Temples are great and all. Don’t get me wrong. They’re really awesome. But if you see too many within a short amount of time they all start to lose their magic. So here are 10 different things you can do to give yourself a break and avoid temple burnout in Siem Reap:
1. Night Market and Pub Street
2. Local Day Market
3. Countryside Motorbike Ride
4. Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Village Tour
5. Bicycle Tour (click here to check out Grasshopper Adventures)
6.Butterfly Garden, Cultural Village & National Museum
7. Artisan Workshop Tours
8.Hot Air Balloon or Helicopter Ride (click here for Helistar Cambodia’s website)
9. Get A Massage
10. Backstreet Academy Classes (click here to visit Backstreet Academy)
To learn more about these activities, click on the pictures below!
1. Night Market & Pub Street – Located in the southwest part of town, these two hotspots are filled with every souvenir shop and restaurant you could ever hope to find, respectively. And despite the overwhelming swarms of tourists, both still offer a fun atmosphere and affordable prices. The action starts around 7 or 8 each evening, and the market is open until around midnight.
2. Local Day Market – Typically found on the outskirts of the city in just about any direction, local day markets are definitely worth the trip. Snack on some local rice flour noms as you walk between the cloth partitioned vender stalls, trying not to hit your head on the low-drooping, sun-bleached awnings. Witness women gutting fish without batting an eye, and an array of fruits and vegetables so colorful you’ll realize where the phrase “taste the rainbow” really came from. And unlike the Night Market, you will probably be the only foreigner there.
3. Countryside Motorbike Ride – Whether you rent your own bike or hire a driver for the day, you’ll find a great sense of refreshment and adventure when you hit the ole dusty trail. Just come prepared with sunscreen and water, since wide open rice fields don’t offer much protection from the sun. Escaping the throngs of tourists and pesky merchants will also give you a better sense of what real Cambodia is like.
4. Tonle Sap Lake and Floating Village Tour – I was torn about recommending this one, and if you read one of my other posts, you’ll understand why. But I put it on here anyway because it IS so popular. Just be respectful of the people when you go, and try to avoid getting scammed by tour operators (ask your hotel if they can recommend a guide or company instead of just showing up to the docks).
5. Bicycle Tour – Grasshopper Adventures offers a fantastic variety of half-day and full-day rides, as well as a sunrise tour at Angkor Wat and a “Pedals & Paddles” excursion that combines countryside cycling with kayaking on the Tonle Sap. Even if you’re not the bicycle riding type, it’s a great way to slow down and experience your surroundings in a more intimate way. I went on the “Pedals & Paddles tour” and had an amazing time. All tours are led by English-speaking guides and are reasonably priced.
6. Butterfly Garden, Cultural Village and National Museum – On the way to Banteay Srei (a tiny but worthwhile temple about 40 minutes out of town), ask your guide/driver to stop at the Butterfly Garden. Admission is cheap and it’s full of pretty winged creatures that you can prance alongside of. Fifteen bucks will get you into the Cultural Village, where you can not only feast your eyes on miniaturized versions of famous Cambodian structures but also witness traditional wedding ceremonies and Apsara dances. From what I hear, though, it’s not the greatest and there’s little to no English offered. Where you SHOULD go though, is the National Museum. A twelve dollar entry fee will get you in and walk you through the history of the region as well as a few religious/art exhibits. ‘Definitely worth it, and something you should do early in your trip so you can appreciate the temples a little more.
7. Artisan Workshop Tours – Totally free and operated by English-speaking guides, these tours take you through the workshops of local craftsmen as they produce high-quality, all-natural Cambodian art, clothes and other stuff. From wooden statues to silk scarves, you’ll see the process behind all of it and have the opportunity to support real home-made art. But if I’m honest, all the items are crazy expensive, so don’t expect to find the same prices here as you would in the regular market.
8. Hot Air Balloon or Helicopter Ride – If you want a really unique view of the temples and a memory that will last forever, climb aboard a balloon or a helicopter. The hot air balloon rides are usually tethered, though. And the helicopter tours have a passenger minimum of 3. But if you’re traveling alone, with some luck you can join someone else’s flight. My one recommendation would be to select a time that is closer to the afternoon. As I found out, early morning haze can sometimes limit visibility, and that’s exactly what you don’t want when paying for a bird’s eye view.
9. Get A Massage – I know. This isn’t a picture of a massage parlor. This was the only thing on the list that I didn’t get around to doing myself. Sorry! But on practically every street you can find signs for $5 one-hour massages. You’ll be doing a lot of walking and climbing stairs at the temples, so take some time to soothe your aching feet and muscles at the end of the day.
10. Take a class at Backstreet Academy – This phenomenal organization pairs local artists/teachers/professionals with curious tourists looking to learn something new. Classes can vary in size, but all are run with the help of a facilitator who speaks excellent English. Whether you’re interested in cooking classes, boxing lessons, basket weaving or (like I was) iron pencil sketching, there’s something for everyone. You’ll walk away from the class having tried a new skill, and you’ll have supported the local economy in a very real, direct way.