Having recently been in Siem Reap for a month, I was able to explore the things that the average tourist wouldn't have time to see. We've all heard of the famous Angkor Wat- a UNESCO World Heritage, but here is a list of places I can highly recommend that you wouldn't normally hear about and should seriously consider going.
West Baray Located just west of the Angkor Archaeological Park, West Baray is Cambodia's largest man-made lake with measurements of approximately 8 by 2.1 kilometres. Located at just a 15 minute tuk tuk ride from Siem Reap city, many locals come to the baray's surrounding beaches to relax on a Saturday or Sunday. There is a cabana that runs along the beach, with small "groups" of hammocks. Each "group" costs $1USD for however long you and your friends want (Every "group" has 4 hammocks that are shaped into a square). There are also stalls around for you to buy food and souvenirs, or some dedicated locals will definitely walk around and offer you some local delicacies (e.g. tarantulas) while you lie in your hammock and overlook the reservoir. You can also take a dip or hire a truck inner-tube (3000 riel) to bob around on the reservoir itself.
There are three main floating villages near Siem Reap, and my friend and I booked with a tour group that went to one called Kompong Phluk. We didn't know what to expect, as it was dry season when we visited, but to our great surprise, there was still water that runs along most parts of the village. The most spectacular thing was seeing the individual buildings on stilts as high as 7 metres. Another thing that was interesting was that our boat, which we were allowed to sit ON TOP OF, drove us through the village and gave us a closer insight to what daily life in a fishing village looks like, from the kids catching fish, to the women washing clothes along the river.
Tonlé Sap While your boat takes you to through any of the three floating villages, you'll eventually reach Tonlé Sap- a combined lake and river system that is of great importance in the fishing and rice industries in Cambodia. Tonlé Sap is unusual for two reasons: its water flow changes direction twice a year, and the portion that forms the lake expands and shrinks dramatically. All of these two fun facts are because of the huge difference between Cambodian climate when it comes to wet and dry seasons. Tip: Go there in the afternoon and enjoy watching sunset over the water while eating in a floating restaurant. (Keep in mind that the restaurants will be more expensive than your normal $2.50 USD meals in Siem Reap city, because of the difficulties in transporting ingredients, furnitures etc.)
Phnom Kulen National Park Phnom Kulen National Park is about 50km north-east of Siem Reap. It is considered by locals to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and is a popular place for them to visit on weekends and during festival seasons (and of course for tourists, it's a great place to go all day everyday!). It costs $20 for foreigners to visit (you'll get used to the fact that admission fees differ depending on whether you're a local or not) and has a road that leads up to the 487m hilltop. Keep in mind that you have to go up before 11am and it's only possible to come down after midday (in order to avoid vehicles meeting on the narrow road).
Some of the highlights from this day-trip were: 1) Seeing a reclining Buddha carved out of the mountain about 1100 years ago from a single large stone. Although I have to admit, it was quite a walk up to see this reclining Buddha, and on the way there our tour guide told us that every visitor HAD to donate some riels to every local sitting on the steps, which was quite strange to hear. Nevertheless, it was a fulfilling cultural experience to pray with incense sticks before climbing up some more steps to see Buddha.
people giving out riels on the way to the Reclining Buddha
3) (Note: This one isn't very well-known to foreigners) Seeing a waterhole that actually sinks paper. This water hole is near the 1000 linga river, but you have to walk a little further to see it. Somehow, this waterhole has its own water current and can sink our tour guide's $1USD note from him simply throwing it in the water. This party trick also amused a lot of the locals!
4) Seeing the waterfall. This waterfall is very popular for both tourists and locals. The water is considered holy, and once you step into the water, you might be surprised to get nibbled on by some fish! The locals always say that the fish chew on your dead skin, and although I have my doubts, it was still a free and relaxing massage!
can you spot the fish?
locals and tourists enjoying swimming on a hot day in dry season