Siem Reap: more than just temples

Siem Reap makes a great base to stay in when exploring the temples of Angkor Wat. Many people fly into Siem Reap to see the temples and don’t expect much from the town itself. However, Siem Reap is a great place to chill out and discover cute cafes, tasty food options, the cheapest beers of your life, and very affordable massages.

Stay

It is worth considering that your time in Siem Reap will likely be your ‘down time’ from exploring the abundance of nearby temples, and that you can get VERY hot & tired from your temple adventures. This was a key factor for us in choosing The Aviary Hotel. We wanted a boutique hotel with a nice pool so that we could enjoy a day or two of just hanging out and relaxing at the hotel, within the vicinity of the main streets of Siem Reap.

The Aviary Hotel is centrally located: Kandal Village with its many cute cafes is a 3 minute walk around the corner, and Pub Street is only a 6 minute walk away. We found the staff to be really helpful in helping arrange drivers or tuk tuks, and helping us book in restaurant reservations. Breakfast (included) was also pretty great, but my simple and favourite pleasure was the cold towels offered to us each day after we returned from the temples.

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See / Do

Visit the Circus: A real highlight of our trip was seeing the Phare Cambodian Circus. This is a social enterprise providing training and employment for Cambodian youths; resulting in an exciting performance combining theatre, dance, acrobatics and music. The performance lasts only an hour or so, and tells unique Cambodian folk stories. Super entertaining, and for a great cause! Get your hotel to help you book tickets in advance. The performance takes place in a small round tent, so even the cheapest seat options give you great views.

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The captivating Phare Circus

Get a massage (or two): There are foot massage parlous and spas located all around town, so you will have no end of choice, and the prices are incredibly cheap. During our 5 days in Siem Reap we had two massages: a walk in foot massage just off Pub Street (USD $4 for 30 minutes!), and a 90 minutes traditional Khmer massage in Lotus Dream Spa (USD $18 for 90 minutes!!). The perfect way to work those tired muscles after long days exploring the temples.

Have some shopping time: We really wanted to get a Cambodian souvenir that we actually wanted to keep and be able to have on display in our home. There are many art studios and galleries around Siem Reap but it was the decorations throughout The Aviary Hotel that gave us our inspiration. The hotel has brightly coloured elephants on display which they informed us had come from Theam’s House studio; a local business creating beautiful handcrafted lacquer elephants (among several other items). Even if you are not looking to buy, this is a beautiful gallery located in a traditional building so well worth popping by for a browse.

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Alternatively, check out the Made in Cambodia Markets on Kings Road. These markets are open daily from noon to 10 pm, with all stalls showcasing local vendors selling handicrafts such as magnets and notebooks, as well as handmade clothing and accessories. A really great way to support local trade.

Chill out in a trendy cafe:  Siem Reap is a cafe lovers dream! On a non-temple day, take things slow by enjoying a mid morning coffee or even a long relaxing cafe lunch. It was by sheer luck that our hotel was located a few streets away from Kandal Village: an awesome little street, full of cafes offering healthy and delicious food options (plus some cute little stores for browsing). I have listed some of my favourites below.

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Hap Guan Street: aka Kandal Village

Eat / Drink

The Little Red Fox Espresso: Located in Kandal Village, head here for THE best coffee in town. Besides the great coffee, the cafe offers some delicious brunch/lunch options plus the most refreshing fruit spritzers. It has a very relaxed vibe, so you can always take a book along or catch up on some travel research.

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Fruit Spritzers at The Little Red Fox Espresso

Vibe Cafe: Also located at Kandal Village, this is the place to head for healthy veggie bowls and cold pressed juices. Good quality ingredients and a tasty place to stock up on all your greens. Head upstairs for the cutest cafe space to hang out in.

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Relaxing upstairs at Vibe Cafe

The Hive: Another great cafe in Kandal Village, perfect for breakfast or lunch meals. For me it was great place to get my ‘smashed avocado on toast’ fix.

Gelato Lab: An afternoon ice cream is ALWAYS a good idea on holiday, and this was a great find in the narrow alleyways just off Pub Street.  I would highly recommend trying one of their signature flavours ”kampot pepper and chocolate” … yes, it sounds a little crazy, but it was soooooo damn good. 

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Menu @ the Gelato Lab

Mamma Shop: For surprisingly authentic Italian pizzas and pastas. This will certainly hit the spot if you are craving a carb loading after a full day trekking the temples! Located on Kandal Village.

Pub Street: Perfect for re-hydrating post-temples, there is no better place in Siem Reap than the infamous Pub Street. There are several bars to choose from, all with excellent happy hour deals throughout the day. Get prepared to enjoy the cheapest beers of your life! At the time of our visit; The Angkor What?! bar had happy hour jugs of beer for USD $3, and just off Pub Street, bars were selling half pints for USD 50 cents. Yep 50 CENTS!

If you would rather enjoy a cocktail or two, here are couple of great options:

  • The FCC Angkor (Foreign Correspondents Club) is the place to go for a riverside sundowner either on the balcony of the stunning colonial building, or amongst the lovely courtyard garden.  I would recommend trying their signature cocktail ”The Hemingway” – YUM!
  • Located more centrally in the alleyways off Pub Street is the very cool Miss Wong’s. Great atmosphere, awesome decor, along with a tasty cocktail and dim sum menu.

Asana Old Wooden House: if you like your BBQ meat then make sure you book in a dinner here for a Cambodian BBQ feast fit for kings. We decided to go with the fixed price menu which included some delicious courses such as Vietnamese style chicken salad, Cambodian pork ribs, and steak with kampot pepper sauce. My mouth is watering just thinking about this meal! Hot tip – make sure you arrive HUNGRY.

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We found it hard to find the entrance to the restaurant, so keep an eye out for this sign, which will lead you down a narrow path to the beautiful ”Old Wooden House”

The Sugar Palm: For a really nice dining experience, book a table at this restaurant. Super tasty local Khmer dishes served up in a beautiful traditional wooden building, and with an excellent (and well priced) wine menu. This is a great place to sample good quality local dishes such as: Salt & Kampot pepper calamari, Khmer curry with rice, and grilled aubergine with pork.

Getting around town

Where your hotel is located will determine your mode of transport. Some hotels are located quite far out of town, so tuk tuks may be your main method for travelling about.  Tuk Tuks are very affordable, but make sure you barter and agree a price before departure. If you need a return journey, then make it clear the price is for the round trip. For those those staying centrally, exploring on foot is perfectly fine and easy to do.

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Tuk tuks can easily fit 4 people, great fun for getting around!

Check out my Exploring Angkor Wat blog for more information on seeing the temples around Siem Reap.

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