Siem Reap is your gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat, the 12th-century temple complex that’s southeast Asia’s No. 1 historic sight. But there’s more to this vibrant, cosmopolitan city than ruins. With one day in Siem Reap, you can see Angkor Wat, cruise a lake, watch a circus, and savor a street-food feast. Here’s how.
Morning: Temple Touring
Start the day bright and early with Siem Reap’s signature experience: sunrise over Angkor Wat. Watch as a golden glow illuminates this ancient temple’s soaring turrets and reflects them in the moat. After a quick breakfast, beat the crowds to Ta Prohm, often called the Tomb Raider temple. A medieval monastery, it’s known for the giant trees and roots that entangle its crumbling remains. Once you’ve Instagrammed to your heart’s content, return to Angkor Wat for a closer look at the structures and carvings that make the complex so unique. Explore with a guide who can explain the Hindu beliefs it represents.
Afternoon: Country Cruising
Spend the afternoon getting a taste of traditional Cambodian village life. A boat ride on scenic Tonlé Sap lake is a great way to while away the hours. Some tours visit stilt villages, such as Kompong Phluk; some stop at floating villages, built on rafts atop the lake, complete with floating gardens. During the rainy season, many tours include a canoe ride through flooded mangrove forests. Lake cruises are still possible during the dry season, but you might prefer to learn a new skill, such as Khmer cookery or pottery, or try your hand at planting rice.
Night: Street-Food Safari
Start your evening in downtown Siem Reap with a street-food feast. Brave the bizarre, such as stinky durian fruit and crispy fried cricket, and discover the delicious, such as duck eggs, green mango, and Cambodian barbecue skewers. Next, thrill to the nation’s answer to Cirque du Soleil: Phare, the Cambodian Circus Show. Marvel at acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, and more in a fresh, contemporary setting. Wrap up the night, if energy levels permit, with a trawl through the chaos of Pub Street or a pedicure from the notorious “doctor fish” that nibble away dry skin—a classic Siem Reap experience.