Away from the temples, there’s plenty to explore in surrounding Siem Reap. From rural life, culinary delights, rare flora and fauna to getting in tune with your spiritual side, it’s well worth putting aside at least a day or more to sample the city’s charm.
Foodies will be in their element on one of Siem Reap Food Tours’ trips. Guides equipped with stacks of Khmer cuisine knowledge take small groups on an exploration of Cambodia’s variety of ingredients, dishes and cooking techniques. Offering morning and evening tours, they are a great way to sample authentic Cambodian dishes in locations off the tourist trail, minus the fear of Delhi belly. Highlights include visiting a bustling local market and getting stuck into the array of weird and wonderful delicacies on offer at the many street stalls that line the streets.
Siem Reap province is dotted with historic sites, and EXO Travel offers a day packed full of ancient discoveries. The company’s Discover the Lost City at Kulen Mountain tour steps back in time to the birth of the Angkor Empire at sacred Phnom Kulen. Get the adrenaline flowing with a motorbike trip along winding jungle paths to discover a bounty of spots, including Poeng Tbal, Prasat Rong Chen and the quarries that provided the stone to build Angkor Wat. Thankfully, the national park is home to a couple of waterfalls that are waiting to cool off guests, so don’t forget your swimming gear and a towel – and don’t forget the insect repellent.
The best way to soak in the sights of Siem Reap is by bicycle, and Grasshopper Adventures offers a series of half- and full-day bike tours that take in temples, rural life, paddies and nature. Its Angkor Sunrise Discovery takes in a breathtaking morning ride through ancient Angkor’s back trails, starting with watching the sun as it rises behind Angkor Wat’s iconic towers and followed by breakfast and a ride through the temple complex’s hidden tracks. Cyclists visit Bayon and Ta Prohm temples, and The Elephant Terrace. Guests will eat overlooking Sra Srang Lake. Groups are limited to six people and take in 20–25 kilometres (12.4–15.5 miles).
No trip to Cambodia is complete without experiencing rural life, with the countryside at its finest during monsoon season when the paddies spring to life and the country is in bloom. A fun way to explore it is on the back of a stylish Vespa – with a driver. Vespa Adventures offers several Siem Reap tours, with its Countryside Life option proving popular. The activity-packed adventure involves visits to local villages, stop-offs at temple restoration sites, private picnic spots, farm visits, blessings by monks, learning firsthand about how sugar palm juice is made, and a visit to a Khmer fortune teller.
The large Tonle Sap lake sits on the outskirts of Siem Reap city and is home to several floating communities. The Kompong Phluk Village and Tonle Sap Lake tour gives an insight into the way of life on these waterways. The five-hour trip includes a boat trip that winds through the stilted houses plus floating shops, schools, hang outs and markets. The village is home to about 3,000 people, predominantly fishing people, and depending on whether it’s the rainy season, some areas are accessible by land. Visitors are given invaluable insight into the way of life for these fishing and farming communities.
Sam Veasna Center offers a series of bird and wildlife tours, with its Wildlife Culture Adventure being a top choice. It takes in protected wetland reserves and Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary and a neighbouring ancient reservoir, all of which are home to flocks of 300 Sarus Cranes, critically endangered Eld’s deer and giant ibis. Guests can also try their hand at traditional silk weaving, learn how to tap rubber at a local village by the ruins of Angkorian temples and visit a butterfly centre and Sam Veasna’s community eco-lodge, nestled on the banks of a 12th-century boray, or reservoir.
Cambodia is a Buddhist country, with signs of the way of life everywhere, from monks meandering the streets to temples and icons that adorn homes and shops. Theravada Buddhism and its peaceful philosophies prevail, and guests can learn more through Ayana Journeys’ Spiritual adventure. The day trip includes spending time with monks at a local pagoda to learn about meditation and their rituals, and the opportunity to find out more about the country’s journey through Animism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Experienced guides, who spent their youth as monks, lead the tours.