When people think about travel in Asia, maybe they imagine the overwhelming sights, sounds, and smells of the bustling metropolises. In Cambodia, motorbikes travel the roads with three, four, even five people on one Honda Dream. Sidewalks are used as secondary parking spots, making navigating the streets tricky for the first-time visitor. Yet when you dive just below the surface, you can find plenty of great spots for a relaxing day on even a backpacker’s budget. Head to these six best spots for a relaxing, off-the-beaten path day in Siem Reap– perfect for the backpacker, the digital nomad, or the expat!
Start with a traditional Khmer massage at Red Ant
Before I moved to Cambodia, I had no idea how amazing and affordable massages here are. Now, a massage has become part of my monthly self-care routine, and a great way to treat myself without breaking the bank! My go-to massage place is Red Ant Massage. When you arrive, they lead you to a cool, dark room with soft mats laid out on the floor. Each mat has its own private curtain around it, so you can close it for privacy if you come alone, or keep the connecting curtains open if you’re with friends. Change into the loose pants and shirt provided, and lay down on your back. In Cambodia, different types of massage serve different purposes. If you just want to luxuriate and relax, an oil massage is the best choice. For those of us who prefer a stronger massage to really work out the knots from carrying around a backpack or navigating the traffic-filled streets, opt for the traditional Khmer Massage. Whichever style you choose, prepare to enter a trance-like state of pure bliss, while the background noise of the masseuses talking and giggling almost soothes you to sleep. When your hour-long massage is finished, you probably need a transition period back to the real world. The massage parlor serves a hot tea which you can sip as you wake up a bit and get ready to venture back out into the city for your next stop on your day of luxury.
Go for a swim at a boutique hotel
Siem Reap is brimming with pools (saltwater and chlorine) and deals for a fun day in the water. If your hotel doesn’t have a pool, or you just want to get out a bit, head to Baby Elephant boutique hotel. For the cost of a meal or drink, enjoy the quiet pool or relax with your book in the shaded loungers. Or check out Pool Party Hostel, a hostel by name but a charming poolside hangout in reality. Enjoy the custom graffiti art decorating the white walls of the building, play billiards, and listen to the dj play at the pool-side bar. Who knew such a fun local hangout was hidden just off of the busy main road!
Enjoy iced coffee with condensed milk at Bayon Pastry
One of the traditions left over from 100 years of French Colonial influence in Cambodia is the amazing tradition of coffee. In Siem Reap, you’re never further than arms’ reach from a coffee cart. For a relaxed coffee break, complete with beautiful surroundings, treat yourself at Bayon Pastry, an organization which provides pastry chef training to disadvantaged Cambodian women in Siem Reap. Their coffee is great, and it’s even better when you pair it with one of the freshly-made pastries in their display case. A personal favorite is the chocolate and passion fruit torte — a tangy yet sweet concoction that melts on the tongue and sends tingles down your neck. Bayon is a great spot to relax with your latest novel, catch up on writing, or finally address those postcards you always mean to send to family back home.
Try the amazing chocolate and passion fruit torte at Bayon Pastry in Siem Reap
Try a hair wash at Hatta Hairstylist
Cambodian women take great pleasure in their dress and appearance. On any given day, during morning, noon, or night, you can walk past hair salons and see groups of elegantly-dressed women gathered around the stylist chair, getting their hair washed and styled. The salon is a place for gossip and relaxation, and the long head massage that comes with the hair wash leaves you feeling energized and fresh. For a great hair wash try Hatta Hairstylist, and if you’re feeling up for it, stay for a haircut and style! Hatta is a Cambodian woman who studied in Germany and knows exactly how to work with all different hairstyles. Especially in the heat of the Cambodian mid-day sun, a cool hair wash is just the thing to perk you up for your afternoon activities.
Eat amok curry at Lotus House
Just outside the main bustle of downtown Siem Reap is a restaurant called Lotus House. Run by a five-star Cambodian chef, this restaurant is the combination of intimate elegance and satisfying home-cooking. Grab a pillow in one of the wooden bungalows with white lace curtains blowing in the breeze, and ask for the “fish amok.” This mild coconut-milk curry is traditionally steamed in banana leaves, and served inside of a fresh coconut. The presentation is stunning, but even more so is the subtlety of flavor that hits your tongue with your first bite. The fish is so well steamed it almost melts in your mouth, and the creamy curry lights up the taste buds all along the sides of your tongue.
Beautiful food presentation at Lotus House, Siem Reap
Finally, it’s time to head back to your hotel…but not before trying Siem Reap’s best ice cream!
Get ice cream at Cafe Central
In a city where average temperatures hover in the 30s Celsius all year round, it can be tricky to find an ice cream shop where the ice cream stays cold. Cafe Central is just the spot! Located across from Old Market, this cafe has a breezy open layout that is perfectly conducive to people-watching while you enjoy your ice cream. My favorite flavor is the cherry chocolate. Take a scoop or two, and enjoy the reds and blues of a Siem Reap sunset as you wrap up your day of luxury. I hope you enjoyed getting away from the crowds and taking a day for yourself! Which of these six spots was your favorite?