There are a lot of immersive workshops you can join to get hands on experience of a traditional Khmer craft. In our experience, ceramics workshops can be a good way to connect with your creative, tactile side while understanding more about the meaning of potter as passed down by generations of Khmer potters. The Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Centre (near Airport Road, 17 843 014, 8am–8pm, cost varies) runs courses – contact them to see what’s on. The Centre has a working pottery based on traditional lines, including a huge Angkor kiln. Throwing your own clay is great fun, or buy a piece already crafted by the experts.
There are loads of companies offering tour by bike or motorbike, alone or in a group. Cycling around is a great way to see the countryside and sometimes meet locals engaged in their daily activities. Try Grasshopper Adventures (586 Street 26, 012 462 165, USD45 for 1 day). For something tougher, try the multiday tours run by Kickstart Dirt Bike Adventures (26 Sala Kamreuk, 012 703 264, USD60 and up).
You can learn how to turn out those tasty Cambodian dishes in any one of a number of cooking classes, from a couple of hours to a full week. Even the shortest ones are fun, but a half-day class is probably a better idea as generally they will also include a visit to a local market for ingredients which is an experience in itself. Often classes can be arranged for a small group or even one person. Try Beyond Unique Escapes (¬Shinta Mani Street, 63 969 269, 3-hour class USD24, full day USD40).
Siem Reap has a host of masage shops – no surprising at all as an urge for a good foot massage comes to almost everyone after a temple-filled day. Prices tend to be lower with a fan than air-conditioning.
Seeing Hands Massage (324 Sivatha Street, USD7) has blind masseuses, Dr. Feet (965 034) does what it says and higher end salons like Frangipani (964391, USD15 and up) also abound. Your hotel may well have a spa either inside or closeby. Cheap street massage shops at as low as USD4 can be equally great – ask your hotel or guesthouse staff for recommendations.
Siem Reap offers many chances to see traditional Khmer performing arts. Try one of the four genres of Khmer dancing (Apsara dancing, masked dancing, shadow theatre and folk dance). Many hotels offer combined shows and dinners, or you can try Angkor Village Apsara Theatre (Wat Bo Road, 63 963 561, various packages). Bambu Stage holds more conceptual shows in various locations across town.
As for us, we really enjoyed shadow puppets. In this part of southeast Asia, there are various traditional puppet folk art forms. Cambodians have leather shadow puppets reflecting an old Khmer tradition. We recommend the shadow puppet show on Wednesday evening at La Noria Guesthouse, or buy puppets at a workshop, such as the one at Wat Preah Inkosei.
Cambodian Cultural Village
Another option to have a glimpse at Cambodian culture – cultural performances included – is to visit Cambodian Cultural Village (8am–7pm, USD9). Yes, it is a tourist trap, but if you’re looking to see Cambodian culture through the ages in one convenient spot, this is it. As well as buildings, this kid friendly theme park has live performances, dances and costumed staff. It’s a fun, simple family attraction.
Discover the whole silk production cycle and browse or purchase a range of beautiful silk clothes and products at Angkor Silk Farm (7am–5pm, free). It’s about 18 km outside of Siem Reap proper and qualifies for a pleasant day trip, too.
Another worth-trying activity is rice wine tasting. Sombai is the name of the local brew and you can have a tasting and tour of the local production facility, hidden away near Siem Reap. We thought the colourful infusion process made for a pretty sight, your taste for the product may vary. A one hour tasting costs around USD5 (Salakamreuk Village, 63 555 0280).
Ziplining brings you close to the canopy of the tropical rainforest around Siem Reap – that is why it is called Flight of the Gibbons. It’s an amazing way to connect to nature in a pristine location. It’s not cheap but is usually packaged as a full day out (Khom Slokram Village, 96 999 9100, around USD90). There are similar activities on offer both in Thailand and in Laos, so if you have already done it, you can easily skip this one as the Lao version (Gibbon Experience in Bokeo province) is a far way better.
Sak Yant Tattoos
Known as magical tattoos, sak yant tattoos are a Asian style tattoo which emerged from martial arts heritage. They have unique designs reflecting the philosophy of the art. Nowadays Thailand is the prime destination for sak yant as Khmer achans mostly vanished during the Khmer Rouge era. Yet you can find some local artists operating around Angkor Wat – a good place to start is by contacting Teven at the Federation Khmer Sak Yant (97 83 80 844). Some of them admit they are not dealing with ‘magic’ but just copy ancient designs. So before committing, decide what are you after – a real sak yant or its stylised modern version.
If Angkor Wat doesn’t inspire you to photography, nothing will! Taking a photography course in Siem Reap may not be the first thing to come to your mind but we are glad we took it to learn how to take the best pictures and can recommend it. Some include tours so you can practice while you learn. A host of similarly named tours exist. Angkor Wat Photography (973 612648) leads a full day photography tour for USD79.