Things to do in Siem Reap Outside of Angkor Wat
After two days of super early mornings and temples, I knew I needed a break. I wasn’t done exploring Angkor Wat, but I needed a break. There was more to Siem Reap than just the temples. I was excited and ready to go sightseeing around the town.
If you know me, then you know I love being active. Whether it’s playing volleyball, hiking, kayaking, or bicycling, I want to be outside, enjoying nature and sightseeing.
When researching “Things to Do in Siem Reap,” I was looking for something non-temple related. Thanks to the knowledge from a travel facebook group I am in, South East Asia Backpacker Community, I found a bicycle tour. Not just any bicycle tour though. This particular company is the pride and joy of one young man struggling to survive. Through hard work and perseverance, this young man created a business plan and developed “Butterfly Tours.”
In seven years, Butterfly Tours expanded covering three cities in Cambodia and is now jointly owned by more than 10 Cambodian. It is a locally-run company whose primary focus is to support Cambodians and led by Cambodian students. Butterfly Tours is the type of company I try to find and support when I travel. I am a firm believer in “supporting local and small businesses,” and upon further research, I was able to find the perfect tour to fit into my schedule.
I decided on the half-day “Off the Beaten Track” bicycle tour through the back roads of Siem Reap. But don’t stress if bicycling isn’t your thing. They also offer scooter tours and Asura Journey tours (car/van), so you have options.This particular tour offers both morning and afternoon start times and costs around 27-30 USD. I chose the morning session strictly because it was the dry season (March). Dry season equals sunshine and hot temperatures, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend another afternoon in the heat.
By 7:30 am, I was in the tuk-tuk on my way to the Butterfly Tours office to meet my guide. This tour will run whether or not you are the only person signed up. On the particular day that I booked, I ended up being the only one. Meaning, I got a personalized one-on-one experience through the backroads of Siem Reap.
By 7:45 am, my guide and I were on our bikes, heading to a small village market for some food tasting. One thing I tried was a palm fruit-coconut milk dessert. If you don’t know what palm fruit it, I’ll try to describe it in 3 words: jelly, flavorless, and slimy. Sounds appetizing, huh?
We rode along a dirt road for about 20 minutes before arriving at our next destination, wicker basket weaving. This excursion took place at a family home with several ladies who were working on their front porch and rapidly, I might add; it was difficult to follow. This was probably my favorite experience on this tour. I don’t think I ever paid attention to the extensive details and patience that went into basket weaving. But watching these ladies work was fascinating. They even gave me the chance to try my hand out basket weaving. I was slow, but overall not that bad, if I do say so myself.
From basket weaving, we rode another 20 minutes to a family-run rice wine distillery. Here, I learned a lot about how this family makes their wine using large mental boilers, clay pots, and a large cement cistern-style filtration container. Their daughter explained to me, in English, how much rice is needed per batch, how long each batch takes to distill, and how much each jug is worth. She mentioned that nothing gets left behind. The leftover rice is what she uses as feed for the pigs she and her brother raise to sell at the market.
The sun was starting to get hot at this point, but the tour wasn’t over yet. After the rice wine distillery, we rode to our last location, a piggy bank factory. Here, I learned about the entire process of piggy bank making; the gathering of the clay, the making of the models, the kiln for baking, and the decorating phase. This factory had a variety of styles of banks, including turtles, pumpkins, and __ to name a few. It was eye-opening at how much time and effort went into each of these piggy banks.
It was closing in on 11:00 am, and the sun was in full effect. I could tell that the ride home from the factory was going to be a toasty one. During the ride home, he made a pitstop at a local sugar cane drink cart, where we both drank the sweet beverage. It was refreshing and satisfying drink. A perfect finale to an amazing morning.
My day didn’t end here. My third installment of my rabies shot vaccination was due. The staff at Onederz Hostel were beyond helpful, and provided me with several possibly locations. You see, at this point, the rabies vaccination was in short supply, so not every clinic had them available. Thankfully, one of the locations had it available for 60 USD and it was a quick and painless experience. The doctor even spoke perfect English.
Asana Old Wooden House Cocktail Class
The remaining portion of my afternoon was uneventful. I spent most of it lounging in the hostel, organizing photos, taking notes/journaling (I’m the worst), and socializing. At about 6 o’clock, I set out to another non-Angkor adventure, a Khmer Cocktail Class at Asana Old Wooden House.
When I travel, I occasionally look for non-active type activities. Upon several google searches (I originally thought maybe a cooking class), I stumbled across this 1.5 hour cocktail class for 15 USD and knew I just had to do it.
I arrive a little early for the class, which allowed me a few minutes to wander the old wooden house and watch my bartender/teacher set up. I was the only one signed up for the class. This gave me another one-on-one personalized experience.
The class started off with a little learning session about the ingredients used for several of the cocktails and a tasting of Sombais’ infused rice spirit. Following the learning session, my bartender slowly walked me through the process of creating three different Khmer style cocktails.
The first cocktail created was the Ginger Mojito, made with white and dark rum, freshly crushed ginger, lime, and fresh mint tea leaves. Tamarind Sauce was the second cocktail on the menu. It was made with white rum, fresh tamarind juice, rice paddy leaves, and kaffir lime leaves. The third cocktail was my choice and I chose a cocktail called Little Sweet. This cocktail is made with gin, wild ginger, sugarcane juice and turmeric, garnished with tamarind root and lime. This activity was worth every dollar and it was so peaceful being alone learning about the Khmer cocktails.
I ended my night with a one hour food massage, MUCH NEEDED, and ice cream rolls. Laura and I had plans for the next morning with one final sunrise Angkor adventure with Morl. Stay tuned to read about how we spent a third day at Angkor.