Call us cheap, but the best things in life really are the freebies. They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but in Siem Reap there’s a free swim, a free gig and free cycling. So if you time to spare, but no cash to spend, before you go robbing banks, check out 7Days’ top seven things to do in temple town by spending zip, zilch, nada.
Ride A Bike
If you’ve got yourself two wheels, then you’ve no excuse for boredom. Both the bustle of the town and the calm of the countryside can be explored at their best by bike.
Whether you ride to Tonle Sap or pedal to the Baray, you can have yourself a day trip on the cheap – and for sun-worshippers, there’s no finer way to get a sun-kissed glow. And the workout will put your gym membership to money-wasting shame. Better still, Vicious Cycles run free countryside cycles for anyone with a bike every Saturday morning. Tours like this can normally cost $25, so when you think about it, you’re practically making money by heading along.
Take In A Temple
So you might not get in the grand circuit of Angkor in the minutes between 5.30pm and sunset; but if you’re prepared, you can take in the sunset from one of the smaller spots. A temple pass isn’t required after 5.30pm, so if you’re lucky enough to have the time to take in the temples at a snail’s pace, you can spend weeks, even months, clocking up half-hour complimentary visits.
Lend a Hand (or an arm)
While volunteering for just the day can sometimes do more harm than good – and many places will charge you for the pleasure – there are some opportunities around town to help out for free in a responsible way. The River Garden welcomes guests for two-hour teaching slots four times a week while both Kantha Bopha and Angkor Hospital for Children are always looking to suck some willing blood. So if you have an afternoon or a pint of O positive to spare, plenty of places would be happy to have you.
Meet a Monk
Whatever your denomination, spending time in the presence of monks in a town like Siem Reap can make for an enlightening experience. Venues like The Peace Café, Karavansara and The River Garden provide distinct opportunities to spend time with monks, meditate, chat or learn about Cambodian customs both on-site and at the pagodas.
While donations are welcome, the events are generally held free of charge. If you’re feeling a little braver, venture into a pagoda yourself. Once you’re respectful you’ll be surprised how easy it is to make a new saffron-clad friend.
There’s nothing quite like a day at the beach: sun, sand and a chance to splash around. While Siem Reap isn’t parked near the seaside, it does provide the coastal experience and you don’t have to pay for the pleasure. Leave the pricey pools in town, make like a local and head for the West Baray instead. Avoid hidden charges for rubber rings, hammocks and food by bringing along a towel or yoga mat and picnic instead. Now all you need is a bucket and spade and you’re set.
Learn the Language
There are many ways to bag a free Khmer lesson in Siem Reap. If you’re looking for the less-than-formal version, simply shoot the breeze with every waiter, driver and seller you encounter. If there’s one thing the locals love, it’s to impart a little colloquialism on visitors and see a foreigner twist their vowels around the native tongue. If you prefer a classroom setting, the Peace Café has free lessons on weekends from 4-5pm.
Go to a Gig
You need to be made of some kind of rock formation to not to give money after seeing this show. But technically, Beatocello – a unique, musical "concert" at Kantha Bopha hospital – does have free admission. Each Saturday at 7pm, cellist Beat Richner, who sidelines as a doctor turned superhero, gives a performance at his children’s hospital in Siem Reap.
It’s an enlightening evening, as the gifted cellist plays music and gives insight into the work of the five Kantha Bopha hospitals around the country. And while admission is free, the $5 millon raised each year by the concerts shows that a donation on the way out, however small, will go a long way.