It is easy to overlook the more adventurous ways to see the beautiful Cambodian city of Siem Reap and its surroundings. After all, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for Angkor Wat, one of the world’s most magnificent temple ruins, some dating back 900 years. Nature surrounds the green city and cuts through it with the Siem Reap river, once a highway for people and trade. But aside from the predictable tourist sites, Siem Reap offers plenty of opportunities to keep active on your vacation.
Run the temples
There are dozens of temples around the ancient Angkor Wat site, and the most fun way to explore this expansive area is on foot. Run around the uneven roads, take on the overgrowth of jungle between sites and explore lesser-trodden paths. Major temples include Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Prohm, which was made famous by the Tomb Raider movies. It has enormous tree roots now growing from within and around the ruins. Many of the temples are on hilltops, offering spectacular views and a tranquil escape from the crowds. Siem Reap expat Jay Sapphire, an Australian runner sponsored by Under Armour, organizes private running trips (and a variety of other experiences) through True Wellness. Along the way, he offers fascinating local insights, the kind you won’t get from government-trained tour guides.
With a support tuk-tuk nearby at all times and all the necessities such as drinks, towels and snacks on board, distances can be as long or as short as you choose, from beginners to marathon runners. We covered 17 kilometres during our morning adventure, which started at 5am. Be sure to wear respectable clothes covering knees and shoulders for visiting temple rules. Steer clear of doing yoga – or any other poses that could be deemed offensive – when visiting temples.
Kayak the floating village
Mechrey is one of the smallest floating villages in this part of Cambodia, with just 300 homes compared to 25,000 in some areas. However it’s the most authentic way to visit these water communities. Indochine Ex organizes tours that can be tailored to kayaking skill and experience, from beginner on up.
These communities build their mobile raft homes on bamboo and oil barrels, moving upstream during dry season and back when the rain comes. Passing through Mechey, a visitor can directly witness the simplicity of life on the water, where the only source of power comes from solar-powered car batteries.
After the village, the kayaks head out on to the open water of Tonle Sap lake. Truly magnificent and extraordinarily peaceful, kayaking along here provides a magical experience – and it’s less than a hour from the centre of Siem Reap.
It’s also remarkably calm, making it the perfect place to kayak without battling currents. When you get tired, you can hop back on to the main boat, where snacks and drinks are served at sunset. With two cocktails and nibbles from Siem Reap favourite, Miss Wong, plus unlimited soft drinks, our kayaking half day package was just Dh459 per person, including hotel transfers. The company, which has great guides who also offer local insight, have full-day trips including hiking, too.
Cycle the lotus fields
In Cambodia, magnificent lotus flower fields stretch out as far as the eye can see. Also run by True Wellness, our trip started at 5am so we could reach an elevated point for sunrise. It was a 24km cycle from our hotel to the lotus fields, which takes roughly between 45 to 60 minutes, depending on your speed. Apart from potholes and bumps on main roads, the route was mostly flat. Cambodian drivers are mostly respectful to people on bicycles, making the ride not only a great way to get your heart rate up for the day, but witness rural life. Make sure your bike has the essentials: mud guards, a light and bell and stick to conservative attire.
Train at Gold Fitness
Gold Fitness is the best gym I’ve been to in my travels across Asia. Spread across several huge spaces, Gold offers classes from circuits to body blast. There’s weight training, cardio and a functional training space, which includes a rig and other equipment such as tires, climbing ropes and gymnastics rings. There’s also an outdoor pool. So whether you’re into CrossFit or bodybuilding, circuits or simply burning up a cardio fest, at Dh18 for a day pass, it’s well worth the cash.
Detox with local herbs
Australian trainer, health coach and herbologist Jay Sapphire has spent several years in Cambodia and Thailand studying how local remedies can heal the body. From the mountains to remote villages, the country is rich in healing plant life and he has combined these resources with Ayurveda to create detox programs running from seven days to 12 weeks.
Get a Khmer massage
Cambodia is the place for a massage, with prices for a full body rubdown starting at Dh30. During a Khmer massage, named after the Khmer people, therapists use everything from their thumbs to their knees to stimulate and ease pressure points. Go for the cleaner-looking spas downtown and avoid the over-priced hotels.
Kick back and relax
I stayed at Anantara Angkor, which is far enough from the city centre to provide a little respite. It’s also 15 minutes by car from the airport. They offer free tuk-tuk services to guests – the city centre is 15 minutes away – and a free local phone to help you get back easily. Rooms are available from Dh830.