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Drawn to the irresistible lure of Angkor Wat, visitors to Siem Reap often forget to explore the town and surrounding countryside’s diverse offerings. But Temple Town has so much more to offer beyond the beauty of Angkor, from swimming in waterfalls to dirt-biking through the countryside and zip-lining past gibbons hanging from the treetops. Here are a few unusual things to do in Siem Reap.
Roll up, roll up, the circus is in town – every night at 8pm, in fact. And this isn’t your typical circus, Phare the Cambodian Circus is the product of NGO school and professional arts training centre, Phare Ponleu Selpak. Plucking youngsters from poverty, the centre provides training in a range of performing arts, including circus, with students putting on Cirque du Soleil-style shows with Cambodian themes.
Cambodia has a rich history linked to ceramics, with intricate pottery and carvings dating back to pre-Angkorian times. Why not learn more about the art with a trip to the Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Centre? Here, you can discover some of the beautiful pieces inspired by Khmer culture, visit the training centre and make something to take home.
Siem Reap is the location of Tonlé Sap Lake, a huge expanse of water that rises and falls, depending on whether it is wet or dry season. A floating village on the water is inhabited by many ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities, while the water and its surrounding areas provide a habitat for a swathe of endangered birds and marine life. Various boat trips will sail through these villages, where everything from the butchers to churches and schools float gently on the lake’s surface.
Yes, you read that right. Tarantulas are eaten across Cambodia, and can be found in metal bowls at Siem Reap’s night markets. Fear not, they’re not alive. In fact, the hairy arachnids are deep-fried in chilli so the brave-hearted can safely tuck in, knowing all they will taste is a fiery kick and a crunchy texture.
DIY de-miner Aki Ra opened the Cambodia Landmine Museum to help fund the mass programmes that aim to rid Cambodia of the landmines left during the war, which still litter the country today. The museum contains a collection of landmines, weapons and tanks from the Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese occupation. An eye-opening insight into the millions of landmines and unexploded objects left behind by decades of conflict.
Bees Unlimited offers a range of tours that visit rafter beekeepers of giant honey bees, highlighting how this unique method is a dying tradition and shining a spotlight on an innovative team of beekeepers who strive to turn this seasonal activity into a sustainable livelihood for many. The tour also takes in other food produced in Siem Reap, including tofu, rice noodles and palm sugar.
Temple Town is littered with giant tanks, brimming with flesh-eating fish, flanked by seats. OK, so they’re not as scary as they sound, but plonk your feet in the water and watch the fish race towards them to nibble on the dead skin. An unusual experience that will leave you laughing, crying and uncomfortable, all at the same time. But the silky-soft feet are worth the squirming.
Whether a pro or a beginner, Kickstart has dirt bikes for all. Pick from half-day tours of Siem Reap’s pristine countryside to week-long trips across the country; regardless, viewing Cambodia from the back of a bike is an adrenaline-fuelled adventure.
Regarded as the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, Phnom Kulen is a popular place of pilgrimage at weekends and during festivals. Offering a welcome reprieve from Siem Reap’s simmering heat, the rainforest-cloaked national park is home to several gushing waterfalls and a number of religious sites.