Famed for the glorious temples of Angkor, Siem Reap’s swathe of other attractions often get overlooked by visitors to ‘Temple Town’. Here, we throw the spotlight on some other activities to enjoy while in Siem Reap.
APOPO Humanitarian Demining
According to Landmine Monitor, Cambodia is one of the most mine-affected countries in the world with more than 1,000 km² of land surface still contaminated by unexploded ordnance (UXO).
It is estimated that many hundreds of thousands of UXOs continue to litter the countryside. Additionally, with more than 40,000 amputees, Cambodia has the highest ratio of mine amputees per capita in the world.
While dogs traditionally accompanied humans on their demining efforts, since 2015, APOPO has been training African giant pouched rats (GCPRs) to detect landmines and other explosives in Cambodia, with huge success rates.
The organization has a base in Siem Reap, where visitors can take a one-hour tour of APOPO Visitor Center, including a presentation on the history of landmines in Cambodia, the training of GCPRs, and APOPO’s work clearing UXO. Visitors can also meet and interact with the HeroRATs.
Dive into floating village life at Kampong Phluk, a 3,000-strong community that lives on the rim of the Tonle Sap Lake. Here, residents live in wooden stilted houses that soar about six meters high near flooded forests.
Between July and December, when the monsoon rains cause the lake to swell up to 10 times deeper in some areas, the houses appear to bob on the water. During this time, the only way to access the village is by boat. During the rest of the year, the area can be explored on foot.
Kampong Phluk is also home to a couple of basic homestays and heaps of floating restaurants to enjoy lunch or a snack while soaking up the scenery.
If you’re a fan of art then it’s easy to get your fix because Temple Town is dotted with galleries. One of the most popular is Theam's Gallery, which showcases the work of famed contemporary artist, Lim Muy Theam. The gallery doubles up as Theam’s home and atelier, and showcases his unique works.
Elsewhere, Treeline Gallery at Treeline Urban Resort prides itself on featuring the latest contemporary Cambodian artists, while Develter Gallery at FCC Angkor by Avani features the striking paintings, lithographs and sculptures of Christian Develter. With many more galleries to discover, the best way is to sign up to one of Siem Reap Art Tours’ morning or afternoon adventures.
Located about 50km from Siem Reap city, Phnom Kulen is considered to be Cambodia’s most sacred mountain and stands proud as the birthplace of the Angkor Empire. In 802 AD, Jayavarman II stood at its summit and declared himself a devaraja (god-king).
The mountain is home to two cascading waterfalls that plunge into pools perfect for swimming in, winding trails that pass by crumbling ancient religious monuments, and the fascinating Kbal Spean, or River of a Thousand Lingas. The 150-meter stretch of river has its stone bed etched with carvings of Hindu gods and symbols, believed to date back to the reign of King Udayadityavarman II.
Close to the river is the sacred Wat Preah Ang Thom, which sits at the summit of the mountain. As well as offering spectacular panoramic views of Kulen National Park, the temple also houses ancient scripts and a giant reclining Buddha.
Recent additions to the area include new hiking trails and two community-based tourism centers developed with the support of Terre Cambodge and ADFKULEN. They are located in Popel and Along Thom and contain information about the area’s flora and fauna, history and the threats the communities face.
Phare, the Cambodia Circus
No trip to Siem Reap is complete without spending an evening at award-winning Phare, the Cambodian Circus. It falls under the umbrella of Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit arts and circus school in Battambang.
This jaw-dropping spectacle features a mind-blowing performance that combines acrobatics, juggling, clowns, dance and music to re-interpret ancient Cambodian folk tales. Seamlessly blending traditional Cambodian circus techniques with modern acrobatics to produce spell-binding shows.
A relatively recent revamp to Phare’s Siem Reap Big Top site is a food village, meaning visitors can enjoy pre- or post-performance snacks, Cambodian cuisine and drinks. A boutique selling jewelry, arts and handicrafts made by Phare students is also on-site.
Sunset Cruise on the Tonle Sap Lake
A popular way to soak up sunset is from the Tonle Sap Lake, and there are plenty of cruises to choose from. Ranging from budget through to luxurious, cruises are a great way to discover the vast lake and its inhabitants.
They typically depart from Siem Reap in the late afternoon and last for a few hours. After a drive to the edge of the lake, visitors will board a boat and sail across the water, passing by floating villages, fishing platforms, and rice paddies.
Many sunset cruises include food and drinks, so you can enjoy a leisurely meal while watching the sun sink into the horizon. Some even offer live music and traditional Khmer dancing.
Kulen Elephant Forest
Nestled in the foothills of Phnom Kulen in a 1,100-acre patch of protected forest, Kulen Elephant Forest serves as a sanctuary for retired elephants rescued from Angkor Wat, where they were forced to carry tourists around the temples.
Here, visitors can see them in their natural habitat, wallowing in mud pools and trudging through the jungle. Activities include interacting with the elephants and their mahouts and walking with them through the forest. The sanctuary also offers educational programs about elephants and their role in Cambodian culture.
ArtBox Siem Reap is a great way to while away a wet afternoon. The trick eye art museum features more than 130 lifelike art pieces and each offers its own unique 3D experience, making this a great place to stock up on stacks of social media photo gold.
There are eight differently themed rooms that range from Cambodian-inspired through to the underwater world. A special show also features twice a day. Don’t forget to charge your phone to guarantee heaps of photo fun.
Experience traditional rural village life at NhumBai. This attraction gives visitors the chance to delve into real village life, try their hand at rice farming, learn traditional weaving, cook with villagers, play traditional games and meet families to learn about their everyday life.
NhumBai employs and trains local villagers, allowing families to make a sustainable income in the village without having to migrate to urban areas in search of work. A total of 50 percent of its profits go towards helping impoverished families in the village to improve their livelihoods.