I’ve spent plenty of time in Siem Reap, and even with my temple obsession, I must admit that after a few solid days of Angkor Wat, the temples can get a bit intense. So, what is there to do in Siem Reap besides Temples? Surprising plenty! Siem Reap is a very relaxing place to hang out. It’s got a good backpacker and digital nomad scene, making it easy to meet people. There are some really fun and interesting activities to do other than temples, including shopping at the local markets and playing Angkor Wat crazy golf. There is even the APOPO centre where you can meet the hero rats who are clearing Cambodia’s land of landmines.
Don’t worry – We all get ‘Templed-Out’ at Siem Reap in the end!
Don’t be scared to plan in a bonus relaxing and enjoying day or two in Siem Reap – it’s the perfect place to do this, and no one can be expected to go full pelt day after day. We all get travel exhaustion from time to time and it’s easy to get ‘templed out’ in Siem Reap, especially if ancient history and religion really are not your thing. Also remember to take a full rest day before your onward travel to avoid getting sick or burnt out on the road.
What to do in Siem Reap besides Temples – A Summary
There’s plenty to do in Siem Reap besides temples, here are my main ideas…
- Shopping in Phsar Chas local market
- Visiting the hero rats who can safely detect landmines at APOPO
- Kampong Phluk – Stilt houses of Tonle Sap
- Angkor Wat Crazy Golf – with temple miniatures!
- Kulen Mountain waterfalls and reclining Buddha
- Cooking Class at Baby Elephant
- Phare – Cambodian Circus
- Eat a Traditional Cambodian Meal at Café Indochine or Butterfly Pea
- Have a cocktail on Pub Street
- Siem Reap Night Market
What to do in Siem Reap besides Temples
There is plenty to do in Siem Reap besides Temples. Here’s my top ten activities in Siem Reap that do not involve temple seeking. Let’s start off with my two favourites – shopping at Phsar Chas market and visiting the hero rats at APOPO.
#1 Shopping in Phsar Chas local market
You will totally love Shopping in Siem Reap – the markets are great value (you can grab T-shirts for $1-2). Phsar Chas local market (also known as the old market or the central market) is my favourite market in Siem Reap. It is one of the oldest markets in the city and has been a hub of trade and commerce for decades.
The market is situated near the Pub Street area and is easily accessible to both locals and tourists. It is a vibrant and bustling place, offering a wide range of products, from fresh produce and household items to clothing, jewellery, souvenirs, and handicrafts (it is divided into sections with each one specialising in specific items).
The food section is a feast for the senses, with vendors selling fresh fruits, vegetables, spices, and local delicacies. You can find exotic fruits like durian and rambutan, as well as local snacks and street food.
The market is also a great place to shop for souvenirs and traditional Cambodian handicrafts. You can find beautifully crafted silk scarves, silver jewellery, wood carvings, stone sculptures, and intricate artwork. The prices here are usually negotiable, so remember to barter. Finally, hold on to your valuables tightly as pick-pockets have been reported.
#2 Visiting the hero rats who can safely detect landmines at APOPO
This is the best thing that I did in Siem Reap besides temples. Visit the APOPO centre where you will get to meet the giant rats that are successfully clearing Cambodian territory of land mines. These rats are light enough that they don’t set the mines off and once they have detected them and had their reward (he gets his banana!) the mines can be safely deactivated.
At APOPO you will see a demonstration of the rats in action and get to learn about their training and routine. They are exceeding their clearance targets year on year with over 4,000,000 m2 of land cleared of landmines in 2020 alone.
Visit the APOPO website here.
#3 Angkor Wat Putt
My dream crazy gold course really does exist! Whack that golf ball through miniatures of some of the best Angkor Wat temples. This was one of the most fun things I did in Siem Reap, and you get a free beer if you get a hole in one! The cost is $8 for two rounds per person or $6 for children (prices true of May 2023).
It’s located a bit further out of Siem Reap centre along some bumpy and dusty roads so you will need a decent tuk-tuk. Don’t go after dark when the bugs and frogs are out in droves!
Check out the Angkor Wat Putt website here.
#4 Kulen Mountain
Visiting Kulen Mountain in Siem Reap is a truly captivating experience that immerses you in the rich history and natural beauty of Cambodia. Located approximately 50 kilometers north of Siem Reap, this sacred mountain holds great significance for the Khmer people. As you ascend its lush slopes, you’ll encounter a wealth of ancient temples, including the iconic Wat Preah Ang Thom, which houses a massive reclining Buddha statue. The journey to the mountaintop also unveils breathtaking waterfalls, such as the impressive Kulen Waterfall, where you can cool off in its cascading waters.
Apart from the cultural and natural wonders, Kulen Mountain is renowned for its spiritual ambience and is considered a sacred pilgrimage site. With its serene atmosphere and stunning vistas, a visit to Kulen Mountain offers a profound and memorable experience that captures the essence of Siem Reap’s enchanting allure.
#5 Cooking Class at Baby Elephant
The Cambodian cooking class at Baby Elephant in Siem Reap is a delightful culinary adventure that allows you to explore the vibrant flavours and techniques of Khmer cuisine. Led by skilled local chefs, this hands-on experience takes place in a charming and inviting setting. The class begins with a visit to a local market, where you’ll discover an array of fresh ingredients, aromatic herbs, and exotic spices that are integral to Cambodian cooking. Back at the cooking school, you’ll learn how to prepare a variety of traditional dishes, such as Fish Amok, a fragrant fish curry steamed in banana leaves, or the classic Cambodian soup, Samlor Machu Kreung.
The chefs will guide you through each step, sharing their expertise and secrets to achieving authentic flavours. As you cook, you’ll also gain insight into the cultural significance of the dishes and their role in Cambodian cuisine. Finally, after all your hard work, you’ll have the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of your labor by savouring the delicious dishes you’ve prepared.
#6 Kampong Phluk – Stilt houses of Tonle Sap
If you are up for a little excursion, head to Kampong Phluk to see the stilt houses on the Tonle Sap lake. Kampong Phluk is a village community highly dependant on fishing for a living. The houses there are built on stilts to accommodate the rise in water levels during the monsoon season. It’s lovely to see these buildings from the water by boat.
The village also features a floating forest, where you can marvel at the dense mangrove trees that thrive in the lake’s unique ecosystem. These towering trees emerge from the water, creating an otherworldly landscape and serving as a vital habitat for numerous bird species and aquatic life.
The locals in Kampong Phluk are welcoming and often provide insights into their traditional practices, including fishing techniques and the sustainable use of the lake’s resources. You might even have the chance to sample some local delicacies prepared by the villagers.
#7 Phare Cambodian Circus
Book yourself an evening at the traditional Cambodian circus featuring high-flying acrobatics and fire eaters. Cambodian Circus performers incorporate theater, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell Cambodian folk stories. It’s a little touristy, but quite spectacular to see. Most tickets to the Phare Circus also come with a sit down meal included. You can book your tickets online here.
#8 Eat a Traditional Cambodian Meal at Butterfly Pea
Butterfly Pea restaurant is known for its focus on local and sustainable ingredients, showcasing the flavors and techniques of Khmer cuisine. Named after the butterfly pea flower, a vibrant blue flower commonly used in traditional Cambodian cuisine, this restaurant offers a unique culinary experience. Their menu features a variety of dishes prepared with fresh, seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients. From classic Cambodian dishes like fish amok and beef lok lak to innovative fusion creations, Butterfly Pea offers a diverse range of options to satisfy different palates.
What sets Butterfly Pea apart is its dedication to incorporating the butterfly pea flower into many of its dishes and drinks. The flower’s natural blue color adds a visually striking element to the presentation of the food and beverages. You may find butterfly pea-infused rice, noodles, desserts, and even cocktails on the menu, all showcasing the flower’s unique hue.
Butterfly Pea has a warm and welcoming ambiance, with a stylish yet cozy interior, offering both indoor and outdoor seating options. If you have certain dietary restrictions then you will be pleased to hear that they offer vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options. In addition to the delicious food, Butterfly Pea Restaurant is committed to sustainability and social responsibility. They work closely with local communities and farmers, promoting fair trade practices and supporting sustainable agriculture.
#9 Siem Reap Night Market
Siem Reap night market is a maze of narrow alleys filled with numerous stalls and shops, selling a wide variety of goods ranging from clothing and accessories to handicrafts and souvenirs. You can find beautifully crafted Cambodian silk products, intricately carved wooden items, handmade jewellery, artwork, and much more. Bargaining is a common practice in the market, so be prepared to negotiate the prices with the friendly vendors.
Apart from shopping, the Siem Reap Night Market is also a food lover’s paradise. The market is lined with food stalls and small restaurants offering a diverse selection of local and international cuisines. You can indulge in traditional Cambodian dishes like fish amok, beef lok lak, or try international favourites such as pizza, sushi, and pasta. Don’t forget to sample some delicious street food like fried noodles, spring rolls, or freshly squeezed fruit juices.
The evening atmosphere in the market is lively, with colourful lights illuminating the stalls and a bustling crowd of locals and tourists. There are often performances by street musicians and entertainers, adding to the vibrant ambiance. It’s a great place to soak up the energy of Siem Reap’s nightlife while exploring the local culture and craftsmanship.
#10 Have a cocktail on Pub Street
Last but not least – the final thing on my list of things to do in Siem Reap besides temples is having a drink on Pub Street. Twenty years ago when Siem Reap started to become prominent on the Southest Asia backpackers trail, Pub Street just had one or two bars. It’s now a full street of them and the classic place for travellers to hang out, socialise and meet other people. I recommend Angkor What?!!? The Laundromat and Temple Bar, but wherever you end up on Pub Street, you will be sure to have a great time.
Further Reading on Siem Reap
If you enjoyed reading this article on what to do in Siem Reap other than temples, you might also enjoy the following articles on Siem Reap…
- The Ultimate 3 day Siem Reap Itinerary
- Be Happy Guest house in Siem Reap
- My 10 favourite Siem Reap temples
- What to do in Siem Reap