For many visitors, Siem Reap is the gateway to the largest group of religious buildings ever built – The Angkor complex.
No trip here is complete without taking a few days to explore all the temples, but they’re not the only reason that Siem Reap is Cambodia’s premier tourist destination.
When you’ve had enough of temples, discover Cambodia’s natural beauty in the national parks and the surrounding lakes and mountains. Immerse yourself in the traditional culture of floating and stilt villages while getting to meet friendly locals.
Don’t want to venture so far out of the city? Here, you’ll find some of the country’s best local and international cuisine, superb shopping, and even Cambodia’s most famous circus.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to accommodation, too – from cheap and cheerful hostels to luxurious spas, this place really does have it all.
This handy guide will help you to pick the top things to do on your trip to Siem Reap.
1. Angkor Wat
Not only Cambodia’s top tourist attraction but in recent years voted as #1 in the world by Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor, to name just a few; there aren’t enough superlatives to describe Angkor Wat. The fantastically preserved temple is visited by millions every year, thanks to its unparalleled beauty.
Most travelers have seeing a sunrise or a sunset over Angkor Wat on their bucket list, and with good reason — it’s an incredible sight. Just remember, it’s going to be really crowded and you might have to fight for space to get that perfect snap.
There are several ways to see Angkor Wat: you can hire a tuk-tuk, or if you feel you can cope with the heat, why not try renting a bicycle?
Recommended tour: Angkor Wat Full-Day Small-Group Sunrise Tour
2. See the other Angkor temples
Yes, Angkor Wat is the most recognizable emblem of the ancient city, but it would be a crime not to visit the other temples and monasteries in the area. The most popular are Bayon, Banteay Srei, and a particular highlight is Ta Prohm.
You may recognize Ta Prohm if you’ve seen Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Originally built in 1186 as a monastery/learning center, it’s smaller than several of the buildings in the Angkor complex, but one of the most visited as it has almost been completely consumed by the surrounding jungle.
Look out for the hand-sized stegosaurus carving in the temple. No one is sure whether it’s a recent addition — and therefore a hoax — or if the ancient Khmers had discovered dinosaur fossils.
You can see these temples alone as a day trip, or if you don’t want to rush, visit them over 3-4 days.
3. Banteay Srei and the Cambodian landmine museum
Banteay Srei — also known as the Citadel of Women, the tiny temple, and the pink temple — is another of the main temples of the Angkor complex, which many people regard as the most beautiful. However, there are some other compelling reasons to visit.
Banteay Srei offers tourists the opportunity to immerse themselves in Cambodian culture, with village walks, ox-cart rides, and farm visits. If you have more time on your hands, you can even stay in one of 13 homestays and learn about local life.
Banteay Srei is also home to the Cambodian landmine museum. The museum works with NGOs to raise awareness and educate visitors about the dangers and prevalence of landmines in the country.
Available tour: Full-Day Banteay Srei and Angkor Grand Tour
4. Tonle Sap Lake
Spend the day seeing one of Cambodia’s natural wonders half an hour south of Siem Reap. Tonle Sap is Asia’s largest freshwater lake, where you can take a cruise or visit the villages on the shore.
Over 3 million people around the whole lake call these villages home. The villages often boast floating markets or stilted houses.
Tonle Sap is a great place for animal lovers. Not only are there over 100 species of water birds, but you can see geckos, snakes, crocodiles, turtles, and tortoises here too.
It’s important to remember that during the dry season, the lake flows out into the Mekong River. You’re better off doing a cruise during the rainy season, as your boat is much less likely to get stuck in the mud.
Suggested tour: Sunset Dinner Tour: Tonle Sap Lake Floating Village
5. Kampong Khleang
The remote floating village of Kampong Khleang, located on the north-east shores of Tonle Sap, is the largest on the lake.
Here, you can see houses suspended on stilts, buy local handicrafts and food at the day and night markets, and even visit a local floating school.
One of the most alluring ways to reach the village is by taking a boat through the flooded forest, where you’ll be sailing among the treetops. Keep your eyes peeled to see snakes, frogs, and huge spiders.
Available tour: Kompong Khleang Floating Village: Full-Day from Siem Reap
6. Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary and Biosphere reserve
There are three biosphere reserves on Tonle Sap Lake. Prek Toal, in the North-West corner, is popular with bird-enthusiasts and regular tourists alike, thanks to the sheer variety of birdlife that you can see here. It’s actually one of the largest and most important breeding grounds for water birds in South East Asia.
Across the lake, there are several observation towers and viewing platforms. If you want to get up close and personal with the birds, you can take a rowing boat out onto the lake to get a closer look at their breeding grounds.
When you’ve exhausted your camera and your binoculars, head to one of the floating restaurants on Tonle Sap lake and enjoy the delicious local cuisine.
Available tour: Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary and Great Lake Tour in Cambodia
7. Phnom Kulen national park
Phnom Kulen — or lychee mountain — is considered by the Khmer people as the most sacred mountain in Cambodia.
At the top of the mountain, you will find a beautifully carved reclining Buddha and a pagoda.
Surrounding the mountain is a national park, which boasts a mighty waterfall. The waterfall runs into the valley of 1,000 lingas. What are lingas? They are a phallic fertility symbol, which can be found in the Kbal Spean river. The riverbed is decorated with hundreds of the symbols, both above and below the water.
Suggested tour: Full-Day Kulen Waterfall and 1000 Lingas Tour
8. Kompong Phluk
Much like Kampong Khleang, Kompong Phluk is a group of three floating villages on the shores of Tonle Sap. However, for a more authentic experience, this is an excellent place to go; it receives much fewer foreign tourists than Kampong Khleang.
You can only get here by boat, which means a trip on the calm waters of Tonle Sap. There are definitely worse ways to pass a morning or afternoon.
Don’t forget your camera, as you can get some jaw-dropping shots of the sunset over the vast lake.
Recommended tour: Kompong Phluk Floating Village Tour from Siem Reap
The province of Battambang can be found to the west of Siem Reap, with a provincial capital of the same name.
There are more temples, colonial French architecture, and a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime called the Well of Shadows.
Out of the city, see countryside vistas from bamboo trains. Then, take a trip to the killing caves to learn more about Cambodia’s all too recent history. These are a reminder of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime and a worthwhile but sobering experience.
On a lighter note, there’s another cave nearby where you can witness one of nature’s wonders. Every sunset, people gather to watch a huge exodus of bats flying out of the cave. Because there are so many, it can take as long as 20 minutes.
10. West Baray lake
A favorite day out for local families is West Baray lake. Located close to the walled city of Angkor Thom, it is an ancient, man-made lake where you can spend the day sleeping off your temple exhaustion in a hammock. It’s also a great place to try local Cambodian cuisine.
The water isn’t completely hygienic, but you’ll see many Cambodian families having a swim here and enjoying the sun. Unlike Tonle Sap, there aren’t any crocodiles or snakes in the reservoir, so you’re at least safe on that front.
If you’re feeling withdrawal symptoms, don’t worry about it. After all, there are — yep, you guessed it — more temples.
11. Phnom Bok
Moving from West Baray to East Baray now, where you can visit the stunning Phnom Bok. For any hikers who haven’t yet had their fill of temples, this is the one for you.
Constructed up 640 stones steps, Phnom Bok is perched atop a hill and offers spectacular panoramas of the Kulen mountains. You can even see Angkor Wat from here.
One thing to look out for is the two frangipani trees which loom over the ruined towers. Some people think that this gives the ruin the appearance of having a crazy haircut.
12. Koh Ker
You can find Koh Ker in a sparsely-populated area deep in the jungle. Once the capital of the Khmer empire, the almost forgotten seven-story pyramid is now enveloped by ever-encroaching trees and plants.
Koh Ker is great if you want a break from the hordes of tourists at the main Angkor temples. If you’re lucky, you might even have the 30 or so buildings to yourself.
The best news? You can climb the pyramid. Spend some time at the top of this mysterious archaeological marvel to take in the fabulous views.
13. Peung Tanorn
There is a relatively unknown natural wonder located 60km north of Siem Reap called Peung Tanorn. Scattered across a hillside are rocks of many shapes and sizes, providing a beautiful view of the picturesque Cambodian countryside.
There’s a local community near the site, where the chief will happily welcome you. The rocks are located at the top of a hill, about 100m up. It’s a short hike up to the top, but the views are worth getting out of breath for.
Although the rock formations are undoubtedly beautiful, the journey is a big part of the adventure on this trip. You’ll see a side to Cambodia that is absent in Siem Reap – endless paddy fields, children by ponds hunting the catch of the day, and noisy bovine traffic jams.