5 great reasons to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia

As the gateway to the spectacular Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is Cambodia’s most popular tourist destination – but this bustling resort town has so much more to offer than just this ancient palace. With a thriving culinary scene that includes both traditional Khmer food and modern, stylish restaurants, luxurious hotels and buzzing nightlife, you can spend weeks here and not scratch the surface of what the town has to offer. After visiting Siem Reap and quickly falling in love, here are my top five reasons to visit – besides Angkor Wat.

1. A stay at the Shinta Mani Angkor

Shinta Mani Angkor is a luxury hotel with one big difference: its beating heart is the Shinta Mani Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation which has been improving the lives of locals since 2004. Guided by a philosophy of ‘Open Doors, Open Hearts,’ the foundation has trained many underprivileged Cambodians in hotel hospitality for free, giving them the necessary skills to seek employment – and some of the students work at Shinta Mani Angkor today.

The hotel has received international recognition for its efforts, and has expanded its programs to provide healthcare, personal family aid, and support small business start-ups. Hotel guests are welcome to participate in the Foundation’s activities during their stay; from sponsoring animals to help out farmers, to providing water wells and homes, it’s inspiring to learn how you can give back to the local community.

Designed by famous hotel architect Bill Bensley, the hotel itself provides a shady, incredibly stylish respite from Siem Reap’s unforgiving heat. Located in the leafy French Quarter between The Royal Gardens and the Old Market Area, the hotel is ethical but luxurious – the ideal base from which to explore Siem Reap.

2. Explore Ta Prohm Temple

Everyone knows about Angkor Wat, but what many people don’t know is that Angkor Archaeological Park stretches over 400 square kilometres, and contains dozens of awe-inspiring remains of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th centuries. One temple that is a must-visit is Ta Prohm, known informally as “Tomb Raider temple” due to its starring role in the Angelina Jolie film. Built in 1186, the temple was swallowed up by the jungle over the centuries, and today the entire ruin is covered by the roots of a towering tree.

Looking straight out of an Indiana Jones film, visiting Ta Prohm and seeing the iconic sight of a vast tree perched on top of a temple is an otherworldly experience. Seeing the way nature has slowly encroached on the ruins gives you a powerful appreciation of just how old these temples are, as well as how they must have looked when European explorers first stumbled upon them in the 1800s.

3. Try traditional Cambodian food

Cambodian food is fresh, delicious and healthy – and also inexplicably underrated. The best place to discover the great flavours of traditional Khmer dishes is Siem Reap, and there are dozens of authentic restaurants you can choose from. Marum, Sugar Palm, Khmer Kitchen and Viroth are all excellent, and the street food is very tasty too.

Some of the best dishes to try are fish amok (a mildly spicy, flavourful curry with galangal, lemongrass and ginger), Khmer curry (a red coconut curry), lok lak, (beef stir-fry), lap Khmer (beef salad) and somlor macho youn (Cambodian sour soup). Vegetarians won’t have to miss out as tofu features heavily in Cambodian cuisine – the best veggie restaurant in Siem Reap is Banlle.

4. A meal at The Steakhouse

Once you’ve had your fill of traditional Cambodian food, it’s time to check out the modern side to Siem Reap’s culinary scene. The newest and hottest restaurant in town is The Steakhouse, which is located on the town’s famous Pub Street. Meat lovers will obviously be in heaven here, but the restaurant has an extensive menu: choose from seafood pasta, fried mozzarella and salsa, pan fried raisin bread stuffed with gorgonzola, and – of course – a wide range of beef cuts.

What the Steakhouse lacks in Khmer tradition it makes up in elegant ambiance and faultless service: the smiling staff here provide the best service in Siem Reap, and seem genuinely thrilled to be working there. Most importantly, the restaurant has the most complete wine list in town, so if you’re craving a glass of Malbec, this is the place to come.

5. Learn about Cambodia’s tumultuous history

For visitors to Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, visiting the Killing Fields and learning about the country’s heart-wrenching experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime is essential, but Siem Reap also gives visitors a unique insight into Cambodia’s past. The Landmine Museum is a sobering but fascinating glimpse into the Khmer Rouge regime, and the War Museum also is worth a visit.

If you have time, hire a certified guide to educate you about Cambodia’s tumultuous history over the past half century. The guides are extremely passionate about telling their story and helping you learn about their country and culture. Pay a visit to the floating village on Tonle Sap Lake, where you can discover traditional Cambodian fisherman culture and chat to locals.

Comments (6)

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  1. Nisha says:

    Hi Selene Nelson,
    Actually, I visited two times in Cambodia.It’s a really wonderful place.I like traditional Khmer dishes.It’s very tasty.Your photos are just amazing.Thanks for sharing this post.

  2. Jack says:

    Thank you Selene Nelson. I used to plan to go Cambodia, but I did not at last for some reasons.After reading your article, I make up my mind to go there next summer holiday.I think that will be an amazing trip! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thomas says:

    I have heard about Ta Prohm before, since it was used for the Tomb Raider movie. What an amazing location, steeped in history and mystery and then swallowed up by the jungle. Just thinking about it makes me wonder what else lies deep within these forests and underground, hidden out of sight. I’ll admit, I’ve got a bit of the exploring bug lately, so Cambodia is a definite possiblity, especially if I can compare ruins like this with a five star hotel.

  4. Rachel says:

    It is funny how many of these beautiful places that we see in film, but not actually realise where they are or that they did not need any added enhancement. Ta Prohm is a sight to behold with the roots of the trees covering the ruin. I would love to see it myself.

  5. Emma says:

    The Shinta Mani Angkor sounds wonderful, such a lovely idea to pair with a charity. This really reflects on what caring people live here. I would love to stay there and help out for a couple of weeks – the best holidays are ones where you can do your bit to give back! I’ve seen Ta Prohm Temple in so many videos and photographs, it’s definitely on my bucket list to go here – indeed it is very Indiana Jones!

  6. Laura says:

    Siem reap is such an amazing place, I’d love to go back there. Visiting Ankor Wat was an incredible experience. The Shinta Mani Angkor looks like a wonderful place to stay. I loved the selection of food they had when I visited. I even did a cooking class and made some delicious food. Cambodia has such a turbulent past and the killing fields is such heart wrenching experience.

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