All throughout the early part of our trip, we met fellow travelers who were planning their routes throughout Southeast Asia.
Every time we mentioned Siem Reap, people asked how long we were staying there. “Six days,” we’d reply.
“Wow! That’s a long time in Siem Reap. You’re going to get bored in six days there,” everyone would reply (or at least some variation thereof).
We started to get worried about what we could do for six days in Siem Reap. We knew we were going to get the three day pass for Angkor Wat ($40 for three non-consecutive days in a week, for the record); so, at least we had three days taken care of. But, what about the other three days?
I am happy to report, as is more common than not on this trip, people had no idea what they were talking about when giving us that advice.
Not only did we blow through those six days with plenty to do, we left with at least another week’s worth of activities that we wanted to do, but couldn’t because we didn’t have the time.
For anyone interested in going to Siem Reap (which I highly recommend, as it was my favorite city in all of Southeast Asia), here are reviews of three of our favorite things that did that had nothing to do with Angkor Wat.
SITE #1: Happy Ranch
On our first day into Siem Reap, we got into town at an awkward time. It was too late in the day to waste one of our three days from our pass at Angkor Wat; but, it was too early for us to just eat dinner and go to bed.
After looking at the bulletin board at our lovely guest house (Happy Guest House), we saw an advertisement for horseback riding at the Happy Ranch.
We decided to head on over for an impromptu horseback ride through the Cambodian countryside.
It’s been one of the best split-second decisions we made on our trip thus far. Upon arriving at the beautiful and tranquil Happy Ranch, we were greeted by its interesting and very hospitable owner, Mr. Sary Pann.
Sary has lived a remarkable life. He was working at the US Embassy when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. As a result, he was able to flee the country, and was granted refugee status in the US.
In 1975, he came to California, and lived there for over 30 years. But, as much as he loved the US and California, he decided it was time to come home to Cambodia.
He came back, and began collecting horses as a hobby. He fell in love with the equestrian life, and opened what he’s fairly certain is the only fully functioning, horseback riding ranch in the country.
We booked a 2-hour tour on the spot, and off we went into the countryside with our very competent guide, Jain. We rode through the farmlands and the rice paddies, passing villages, temples, and homes along the way.
At several points, children would run out of their homes and schools to wave, yell “Hello”, and try out their English on us. Dogs, chickens, and water buffaloes happily joined the melee as a light drizzle fell on the green rice paddies all around us.
It was a veritable Shangri-la, and my only regret is that my butt was too sore to hold up and book another two hours on the spot.
If anyone wants to do something in Siem Reap other that visit Angkor Wat, this is a fantastic choice. They offer everything from 1-hour to full day rides. For those not so confident with their horseback riding skills, they have an option to be pulled along in an ox cart, and they also offer private horseback riding lessons.
Prices are very reasonable, with horseback riding in the country at the time we went being about $19/hr per person. Our round-trip tuk-tuk ride was $12 (inclusive of tip).
SITE #2: Dinner and a Show
I’m not sure how anyone can come to Cambodia and not see a traditional Khmer dance. It’s like going to New York City and not seeing the Statue of Liberty – you have to make a concerted, planned effort in order to not do so.
Yet, apparently, people still don’t do this, as we heard over and over again, “Oh, six days is too long in Siem Reap. You’ll get bored.”
Again, thanks to the bulletin board at Happy Guesthouse, we found an ad for an evening tour down to a local restaurant. $10 included roundtrip transportation, all-you-can-eat buffet, and an hour-long, traditional Khmer dancing performance.
I wish I had remembered to write down the name of the restaurant, but I did not, unfortunately. Like I said, the “dinner & dancing” shows are a dime a dozen in Siem Reap. The one we went to had a really nice buffet with Khmer, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Western food available. (Drinks cost extra.)
And, it really is “all-you-can-eat”. They just take your plate, and you can go back as often as you want. (Although, a local gave me a good tip – he said go and get several plates at once before the show, so you don’t have to keep getting up in the middle of the performance. It was good advice, as we saw plenty of people having to do just that!)
After a good hour of eating, they start the performance. The dancing is broken up into four parts. The performance we went to had a traditional coconut dance, a piece of from the Ramayana (the most famous epic poem in the area), a fishing village dance (complete with some romance – oooooh!), and the beautiful Apsara dance (which the image above is from).
If you’re into eating, dancing, and/or stunning costumes (or women for that matter), then definitely put this on your itinerary.
SITE #3: Floating Villages
On our final day in Siem Reap, we still had a list of things that we wanted to do. But, seeing as it was our last day, and having only enough time to do one more activity, we made the choice to go out to the Floating Village of Kamphong Pluk. (The cost for everything, including the tuk-tuk ride and the boat, was $19/each. Tips are extra.)
We took an hour-long tuk tuk ride through Siem Reap and the surrounding countryside to a small harbor in the middle of the forest. We met up with a driver who took us out on his boat on a private tour.
After going through the water forest on the way out to the village, where trees seemed to grow right from the middle of the river, we finally saw the houses and buildings that make up Kamphong Pluk. Given the particularly heavy rainfall of that monsoon season, the water was right up under the buildings of the floating village.
It just so happened that the day we were there was a local festival (Pchum Ben). Our driver parked in front of his house, and said to us, “Need to make a stop – two minutes!”
As Scott and I tried not to grow paranoid, the driver’s family congregated around our boat, imploring us to come in. They proceeded to feed us all sorts of Cambodian dishes, as well as giving my husband plenty of beer. =)
Not everyone could speak English, but everyone knew how to “Cheers!” So, every time there was a five second pause, someone would yell out “CHEERS,” and laughter and beer can clinking would commence once again.
What started out as “two minutes” ended up being an hour long detour. But, it’s that sort of hospitality and unexpected kindness that helped us fall in love with Siem Reap.
Despite what others may say, there is plenty to do in Siem Reap to warrant a week-long trip there, or more. We had to leave without going to the Silk Farm, the “Senteurs d’Angkor” exhibit (which showcases the different scents and flavors you experience in different items in Cambodia), Tonle Sap Lake excursions, and any host of off-roading activities (motorbike rentals, quad biking, sky diving, etc.)
I would highly recommend anyone interested in a beautiful, friendly city where tourism from Westerners hasn’t yet completely ruined the local culture to give serious thought to time in Siem Reap.
Oh, and Angkor Wat isn’t half bad, either! 😉