Exploring Siem Reap
Once a small village in the middle of Cambodian nowhere, Siem Reap is now one of the fastest-growing cities in Southeast Asia. Its proximity to the magnificent, ancient Angkor Archaeological Park with its temples and palaces has resulted in a plethora of hotels and tourism conveniences, but its ambience is still laid-back, welcoming, and typically Cambodian. A plethora of accommodation, from budget to four-star, awaits the traveller, with the most modern and sophisticated hotels set along the main highway leading to Siem Reap International Airport, and the quirkiest and lowest priced options set around the city’s entertainment and market hub in the suitably-named Pub Street.The highlight, of course, is the Angkor Archaeological Park itself, located six kilometres from the centre in a vast, 400-square kilometre park. Built between the 9th and 15th centuries, the several capital cities of the powerful Khmer Empire contained Angkor Wat itself and Angkor Thom’s spectacular Bayun Temple with its stunning sculptures and many palaces and ceremonial buildings. The early temples were dedicated to the Hindu pantheon of gods, with the Buddhist architecture dating from 1200 AD when the ruler Jayavarman VII converted to the Buddhist faith. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the site presents craftsmanship that is unrivalled in the entire region.
Once you’ve spent a few fascinating days wandering around the Angkor complex, it’s time to explore the rural villages and natural wonders of this ancient corner of Cambodia.
- Tonle Sap LakeHuge Tonle Sap Lake is a short drive away with its stilted fishing villages and unspoiled remote shores. Its waters recede during the dry season and increase to cover the surrounding land during the rains, and it’s an ecological treasure for its local lifestyles and unique flora and flora, including bird life.
- Kampong Phluk Floating VillageKampong Phluk is the least touristy of the several floating villages set around the lakeshore. Here, locals live out their lives entirely on the water during the rainy season, with boats the main means of transport between homes, schools, medical centres, and markets.
- Wat BoAncient Wat Bo is the oldest Buddhist temple in Siem Reap, with its ramshackle main hall oddly blending Thai temple architecture with French balustrades and arches. Many chedis interspersed with frangipani trees and bushes sculptured in various topiary styles, surround the hall.
Eating and drinking and shopping nearby
Dining out covers all tastes and budgets, from street and market stalls serving traditional take-outs to upscale hotels such as the Borei Angkor Resort & Spa and the Prince D Angkor Resort and Spa offering fine dining options and international cuisine. Pub Street isn’t just about drinking as many bars have first-floor eateries that serve delicious food. The Alley, with its numerous small restaurants, is worth investigating, Wat Bo Road offers tempting alternatives, and the Phsar Chas eateries offer Westernised versions of Cambodian specialties. Indian, organic, and vegetarian options are also easily found. Market shopping is the most fun here, with the Old Market area the obvious choice. Cambodia has a strong local craft tradition, with many workshops in the city centre open to visitors. For antiques, art, and top quality crafts, the shopping arcades in upscale hotels such as the Heritage Suites Hotel are the best choices.
Siem Reap International Airport hosts flights from most Asian air hubs, including Bangkok, Seoul, Singapore, Taipei, and Beijing, as well as from Frankfurt. Set on the outskirts of the city, the airport is due to be replaced in the future by a brand new facility some 60kms away. Transportation from the airport is by inexpensive taxis, bookable on arrival, or by even cheaper motorised rickshaws, and most hotels offer shuttle buses for those who book in advance. Getting around Siem Reap is by rickshaw, taxi, or hired car with a driver, a good option if you are planning to explore the area as well as visit Angkor.