Some Things To Do In Siem Reap When It Rains
Things to do in Siem Reap when it rains? There are countless things to do. So why is it that so many travellers think the only thing to do is scramble temples? Markets, cafes, galleries, shops, museums, galleries, spas, bars, restaurants, and we even have a circus.
Rain can ruin a holiday. Elsewhere. Not in Cambodia and other Southeast Asia countries where rain is an integral part of the experience of being in the tropics.
We love our monsoonal months and gazing in awe at how quickly bone-dry fields are transformed into gorgeous, lush green rice paddies, watching our clear blue skies darken as dramatic slate-grey clouds rumble in, and shaking our heads as torrential rain quickly floods the streets and yet our Cambodian friends go about their business as usual.
So if you get stuck in a downpour or your weather app tells you rain is predicted, go with the flow and get under cover. You don’t want to be scrambling slippery temples in the wet when there are so many other activities to keep you occupied.
A tip: ditch the plastic ponchos and buy an umbrella from one of the supermarkets (US$4-5). Angkor Market, Lucky Supermarket and Asia supermarket all have umbrellas.
Here are some ideas for some of our favourite things to do in Siem Reap when it rains:
Things To Do In Siem Reap When It Rains
DURING THE DAY
Explore Local Markets
There are few more fun things to do in Siem Reap when it rains than explore the local markets. Lively markets are scattered all over the city. The handiest for you will probably be Phsar Chas or Old Market, slap bang in Siem Reap’s colonial heart, and Phsar Leu, the big central market on National Highway 6. Both are covered, so they are ideal places to retreat from the rain. Early morning is when locals shop for fresh produce. That’s the time to sit down and slurp a bowl of kuy teav, Cambodia’s beloved breakfast noodle soup or tuck into a plate of bai sach chrouk (grilled pork and rice). After, you could spend hours browsing the stalls that serve locals and tourists alike. Phsar Chas is the spot to pick up handicrafts and souvenirs (note: not all are Cambodia-made; see our Responsible Travel Guide for ethical shopping suggestions), while Phsar Leu is super for batik sarongs, kitchenware, cushions, and baskets. More on what to eat at the markets in our Culinary Guide to Siem Reap.
Shop Siem Reap
As long as you’ve got a brolly, shopping or at the very least, browsing, is one of the best things to do in Siem Reap when it rains. The streets and lanes around Old Market are crammed with fabulous shops. Make a beeline for Alley West, its continuation, The Passage, and parallel, The Lane, on the other side of Pub Street. Start at the corner of Sivatha Boulevard and Alley West, where Wild Poppy has cotton frocks, linen basics and beaded jewellery, Bambou offers leisure-wear made from bamboo fibre, and Spicy Green Mango does boho casual in colourful prints. Further along, Smateria‘s shelves are crammed with eco-friendly handbags, purses and wallets, and you’ll find Angkorian inspired ceramics at Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts.
On the next block, there are sensual spa products at Bodia, and Cambodian handcrafted silver jewellery at Garden of Desire. On 2 Thnou Street (AKA Hospital Road), Senteurs d’Angkor stocks fragrant soaps, incense and spices while sister-store Kokoon sells silk scarves, shawls, throws, etc. Nearby, Graines de Cambodge (on Hospital Road and in The Lane) has gorgeous jewellery made from seeds. Around the corner, above Laundry Bar, Christine’s has chic fashion and accessories. On the Lane, Three Seasons features three local fashion labels including eco-friendly Tonle made from factory remnants.
A short stroll or tuk tuk ride away, there’s more at Kandal Village (below) and FCC, which has a branch of Eric Raisina and delightful Tiger Lily, among other elegant boutiques. Around the corner, Cassia houses quirky WA Gallery while a short tuk tuk trundle away is Theam’s House, a tranquil garden, gift shop and gallery. On the way stop at Raffles Arcade for Galerie Cambodge and Khmer Attitude. For more, see Nathalie Saphon Ridel’s Local Guide to Shopping Siem Reap or let me craft a bespoke shopping itinerary for you.
Kick Back at Kandal Village
We’ve watched this gritty little neighbourhood develop into Siem Reap’s hippest and happening spot over the last few years. Last year you could while away a morning or afternoon at Kandal Village, now you could spend a whole day here. What makes this one of the best things to do in Siem Reap when it rains is the fact that Kandal Village is so tiny. If you do have to make a dash in the rain to another shop, you definitely won’t get very wet.
Kickstart things with a caffeine hit and breakfast at Little Red Fox Espresso, home to Siem Reap’s best coffee, where you can pick up a Kandal Village brochure with map, then go shopping. A couple of doors down is Saarti, home to aromatic candles, bath products and eco-friendly homewares. Book a treatment for the afternoon at Frangipani Spa. Cross the road for cotton and linen clothing and accessories at Shop 676; French designed Cambodian-inspired folk art at Niko’s Studio; and healing crystals and fortune telling at AKKA. Your future revealed, make a beeline for concept store Trunkh for quirky gifts and souvenirs, including vintage Cambodian signs and kitschy tea towels; social enterprise Sramay for Cambodian cotton kramas and palm leaf products; Louise Loubatieres, for beautiful textiles, interior decor and ceramics; Constable Gallery, for homegrown art, sculpture and photography.
Across the road, you’ll find exquisitely made clothes, tailored on site, by Cambodian-French designer, Sirivan. Around the corner, on Central Market Street, you’ll find beautiful things from across Southeast Asia at El Chiffon. Famished? Take your pick from authentic Italian handmade pastas at Mamma Shop, tucked between Sramay and Louise Loubatieres; Khmer street food on parallel Central Market street at Baktouk; Middle Eastern favourites adjacent at Atmosphere; and in the opposite direction toward the river, healthy juices, light lunches and more good coffee at Hive. If you’re still here at 5pm, reward yourself with a glass of wine and plate of charcuterie at Armands on parallel Tep Vong Street (AKA ANZ Bank Road).
Do a Cooking Class
Cooking is something most of us love to do at home when the weather is dreary so it’s not surprising that it’s one of the most popular things to do in Siem Reap when it rains. Cambodian cuisine is one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated cuisines in Southeast Asia. So why not learn more about it on a cooking class in Siem Reap? Chef Sothea, owner of Mahob Khmer restaurant, hosts Siem Reap’s best cooking class. It’s very hands-on, with participants on their own cooking stations and a chef per student, and is ran either at his restaurant in town or on his organic farm. The chefs from Malis restaurant offer a demonstration-style cooking class, which kicks off with a tour of Old Market/Phsar Chas and finishes with lunch. Slightly more serious and completely hands-on is the Raffles cooking class, while the Anantara cooking lessons are more demo-style. Beyond Unique Escapes cooking classes are a mix of both, ran out at Sojourn near Treak Village. All are taught by Cambodian cooks and begin with an introduction to the local ingredients, and end with lunch.
Visit Angkor National Museum
The steep entrance fee (US$12) deters many travellers from visiting Angkor National Museum. However, it’s impressive displays of Khmer Empire archaeological relics provide a fantastic introduction to Angkorian art and sculpture. A visit gives you an opportunity to see treasures that were once in the temples, really bringing the sites alive. It’s a sleek set-up too, with sophisticated displays and good information and labelling.
Siem Reap does not have a flourishing art scene (contrary to what impressionable travel writers on 3-day junkets may claim) but it’s continually improving, is definitely compelling, and has come a long way since we interviewed expat designer Loven Ramos about Siem Reap’s arts scene in 2011. Start at atmospheric Theam’s House, the gallery, atelier and museum of Cambodian visual artist Lim Muy Theam, where you can spend an hour browsing his thought-provoking art and private collection of antiques, before pondering the nature of art and life in his tranquil garden (there’s a cosy nook to shelter from the rain).
Next, visit a few new openings, including Constable Gallery in Kandal Village, owned by sculptor, painter and print maker Sasha Constable, descendent of the great British landscape painter, John Constable (1776-1837); WA Gallery’s Christian Develter space, which shows the Asian-based Belgian artist’s vibrant paintings and lithographs, including his striking Chin series, inspired by the tattooed faces of the indigenous women of Myanmar; Californian Eiming Jung’s 111 East Gallery and bar (traffic circle, Wat Bo side of Old Market Bridge), sister-gallery to 111 Minna Gallery in San Francisco, which boasts an eclectic mix of international art and Southeast Asian sculptor carvings; and curator Jessica Lim’s Full Frontal Gallery (King’s Road Angkor, 7 Makara Road), a contemporary photography gallery, also with a bar. Not new, but worth dropping into is Sopheng Art Gallery (Street 9, near Old Market) featuring Cambodian artist Sopheng’s sparkling acrylics of Angkorian scenes, which make charming souvenirs.
Some of Siem Reap’s best boutiques and cafes also show art, including Christine’s (above Laundry Bar), which has a petite gallery with rotating exhibitions, and Little Red Fox Espresso at Kandal Village. The John McDermott Gallery sells the photographer’s infra-red monochrome prints of Angkor shot in the days before mass tourism. Loven Ramos’ art space The 1961 has changed dramatically since 2011, with the groovy cafe transformed into a co-working suite and the exhibition area reduced to house a vegan cafe and shop selling artsy knick knacks. It’s still worth calling into and seeking out the on-site curator who will happily show you the local art stored upstairs, including some interesting pieces by Battambang artists.
An art tour is definitely one of the coolest things to do in Siem Reap when it rains, however, you’re best hiring a tuk tuk driver for the day to take you around. A warning: aside from Theam’s House, your driver most probably won’t known the names of galleries, so give him the nearby landmark as indicated above, so instead of asking him to take you to ‘Full Frontal Gallery’, say ‘Kings Road Angkor’.
See a Movie
Siem Reap’s Platinum Cinemplex on Sivatha Boulevard, one block from Old Market near the river, opened in mid-2015 and shows the latest movies, many screening a day after opening in the rest of the world. It mainly shows a combination of Hollywood blockbusters (Fantastic Beasts was screening when I updated this post) and Asian films (from Cambodia, Thailand, China, and Korea predominantly), so make sure to check what language the film is in, what language it’s been dubbed into, and what the sub-titles are in before buying your ticket. Tickets are US$4.50 adults and US$3 children. Monday-Friday morning tickets (9am/10am starts) are US$2 for 2D movies and US$3 for 3D movies.
Spend a Night at the Circus
One of the most fun things to do in Siem Reap when it rains is also one of the best ways to spend an evening in Siem Reap as far as we’re concerned – and in fact, it’s really only 90 minutes out of your night in total at a high-energy one-hour show at the quirky Phare Cambodian Circus. There are no animals involved, just a talented group of smiling, energetic young Cambodians who trained at the Phare Ponleu Selpak circus school in Battambang, performing acrobatics, contortion, aerial ballet, tightrope walking, balancing, fire dancing, mime, and slap-stick comedy. Their impressive tricks are cleverly woven into stories that provide an insight into Cambodian culture and everyday life. Click through to the links above for more info and to book tickets.
See an Apsara Dance Performance
You’ll see intricate carvings of the voluptuous ethereal apsaras at Angkor Wat and other temples, but you can see graceful apsara dancers performing all over town every evening in Siem Reap. The purest performance that’s probably closest to the rituals of the temple dancers during the Khmer Empire is that of the Sacred Dancers of Angkor, who meditate and pray before each performance, and wear costumes made of natural fibres and no make-up. Make it a priority to find out if they are performing at a pagoda or temple dinner during your time here (information on link).
After that, the next best thing is to see one of the more colourful and lively apsara shows which are held nightly around Siem Reap for tourists. If you don’t wish to eat while you watch the show, you can enjoy an apsara performance in the the courtyard of the Park Hyatt Siem Reap on Monday, Thursday and Sunday evenings, from 7-8pm. (They also have shadow puppet shows on Wednesday, and bokator, the Cambodian martial art, on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday). You can happily sit and have a drink, with no obligation to dine, and it’s free.
If you don’t mind a dinner show, then the best apsara dinner show in town is at elegant Por Cuisine restaurant, nightly from 7.30-8.30pm, where everyone has a view, the food is excellent and the service is outstanding. Belmond La Residence d’Angkor hotel, which has just reopened after renovations, used to have a good show, however, only a few tables had a clear view and this would often be blocked by other guests taking photos. I’ll update this once we test out a show at the newly refurbished hotel. Look out for a post soon reviewing the best of Siem Reap’s apsara shows.
Taste Infused Rice Spirits at Sombai
One of the many fun things to do in Siem Reap when it rains is sample Sombai’s infused rice spirits at their tasting room in a traditional Khmer timber house just a short tuk tuk ride from the centre. A tasting of the full range is free, so you can save your money to spend on the beautiful hand-painted bottles of rice wine spirits – they’ve quickly become a quintessential Siem Reap souvenir. Make sure you see the infusion room upstairs where the magic happens.
Learn to Make Khmer Cocktails
After you’ve done a tasting at Sombai, you could continue sipping, while you do one of my favourite things to do in Siem Reap when it rains, and that’s a cocktail making class. You can learn to make Khmer cocktails at Asana Bar, the last traditional wooden house in the old town that is the location of a laidback bar-cum-cafe. You’ll get to learn to make a few cocktails created by the charming Cambodian owner, Pari, as well as have a chance to create your own. See our story on the link above on Asana’s cocktail class for more info. Asana also hosts an organic farmers market on weekends.
Do a Street Food Tour
A street food tour is another of my favourite things to do in Siem Reap when it rains, however, you will have to take an umbrella or throw on a plastic poncho as you won’t always be under cover. Have your tuk tuk driver take you to Cambodian eat street, Road 60, which my tuk tuk drivers call ‘Khmer Pub Street’ (but there’s also another Khmer Pub Street that is very different!). You’ll be able to sample a wide range of street food snacks, from insects and sour fruits to fried noodles, turmeric-tinted pancakes, barbecued meats, and tropical fruits. Unfortunately, some Cambodian street food isn’t as safe to eat as street food in Vietnam and Thailand due to hygiene standards and the prevalence of waterborne diseases, so see our tips to eating safely in Cambodia before venturing out.
Eat and Drink
There are few better things to do in Siem Reap when it rains than eat and drink. Siem Reap has fantastic cafes, bars and restaurants, where you can while away hours quite wonderfully. But it’s a place where you need to know where to go. The food at a lot of cafes and restaurants is inconsistent and the bars each have very differently personalities. For sipping coffee or a glass of wine, these are the best cafes in Siem Reap. Little Red Fox Espresso has the best coffee, but we also like New Leaf, Artillery, Cour de Maison, and Pages.
Siem Reap has some impressive Cambodian restaurants, including Malis, Cuisine Wat Damnak, Sugar Palm, Chanrey Tree, Mahob Khmer, Mie Cafe, and Marum; see our guide to the Best Siem Reap Cambodian restaurants for reviews and our Culinary Guide to Siem Reap for more info. Temple Town is also home to some atmospheric bars, including our favourite, Miss Wong, which we love for its fabulous cocktails, old Shanghai style and the friendliest staff in Siem Reap. See our guide to the Best Bars in Siem Reap for more watering holes. We also recommend Raffles’ Elephant Bar for the elegant old world atmosphere and cocktails; Laundry Bar for the music and pool table; and Picasso Bar for the chance to make new friends.
Go to the Water Festival
If you’re here at the end of the wet season, check out the Water Festival, or Bonn Om Touk in Khmer. Dating back to the reign of King Jayavarman, the festival marks the end of monsoon, the reversal of the Tonle Sap, and start of the fishing season, with boats races, fireworks, and much partying.
UPDATED: November 2016
Have you been to Siem Reap during the monsoonal months? What are your favourite things to do in Siem Reap when it rains?
Need help planning a Siem Reap trip that squeezes all this in? Consider my bespoke itinerary service and Savour Siem Reap experience. Need a hotel? These are our picks of Siem Reap’s best boutique hotels, all tried and tested.