Excursions beside the temples
One of must see places in Southeast Asia, Siem Reap is the gateway to the fabled temples of Angkor. A destination in its own right, Siem Reap is no longer the sleepy French-accented backwater it was. Opulent resorts, sophisticated restaurants, designer bars and exclusive shops are evidence that Siem Reap is very much back on the map. As well as the perfect base to explore the temples of Angkor, there are also plenty of activities beyond the temples to warrant a longer stay. Many visitors only come to Siem Reap for two or three days, but that is not enough to explore the temples and still have time to enjoy the town. Swimming pool, spa treatment, shopping expedition, cooking class, cycling adventure, it’s just impossible to fit so many things into such a short space of time. If you thought three days was enough to experience Angkor, think again.
Floating Village of Chong Kneas
Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, the floating village of Chong Kneas moves location with the waters of the lake. During the wet season when the lake swells to five times its size, the village is near Phnom Krom, but during the dry season, it moves as much as 4km from the hill. Everything floats on water in this living fishing community. There are floating schools, floating shops, floating petrol stations, even floating karaoke bars. Many of the houses are floating fish farms with large pens of fish underneath. Stop at the Gecko Environment Centre to learn more about the lake, which is like the heartbeat of Cambodia, providing sustenance to millions of Khmers.
Another world, this remote village is home to the fabled bamboo skyscrapers. Houses here stand atop stilts as much as seven metres above the water. Everything lives on the water, pigs, dogs, crocodiles and people, all jockeying for space in this incredible floating town. For the return journey to Siem Reap, take a boat through the flooded forest and across the Great Lake to Chong Kneas and the holy mountain of Phnom Krom.
Kompong Khleang and the Tonle Sap
Kompong Khleang is one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, about 55km from Siem Reap. It has a population of about 10,000 people, all of whom make a living from the fishing industry. Explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. In the wet season, the houses appear to be floating, as water laps at the verandas, but in the dry season towering stilts are revealed, the houses almost like wooden skyscrapers.
Angkor National Museum
This new flagship museum on the road to Angkor is a showcase for the sculpture and culture of the Khmer civilisation. An ultra-modern art space, this museum uses the latest technology to bring this ancient empire to life. The collection is themed by period, religion and royalty and includes the impressive Gallery of 1000 Buddhas, inspired by Preah Poan at Angkor Wat. There is plenty of information on hand throughout the tour and lots of interactive displays, such as the sunrise over Angkor Wat, although we’d recommend the real sunrise as a more memorable experience.
This Ministry of Culture compound has long been home to some of the hidden treasures of the Khmer empire. A storage depot to protect statues and carvings during the long periods of war and instability in the second half of the 20th century, many of the best known statuary around Angkor was moved here for safe-keeping in the early 1970s. Some of it has been loaned to the new National Museum, but much of it is still here in large warehouses or strewn throughout the leafy grounds. This is an interesting place to explore for those with a keen interest in Khmer sculpture.
Cambodian Cultural Village
This is by no means a ‘must’ for visitors to Siem Reap, but for families travelling with children, it can be a lot of fun and a much-needed diversion from the temples. It aims to represent all of Cambodia in a whirlwind tour of recreated houses and villages. The visit begins with a wax museum and includes homes of the Cham, Chinese, Kreung and Khmer people, as well as miniature replicas of landmark buildings in Cambodia. There are dance shows and performances throughout the day. Even for those without children, it could make an interesting diversion, as it is a genuine Cambodian tourist attraction and most of the visitors are Khmers on a big day out rather than the foreign tourists seen around Angkor.
The Pagodas of Siem Reap
Spend some time to visit the historic pagodas of Siem Reap, a peaceful and charming alternative to the temples of Angkor. The modern pagoda of Wat Thmei includess a moving memorial stupa to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Wat Preah Inkosei which is built on the site of a 10th century temple. Two brick towers remain and one includes a superb lintel depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The 19th century temple of Wat Bo is one of the most important pagodas in Siem Reap. Dating from the 19th century, the interior of the main temple includes some of the finest religious murals in Cambodia, depicting the life of the Buddha. The old royal palace compound of Wat Dam Nak has been converted to a place of learning for the Centre for Khmer Studies. There are some elegant old buildings here and extensive gardens. Wat Athvea is an interesting fusion temple which includes the impressive remains of an 12th century sandstone structure and an attractive old pagoda.
Birding at Prek Toal
The pristine biosphere of Prek Toal is home to some of the most endangered birdlife on the planet. The immense Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most productive bodies of water in the world and millions of fish spawn here in the flooded forest. Prek Toal lies on the northeastern shore of the Tonle Sap, about one hour by boat from the port at Phnom Krom.
Prek Toal is a vast area of natural flooded forest that draws thousands of birds annually to breed during the dry season. This is one of the premier places in Southeast Asia to see rare birds such as storks, adjutants, pelicans and ibis. Birdwatchers will drift through their habitat and can observe large flocks of birds feeding on the lake shore, perched in the trees or soaring above the forest.
Birding at Ang Trapeang Thmor
Ang Trapeang Thmor Sarus Crane Reserve is a giant reservoir constructed during Khmer Rouge rule which now provides a habitat for more than 200 species of bird. During the dry season, this reserve provides a habitat for more than 300 rare Sarus Crane, one of the tallest birds in the world with a distinctive crimson head.
Classical Dance Show in Siem Reap
Get closer to Cambodian culture by attending a classical dance performance. We will see many of the most popular Cambodian dances, including the graceful Apsara dance, scenes from the Ramayana (known as Reamker in Cambodia), the coconut dance and more. The classical dances include elaborate costume and date back to the time of Angkor, while the folk dances are connected to the harvest and the cycle of the seasons.
Cambodian Cooking Class
Hanuman offers a range of cooking classes in Siem Reap. We spend some time learning the secrets of the Cambodian kitchen, a cuisine laced with subtle spices and tempting aromas. Choose from a selection of favourites, including meat, fish and vegetarian options. Enjoy the fruits of your labour, eating your very own creations. Take these recipes home and impress your friends with a Cambodian evening.
Horse Riding around the Temples
For those that enjoy a spot of riding, explore the countryside around Siem Reap on horseback. These gentle rides include some secluded temple spots and the chance to enjoy local life at a slower pace. Riding lessons are also available for children or beginners.
For those that have never experienced it, all-terrain biking is a lot of fun and all trips include a short introductory lesson to bring riders up to speed. Rides around Siem Reap include a sunset option through the ricefields, some quiet pagodas and temples and a series of backroads through the pretty countryside around Siem Reap.