Its your second day in Siem Reap, you’ve seen the temples, been to pub street, what next? If you’re palate is more inclined to spicing up your stay in Siem Reap with local experiences, there a tons you can do. Here are 5 local things to do in Siem Reap where you feel like a complete local.
1. Road 60 and Kyung Yu Fair
Every evening after 5 pm when tourists start flocking to pub street after a long day at the temples, local residents gather at Road 60 after a long day at work for an evening festivity like no other – Siem Reap style! Under the rows of street lamps that line the highway is a one kilometer stretch of local market that makes an appearance every evening, usually accompanied by a spectacular sunset that lights up the sky. Food stalls offering a variety of local bbq and snacking options, a night market selling everything from phone chargers to leather jackets and a fun fair where classic games like shooting balloons and a mini Ferris Wheel are the main features of the market. Its a mostly local affair, and not overrun by tourists as with so many other places in town making it one of Siem Reap’s best kept secrets.
After an hour or so of exploring, rent a mat on offer order from one of the many street stalls and enjoy a local picnic that will make you feel like a complete local.
2. Siem Reap’s favorite getaway – Kulen Mountain
A favorite getaway for locals during weekends and public holidays, Phnom Kulen Mountain combines an appealing mix of nature and culture. Phnom Kulen is especially popular with local families who go there to have a picnic with food prepared from home or bought on site, swim in the waterfall and climb up the mountain to pray at the revered reclining Buddha. 50 km from Siem Reap, a taxi to Phnom Kulen will cost you $50 for a return trip. While locals can enter for free, foreigners have to pay a cover charge of $20 to enter the premises. The tickets can be arranged in town beforehand. Besides being a popular spot among locals, Phnom Kulen also offers a crucial bit of history that completes the Angkor experience. It is supposed to be the place where the Age of Angkor began where Jayavarman II declared a unified and independent Khmer Empire in 802AD and crowned himself as the Devaraja or god king, thus giving rise to the Angkor empire.
If you’re looking for a guided tour of Phnom Kulen, Mr Meas, a professional tour guide offers a pretty informative and local experience.
3. A day out in the countryside farm house
A day trip to the countryside with a local family might not be as accessible as some of the other things on this list, however, if you get an opportunity to be invited to spend a day in the countryside by a local family, don’t pass it on for anything, you will regret.
And although a home stay experience might come close to the type of local experience we are referring to, it will never be the same as going with local. A weekend trip to the countryside means the entire family gathers in the farm house and friends and neighbors are invited for a what might be a very long day of drinking, eating, hunting, music, singing, more eating and more drinking. Its the type of experience where the time flies by without a notice and there’s just so much laughter and smiles around, enough to keep you in good company even if you don’t understand a word of what the local residents are talking about.
The Cambodian calendar features close to two dozen public holidays, making it one of the most festive places on earth. There is no shortage of festivals and celebrations. Festivals and special dates are widely embraced and as a foreigner, if you happen to catch one of the festivities, don’t miss it. Its a good insight into the local culture where the already happy go lucky local local people put on a even happier vibe. Some of the most significant holidays are the Khmer new year (April) marks the end of the harvest season and Cambodia’s most important holiday, Water festival (November) or Bon Om Touk celebrates the change in course of water in the Tonle Sap, Pchum Ben (end September to Mid-October) celebrates the dead ancestor who are said to be most active during this period, Royal Ploughing Day (May) celebrated to mark the start of the rice growing season.
Local food and Markets
What better way to feel like a complete local than to avoid pub street and head out into the heartlands and try your hands on some of the local food, just the way locals do it. A good way to start the trip would be to visit Psar Leu Market, the biggest market in Siem Reap and a wonderland of food, fruits, delicacies of the weird and normal kind, a place where all of your five senses are constantly worked on making you feel so alive.
A cooking class at a local household will also bring you close to what a local fare is really like. Beyond the western friendly flavors cooked up by chefs and cooks in pub street, the locals have a much different way of eating and appreciating local flavors. The style of eating is more communal where everyone shares food off a communal helping and the local flavors are much more raw.