The name of Siem Reap might be unknown to an average traveler, but Angkor certainly isn’t. Siem Reap – Cambodia is the closest settlement to the ancient Angkor Wat Khmer temple and Angkor city ruins and wears the moniker Great Gate to Angkor. It is actually a city of considerable size and home to almost 200,000 people. Apart from being the provincial capital (of the same name), Siem Reap is a well-known resort town intended to accommodate all the tourists that pass through the region, and there certainly are plenty of them.
The glamour of the East had cast its spell upon him; the mystery of lands in which no white man had set foot since the beginning of things had fired his imagination; the itch of travel was upon him, goading him to restlessness.
– via Hugh Clifford
About Siem Reap – Cambodia
Siem Reap – Cambodia is actually a number of clustered smaller villages which have eventually grown together to create a city that you can see today. The town is intersected by the Siem Reap river which meets the large Tonlé Sap lake just slightly further down south. Being positioned in north-western Cambodia, the city features a tropical climate with both rainy and dry seasons. No matter if it’s raining or not, however, Siem Reap is hot throughout the year. The average yearly temperature stands at 32.8 degrees Celsius or around 91 degrees Fahrenheit.
November would be the coldest month there (if you could call it that), but even then average temperature doesn’t fall below the 30-degree Celsius (86 °F) mark. On the other hand, April is the hottest month with temperatures averaging 35.5 °C or 96 °F.
Yearly precipitation is almost 1,500 mm per square meter or 58 inches, but most of the rain falls between May and October, during the rainy season. In contrast, rain rarely falls at all during January, for instance. Consider these pieces of information if you’re planning a trip to Cambodia as high humidity and arid temperatures go hand-in-hand during the summer. Needless to say, most people not used to that kind of weather might suffer from it. It’s probably best to visit Angkor and other Siem Reap’s marvels when it’s dry and slightly cooler.
Depending on where you’re coming from, you might arrive at Siem Reap by pretty much any means of transportation, but people coming from afar will likely land at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport, 7 kilometers (4.5 miles) due north-west of the city. Along the way from the airport to the city, you’ll pass by Angkor Golf Resort and the number of hotels and resorts which you can use as accommodation. You’ll also pass by Siem Reap War Museum and Cambodian Cultural Village amusement park which are neatly placed along the National Highway 6.
The city center is where the mentioned highway meets Charles De Gaulle road which connects the town with the ancient ruins of Angkor. Apart from the Angkor Wat (the temple) and Angkor Thom (city ruins), together with already mentioned attractions, Siem Reap – Cambodia offers a number of other temples, Angkor National Museum, Cambodia Landmine Museum, and Relief Center, floating villages and Phnom Kulen National Park some 50 kilometers (31 miles) north-east of the town.
Places to visit
Angkor National Museum is arguably the most deserving of Siem Reap’s museums and it’s found in the town’s center. The admission fee comes at a rather hefty price tag of $12, but it’s eventually worth seeing and learning Angkor’s complete history. Cambodia’s turbulent recent history has left the country riddled with landmines and Siem Reap – Cambodia even has a museum that covers this unfortunate topic. War Museum employs ex-participants in the 1970’s war as guides and what’s the best way to learn about the Cambodian civil war and Khmer Rouge regime than hearing stories from war’s direct participants?
Any of a significant number of temples scattered around Siem Reap is also worthy of a visit. Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Ta Keo, Ta Som, Phnom Bakheng, Banteay Kdei, East Mebon, Pre Rup and Neak Pean are all scattered around the ancient city’s premises and have been built between 10th and 13th centuries. Tonlé Sap lake offers a number of activities you can engage yourself in while in town. Short 10 miles are well worth the effort as the largest Cambodia’s lake offers floating villages and mangrove forests galore, as well as crocodile farms.
Head in the opposite direction of the city and you’ll arrive at the Phnom Kulen National Park. A short break from temple tours will likely be needed and Phnom Kulen, together with the lake are the best options for that. Buddhist temples, waterfalls, and archaeological sites are scenery changes which most people will find refreshing.
Now, Angkor Wat is a 12th century Khmer temple complex and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1992. It is the largest religious monument in the world and one of the earth’s most splendid sites without a doubt. While smaller than the city itself (naturally), Angkor Wat doesn’t fall behind it in terms of impressiveness and overall historical value.
Most of the above-mentioned temples, including The Bayon, are found within the limits of Angkor Thom. Moat and walls surround the ancient city which stretches across 9 square kilometers (3.5 square miles). Being such a large complex, Angkor city offers quite a few attractions besides the mentioned temples. Leper King Terrace, Elephant’s Terrace, and Thema Bay Kaek are only a few of them. There are plenty of food and drink vendors as well, so don’t worry about that during your long walks around the complex. Bayon Temple (Temple of Many Faces) is probably the loveliest and most interesting sight inside all of Angkor Thom. This is one of the reasons people actually come here from far and wide and you just can’t afford to miss it.
While you’re in Siem Reap – Cambodia, you will certainly visit a few restaurants; most of which are quite good. There’s also a matter of choosing a hotel, but don’t worry – the city is riddled with them. Sofitel, Le Meridien, and Raffles Grand are some of the most notable mentions here. Finally, don’t forget to visit Cambodian Cultural Village – theme park and museum with lots of attractions of its own for $15 worth of entrance fee. If not that, you can always go for 18 holes at Angkor Golf Resort but be prepared to pay much more than what you have spent on other Siem Reap’s attractions.
Other Ways to get to Siem Reap
Natives to the region mostly travel by bicycle, motorcycle, tuk-tuk, and occasionally by bus and rarely go on trips further than their native villages. The streets of Siem Reap have their fair share of cars, but mostly they are taxis, VIP, police, and commercial vehicles and you will rarely see anything resembling the traffic that is so familiar in cities across the world.
Tourists generally arrive by air or come for a few days via cruise ship. Some especially masochistic tourists, and those who book group packages, arrive by bus from Laos, Vietnam, or Thailand. It takes an entire day to get from the border of Vietnam to Siem Reap, so only the traveler who has nowhere to go in a hurry should consider taking the bus. If you started in the capital Phnom Penh, the road is paved and smooth and there are several regularly scheduled daily buses in both directions, taking only 5 or 6 hours. It is about the same distance from much less touristed Battambanq and Sihanoukville, which is Cambodia’s destination for beach vacations.
Other Things To Do
Siem Reap welcomes approximately one million tourists per year from the U.S., England, Europe, China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia, just to list a few. Beyond the draw of Angkor, Cambodia is one of the poorest…and cheapest destinations in Asia and boasts tropical rain forests and unspoiled jungle that draws its share of ecotourism. While some families visit, the majority of the American and British tourists we saw were adults in their twenties and thirties.
The official language was until recently still French and you can get buy almost anywhere in town with English, but when you walk down the center of the old town, you can hear a barrage of languages the offers instant confirmation that visitors come from all over the world to experience the historical treasures of Cambodia. This wave of vacationers has led to the growth of vibrant shopping, nightlife, and entertainment scene. Whether you’re looking for a theater or a dance club, you’ll find lots on like-minded people and lots of cheap beer in this trekker’s Mecca.
The Angkor National Museum, home to a breathtaking gallery of 1000 Buddhas, is one of Asia’s premier attractions. This modern facility is devoted to the preservation of Khmer traditions and the history of Angkor Wat. Visitors learn about Cambodia’s temple heritage through a series of video screens and cutting edge displays.
A variety of shopping centers, spas, cafés, parks, and other activities can be found throughout the old market area. Don’t expect duty-free mall stuffed with high-end boutique shops or even basic necessities. The local merchants offer a variety of hand made items, local silk goods, world-famous Cambodian puppets, and an assortment of disturbingly similar goods that could be found at a flea market anywhere in the world.
My favorite Siem Reap temples include Ta Prohm, Angkor Wat, and Angkor Thom, but they are all amazing. The sunrise reflecting on the lake is magical, or so we are told. We arrived at 5:45 am just in time for the rain to let loose. Lots of people also rave about the poolside bar and Palm garden cafe at Aspara Siem Reaps, but we stayed at the Sokha Angkor Hotel, which has an amazing saltwater pool and a very friendly staff. We found it the perfect place to unwind after a day of trekking through temples.
Put Siem Reap Cambodia on your do list for vacations and remember that the recommended dates are from October to March when the weather is most comfortable, the temperature is moderate and the sun shines most of the day. April through August is the rainy season and offers a relentless mix of high temperatures and high humidity– a combination to be missed. It’s these little details that make the difference!