I’m happy to announce my first guest writer on Dan On The Road, Alia Wahidin! She recently went to Siem Reap and had a splendid time traversing the endless temples of Angkor Wat but she was also impressed by what this city has to offer. Here are 7 other exciting activities and sights you can experience in Siem Reap.
1. Learn About the Atrocity of the Khmer Rouge at Siem Reap War Museum
Approximately 5 km away from Siem Reap International Airport (SRIA) towards the city center is the Siem Reap War Museum. This museum showcases more than just the artilleries and tanks used during that horrific era, expanding on other historical site in Phnom Penh like the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng.
The museum depicts the international political fiasco, the development of technology in war and most importantly, the suffering of Cambodians and their courage in recovery after the war. If you have time, do visit Cambodian Landmine Museum near Banteay Srey to learn about the sheer amount of landmines still not cleared for the community to use their lands safely.
2. Partake in the (Martial) Arts at Backstreet Academy
My friend and me were browsing through local activities and found a gold mine at Backstreet Academy. We checked out the stone carving, pottery making, oil painting and bag making classes among others but they didn’t really fit in with our lack of patience and artistic skills so we opted for something out of our comfort zone.
We settled for Bokator, one of the earliest systemized Khmer martial arts that focus on speed to produce powerful blows. It is said to be the predecessor of Southeast Asian kickboxing and is more formally known as Labokator, which means “to fight (like a) lion”. Taught by the veteran Grandmaster San Kim Sean at the grand old age of 60 at his house in a nearby village, we were taught on simple self-defense moves to escape from attackers. It was a truly fun and revitalizing activity, sharpening our mind, body and senses.
3. Stretch your Morning Doing Yoga at Peace Café
If you’re a morning person and you’re done seeing the Angkor Wat sunrise for the umpteenth time, do check out Peace Café, a social enterprise-cum-vegetarian café-cum-fair trade shop. It offers classes from yoga to Khmer cooking and the profit is channeled to support outreach programs in the community.
As a noob at anything physical, I challenged myself to go out of my comfort zone for the second time. The Hatha Yoga class was extremely demanding to my poorly-maintained body and soul but towards the last 15 minutes of the 1 ½ hour class, I was all stretched out, relaxed and at peace, like taking a breath of fresh air. Yogi Prasad really knows how to unwind you.
4. Go on a Night Stroll along Pub Street, Old Market & Art Centre Market
The best part about strolling along Siem Reap’s main stretch is to wander aimlessly through these places, looking at everything and nothing in particular. The souvenirs here are quite cheap, given that you are good at haggling but if you are looking for quality local crafts, check out the batik fabrics at Old Market or Art Centre Market.
You can buy the fabric and tailor it to your own liking – blouse, jacket, skirts and palazzo pants. Fruit juice or coffee sold at little stalls by the roadside are a stop to quench your thirst and when you’re tired shopping, catch a live performance or a have good chat at the many pubs and cafes. Siem Reap is not exactly a party-till-dawn place, but the night seems to never end.
5. Be Mesmerized by Siem Reap’s Art Galleries.
After being blown away by the gorgeous temples at the Angkor Archaeological Park, you can find equally breathtaking photos of them at McDermott Gallery at FCC Complex. The prints are sold from the most premium segment to the very affordable range. As budget travelers who love art, we were happy that we could buy the A3-size posters!
Do also visit Joe To Go Art Gallery Café that is both a feast on your eyes and tummy. The shrimp spring roll and tofu salad are highly recommended while the upstairs section contains art displayed on the wall and embedded in its structure. Like many enterprises in Siem Reap, much of the profit from Joe To Go goes to community programs, specifically benefiting children.
6. Get Lost in Traditional Apsara Dance
Apsara dance is rooted from Hindu and Buddhist mythologies. Dated back since the 7th century, hundreds of Apsara dancers are depicted on the stone carved walls of the Angkor site, especially in Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. Recognized as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, this dance had almost vanished during the Khmer Rouge period, if not for the few surviving dancers who passed it on to the younger generation.
We witnessed the Apsara performance at Koulen II Restaurant, where we enjoyed a buffet dinner spread accompanied by other local dances. The Apsara was the main bill as the dancers graced the stage for about an hour. The dance is simply mesmerizing – such grace and control in its minimal yet intentional movements. You can even take photos with the colorful dancers at the end of the show!
7. Unleash Your Inner Foodie
I love the cafés and restaurants in Siem Reap. If you are foodie, your cravings will be satisfied as it has all kinds of food and the restaurants range from homey to luxurious, beachy to artsy and not to forget, hipster-y! Generally, these establishments serve good food at reasonable price, from as low as USD3 per meal.
If you’re up for good Khmer food, head on over to Genevieve’s Restaurant or the floating village at Lake Tonle Sap – the beef loklak and fish tom yum are a must. Fusion food lovers should definitely try Blue Pumpkin Café’s amok fish ravioli paired with Cambodian coffee and Kanell Restaurant’s French-Asian brunch and dessert fare. For Muslims travelers, Cambodian Muslim Restaurant serves decent halal Khmer food – I highly recommend the samlor kor koh with beef or chicken.
There is so much to love about Siem Reap. I specifically adore this place because most businesses here are social enterprises with a strong sense of community development and collective consciousness. So, if you’re in Siem Reap for Angkor Wat, don’t forget to try out all these exciting activities that will give you a deeper appreciation of Cambodia and her people.
Alia Wahidin is a dedicated CSR executive with a public-listed conglomerate. Her love for travel is as equal as her attachment to food so these two often go hand-in-hand. You can get in touch with her at aliawahidin(at)gmail.com