Of all the countries I’ve visited, Cambodia was the one that stole my heart the quickest. It was easy to immediately become immersed in the culture of Siem Reap, the country’s second-largest city, and I was never short of places to explore. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Siem Reap (post-pandemic, of course), below you’ll find a few of my personal favourite spots and activities for you to check out and experience.
Phnom Kulen National Park
If you’re looking to get out of Siem Reap for a day, the stunning Phnom Kulen National Park is a 1.5-hour drive away, and definitely worth the trip. The main attraction is the two gorgeous waterfalls you can find at the top of Kulen Mountain, one of which is nearly 20 metres tall and 15 metres wide (during rainy seasons) with a gorgeous plunge pool underneath. Peak tourist season in Cambodia is December-January when the temperatures in Siem Reap are usually upwards 30°C each day, so swimming under a beautiful waterfall is a fantastic way to cool off after a day of exploring. The Kulen Mountain is also a significant cultural and historical site, as its peak is where King Jayavarman II declared himself ‘Chakravartin’, or universal king, marking the origin of the Khmer Empire in the 9th century.
Sunrise at Angkor Wat is absolutely everything it is cracked up to be. Make sure you get up early, take your breakfast with you, and sit on the hill opposite the awe-inspiring temple while the sun comes up. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument in the world by land area, comprising more than 1000 buildings and spread across more than 400 acres, so you’ll have no shortage of stunning architecture to explore throughout the day. A single day pass is USD $37.00, which needs to be purchased from the official ticketing centre and not the temple entrance (they are quite a distance apart), so make sure you plan ahead, and wear appropriate attire (or you may be turned away at the gate)!
Phare – The Cambodian Circus
The truly spectacular Phare Circus performers use a combination of theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell Cambodian stories to their audiences. All performers are students and graduates of Phare Ponleu Selpak’s vocational training centre in Battambang, an organisation that was founded by a group of men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime in 1994. The Phare Circus opened in 2013, and their professional shows run every night of the year in Siem Reap, with numerous different performances and storylines in rotation. Boasting incredible acrobatic stunts, amazing tales from history and folklore, and high energy performers showing their skills, Phare – The Cambodian Circus is not to be missed on your trip to Siem Reap – it was definitely a highlight of my time in Cambodia.
Shopping at night is just more exciting than shopping in the day. The Angkor Night Markets and Noon Night Markets are both open until midnight, and with stalls selling clothing, souvenirs, jewellery, food and so much more, you will never run out of things to explore. Another incredible option is the Made In Cambodia Market, where everything sold has been made locally, and events and shows are hosted daily. The Night Markets are a great way to see the city, and if you’re feeling brave, make sure you stop off at one of the bug stalls to try one of their interesting offerings.
The floating villages on Tonlé Sap Lake are a must-see for anybody travelling to Cambodia. With houses and stores set on stilts, the villages change and adapt according to the seasons and water level, creating an interesting and beautiful cultural experience for visitors to take in. Tours are available to the four main villages, and I would personally recommend visiting Kompong Khleang – although it isn’t the closest one to Siem Reap, all the money from the entrance fee, any food purchases etc goes directly to the local community, so you know that your tourism is actually supporting those who live there.