A bit of tradition
What we say:
Just about every guesthouse, restaurant, shop and tuk tuk driver will happily set you up with an evening of Apsara dancing.
Though seemingly ubiquitous, the dancers are often talented and the apsara dance is still very much a part of modern Khmer culture -- it's not just a tourism invention. Most shows include a few sets of dancing, including Apsara, classical and folk dancing, and many of the shows include a buffet dinner and some drinks.
Khmer dance is renowned for its grace, intensity and slow, flowing movements, and many of Siem Reap's dance performances are theatrical renditions of ancient Hindu epics like the Ramayana and the Churning of the Sea of Milk. The celestial apsaras and devatas of the latter, images of which are found elaborately carved into many an ancient stone of Angkor, provide the inspiration for many of the movements of traditional Khmer dance.
Prices hover around the US$10 mark, though you can pay quite a bit more if you'd like a flasher setting and/or upmarket cuisine.
If seeking a more refined dining setting, Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor has performances on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 19:45, the Apsara Theatre beside the Angkor Village Hotel holds classic dinner theatre performances nightly at 20:00, and Fou Nan Restaurant offers another uniquely beautiful setting for a show on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings. For more casual (and less pricey) options, the large Angkor Mondial Restaurant hosts a decent performance along with a huge buffet every night, and Temple Bar on Pub Street also has nightly shows at 19:30.
Yet the most technically impressive and atmospherically magical Khmer dance performances are sporadically staged by the Nginn Karet Foundation at the lovely Wat Bo Pagoda. These performances help to raise funds for the extensive charity work carried out by the foundation, so you can contribute to a good cause while enjoying a breathtaking show. Check Nginn Karet's website for performance dates.
Note: we generally do not recommend going to a Khmer dance performance by orphaned Cambodian children, or taking part in the entire orphanage tourist attraction phenomenon, as these activities imperil the rights and futures of Cambodian kids.
If you're really on a tight budget, try to wangle an invitation to a Khmer wedding -- there's often Khmer dancing and (less appealing but more humorous) pop music karaoke performances at those too.
Nginn Karet Foundation
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