Make no mistake Siam Reap is a town that owes its current appearance to the hundreds of ancient temples – including the famous Angkor Wat – that surround the city and the thousands of tourists that visit them each year.
But the influx of tourist dollars from the temples mean that there is so much more to explore within the city limits after a hot day visiting the temples.
Read on for a list of reasons why I love Siam Reap.
The old markets on Psar Chaa Road are hard to miss and the great thing about them is that it is where the local restaurants actually buy their produce. The effect of this is that you could be haggling with a stall owner over some fake Ray Bans only to turn around and see a small Cambodian lady hacking up a pig. It is mostly tourist nick knacks but is a good spot to find kitchen wares to prepare some of the local dishes back home.
The Angkor Night Markets are more of a small city themselves. The undercover markets sell the usual array of trinkets, hippie pants and fake designer products but once inside you can also stumble across a bar, a spa or a dancing show. These markets are cleaner and less intense than the old markets but the prices tend to be a touch higher.
There are also a lot of local made stores to enjoy as you explore the town. And while not as cheap as the markets it is reassuring to know that your money is going back into the community and that none were made in a sweat shop. To put things into perspective I paid $6USD for a handmade silk purse which is, to my mind, a bargain!
Eating and drinking
Pub Street – A post about Siam Reap would not be complete without a mention of the iconic and aptly named Pub Street. And you certainly can’t miss it with the big luminescent signs pointing the way. I pretty much wandered down the strip every day and night and there was always something new to see. While I enjoyed exploring the pubs on the strip (including backpacker haunt Angkor What?) I also loved sitting at some of the upstairs bars ( X bar, Red Piano, Triangle) with a G&T and watching the mayhem explode below.
Siam Reap has an array of lush Cocktail bars and considering that the most I ever paid for one was $4USD there is no excuse not to indulge! I am a sucker for a semi-hidden laneway bar and Siam Reap really delivered, some of my favourites included:
- Miss Wong. Found in a small alley behind Pub Street my favourites included the Lemongrass Collins or the very potent Rose Petal Martini.
- Picasso Bar – we stumbled across this little gem in another alley off Pub Street and after a month of travelling in Asia we couldn’t resist stopping in for some elusive cheese and red wine. The bar top dominates the space making it the perfect place to have a chat with the friendly staff and other patrons.
- Red piano. Not exactly hidden, this two storey bar and restaurant’s claim to fame is that it was Angelina Jolie’s favourite hangout when she filmed Tomb Raider. And it may sound like a tourist cliché but the Tomb Raider cocktail is delish!
Soup dragon. The wonderful thing about Cambodia is that as a neighbour to Vietnam you can get a decent Pho. This restaurant is one of the many eateries you can find along Pub Street.
Butterflies Garden. The place where time stands still. We spent a very relaxing afternoon inside the butterfly enclosure surrounded by some of the most exotic looking creatures. And the food was delicious!
Joe To Go. (Corner of Street 9 and Street 10). Despite the name you can spend quite a lot of time at Joe To Go. Great coffee, delicious snacks and a cool boutique shop with proceeds supporting local charities. Win.
Blue Pumpkin. Siam Reap can be a hot and humid place, add in the hustle and bustle of the markets and sometimes you just need a cool, quiet spot to chill out (pardon the pun) with an ice cream and surf the web. Found on Night Market street head upstairs to the lounge for a little R&R.
You can’t miss Le Papier Tigre as you explore Pub Street and it is worth a stop to try their delicious Cambodian meals. But you should then come back and learn how to make them yourself. Classes are run regularly throughout the day and it is a fun way to spend your time with other like minded travellers.
If you don’t have the time to visit all of Cambodia Siam Reap is a great place for a holiday. It gives you the opportunity to get a feel for the Cambodian culture, visit the stunning UNESCO listed temples and still finish the day with a swim, a cocktail and a delicious feast.