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Written by Ophelie
Published 14th Jan 21
Will take 5mn to read
If you are a fan of exploring places on your own, this post is for you. Siem Reap is one of my favourite solo travel destinations exactly because of that: you’ll experience the city just by walking on its streets, taking a bike, seeing temples or eating local food. All of that, with no touristic tour! I tell you more about 5 things to do in Siem Reap, without spending on tours and with flexibility.
Siem Reap - 6 things to do, the non-touristy way
- Things to see in Siem Reap, while exploring by foot
- Artisans Angkor: meet local art workers
- Kulen waterfalls
- Nightlife at Pub Street and around
- Angkor Wat without the crowds
Average budget for a solo travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Accomodation: 2 to 15$ (private room) a day
- Food: 1 to 4$ for a meal
- Things to do: Floating village > 18$ – 20$ a day / Tonle Sap cruise > 35 -40$ / Angkor Wat 1 day pass > 32$
Disclaimer: this post aout how to travel to Siem Reap is for you to plan a future trip. Currently, e-visas are suspended in Cambodia due to Covid-19. Sadly. But let’s keep optimistic we’ll travel soon again!
Best places to see in Siem Reap the non touristy way
Explore Siem reap: things to do while roaming the streets
Siem Reap is like going out to the bar when feeling lazy – at first, hard to like. Eventually, hard to leave. It’s firstly a challenge to make it across the street … finding your way among the crazy traffic. So, I was first busy with getting alive from one street side to another. But then, I found out that there are plenty of cool places to see in Siem Reap, just by walking around.
These places make you appreciate Siem Reap for its chaotic but charming vibes. A man fishing on the river right in the city centre, sculptures on bridges, monks walking around… you can spend hours every day seeing a new face of the city. At your own pace.
Along the river – daily life and places to see, with a local taste
That’s an area I really liked in Siem Reap: the river. The shores are lively, with street food stands or locals playing cards. Following the river, you can push a bit further than the city centre. You can rent a bike and ride along on the side roads. I saw there monks getting in procession out of their monastery. Or 3 people on a scooter. This one was rather scary to watch. In any case, the river is a cool spot to go if you want to practice travel photography. Bridges, boats, fishing men… you’ll find something to give to your camera.
Art center Night market
A street next to the Old market bridge. Exotic birds. Christmas-style lanterns. Art galleries with local paintings. And other bizarre and cool art objects along the path. Siem Reap Art center Night market is a good bet, at twilight but also during the day.
King s road Angkor
Another thing to do on Siem Reap’s river: King s road wheel. It’s actually a food and shopping spot overviewing the river. I liked this place to take photos. Nicely set up, it aims to replicate Khmer villages’ architecture and style.
Pagoda at the temple Preah Prom Rath in Siem Reap
If you just arrived in South East Asia, you’ll be still motivated to see a temple – after a few, you might get a slight overdose! So, as long as you are sober from temples – Let’s begin with this cool thing to do in Siem Reap: the golden pagoda inside Preah Prom Rath temple. What you’ll like about Cambodian temples: it’s open air, with flowers, colors and a spiritual atmosphere very different from our enclosed churches.
Preah Prom Rath is a Buddhist temple, following the most practiced religion in Cambodia – Thearavada Buddhism. You’ll feel calm in this temple. Buddhism was for me a really interesting thing to learn about. It’s about believing in perpetual renewal and the way you act in Life. I personally experimented another kind of spirituality in Cambodian temples – freedom… and inner peace.
No entrance fee | Clothes covering shoulders and knees as sign of respect | Open all day | You can talk to monks around mid-afternoon (in English) | Opposite Temple Coffee & Bakery, Pokambor Ave
Arty thing to do in Siem Reap: meet locals and their art at Artisans Angkor
Artisans d’Angkor might sound first like a touristic thing to do in Siem Reap. Actually, I got a good surprise when I visited it. First, because it wasn’t crowded at all. Second, because of its original concept.
Basically, it’s a giant workshop with local artisans shaping human-size sculptures and many other Cambodian artifacts in front of you. You’re like a mouse inside the house: observe, admire and keep discreet. Taking photos with my modest 18-55mm lens was my goal. I wanted to practice portraits – for the beginner photographers here, find out more about lenses for portrait and landscape in my article. I was timid to approach the workers. But it went smooth. I took care of not disturbing with my camera and taking photos the empathic way – only if I saw that people didn’t mind.
Opening hours 7.30 – 18.30 | Chantiers-Ecoles Stung Thmey, Street
Take a plunge into nearby Kulen waterfalls – Fun thing to do near Siem Reap
If rainfalls are too rare when you visit Cambodia, there is a very fun thing to do near Siem Reap to get refreshed. The wild waterfalls nested among mountains in the national park Phnom Kulen will give you a totally different insight into Siem Reap’s countryside. It’s a beloved place to take a swim and to soak up the wildness of Cambodian rough Nature – the Earth elements with no filter!
Plus, Phnom Kulen knows how to keep you busy. It’s also an archaeological site with Buddhist temples. A great way to experiment Cambodian spirituality, among water and mountains. If locals use to go there, expect to see some tourists as well. However, it has nothing to do with Angkor Wat’s celebrity. You should find peace and calm at Kulen waterfalls, above all at low season.
Cool thing to do near Siem Reap: Kulen waterfalls
National Park Phnom Kulen – 20$ entrance fee
Siem Reap to Kulen waterfalls – 48km, 1h by car
How to get there from Siem Reap, Cambodia – By tuk tuk, van or motorbike (drive carefully!)
Experience Siem Reap’s bubbly nightlife at Pub street and around
One cool thing to do in Siem Reap? Party! But not any party: the electro and open air dancing, right in the middle of Siem Reap’s streets. A hidden place we found at random, when escaping Pub Street’s mainstream music: a backpacker bar in a smaller street, right opposite to Pub Street’s entrance. We danced like crazy there!
Solo travel destinations in Cambodia aren’t called cool for nothing. If you’re into electro music and the opposite of mainstream clubs, you’ll party happily in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Koh Rong, THE place to go for electro beach parties.
Visit Angkor Wat the non touristy way – A place to see away from the crowds
Angkor Wat, or the temples marathon made for Chinese tourists… But also, Angkor Wat or the surprising gathering of 72 main temples. Without counting hundreds of minor ones scattered on the archaeological site. It’s the most famous thing to do in Siem Reap in the first place. And even if being assaulted by floods of tourists, there are actually tricks to get temples almost for yourself. I even managed to be alone at one, for 30 minutes – challenge accomplished!
Things to do in Siem Reap, Angkor Wat
If not sure at first of what to expect from such a touristic site, I was pleasantly surprised. Fortunately, I could avoid tourists and got some temples almost just for myself. So, what to do there exactly? For all photo fans: It’s a stunning place to practice architecture and landscape photography. And for those who want to experience the historical and ancestral spiritual side of Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the place to be. Also for bikers: a lot of people roam the temples by bicycle or motorbike. Another very cool thing to do there: walk between monkeys and elephants!
How many days should you spend at Angkor Wat?
Choose your visit pass based on the budget you want to dedicate, your time schedule and what you want to take out of your visit. I visited Angkor Wat only for a day. I went there to do photography. And honestly, one day was actually a short time to appreciate fully the temples. It was kind of a marathon. But 7 days would be too much for me. Overdose of temples! If you spend like a week in Siem Reap, you’ll have time to dedicate 2-3 days at Angkor Wat. To roam the temples at a slower pace.
The best guide to Angkor Wat: the tuk-tuk driver
How to visit Angkor Wat without any touristic tour and while benefiting from very local tips? Hire a private tuk-tuk driver! He’ll take you around the temples. Above all, he’ll give you precious tips on where to start in order to avoid Chinese floods of tourists. Finding a tuk-tuk driver is one of the easiest things to do in Siem Reap. Just go out to the street. You’ll find your man. And if you want to go safe, ask at your hostel. They’ll call a driver for you.
Visit anti clock-wise
Angkor Wat is for sure the most famous thing to do in Siem Reap. But with a little bit of strategy, you’ll get a very nice experience… by having temples almost for yourself!
What I did, based on my tuk-tuk driver’s advice: I visited anti clock-wise. There are two circuits at Angkor Wat: the little and the big one. Cohorts of tourists usually start at the popular Bayon temple, in the larger complex of Angkor Thom. From there, they follow the little circuit clock-wise – to Ta Prohm, Lara Croft’s temple!, Banteay and eventually Angkor Wat temple. Sunset time can get crowded there!
So, start around 9am when tourist busses are back to town for breakfast. Sunrise time might be crowded at the main temples complex Angkor Thom. Then, go in the opposite direction from the crowds. From Angkor Wat to Banteay, Ta Prohm (really cool to see), go to the big circuit. Hidden temples are located on the big loop. They are the less visited ones and have kept a real mystic atmosphere. I obviously got lost at some point but really enjoyed the quietude of these small temples – Ta Som, Preah Khan.
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I am made of photography,stories from the road and a good dose of passion. I am Ophélie, French-born traveler always on the go. My travel photography blog is about my travel experiences, tips and my addiction for adventure. To help you explore countries on your own… as an independent and curious traveller.