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Apsaras Dance & Dinner Shows in Siem Reap

Siem Reap Attractions

The Apsaras Dance – sometimes written as Apsara Dance – is a classical Khmer performance art inspired by the water and cloud spirit of Hindu and Buddhist mythology. The Apsaras are a common feature of bas-reliefs on the walls of the Angkor temples near Siem Reap, shown in the same tight-fitting traditional dress, ornate headdress and gilded jewellery the modern dancers wear.

While the Apsaras Dance – known locally as “Robam Tep Apsara” – originates from the 6th-7th centuries, the shows you are likely to see in Siem Reap are actually quite a recent invention. The ballet-like performance was created by the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in the mid-20th century, with the graceful moves and postures inspired by those displayed on the walls of Angkor Wat and other ancient buildings in the area. In 2003, the dance was recognised by UNESCO as a ‘Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’.

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Apsaras Dance Moves

The training for apsaras dancers is extremely intensive and must be started at an early age. The very first professional apsaras dancer was Princess Norodom Buppha Devi of the Cambodian Royal Family, who trained from the age of five! There are at least 4,500 basic moves and gestures to learn, for one thing, as well as perfecting the rolling hip movements and the strenuous arm, leg and back curving postures.

The hand gestures of the dance are especially iconic, with the wrists and fingers curved back at extraordinary angles. Called “kbach” in Khmer, these gestures represent elements from nature, including flowers, leaves and fruits.

The dance is performed to lilting tunes played on traditional musical instruments, including the kong thom (a semi-circle of metal chimes on a wooden frame), rumana (drums) and the roneat thung (a fish-skeleton-shaped low-pitched xylophone). These are often accompanied by a falsetto choir of about a dozen singers.

Apsaras Dance Costume

The basis of the apsaras dancer’s dress is an intricately pleated sampot – effectively the same as a sarong. The headdress is the really important part, with the lead dancer’s crown traditionally having five points and two rows of disc-like decorations, matching the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. Other dancers have only three points and one row of discs. Traditional accessories include various types of earrings, beads, bracelets and anklets. While the ancient dancers were traditionally bare-chested, the modern interpretation includes a simple top, often in either white or skin-tone, with an elaborate collar.

Several restaurants and hotels in Siem Reap present apsaras dance shows, and dinner shows are included in many tours. Most shows include the four genres of traditional Khmer dance: Apsara Dance, Masked Dance, Shadow Theatre and Folk Dance. These are abbreviated dances for tourists, and unfortunately there is usually little or no explanation as to the origin and meaning of the dances. Regardless, they are still interesting and worthwhile to see.

Below are a few of the venues offering Apsara Dance.

Alliance Cafe

  • Opening Hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday - Dinner 19:00/ Show 20:00
    Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Wat Damnak area
  • Type: Shadow Puppet Theatre and Traditional Khmer Dance
  • Remarks: Seating Indoors
    Dinner type: Khmer set menu or a la carte
    Note: No show during May & June
  • Tel: +855 (0)63 964 940
  • Price Range: Set menu + show $20.00, Show only $7.00
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Apsara Terrace

  • Opening Hours: Monday, Wednesday, Friday – Dinner 19:00 / Show 19:45.
    Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor
  • Type: Traditional Khmer Dance & Khmer Martial Arts
  • Tel: +855 (0) 63 963 561
  • Price Range: Adults – $40, Children under 12 - $25.50
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Apsara Theatre

  • Opening Hours: Everyday – Dinner 19:30 / Show 20:30
    Duration: 1 hour
  • Location: Off Wat Bo Road, opposite Angkor Village Hotel
  • Type: Traditional Khmer Dance
  • Remarks: Seating inside (A/C)
    Dinner type: Khmer set menu
  • Tel: +855 (0)63 963 561
  • Price Range: Adults – $25, Children under 12 - $12.50
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Koulen Restaurant

Experience an enchanting night with unique local cuisine and a charming show of exotic Khmer cultural dancing. As you dine on a delicious Cambodian buffet dinner, be captivated by an Apsara dance performance. Arrive at the Koulen theater-restaurant and enjoy a feast of local delicacies, such as the classic amok Cambodian curry and Khmer barbecue meats, Read More...

  • Opening Hours: Daily: 09:00 - 20:30
  • Location: Street 02, Sivatha Rd, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia
  • Tel: +855 92 630 090
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Temple Balcony

  • Opening Hours: Everyday at 19:30.
    Duration: 2 hours
  • Location: Pub Street
  • Type: Traditional Khmer Dance
  • Remarks: Seating inside
    Dinner type: A La Carte
  • Tel: +855 (0)15 999 909
  • Price Range: Free
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