Cambodia, for travelers in Asia, may at first sound like the kind of place to which you’d make a quick getaway. Allow us to suggest a roomy itinerary, however, as the home to one of the world’s greatest empires is worth the time it takes to get to know and appreciate. Here’s a sample itinerary for a four-day stay in Siem Reap.
Few other images, if any, come to mind at the mention of Cambodia than the mighty sprawl of Angkor. Know more about Cambodia and its troubled history with a tour of this incredible region, once home to the Khmer Empire. See the ancient capital of Angkor Thom; the intricate Bayon Temple; the Ta Promh temple enclaved by centuries-old roots and vines; and of course, the majestic Angkor Wat.
Scheduled for a whole day, the tour is complete with a Cambodian lunch by a temple, as well as accommodation pickup, drop-off and transportation. It’s possible to explore the temple complex on your own, however having a local guide will help you better appreciate the incredible structures by telling you the history behind them. For a route and schedule tailored to your preferences, consider a private (instead of a group) tour.
Siem Reap is famous for Angkor Wat, but it is also home to dozens of other temples of equal grandeur and mystery. Spend your second day seeking out other temples, away from the crowds: Beng Melea, reportedly laid out to the same floor plan as Angkor Wat and once fully submerged by jungle; and Banteay Srei, a beauty for its elaborate carvings, also known as the Citadel of Women.
Tip: Again we recommend experiencing these sites with the help of a local guide. Complete with transfers and transportation, as well as a mid-day lunch, the tour is designed to complement your sightseeing with historical background, insights and convenience.
As part of the tour, you’ll also see Bakong, a temple dedicated to Shiva and the location of an execution site by the Khmer Rouge; and visit the Landmine Museum, whose founder is a former landmine-planting child soldier.
Around 4:30PM, get dropped off at Phsar Chas, or Old Market. The market is not at all set up for tourists, as locals are known to shop here. It’s also where most chefs source their ingredients. Sample the stalls for a snack of kuy teav (a soup noodle dish punctuated by pork broth); babor (congee); and bai sach chrouk (sweet barbecued pork with rice). It’s also a good time to roam for trinkets and souvenirs.
End the day at Pub Street. It’s a bit of a popular tourist spot, but it’s also where you’ll find a good place to grab dinner – Angkor What? and Temple Club are institutions in the area, the first of many dining and entertainment venues in this lively night scene.
Explore a floating market and learn to cook Khmer food
Done with the temples, it’s time to see the other sides to Cambodia. Begin your day with an early-morning visit to Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, and glimpse life above water. With a tour, you’ll be taken to a floating village, Mechrey, and roam the (floating) markets and (floating) neighborhoods. Your guide will also introduce you to one of the locals, whose home you’ll get to see. Tip: These private tours, which begin at 7AM and wrap up at around 11AM, are designed to support the livelihoods of residents in the floating villages, which your participation directly supports.
Noontime onward, enjoy some authentic Khmer cuisine with a lunchtime cooking class, which also takes you into the rural home of a local, whose matron (or patron) shall teach you to prepare three Cambodian dishes.
To cap off the night, visit the Angkor Night Market and peruse a more unique selection of Cambodian handicrafts.
Venture off on a motorbike
On your last day, see the rest Siem Reap has to offer via the locals’ main mode of transportation: motorbike. Head first to Phnom Kulen, a beautiful mountain area northeast of Angkor Wat. It is there that the Age of Angkor reportedly began. You’ll also find a massive statue of a reclining Buddha, before going for a swim at a waterfall.
The rest of the day will be spent biking to hidden temples and pagodas, and taking in the incredible scenery from Kulen Mountain.
After the day’s motorbiking adventure, enjoy a decadent three-course dinner meal. The experience begins at sunset, which you’ll witness from your own private pagoda, before being served exclusively by your own waitstaff and chef.