No trip to Siem Reap is complete without a visit to Angkor Wat, and what better way to start your day – and visit – than a 6am sunrise at the iconic archaeological masterpiece? With Angkor Archaeological Park being the main draw, you’ll be hard pushed to find a hotel or guesthouse that doesn’t cater for temple tourists wanting to watch the sun peek from behind Angkor’s spires, with tuk tuks on stand-by and breakfast available to take with you. Don’t expect to have the temple to yourself though, because dawn is Angkor’s busiest time, with thousands flocking around the lotus lake to the front of Angkor to get that perfect photo. After a quick exploration of the sprawling grounds, head to the neighbouring ancient city of Angkor Thom, home to the Bayon temple and its 216 gigantic faces, before finishing off the morning with a trip to root-riddled Ta Prohm, which had a starring role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. There is no shortage of makeshift restaurants throughout Angkor serving Khmer dishes to help you to refuel from the morning’s temple trekking.
Make the most of your Angkor day pass and head to Banteay Srei, a rural district that sits about 30km from Angkor Wat. Here, you may well stumble upon peace and quiet, with the 10th Century red sandstone temple remaining relatively off the tourist trail. While the temple is tiny in comparison to its big sister, the intricate carvings remain intact and the crumbling ruins can be explored. If you’re all templed out, then fear not because Banteay Srei has plenty more up its sleeve. Home to pristine countryside and rural life, in October, businesses and residents teamed together to launch the Visit Banteay Srei campaign, offering a range of activities in the area, authentic homestays and the chance to see local life up close. Banteay Srei Butterfly Centre ($4/$2) is also well worth a visit. Home to more than 30 species of Cambodian butterflies and moths, Southeast Asia’s largest fully-enclosed butterfly centre offers a colourful educational experience. The close by Cambodia Landmine Museum is another worthy destination. Run by Cambodian de-miner Aki Ra, the museum contains a sobering collection of just a handful of the deadly landmines and unexploded bombs discovered during the country’s mass clearing operation, which is still underway.
Start off the night with a leisurely stroll along Siem Reap River to Palate Restaurant. Specialising in Pan Asian cuisine, this contemporary diner is in the leafy French quarter and boasts an upstairs terrace with a spacious ground floor. Cocktails at Miss Wong are also a must. Stylish and sophisticated, this intimate bar breathes 1930s Shanghai style. It has an excellent cocktail menu, with a range of home-infused gins and vodkas. Get lost in the winding alleys that surround Miss Wong and discover a collection of quirky bars along the way.
Start the day by delving into Cambodia’s artistic past with a trip to Artisans Angkor. Launched in 1998, the organisation strives to train Cambodians in the ancient arts, which were almost wiped out during the Khmer Rouge reign, and provide local artisans with employment. Visitors can take a free tour of their workshops in Siem Reap centre, where traditional Khmer handicraft is being undertaken in the form of stone and wood carving, lacquering, silver plating and silk painting. Two free daily shuttle buses also take visitors to Artisan Angkor’s silk farm on the outskirts of the city. Here, you can see how Cambodia’s famous golden silk is created, from silkworm to cocoon to finished product.
One of Siem Reap’s hippest attractions comes in the form of Kandal Village, a once gritty grid of backstreets that have had some style injected into them, thanks to the addition of a string of cool boutiques, cafes, bars and restaurants. The Little Red Fox Expresso cafe is a great place for lunch and a caffeine hit before browsing the stores that dot the area. Kandal Village is also home to Constable Gallery at Large, which opened in May 2016. Owned by artist Sasha Constable, descendant of British landscape artist John Constable, the gallery showcases the finest of Cambodian and international talent. Delve deeper into Cambodia’s history with a trip to Angkor National Museum. Home to a staggering range of galleries, presentations, videos and exhibits, it stretches back to the pre-Angkorian Funan and Chenla eras. The compact town centre means art lovers can easily squeeze in a trip to a few galleries. Theam’s House is the home and work space of artist and designer Lim Muy Theam. He has opened up his exquisite traditional wooden house to visitors, who can meet him and his family and view his works in the making.
Grab an early dinner at Cusine Wat Damnak, where award-winning chef Joannès Rivière delightfully fuses authentic Cambodian flavours with superb French flair. Next up is a trip to the circus. Phare, the Cambodian Circus is by far one of Siem Reap’s top attractions, with ancient folktales retold on the stage through jaw-dropping Cirque du Soliel-esque performances. Also worth visiting is Angkor Night Market, which stays open until the early hours and is full of bargains waiting to be bagged. Selling everything from souvenirs and clothes, to art, knock-off DVDs and electronics, finding space in your suitcase will be your only problem. Love it or hate it, Siem Reap’s infamous Pub Street has to be seen to be believed. Here a deafening mix of music offends the ears and bucket-swigging backpackers bounce around until the sun comes up.