Siem Reap might be all about ancient Angkor and its magnificent temples, but the Cambodian town has plenty to offer in addition to its picturesque ruins. Here are a few other ways to slow down and experience Siem Reap’s food, culture and arts once you’ve ticked off that to-do list.
When the sun dips below the horizon and the temples have closed for the evening, travelers flock to the city center to eat, drink… and shop. Angkor Night Market is the original destination for nocturnal shopping: you’ll find plenty of local handicrafts and cheesy souvenirs, along with food and drinks and fish foot massages. For a more boutique experience, head to the Bill Bensley-designed Shinta Mani boutique hotel. Four nights a week, the upscale boutique resort holds the Made in Cambodia market where local artisans and designers display their wares in a relaxed environment that includes live music and street food.
A circus might not be the first thing that pops to mind when you think of Cambodia, but Siem Reap serves up its own Cirque du Soleil-style entertainment at Phare, the Cambodian Circus. The unique show puts a distinctly Cambodian twist on the brash, glitzy circus we know and love with young performers reinterpreting Cambodian history and folk stories with a combination of theater, music, dance and modern circus arts. Underneath the slapstick comedy and cheeky antics, the performances convey some understanding of Cambodia’s complexities, offering visitors another perspective on the country’s history and hardships.
The food in Cambodia is just as good as you’ve heard — even better if you know where to look. Avoid tourist-infested Pub Street and make a beeline for places like Café Indochine, which dishes up delicious Cambodian cuisine amidst colonial-inspired interiors. For a true treat though, you can’t go past the exquisite fine-dining at Embassy, where Chefs Pol and Sok, known as the “Kimsan Twins,” serve creative multi-course Khmer menus in elegant, French-inspired surrounds. Cooking classes are a great for a hands-on experience, and the Anantara Angkor’s Spice Spoons Cooking School offers classes in traditional Khmer cuisine where you’ll visit the local markets, then whip up a sumptuous four-course meal to enjoy as a group.
For perspective and in-depth history, you can’t beat a museum visit. The brand-spanking-new Angkor Panorama Museum might aim to wow visitors with its whiz-bang visual installations and videos, but it’s the established Angkor National Museum that’s worth the visit. This mammoth building houses eight separate galleries and with far fewer visitors than the temples, you’ll feel like you have run of the place. After starting with an introductory video, you’ll visit the exactly-as-advertised 1,000 Buddhas gallery, then progress through a series of maze-like galleries to explore everything from pre-Angkor Khmer civilization to the Khmer kings, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Khmer, Sanskrit inscription stones, and even ancient costumes. Each gallery brings history alive with extensive written explanations, well-presented multilingual videos, and plenty of sculptures on display.
Trekking around the temples all day gets tiring, fast. When you hit that point, stretch out sore muscles with a yoga session. The longest-running yoga center in Siem Reap, Peace Café offers daily Astanga and Vinyasa Flow yoga classes to the public. Australian-run Angkor Bodhi Tree and Blue Indigo Cottage and Yoga Retreat Centre are both wellness centers in their own right — they offer a wide range of yoga and mediation sessions that are open to anyone. The latter also has tai chi and aerial yoga! But for the full experience, guests can check in to the resorts and stay on site for an immersive experience that includes vegetarian meals, wellness activities, and serene accommodations.