Things to do in Siem Reap

Tripwire Backpacker standing alongside the pond looking at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap

The hottest travel itinerary of weird things to do and wonderful local experiences in Siem Reap for both independent travellers and backpackers

Siem Reap, what a city…

But how can you make sure you do it justice?

It can be hard to drag yourself away from the vibrant hostel and nightlife scene, and of course the inevitable hangovers that welcome you the next morning.

No one is going to judge you if you want to spend all day drinking and lounging by the pool, it’s delightful. However, there’s much more to Siem Reap than first meets the eye.

My point is this…

To make the most out your travels, you should soak up as much of the local culture and experiences as possible, in all forms.

In this article I am going to take you on a tour through all the weird and wonderful activities and things to do while backpacking through Siem Reap. Having experienced all of these, they are worth dragging yourself out of bed for.

To get the ball rolling, the first and most important thing to do while in Siem Reap is…

Explore The Angkor Temples

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Angkor Temples…

Firstly, what rock have you been living under your whole life?

No, but really, these are some of the most outrageously beautiful architectural gems the world has to offer.

 

The temples are the lasting remains of the Khmer Empire and have been standing proud since the 9th century. Having been abandoned many years ago, they’ve been reclaimed by the jungle in spectacular fashion and attract over two million backpackers each year.

A one-day pass to the Angkor temples costs $20. I’d recommend spending at least a day wandering around this ancient kingdom. This means crawling out of bed at 4am into a tuk-tuk and pulling up to the temples in time to see the Angkor sunrise.

There are plenty of Angkor temples to choose from, but which ones should be at the top of your hit list…

The early morning trip to the one and the only, Angkor Wat temple, is the first ruin on your agenda of things to do. Words can’t nearly describe the euphoria of seeing the sunrise glowing over that temple and glistening across the lakes. Be prepared to fight your way through the selfie stick wielding fiends to claim your spot right by the edge of the lake for an entirely unspoilt view.

Next up on the temple tour, an effortless cruise along in the tuk-tuk to Bayon temple, this fortress features an entourage of over 200 massive stone faces pulling all sorts of expressions.

Then, roll up roll up to Ta Prohm temple. This is without a doubt the most atmospheric ruin in Angkor Park. Fun fact for any film fanatics out there, this is the site that was used as part of Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider film. She loved it so much, she ended up adopting a local Cambodian child. Who knows what epiphanies it will give you…

Last stop on the temple tour needs to be at Phnom Bakheng. It’s a bit of a road trip away from the other temples, but is so worth the ride. It’s beautifully perched on top of a hill, the best spot in Siem Reap to chill and watch moon come out to play.

Respect to all those who manage to cruise through all these temples, but there are still plenty of other gems to experience.

On to the next big thing to do in Siem Reap…

Boat Around The Floating Villages

Sometimes the humidity gets too much, the heat stroke sets in and the crowds are pissing you right off. This is now the time to go and unwind on the lake amongst the floating villages.

Tonle Sap Lake is an aquatic revelation located about a 15km tuk-tuk ride outside of Siem Reap. It’s an extremely surreal floating community; the unforgettable images of murky brown watery streets, boats replacing cars, floating schools and more wildlife than Doctor Dolittle could handle talking to.

Which floating village to visit? There are a number to choose from…

Most backpackers tend to go to Chong Kneas. Big mistake…

You will be hugely overcharged for your boat trip, which will then take you past a number of seemingly ‘local’ attractions, like children with snakes round their necks and unethical crocodile farms. There’s no hiding it, these sideshows are abusing the local community just to extract money from tourists.

That being said, there are two floating villages you should definitely check out…

 

Backpackers boating through the Kompong Khleang floating village in Siem Reap

KOMPONG KLEANG. This is the village I would recommend visiting above all others. It’s the furthest village from Siem Reap of the 3 mentioned, but is the most genuine and untouched backpacker floating experience. There are loads of people to meet, over 1800 families currently living here. The local craftsmanship will leave you dragging your jaw along the deck of the boat, rows upon rows stilted and floating houses, as far as the eye can see.

The most valuable thing about Kompong Kleang is the fact that the boat service is still owned by the locals, which means all the money you spend will go directly back into the community.

If you can’t reach Kompong Kleang…

 

Backpackers boating through the Kompong Phluck floating village in Siem Reap

KOMPONG PHLUCK. This is also good backpacker option if you’re short for time. The boat journey is indeed very scenic and enjoyable, and the village has kept a lot of its authenticity. However, a two-hour boat ride costs around $20 which is quite steep, and the majority of what you do pay goes towards the privately owned boating company.

Kompong Kleang all the way.

Right, villages and temples have been ticked off the to do list.

Nature calls…

Get Lost In Phnom Kulen National Park

Backpackers standing underneath the waterfalls at Phnom Kulen National Park in Siem Reap

I wouldn’t put this at the top of your agenda of things to do in Siem Reap. However, if you have a spare day, Phnom Kulen National Park is definitely worth a wander.

The two best things to do while exploring the park…

Climb to the summit of the mountain to catch the view and see the sacred reclining Buddha statue which is carved into the surrounding sandstone.

Also, be sure to add a splash about in the famous and blessed waterfalls to your park itinerary. These are regularly visited by monks as they believe the waters to be holy. Stay classy when it comes urinating or leaving any floaters behind. I certainly don’t want any curses being bestowed upon you.

Phnom Kulen National Park is about 48km outside of Siem Reap and is engulfing the most sacred mountain in Cambodia. There are unsurprisingly, lots of mountain bike trails and also ancient ruins here. However, the ruins don’t come close to the other temples I mentioned earlier.

Let’s park that thought…

The next thing on the Siem Reap is coming, and this one goes out to all you adrenaline seekers…

Ride The Flight Of The Gibbon

The Flight of the Gibbon is conveniently located in the Angkor Park, making it a great activity to tie in with a day visiting the temples. 2 birds, 1 stone.

To be honest, as backpacker activities in Siem Reap go, this is certainly more on the expensive side of the spectrum. A ticket costs $99, but does includes return transport. If your budget can handle it or if you’re feeling a spontaneous spending spree, this experience has your name written all over it.

As a starter, you’ll get to hurtle through the jungle canopy on 10 zip-lines, explore the jungle across four hanging bridges which span hundreds of metres and get a chance to see some some real life gibbons marauding about their daily business.

If you’re up for riding the Gibbon, your best option is booking right here, to avoid any of those dirty extra costs. The money you pay goes towards helping conserve the local environment and the gibbons. A pat on the back all round.

Right, last but certainly not least on my backpacker guide of things to do in Siem Reap is…

Visit Phare’s Circus

A tale flourishing from the darkness…

During the evil reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, anyone who was thought to be a circus performer or an artist were forced to either flee the country or were sent to one of the many killing fields. Dark.

However, thanks to a French charity called Phare, a school was subsequently set up in Battambang to train young people to become performing artists once again. The legacy has spread across the country and gifted Siem Reap a breath-taking circus experience that now takes place on a daily basis.

Don’t worry, we aren’t talking about elephants getting straddled and tigers being whipped. This school has taken the humane leaf out of Cirque du Soleil’s book and stages some outstanding entertainment including dangerous acrobatics, comedy and musical performances.

The show will go on…

Phare’s Circus performs one show every night at 8pm. The big top’s doors open at 7:30pm and be sure to gear yourself up for one hell of a spectacle. Tickets are available from $18.

Check out the full schedule and ticketing options at http://pharecircus.org/schedule-rates/.

So that’s that, the best things to do in Siem Reap…

I hope this list of activities guides you towards some realisation of backpacking greatness.

If you have the time and the budget in your itinerary to do all of these things while in Siem Reap, go for it. All of these are ethically sustainable and go a long way to help feeding the local community and economy.

For any more info on things to do in, or to perform a live rendition of KC & The Sunshine Band’s – ‘Get Down Tonight’, be sure to drop me a note and share the love.

Have a blast in Siem Reap!

 

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