Tourists flock to Cambodia to explore the temple ruins of Angkor Wat, and with good reason. They are spectacular to behold! But the nearby town of Siem Reap should not be overlooked, or merely used as a base for sleeping. There are some interesting things to do, including an exceptional museum that provides interesting background information on the temples and their symbolism. Here’s how I recommend spending one day in Siem Reap.
Angkor National Museum
Start the day at the Angkor National Museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve seen in Asia and well worth the entrance fee. The impressive collection of over 6,000 sculptures, wall reliefs, and wood carvings largely comes from Angkor Wat and the surrounding area. Excellent English descriptions explain the meaning behind each piece, making my subsequent visit to the temples more engaging. The “Churning of the Ocean of Milk” is a Hindu creation myth that I saw repeatedly at the temples. It was incredibly helpful to be able to reference this knowledge while exploring the ruins. The museum also has a fantastic gift shop with high-quality souvenirs.
Religious buildings took a beating during the brutal Khmer Rouge revolution in the 1970s and Wat Bo was no exception. At the time of my visit, the temple was practically in ruins and it wasn’t possible to go inside the pagoda. Apparently it contains well-preserved murals depicting the Hindu love story of Rama and Shita – rare inside Buddhist temples. I’d love to go back to see them now that the temple has been restored.
Wat Preah Prom Rath
Wat Preah Prom Rath is the oldest temple in Siem Reap, though you’d never know by its shiny new appearance. It was established in the 15th century to honor the spirit of a revered monk. According to local lore, this monk survived a crocodile attack while sailing on Tonle Sap Lake. A replica of the monk’s boat is located in the middle of the temple grounds, and a reclining Buddha made of his original wooden boat is inside the main pagoda.
Afternoon by the Pool
Cambodia’s tropical climate can be challenging given the general lack of air conditioning. By mid-afternoon, the sun can completely sap your energy. My favorite way to recharge is with a cocktail by the pool. I stayed at the Rambutan Boutique Hotel and couldn’t have been happier with my choice. The saltwater pool features a waterfall surrounded by lush vegetation, making it feel like a secret garden in the middle of the city.
Enjoy Khmer Cuisine for Dinner
The Sugar Palm has been one of the best restaurants in Siem Reap since opening in 2002. My meal there began with a sweet-and-sour tamarind soup full of chicken, tomato, winter melon, and pineapple. Soup might seem an odd choice in such a hot climate, but locals swear the warm liquid actually cools your body down. The Sugar Palm’s star dish is fish amok baked in a coconut shell. It is so highly regarded that celebrity chefs like Gordan Ramsey have come to the restaurant to learn how to make it. Round out the meal with a refreshing chicken and banana blossom salad and a spicy Khmer curry.
After dinner I took a stroll down atmospheric Pub Street. I skipped the crowded bars since I was getting up early to explore Angkor Wat. Instead, I enjoyed a cup of mango ice cream and gaped at all the tourists getting fish pedicures at sidewalk spas. I admire their willingness to try new things!
Are you ready to spend one day in Siem Reap?