Northwestern Cambodia houses the resort town of Siem Reap. Alongside the famous Angkor Wat temple complex, only eight kilometres from the town, find out about other things to do in Siem Reap.
Are you thinking of travelling or doing volunteer work in Cambodia one day? Find out what to do in Siem Reap to get Cambodian cultural insight.
Top five things to do in Siem Reap
1) Visit a Siem Reap night market
Support local communities by purchasing some Cambodian arts and crafts at a Siem Reap night market. Visit the markets and meet local people while getting first-hand insight into local culture and tradition.
At Siem Reap night market, you’ll get to explore over 200 bamboo huts at the Angkor Night Market within walking distance of Pub Street. Here you’ll find handmade crafts such as bags or stone-carved ornaments that are made by the Khmer people.
Just one minute away, you can find the Old Market, which earned its name for being the oldest Khmer-style market in Siem Reap. Here you can shop for groceries like bok choy (cabbage) by morning, and dine on Cambodian dishes like nom banh chok by night.
Immerse yourself in all things Cambodia, from food to handmade goods, at the Made in Cambodia Market on Acha Sva Street. If you’re doing volunteer work in Siem Reap, the volunteer base will be close enough for you to find this market after work, and is open every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday.
For dinner, taste the popular Cambodian dish lok lak at the Noon Night Market while strolling under romantic silk lamps. End the evening off and unwind with a Khmer-style massage.
2) Ride a remorque
With so many things to do in Siem Reap, you might need some help navigating around when you’re on your own. Give your feet a rest and jump on a Cambodian remorque, known as a tuk-tuk.
If you’re new to Siem Reap and you have no idea where to go, a local tuk-tuk driver can make things easier for you. For an unplanned itinerary, you can let the driver take you to their favourite spots.
If you have an itinerary planned, but don’t know much of the local language, you can use a map of Cambodia to communicate with your tuk-tuk driver so they know where you want to go.
Another perk if you are doing volunteer work in Cambodia, is that you’ll be working with staff members who have spent time living in the city. This means they can guide you to places you wish to visit, or make excellent recommendations.
You can jump onto a remorque to Traing Village and support local artisans at the Angkor Handicraft Association. Here you can purchase handmade goods, including ceramics like clay plates and mugs, traditional statues, woven bags made from different coloured yarn, and much more.
You can even make sure you’re purchasing products made by local artisans by checking for a government-registered label. Products made locally will carry the AHA Official Seal of Authenticity.
Fifteen minutes from Traing Village, in Krong, you might participate in a flute making class or palm leaf weaving workshop. You’ll be able to learn how to weave almost anything you can think of, from bowls to mats, with simple palm leaves.
Palm leaf weaving is a Cambodian tradition carried across generations, so you are likely to find many Cambodian people with the skill to teach you a thing or two.
If you’re volunteering in Cambodia, you will be based in Siem Reap with a team of volunteers and staff. International volunteers will likely be as new as you are, so take the opportunity to move around the city together.
3) Visit Ta Prohm Temple
You might be wondering why this temple is on the list, and not all the other Angkor Wat temples? Well, this particular temple is popular for featuring in the movie Tomb Raider.
You can relive the Tomb Raider gaming experience by visiting the Ta Prohm Temple ruins just like Lara Croft. The walls are covered by trees and hanging vines for a surreal experience. But remember not to pick the precious jasmine flowers, or the ground may open up under you too.
4) Trek to the Phnom Kulen Waterfall and the River of a Thousand Lingas
The mountain of Phnom Kulen is situated in Phnom Kulen National Park. It was here that King Jayavarman II, the founder of the Khmer Empire, announced Khmer independence from Java.
It was also at the peak of this holy mountain that King Jayavarman pronounced himself as devarāja, the god-king. The Phnom Kulen Waterfall is situated at the top of this mountain, and local people visit it to pray and leave offerings. The waterfall is also featured in Tomb Raider.
Here, you will also find the beginning of the River of a Thousand Lingas. A lingam is a Hindu term for a symbol of divinity, like an idol. The river was named after the sacred carvings and symbols over which the river flows. The carvings are of animals, gods and other symbols.
If you’re visiting, remember to remain respectful of the Cambodian customs. It’s customary to cover your knees and shoulders, and to remove your shoes before walking up the mountain steps.
But don’t forget your shoes on the way down.
5) Climb Phnom Bakheng
Unlike the other Angkor Wat temples, Phnom Bakheng is a temple mountain, because it replicates Mount Meru, and holds significance for both the Hindu and Buddhist cultures. It is situated on a hill, 60 metres high, and is one of the oldest temples in the Angkor Wat temple complex.
The temple was erected in honour of the Hindu god, Shiva. It has seven levels, shaped in a pyramid, to represent the seven heavens in Hindu tradition.
King Jasovarman I is said to be buried in the temple. If you’re close by, pay your respects and stay to watch the sunset.
How to spend the rest of your time in Siem Reap
It’s hard not to fall in love with Cambodian culture. If you want to learn more about Cambodian communities and local traditions, here’s what you can do.
GVI’s community development programs in Cambodia are based in Siem Reap. Becoming a volunteer on a program with GVI will allow you to make an impact while working alongside the local community.
Some of these volunteer opportunities in Cambodia include:
- assisting with early childhood development education by teaching English in the local community of Siem Reap
- assisting local teachers to run kindergarten drop-in centres, and to plan and lead sports activities
- supporting women as they empower themselves by learning English to improve their employability, and running workshops to raise awareness on important issues like women’s health
- teaching English to novice Buddhist monks, which will increase their access to higher education and employability
- working to raise community awareness on public health issues, through workshops and the promotion of healthy lifestyle practices.
Siem Reap is much more than a tourist destination. It’s a place of spiritual history and community traditions important to the Cambodian people. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in Cambodia to give you a closer look into all things Cambodian.
If you’re intrigued by Cambodia and want to know more about its history, become a volunteer in Siem Reap.
Zaytoen Domingo is a junior content writer for GVI, and an alum of the GVI Writing Academy. The Writing Academy is a skills-development program that pairs development editors with budding travel writers. Learn more about the program here.