Siem Reap travel guide and things to do: 20 reasons to visit Siem Reap, Cambodia

1. ENJOY: A COCKTAIL AT MISS WONG

Raise a glass to the well-crafted cocktails and 1920s Shanghai speakeasy decor at Miss Wong. A world away from the backpacker bars that line Pub Street, Miss Wong is a sophisticated laneway lounge designed for lingering. The creation of Kiwi Dean Williams, Miss Wong attracts an international clientele. We love the rose and lemongrass martini. Alternatively, heat things up with a spiced bloody mary (Kampot green peppercorn and chilli-infused vodka with Tabasco tomato juice and fresh Oriental celery leaves). misswong.net

2. BUY: ASIAN ART

Belgium-born Christian Develter has drawn inspiration from the faces and culture of Asia since the '90s. His series of hyper-finished, exaggerated colour portraits make a big impact. Develter is based in Siem Reap and his work can be enjoyed at One Eleven Gallery at Vishnu Circle. Look out for his sassy rendering of Miss Wong on the high-gloss menus at the eponymous bar. No, you can't take one home. And no, you're not the first to ask. christiandevelter.com OneElevenGallery.com

3. STAY: AT JAYA HOUSE RIVER PARK

The fabulous boutique 36-room hotel is ranked number one in Siem Reap on TripAdvisor, with 99 per cent of guests rating their stay as excellent. It's not just the lushly landscaped gardens, oasis-like swimming pools, rooftop cocktail bar and original Khmer artworks on the walls that impress. The secret sauce here is in the exceptional level of caring, intuitive service led by Dutch general manager Christian De Boer, a hotelier passionate about training up the next gen of Cambodian hospitality stars. jayahouseriverparksiemreap.com

4. EAT: AT SISTER SREY CAFE

Order your coffee or fresh, organic lunch at Sister Srey Cafe and you'll be doing good while you eat well. The sisters who run the cafe have a dream of empowering their employees to achieve better lives through education and encouragement, while supporting the community with 20 per cent of profits invested in welfare programs that give a hand up rather than a hand-out. Visit the boutique upstairs for handmade, covetable clothing. sistersreycafe.com

5. RIDE: A QUAD BIKE

Siem Reap Quad Bike Adventures is Cambodian-owned and has been sending tourists off on active excursions for more than a decade. Guided tours range from one to eight hours, and focus on less-visited villages and areas of the countryside. On the two-hour tour, gain insight into Cambodian rural life with visits to a rice paddy field, Buddhist monastery, temples and water buffaloes. Helmets and a safety briefing are provided. srquadbikeadventure.com

6. RISE: EARLY TO ENJOY ANGKOR WAT

Set your alarm to beat the heat and crowds to Angkor Wat. Arriving before the sun comes up is best navigated with an expert guide who can lead you to the prime vantage points. Watching the sunrise slowly lighten the sky a hundred shades of pink, grey and yellow as those famous lotus bud-shaped towers come into focus is an unforgettable experience. Just watch out for the cheeky monkeys who are all too eager to relieve you of your breakfast pack. journeys-within.com

7. VISIT: THREE KEY TEMPLES

There's Angkor Wat, of course. Then there's Ta Prohm, also known as the Tomb Raider temple, which fans will recognise from the movie. Suspended in picturesque almost-ruin, overrun by the hungry roots of enormous banyan trees, this temple is a favourite with Instagrammers posing as intrepid archaeologists. Don't miss Angkor Thom, the last known royal capital city of the Khmer empire. Bayon Temple, striking with its 54 towers and incredible bas-reliefs sits, is the former state temple and sits at the centre of the vast city complex. Carved stone faces on the approach to the city gates represent the age-old tug of war between good and evil, something Cambodians know all too well.

8. ADD: A FOURTH TEMPLE

Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple that dates back to the 10th century, is a showstopper. Carved out of stone that has a pinkish tinge, the intricate details are said to have been crafted by women, making this an early example of girl power. The name, Banteay Srei, translates as "Citadel of the Women". Located about 40 minutes from Siem Reap, it can be reached by chartering a tuk tuk for the morning or afternoon.

9. RUN AWAY: TO THE CIRCUS

Phare, the Cambodian circus, is an entertaining night out with an inspiring back story. Translated as "the brightness of the arts", the performing arts troupe was founded almost 25 years ago by a group of young ex-refugees from Battambang province to create arts careers for disadvantaged youth. The high-energy show under the big top is part-theatre, part-dance, astounding acrobatics, live music and traditional circus acts, minus the animals. Book ahead. pharecircus.org

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10. SHOP: FOR HANDMADE WARES

Local artisans and micro-entrepreneurs sell their work at the Made in Cambodia market. What started as a holiday season one-off has now become a permanent open-air retail centre offering designer dresses, paintings, jewellery, toys, food items and more, at very reasonable prices. Take the opportunity to stop and revive with a fresh fruit shake, cappuccino, ice-cream or pastry from the adjoining branch of Blue Pumpkin, one of Siem Reap's favourite cafe chains. facebook.com/madeincambodiamarket

11. EAT: AT CHANREY TREE RESTAURANT

Overlooking Siem Reap River, this elegant and inviting restaurant showcases the best of Khmer countryside cooking. Start with bok svay chicken salad, a scrumptious dish of free-range Khmer chicken marinated in honey, served with dried shrimps, peanuts, crunchy green mango, banana heart and herbs. Vegetarians are also well-catered for, and the wine list features plenty of quality French and Aussie choices. Flower-lovers should look out for the fabulous floating lotus arrangements. chanreytree.com

12. RELAX: WITH A KHMER MASSAGE

The stretching and body alignment of this oil-free style of massage is said to have influenced Thai massage, though Thais will probably tell you it was the other way around. At the gorgeous spa at Jaya House, treatments start with a foot bath in water enhanced with mint, kaffir lime and pink lotus flowers, followed by an invigorating salt scrub. Relaxed customers are sent away with a fresh rice paper roll snack. jayahouseriverparksiemreap.com

13. HELP: REDUCE WASTE

Refill Not Landfill is a program to champion reusable aluminium water bottles and refill stations around town. Hotels, restaurants, cafes and even the circus are supporting the mission by providing their guests and customers with a reusable bottle filled with clean water. The collaborative nature of the city-wide program could act as a blueprint for other eco-minded cities around the world. refillcambodia.com

14. JOIN: A WOMEN'S EMPOWERMENT TOUR

The 2018 Journeys Within Women's Empowerment Tour might just change your life. It includes participation in the Angkor Wat International Half Marathon, yoga, meditation and Buddhist blessing ceremonies. There's also the opportunity to connect with local kids at the Journeys Within Community Library. The trip starts in Siem Reap on November 25, and ends 11 days later on the island of Koh Rong. journeys-within.com

15. PARTY: IN A SHIPPING CONTAINER

Night markets and bars housed in shipping containers are all the rage in Siem Reap. Featuring cafes, restaurants, pubs, souvenir shops and playgrounds in containers salvaged from shipping wharves, a visit to the markets is seen by locals as a fun night out for the entire family. At Eiffel Time Container Night Market, close to Pub Street, there are more bars and live music than shops, while at Palm Container Night Market, the retail options are numerous. Angkor Night Market is also well worth a visit.

16. CONSULT: A FORTUNE TELLER

Working from the numbers of your date and time of birth, Siem Reap's respected fortune tellers offer advice on auspicious days to marry, start a business, travel or buy a house. For many Cambodians (and expats living there), these consultations are an essential part of making big decisions. The team at Journeys Within takes guests to see Mr Ra, the descendant of a famous fortune teller to the King of Thailand. Ask your hotel concierge for recommendations.

17. GO: MUSEUM HOPPING

Learn about Cambodia's complicated past on a museum-hopping day. The glories of ancient Khmer kingdoms are examined and the origins of centuries-old Khmer art and culture revealed at Angkor National Museum. A more sombre chapter is witnessed at Cambodia Landmine Museum, located 25 kilometres north of the city, inside Angkor National Park. The brutal Khmer Rouge regime and recent civil war is the focus of War Museum Cambodia, where ex-soldiers offer firsthand accounts. angkornationalmuseum.com cambodialandminemuseum.org warmuseumcambodia.com

18. TAKE: TO THE WATER

The team from Unique Kayak Cambodia sets out each morning and afternoon for half-day kayak adventures on the mighty Tonle Sap. On a mission to visit less-touristed areas, they tour past lively floating villages and lush mangrove forests. No skill is needed, as guides will paddle for you if you prefer. If you're visiting Angkor Thom in the afternoon, plan to head over to the South Gate to board a traditional longtail boat for a sunset champagne cruise. The waterway surrounding the ancient city is calm and peaceful, a haven for local bird life. uniquekayakcambodia.com angkortransportservice.com

19. SNACK: ON STREET FOOD

From palm sugar cakes to red ant stir fries and the more palatable barbecue pork skewers, the food cooked up by street vendors is some of the best and freshest you'll find in Cambodia. Follow the locals to the best street eats, including the open-air stalls at the Road 6 Fun Fair. Here you can sample deep-fried beetles, Khmer pancakes, an orchard of tropical fruits and scrumptious grilled chicken. Local families and couples out on date night make their dinner selections then spread out on rented picnic blankets and hammocks strung up between trees.

20. SPOIL: YOURSELF

Personal grooming and pampering is an affordable luxury in Siem Reap, where foot massages can be enjoyed for as little as $US3 and perfect pedicures can be yours for a fiver. At well-respected mid-range spas, including Lemongrass Garden Beauty and Massage and MC Nail and Spa, the quality is as good as you'll find anywhere in the world. Take the opportunity to try something you normally wouldn't, such as a four-hand massage or – gulp – fish spa pedicure. lemongrassgarden.com

Kristie Kellahan travelled as a guest of Journeys Within and with the assistance of Cruiseco.

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