Avoid the seething masses of tourists at Angkor Wat. Steer clear of the hideous throbbing chaos that is Pub Street. Instead, experience some of these little known gems. You’ll be glad you did.
1. Phsar Leau Market - Forget the Old Market located in Siem Reap’s downtown tourist ghetto. You’ll be charged Barang prices for cheap knock-off chotskies. Hire a Tuk Tuk or better yet a Motodop and go to Phsar Leau Market off of National Highway 6. Its maze like aisles offer a dizzying array of sights, sounds, and smells. Looking for some water snakes and weaver ants to spice up a meal, this is the place. Bring your camera.
2. Cuisine Wat Damnak - If you have one meal in Siem Reap it should be at Cuisine Wat Damnak. Voted one of Asia’s 50 best restaurants, Chef Joannès Rivière pays homage to traditional Khmer ingredients, flavors, and dishes by preparing them in the French style. The menu changes according to the available ingredients. A six course tasting menu will cost a paltry $28.00. Reservations required. www.cuisinewatdamnak.com
3. Bees Unlimited Tours - Founder Dani Jump created Bees Unlimited several years ago after observing traditional honey hunters harvesting colonies of giant Asian honeybees (Apis dorsata). He’s been working with them ever since teaching sustainable harvesting techniques to the hunters. Jump offers several options; Angkor Nature Tour, Bee Tours, and Discover Cambodia Tours. Jump is a wealth of knowledge and committed to responsible eco-tourism. These tours are excellent alternatives to the temples. www.beesunlimited.com
4. Eat Nom Bang Chok - This traditional Khmer noodle dish generally comes in two options; regular and curry. Served in a bowl w/ your choice of broth, it’s loaded with flavor. I highly suggest the curry with chicken bits, pumpkins chunks, and congealed blood. You can find it just about anywhere but the best is from roadside stands.
5. Visit a Crocodile Farm - On the outskirts of Siem Reap you’ll find areas loaded with crocodile farms. The crocodiles are raised for meat, their skins, and breeding. Head out to one of the many, take a tour, and if you feel like it you can spend a few dollars to feed them live poultry. It’s a fun way to kill some time. Any Tuk Tuk driver can get you there.
6. Grand Hotel d’Angkor Elephant Bar - Siem Reap is hot, very hot. It’s also difficult to find a proper cocktail. When you’ve had enough of the savagery of Cambodia get yourself over to Hotel d’Angkor’s Elephant Bar for a dose of colonial civility. Doors will be opened for you, the air conditioning will soothe, the cocktail list at the bar is extensive. While it is true that you will pay western prices for your drinks it is well worth it. They have one of the finest Singapore Slings in existence. www.raffles.com/siem-reap
7. Watch live Kun Khmer (Khmer Kickboxing) at The Ring of Champions - If you are a fan of combat sports an afternoon at The Ring of Champions is not to be missed. Located between National Highway 6 and Road 60 on Charles de Gaulle you’ll be treated to five matches of Kun Khmer, the Cambodian national sport. As a westerner you’ll have to pay $15 to get in (free for Cambodians) but you’ll get a front row seat and most likely end up on Cambodian national TV. Matches are on Wednesdays starting at 3:15 pm. www.ctn.com.kh/en/ctn-angkor-arena
8. Take In A Drag Show at Barcode - Looking for something different, then head over to Barcode. It’s a small, modern bar on the west side of the Siem Reap river. Inside you’ll find stiff drinks, bar boys, and amazingly bad drag shows. Honestly it’s a hot mess but well worth experiencing. The crowd is friendly and service decent. www.barcodesiemreap.com
9. Visit a Pharmacy - Apparently the only qualification for being a pharmacist in Cambodia is to be over the age of five. No need for a prescription. Just write down the generic name of whatever you are looking for, walk up to the counter and ask them for it. You can’t get everything but those Xanax you need for the flight back are available along with various painkillers. It is legal to bring back a one month supply for personal use. Good luck and be safe.
10. Road 60 Picnic Street - This is a must see. You know all those crazy bad English t-shirts you see people wearing in Siem Reap? Well…Picnic Street is where you find them. Located about half-way to Angkor Wat on Road 60 it’s a Cambodian swap meet that starts at sunset. This is a quintessential Cambodian experience. Westerners rarely go here. Vendors of all sorts line the road, sketchy children’s ride clank and squeak while young couples throw darts at balloons. Families picnic by the side of the road. All and all it’s fantastic.