant
I think the best way to eat in any country is to just wander around until you find the hidden, authentic local places.
That’s what we did in Siem Reap. For dinner every night, a few of us from the hostel would stroll the quiet side streets away from the touristy town center and eat at quiet little cafes.
Most of them don’t have names in English, but there was one cafe we fell in love with.
They had delicious fruit shakes for less than $1 USD, and a short menu full of local classics like curries and stir fries. There were also lots of little kittens climbing all over the tables.
We started coming here for every single meal, and the local staff didn’t speak English but they were so kind and always smiling.
There are lots of hidden gems in Siem Reap, so I recommend skipping the big touristy restaurants and dining at some of the more secluded spots.
14. Admire the Faces at The Bayon
Another one of the best things to do in Siem Reap is seeing The Bayon. This is another stunning temple in Angkor Archaeological Park located not far from Angkor Wat.
If you book a small circuit tuk tuk tour, you’ll most likely visit the Bayon after Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm.
This Buddhist temple served as the center of the ancient city Angkor Thom, which flourished around the 11th – 13th Centuries. Angkor Thom is located just north of Angkor Wat.
The Bayon is famous for its giant stone faces. There are over 200 faces set in the stone walls of the temple, some giant and some small. They all have a serene look, but the whole place is still very mysterious.
15. Visit a Traditional Cambodian Village
If you are really interested in the local culture, book a guided tour to a traditional rural village.
You can eat at local restaurants in Siem Reap and tour the floating villages on the lake, but getting out into the countryside to see a rural village is another great way to learn how the locals live.
Ask at your hostel for any tours they offer, or you can book one online.
This tour visits the countryside on an ATV so you can explore traditional Khmer villages with a local.
This is a cool way to see the real traditional way of life in Cambodia.
16. Eat Rolled Ice Cream
Whether you’re exploring the night markets or just walking through downtown Siem Reap during the day, you’ll see lots of carts in the street selling rolled ice cream.
You can find rolled ice cream all over the world. But apparently it originated in Thailand. It’s popular all around Southeast Asia, and we noticed an abundance of it in Siem Reap.
Just choose any cart in the street, pick your flavors, and watch the locals mash your ingredients up with fresh cream.
Then they pour the mixture onto an ice cold slab and use their tools to squash and smooth the mixture until it’s blended and flat. Then they roll it up and put it in a bowl with your toppings.
It’s actually so delicious, and they use all fresh fruit for the flavors.
17. Take A Day Trip To Phnom Kulen National Park
If you’re looking to escape the city for a day and explore nature, this is one of the best places to visit in Siem Reap Province.
The national park is home to Phnom Kulen, which translates to Lychee Mountain. It is a sacred spot for Buddhist and Hindus who would complete pilgrimages over the mountain.
Aside from its religious significance, Phnom Kulen National Park is full of lush forests, ancient Khmer ruins and gorgeous natural sights.
The Kulen Waterfalls are the top attractions in the park. There are two waterfalls with natural swimming pools at the base, which is perfect for hot sunny days exploring the Cambodian forest.
You can book a guided day tour to the Phnom Kulen waterfalls from Siem Reap for $60 USD on Get Your Guide!
18. Party on Pub Street
Pub Street is the backpacker hub of Siem Reap. It is officially called Street 8, but people call it pub street because it has, you guessed it, a lot of pubs!
The whole street is packed with bars, restaurants, street food, live music, and more. It is the heart of Siem Reap’s nightlife.
So if you love to party and you want to enjoy mingling with the locals and travelers while eating delicious food and enjoying some drinks, head to Pub Street!
Thanks for reading my list of the best things to do in Siem Reap!
After I visited Cambodia I posted a Siem Reap Photo Diary sharing my favorite photos from the Khmer temples of Angkor Wat.
I was just using a crappy camera phone, which I am kicking myself for now. In my article about Must-Have Travel Essentials, I stress the importance of having a decent camera for traveling!
Even now, years later, I wish I had better quality photos of all the incredible places I’ve visited, including the magnificent temples of Siem Reap. I sourced some of the photos for this article from Unsplash, though a lot of them are from my trip.
ANYWAY, get a good camera, try some of these fun Siem Reap activities, and have an epic journey in Southeast Asia! Thanks for reading!
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