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Siem Reap Beyond Angkor’s Temples

June 26, 2013

Our primary aim during our 4.5 days in Siem Reap was to see the temples at Angkor Archeological Park.  However, while I probably could have spent the better part of everyday traipsing through the archeological sites like a snap-happy maniac, for WWW’s sake we ended our visits to the temples between 12 and 3pm each day.  This left most of our afternoons and our final day free.

Naps and sipping cocktails by the hotel pool were certainly on the itinerary, but we managed to find plenty of other activities in the town to distract ourselves as well.  So, here’s my list of top non-temple pastimes for a visit to Siem Reap.

1. Learn to make the national dish, fish amok, and other local delicacies at a cooking class.

After three days of visiting temples, we signed up for a cooking class through our B&B, Petit Villa.  First, we headed to the Phsar Samaki Market to pick up some ingredients for the day and get the low-down on some of the most common types of veggies, herbs, and meats used in Khmer dishes.  Then, our guide took us for a tour of the Lucky Supermarket in Lucky Mall.  WWW and I particularly enjoyed looking at all of the import items here and noting how the selection varied from what is available in China.

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Next, with our items in hand, we headed back to the B&B to start cooking our three-course meal of papaya salad, fish amok, and banana in coconut milk.  The class was perhaps a bit too directed, and we didn’t get to do much more than chop and stir.  However, chowing down at the end is always our favorite part, and the food all came out wonderfully.

Delicious papaya salad ready for eating.

Delicious papaya salad ready for eating.

We also got a demonstration on how to make hibiscus tea with water, simple syrup, lime juice, and several hibiscus blossoms.

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2. Attend one of the apsara dance shows, ranging from cheesy to well-executed.

On Christmas evening after our first full day in Siem Reap and morning of temple going, we popped into Temple Club on Pub Street to experience their popular apsara dance show.  We got there early before the show started and immediately headed upstairs to get a good table near the stage and order our obligatory drinks that make the show FREE.

Performer at Temple Club apsara dance show.

Performer at Temple Club’s apsara dance show.

Apsaras are the heavenly dancers seen in the many relief sculptures on the Angkor temple walls.  And, apsara dance, revitalized by the Cambodian Royal Ballet in recent times, is a type of Khmer classical dance that uses codified gestures to narrate classical and religious stories.

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Apsara dance shows abound across Cambodia and vary widely in quality.  While the Temple Club show is rather amateurish and even cheesy at times, it is a low-commitment way to get a taste of an apsara performance.

3. Shop at the many markets, galleries, and boutiques.

Shopping is huge in Siem Reap, and the town boasts several of Cambodia’s most famous markets, including the Night Market and Old Market.  These sell a variety of unique handicrafts and mass-manufactured souvenirs.  You can also find food, drink, and services like traditional and fish foot massages at these markets.

Photos of Artisans d'Angkor, Siem Reap
Sculpture in workshop at Artisans d’Angkor, courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Additionally, the streets and alleys around Pub Street have a variety of boutique shops selling antiques, used books, and handmade jewelry.  A little ways from the center of town, Artisans d’Angkor, a series of high-end workshops and store, promotes traditional Khmer arts and crafts and peddles everything from wood carvings and silk paintings to lacquer boxes and woven scarves.  WWW and I spent several hours browsing the baubles in these various stores.

4. Play in the AC of the Angkor Trade Center arcade.

Angkor Trade Center, photo courtesy of angkorshopping.com.

Angkor Trade Center, photo courtesy of angkorshopping.com.

One afternoon WWW said he had a surprise and took me to the Angkor Trade Center next to Old Market along the Siem Reap River.  This three-story “mall” includes a supermarket on the first floor, shops for clothes and electronics on the second, and an arcade (our destination!) on third.  We bought about 10 USD worth of tokens and spent the better part of an hour shooting hoops, playing skee-ball, racing sports cars amongst Cambodian teenagers.

5. Relax with a cheap massage to the soothing tunes of grasshoppers.

Photos of Lemongrass Garden Beauty & Massage, Siem Reap
Exterior of Lemongrass Garden near Pub Street; photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Considering how much cheaper massages are in Southeast Asia, I try to get them as often as possible.  A cool welcome drink, relaxing massage, and the sounds of chirping are particularly welcome after and long and sweaty day trekking around the temples.  So, one afternoon we headed to Lemongrass Garden for a 60-minute Khmer body massage (10 USD).

6. Gorge yourself on Pub Street and at the nearby food stalls.

Sampler of traditional Khmer dishes.

Sampler of traditional Khmer dishes.

Perhaps our absolute favorite thing to do in Siem Reap was troll the restaurants, pubs, cafes, and street stalls for yummy nibbles.  Some of our favorite meals of the trip were at Abacus, Viroth’s, and The Indian.

We also loved the ubiquitous Blue Pumpkin for its delicious ice cream and free Wi-Fi.

7. Bonus!

Additionally, though we didn’t get to partake in these particular activities, the floating villages around Siem Reap the Landmine Museum are apparently worthwhile day-trips from the town.

Have you been to Siem Reap?  If so, what are your favorite things to do there?  Also, what are your top “down-time” activities while traveling?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2013 12:18 pm

    I was really tempted to take a cooking class while in Siem Reap, mostly because we had a couple of days of down time and I thought it might give me a chance to figure out what exactly Cambodian food is! I never anticipated that it would be so difficult to find authentic Cambodian fare while in the country, but we found it really difficult to find places that didn’t simply serve Thai, Vietnamese or Western foods… Looks like you picked a great school to learn with, and like you found plenty of great ways to spend your non-temple time while in SR!

    • Ashley Bruckbauer permalink*
      June 26, 2013 9:55 pm

      After I took a cooking class several years ago in Chiang Mai I’ve been hooked, and we have really enjoyed doing cooking classes during our travels as a couple.

      Yes, it did seem like there were a lot of places serving “international” cuisine in Cambodia. However, after amazing food in other parts of SEA, I found Khmer food to be a bit of a let down.

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