Best Activities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap | Lydiascapes

Best Activities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Today we’re diving into the vibrant heart of Cambodia, where history and modernity intertwine to offer a travel experience like no other. 

Discovering Cambodia’s Heart

Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are gems that blend historical magnificence with lively culture. This guide is your ticket to the essential sights and secret spots, immersing you in Cambodia’s enchanting mystery.

Picture the serene dawn at Angkor Wat, the air alive with anticipation, or the vibrant noisy streets of Phnom Penh, humming with energy. Cambodia is a realm where the past and present coalesce, offering a rich mosaic of experiences. From the echoing halls of Angkor’s temples, echoing with ancient glory, to Phnom Penh’s bustling markets, bursting with life and flavor, this journey promises a deep connection with Cambodia’s soul.

But the essence of Cambodia lies beyond its landmarks; it’s in the spirit of its people. Their warmth and resilience transform this trip into a heartfelt encounter with Cambodia’s core. Prepare for a journey that’s not just about seeing, but about feeling Cambodia’s pulse. Welcome to a land of timeless allure and vibrant life, where every step tells a story, and every face shares a smile.

Navigating the route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is a chapter in your journey that bridges the dynamic energy of the capital with the tranquil majesty of ancient temples. Whether by road, river, or air, getting from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is an integral part of your Cambodian adventure, each mode of transport offering its own unique perspective of the landscape and life along the way.

Visiting Ankor Wat buildings while discovering Cambodia

Siem Reap: Gateway to the Past

Let’s start by exploring Siem Reap’s ancient wonders that can’t be missed during your visit. 

Exploring New Heights with PhnomClimb

Before diving into the ancient wonders, I had the exhilarating opportunity to try both indoor and outdoor rock climbing with PhnomClimb. They offer these adventurous activities in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, catering to both beginners and seasoned climbers. Engaging in rock climbing provided a unique perspective of Cambodia’s natural beauty and landscapes. PhnomClimb’s experienced guides ensured a safe and memorable experience, adding an adventurous twist to the traditional tourist itinerary. Whether scaling indoor walls or embracing the rugged terrains outdoors, it was a perfect way to connect with nature and challenge myself physically. This experience was not only a highlight of my trip but also a testament to the diverse activities Cambodia has to offer beyond its historical sites.

Angkor Wat: A Sunrise Not to Miss

As the first light of dawn caresses the sky, Angkor Wat emerges in a silhouette that takes your breath away. This temple, the largest religious monument in the world, is a testament to the grandeur of Khmer architecture and a symbol of Cambodia’s heart. To experience the magical sunrise, arrive early, as this moment draws travelers from around the globe, all eager to see the ancient stones light up with the new day’s sun. The sight of the sun rising over Angkor Wat is not just visually stunning; it’s a moment of profound peace and awe, connecting you to the ancient spirits of the land.

Pro Tip: To capture the perfect sunrise shot without the crowds, find a spot across the northern or western ponds. These locations offer stunning reflections of the temple and the rising sun, providing a unique perspective away from the main gathering spots.

Ta Prohm: Where Nature Meets History

Continue your journey through time at Ta Prohm, a temple where nature’s might and historical grandeur intertwine. The visual of giant tree roots embracing the ruins has captivated hearts worldwide, especially since its appearance in the “Tomb Raider” movie. This temple serves as a vivid reminder of the force of nature and the fleetingness of human creations, offering a surreal backdrop that feels like stepping into another world.

Pro Tip: Visit Ta Prohm early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Not only will you beat the crowds, but the soft lighting during these times casts the ruins and intertwining nature in a mystical glow, perfect for photography.

Bayon Temple: The Many Faces of Buddha

At Bayon Temple, be greeted by the serene, smiling faces carved into stone, believed to represent either King Jayavarman VII, Buddha, or a combination of both. This site, at the center of Angkor Thom, is famous for its face towers, which create a stone gallery of compassionate glances that follow you at every turn. The temple’s intricate bas-reliefs depicting historical events and everyday life add layers of intrigue, making Bayon a profound stop in understanding the Khmer empire’s complexity and spirituality.

Pro Tip: For a truly immersive experience, hire a knowledgeable local guide. Their insights will bring the historical and spiritual significance of the smiling faces to life, enriching your visit far beyond what you’d get from a guidebook.

taking shelter under an arch in Cambodia

Hidden Gems of Siem Reap

While the iconic temples capture the world’s attention, Siem Reap’s hidden gems invite the curious traveler to delve deeper.

Kbal Spean

Often overlooked, this archaeological site lies within the jungle’s heart, where you can find the “River of a Thousand Lingas.” A modest hike leads you to this riverbed adorned with ancient carvings that bless the water flowing to Angkor.

Pro Tip: Wear good hiking shoes and bring plenty of water for the trek to Kbal Spean. The trail can be challenging, especially in the heat, but the ancient carvings and the serene atmosphere at the top are well worth the effort.

Beng Mealea

Around an hour’s drive from Siem Reap, this sprawling temple complex remains largely reclaimed by the jungle, offering a more adventurous exploration than its famous counterparts. Its untouched appearance gives a sense of discovery and wonder that’s harder to find in more frequented sites.

Pro Tip: Consider arranging a guide specifically for Beng Mealea to navigate its less-trodden paths and uncover its secrets. The temple’s overgrown nature means there are hidden spots that are easy to miss without someone familiar with its nooks and crannies.

Siem Reap Beyond the Temples

The charm of Siem Reap extends far beyond its historical sites. The city itself pulsates with a vibrant culture and welcoming atmosphere. The night markets buzz with activity, offering everything from intricately crafted souvenirs to the tantalizing flavors of local cuisine. 

Don’t miss the opportunity to sample traditional dishes like Amok or Bai Sach Chrouk at these markets. For a tranquil escape, take a boat ride on the Tonle Sap Lake, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. Here, you’ll witness the floating villages and rich biodiversity that make this area unique. Whether exploring ancient ruins or enjoying the city’s lively pace, Siem Reap offers an unforgettable journey through discovering Cambodia’s heart, revealing layers of beauty, history, and culture.

Vegetarian food among the restaurants in Cambodia

Pro Tip: Engage with the local community by visiting social enterprises and restaurants that support sustainable tourism. Places like the “New Leaf Eatery” or “Haven” not only offer delicious meals but also contribute to local welfare and education projects, allowing you to enjoy great food while supporting the community.

Best Activities in Phnom Penh: A Journey Through Time

Now let me share with you the best activities in Phnom Penh: must-visit historical sites scattered throughout the city, each offering a unique glimpse into our rich past.

The Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields

In Phnom Penh, the echoes of the past are palpable, inviting a reflective journey to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. This site, once a high school turned into a notorious prison during the Khmer Rouge regime, serves as a solemn reminder of Cambodia’s darker days. Coupled with a visit to the Killing Fields, where guided tours delve into the tragic tales of the victims, these sites compel us to remember and honor the resilience of the human spirit. After these visits, finding solace in the camaraderie of fellow travelers over a few beers can be a way to process the day’s emotional journey, reminding us of the value of freedom and peace we often take for granted.

Pro Tip: Spend some time in quiet reflection at each site to truly absorb their profound significance. If possible, visit early in the morning or later in the day to avoid the larger crowds and the midday heat.

Regal Splendor: The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda

The Royal Palace, the King’s current residence, stands as a beacon of Cambodia’s enduring legacy and cultural wealth. Its crown jewel, the Silver Pagoda, glimmers with over 5,000 silver tiles, each a testament to the craftsmanship and opulence of the Khmer kingdom. This architectural marvel offers a glimpse into the royal grandeur that has shaped Cambodia’s identity through the centuries.

Pro Tip: Check the palace’s schedule before visiting, as it closes for official ceremonies. Dress respectfully (covering shoulders and knees) to gain entry into these revered sites.

Colonial Elegance: The Central Post Office

A masterpiece of French colonial architecture, the Central Post Office, designed by Daniel Fabre in 1895, stands as a reminder of Cambodia’s colonial past. Its Roman arches, sculpted decorations, and grand pillars invite admiration and offer a picturesque snapshot of history frozen in time.

Pro Tip: Bring your camera! The Central Post Office is not just a place of historical significance but also a photographer’s delight, especially in the golden light of the early morning or late afternoon.

Wat Phnom: The Birthplace of Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom, perched atop a small hill, is not only a significant Buddhist temple but also the site where Phnom Penh was founded. According to legend, a wealthy widow named Lady Penh discovered four Buddha statues in a tree trunk on the riverbank and decided to create a hill (“Phnom” in Khmer) and a temple (“Wat”) on this site to house them. Today, Wat Phnom remains a symbol of the city’s spirit and resilience, offering visitors a peaceful retreat amidst the hustle and bustle of the city.

Pro Tip: Climb Wat Phnom at sunset for a serene view of the city transitioning from day to night. The soft lighting adds a magical touch to the temple and the surrounding landscape.

The Independence Monument and the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk

These landmarks stand as proud symbols of Cambodia’s struggle for freedom and the revered King Norodom Sihanouk’s pivotal role in the country’s history. The Independence Monument, with its striking Angkorian-style spire, commemorates Cambodia’s liberation from French colonial rule, while the nearby statue of King Sihanouk, set in a serene park, pays homage to his legacy and enduring love for his people.

Pro Tip: Visit these monuments in the evening when they are beautifully lit up. It’s also a cooler part of the day to enjoy the surrounding parks.

Navigating Phnom Penh: From Rickshaws to River Cruises

For the adventurous soul, navigating Phnom Penh’s bustling streets via bicycle rickshaw presents an exhilarating challenge. However, as the sun dips below the horizon, a river cruise offers a serene transition from day to night. The contrasting silhouettes of Phnom Penh’s heritage buildings against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers provide a visual feast best enjoyed with local cuisine and a refreshing drink in hand.

Nightlife on Bassac Lane

As night falls, Bassac Lane beckons with its vibrant bar scene. Whether you’re in the mood for the sophisticated ambiance of White Rabbit or the pulsating rhythms of The Backstreet Bar, this lively street caters to every taste, promising an unforgettable night out in the heart of Phnom Penh.

Cambodia: A Final Reflection

As our exploration of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh comes to a close, it’s clear that Cambodia’s beauty extends far beyond its ancient ruins and royal palaces. It’s a country that pulsates with life, where every stone tells a story, and every smile reveals the indomitable spirit of its people. By delving into both its celebrated sites and hidden gems, we’ve experienced the depth of Cambodia’s heritage, a journey that leaves us with lasting memories and a deeper understanding of this remarkable land.

driving to the best activities in Phnom Penh by motorbike


1. What is the best time to visit Cambodia?

The best time to visit Cambodia is during the dry season, from November to April, when the weather is cooler and less humid, making it ideal for exploring the temples and cities.

2. Do I need a visa to enter Cambodia?

Yes, most travelers need a visa to enter Cambodia. You can obtain a visa on arrival at major airports and border crossings, or apply for an e-visa online prior to your trip.

3. Is Cambodia safe for tourists?

Cambodia is generally safe for tourists. However, as with any travel destination, it’s important to exercise caution, especially at night, and to be aware of your surroundings.

4. What currency is used in Cambodia?

The Cambodian Riel (KHR) is the official currency, but US dollars are widely accepted and preferred for most transactions. Small purchases may be given change in riels.

You Might Also Like

No Comments

    Leave a Reply

    As an Amazon Associate, I earn a small commission from a link you click on the site that lead to a qualifying purchase. It will not cost you anything additional, but it does help us in supporting this site to keep creating great content for you. All our recommendations and reviews included in the site are purely unbiased.