I would venture a guess that 99.99% of the people who visit Siem Reap come for the temples. It makes sense. The temples are fascinating and unlike anything you’ll see, but after two full days of exploring these historical monuments in the blistering heat, you’ll probably want to do other less sweat-inducing activities. Surprisingly (Well, I was surprised, but maybe that’s because I’m ignorant.), there are plenty of non-temple things to do in this fun little city.
We were pleasantly shocked to find that the food variety and quality was excellent in Siem Reap. Due to its large expat community you can find great Western food in addition to traditional Khmer cuisine. If you’re only traveling for a couple of weeks finding a good Western food establishment might not be so exciting, but if you’re roaming around Southeast Asia for several months you’ll start imagining how tasty that cow would be between a toasted bun with a side of fries. Mmmmm I can haz cheezburger? Of course you will pay a little more for Western food, but it won’t break the bank. There’s also an ice cream chain that has traditional flavors as well as more “exotic” flavors like ginger, black sesame, and durian. It’s wonderful ice cream and a delightful treat in the Cambodian heat.
Carrying backpacks for several months really limits what we can buy while we travel. We easily avoided making random purchases in Europe since everything was rather pricey there, but Southeast Asia is a whole different story and Siem Reap doesn’t disappoint when it comes to cheap shopping. You can get clothes, handmade crafts, jewelry, bags made from recycled rice sacks, dried fruits, dried sausages, fried cricket snacks, and the list goes on. Use your bargaining skills and get all kinds of great souvenirs at one of the markets in town.
On the way to Bauphon Temple you’ll pass by an area where monkeys hang out on the side of the road waiting to be fed overpriced bananas. We asked our tuktuk driver to make a pit stop so we could take pictures and videos, but if you’re a big fan of monkeys, you could probably spend hours here. The monkeys are so damn cute! There was a lady selling bananas but I’m sure you can bring some of your own. On second thought, maybe you should buy a few from her as well since it’s probably her main source of income.
Our friend in Bangkok recommended a visit to the artisan village within walking distance from the Old Market. I think you can get a guide when you arrive, but we just strolled the area ourselves. Watching the artisans carefully hand-crafting those ubiquitous elephant and Budha statues that we see all over Siem Reap was entertaining. I was especially interested in the wood carvings and the gilding, but they wouldn’t let me enter the gilding room. I guess I look like a shifty person who might run off with the gold leaves.
I saw tourists getting their feet gnawed on by little fish around the Old Market. I opted not to do this because it’s not my thing, but the tourists seemed to be enjoying themselves. I don’t know how the fish felt about it though.