Siem Reap & Angkor
Siem Reap is the name of the town only a stone throw away from the impressing Temples of Angkor. The small and lively town of Siem Reap is rapidly developing in order to cope with the static raising numbers of tourists. From luxuries hotels to guest houses Siem Reap offers a very wide range of accommodation possibilities for every size of wallet. Famous for its (night) life within and around the Pub Street and the Night Market area the town offers a great variety of pubs, and different Khmer or European style restaurants. Besides the development of the town in recent years Siem Reap made to manage to keep its charm of a typically Cambodian city; the market area with screaming, shouting, and negotiating marketers and the Remok (motorized Rickshaw) drivers on every corner on the one hand and the curious tourists on the other hand. As well as the city the beautiful countryside with its green paddy fields and the wooden houses allow Siem Reap to offer the full package of being a tourist destination. But frankly, Siem Reap hasn’t earned worldwide glory for being a charming little city in the north of Cambodia but being the place where to find some of the most impressing and breathtaking pieces of history in the world – the temples of Angkor Wat.
In the ninth century, the Khmer established Angkor as the capital of their huge kingdom stretching from present-day Thailand to Vietnam’s Mekong Delta. For the next six centuries they ruled one of the largest empires in South East Asia. Angkor cultivated a power base of a mighty military and political force, and a rich and sophisticated civilization. The ruins seen today represent successive capitals constructed by a dozen Khmer kings, between the 9th and 13th Centuries. These were cities of massive stone temples, wide majestic causeways, thrusting towers and imposing gates. The sheer size and magnificence of Angkor Wat is compelling. With a full restoration program by the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme Orient that began in 1908 and continuing to this day the monuments of Angkor, now open to all, have been regaining their claim as one of mankind’s greatest feats of construction.
“My desire is, not to impose my opinions on any one, especially with regard to the wonderful architectural remains which I have visited, but simply to disclose the existence of these monuments, which are certainly the most gigantic, and also to my mind display a more perfect taste than any left to us by the ancients…”
Henri Mouhot Travels in the Central Parts of Indo-China (Siam), Cambodia and Laos, 1864.
Explorers, adventurers, missionaries and Ambassadors have recorded visits to the Angkor Temples for well over eight hundred years, describing the monumental remnants of what was once a thriving culture that spread from the Mekong Delta to the north of Laos and occupied most of modern day Thailand. This Cambodian empire has left some of the greatest buildings and sandstone carvings depicting the religious figures of Vishnu, Shiva, Uma, Hanuman and their epic deeds one the one hand. Whilst on the other, are enduring images of everyday life by the shores of the huge internal Ton Le Sap Lake that rises and lowers according to the Mekong River’s annual flooding.
Deep in the north west of Cambodia lie the temples of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and Banteay Srei. With some smaller temple of Neak Pean, Ta Som, Banteay K’Dei, Ta Keo, Thommanon and Chau Say Tevoda can be included according to your client’s interest and activity level.
Sunsets and sunrises are particularly spectacular from any of the temples and our guided tours give you plenty of flexibility to choose how your visit is conducted. Our guides are experienced and knowledgeable and will bring the magic and wonder of Angkor to life.
A visit to Angkor can range from a leisurely day trip to an entire week of thorough exploration. Most visitors will need at least two days to get a real taste of the wonders on show. Visitors with keen interest in ancient history may want longer and we would recommend the day trip to outer temples and to off the beaten track temples too.
The temples of Angkor are one of the finest ancient sites in the world and are worth going out of your way to experience. Many airlines fly direct to Siem Reap (Angkor) from Thailand, Laos and Vietnam and there is also a wide range of exceptional hotels in the town. Speak to us about including a visit to Angkor in your itinerary, wherever you may be travelling in the region.
What to see in Siem Reap?
Of course, no visit to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to the Temples of Angkor. Over 100 temples lie within the Siem Reap province dating from the 9th-14th century. Passes are sold for 1 day, 3 days or 1 week and whilst you could spend a lifetime exploring, we recommend at least 2 full days for temple exploration. This will allow you to see all of the main temples, plus a few outlying ruins without racing around.
There are several options for getting around the temples. Car, bus, and van remain the vehicles of choice, but we recommend taking a day to cycle through the temples. Traveling by two wheels, either by regular bike or electric bike gives you a unique perspective and an eco-friendly way to see the temples. Elephant Rides are available and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the days of the Angkorian kings as you meander through the woods and temples. A tethered hot air balloon is available near Angkor Wat which gives distant, but sweeping views of the temples and their surroundings. But the most exciting experience available is a helicopter flight around the area. Ranging in length from 8 minutes to a half day excursion, buzzing around the temples in a helicopter is an unparalleled experience.
Any itinerary should include Angkor Wat, the magnificent legendary temple. Bayon is another favorite with its mysterious faces smiling down on visitors, while the jungle covered Ta Phrom is an evocative blend of nature and architecture. Other temples in the vicinity worth seeing are Phnom Bakheng, Elephant Terrace, Phimeanakas, Pre Rup, Baphoun, Neak Poan, Ta Som, Sras Srang, Banteay Samre, and Preah Khan.
If you have more time, trips further afield lead to less crowded temples and spectacular photo opportunities. Just 12 km from Siem Reap are the Rolous Group of temples, some of the earliest ruins in the region. The petite Banteay Srey features intricate carvings in pink sandstone and nearby Banteay Kdei is a hidden gem tucked away in the jungle. Kbal Spean is about 30 km northeast of the Bayon and about 9 km beyond Banteay Srei. Commonly referred to in English as "the River of a Thousand Lingas", this is a peaceful area of riverbed carvings.
Beng Melea sprawls across one square kilometer and remains covered in trees, roots, and vines. Constructed in a similar style to Angkor Wat yet overrun by nature, Beng Melea is a truly adventurous place to visit. Koh Ker, situated to the northeast of Siem Reap, is the remnants of the Khmer capital in the late 9th century and features a circular loop of about a dozen ruins.
Need a break from temple touring? Siem Reap has several other activities and opportunities for travelers.
A boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake should also not be overlooked. Each year during the rainy season, the lake swells to five times larger and the plethora of fish provide the livelihood for the lake’s residents. Global Travel & Tours favorite is the Paneman Boat, a large wooden cruising boat run by an eco-tourism company which provides an elegant ride along the water. A boat trip departing from Kampong Phluk takes you through the floating villages and ancient mangrove forests of the lake, a great way to see the unique lifestyle of the lake’s residents.
Artisan’s D’Angkor is a unique organization working to preserve traditional Khmer arts and crafts. They have established two centers in Siem Reap. The location in town features a stone carving workshop where locals produce magnificent sculptures, while the silk centre is a bit further afield. Here you can see the entire process of silk creation: from the breeding of the silk worms, to the dyeing and weaving of the material.
Siem Reap’s small downtown turns in to a hive of activity as the sun begins to set. The small ‘Old Market’ closes down and tourists flood in to town to enjoy cocktails on ‘Pub Street’ and dinner in one of the many restaurants. Vendors have capitalized on this area’s popularity by establishing a night market at the south end of Pub Street. Cambodian crafts such as artwork, silks, carvings, and t-shirts are for sale in an open air market off a tranquil side street making it the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.
A traditional Apsara Dance performance is a great evening activity as the elegant dancers, elaborate costumes, and live music create an enchanting atmosphere. Another treat is a traditional massage at our favorite shop, Bodia Spa. Here you will be treated to a relaxing spa or massage treatment, using top quality natural products and traditional techniques.
Where to stay in Siem Reap?
Whatever your budget and whatever your accommodation needs, Siem Reap has something to suit your tastes. With over hundreds of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, selecting accommodation can seem like a daunting task. However, our team in Siem Reap is constantly researching and visiting hotels, both old and new, to stay up to date on the best options in town. Below is a selection of our recommended hotels for each category which we hope will make your decision easier.
A hidden gem in Siem Reap is Viroth’s, a small hotel with just seven rooms tucked on a quiet side street near the heart of the city. Trendy, relaxing, and intimate, Viroth’s made the Conde Nast Hot List in 2008. One of our favourites is the superb Heritage Suites, a boutique hotel of exceptional standards in a quiet location. The FCC Angkor is new and has a very wide appeal with competitive rates and great facilities. Recently refurnished, the Shinta Mani is an unusual and trendy hotel in the centre of town.
Global Travel & Tours favorite, the Borei Angkor Resort and Tara Angkoris a chic boutique hotel with quality rooms, welcoming staff, and a great location near the Temples of Angkor. Likewise, the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa is a graceful colonial building offering a refined atmosphere in the heart of Siem Reap. The Pavilion D'Orient is situated in an old colonial mansion surrounded by lush tropical gardens in Siem Reap.
For those seeking the ultimate in luxury, there is no doubt that Amansara is the place to stay. Housed in the grounds of a former royal palace and featuring top of the line service and facilities, the Amansara is redefining the face of luxury in Cambodia. La Residence D’Angkor is an ideal base for exploring the temples, with leafy green gardens, warm hospitality and luxurious rooms. A bit trendier, the Hotel de la Paix features stunning Art Deco rooms accented by local art work and traditional textiles. The hotel also has a strong commitment to community development and its responsible travel outings are a great way to give back to the community. The Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor; a blend of old world charm, history and contemporary luxury.
Shopping and Dining
Siem Reap is a diner’s paradise with a vast array of cuisines on offer. Seemingly every week a new restaurant emerges from fine French menus to local crocodile barbeques!Madame Butterfly is a ‘can’t miss’ in Siem Reap. The food is authentic, delicious Thai and Khmer cuisine served in an understated, elegant restaurant - the perfect combination for a relaxing evening out in Siem Reap. Viroth’salso features fine Khmer dining in a nice setting while Meric at Hotel de la Paix is reinventing modern Khmer cuisine.
For a romantic table for two, there is no better place in Cambodia - if not the world - than a candle lit dinner at Sra Srang. Catered by the Amansara chefs, your meal is enhanced by the tranquil surroundings of this ancient baray. A romantic candle lit meal, delicious food, exquisite wine, and a tranquil setting - what more could you ask for?
Siem Reap – Attractions
One of must see places in Southeast Asia; Siem Reap is the gateway to the fabled temples of Angkor. A destination in its own right, Siem Reap is no longer the sleepy French-accented backwater it was. Opulent resorts, sophisticated restaurants, designer bars and exclusive shops are evidence that Siem Reap is very much back on the map. As well as the perfect base to explore the temples of Angkor, there are also plenty of activities beyond the temples to warrant a longer stay. Many visitors only come to Siem Reap for two or three days, but that is not enough to explore the temples and still have time to enjoy the town. Swimming pool, spa treatment, shopping expedition, cooking class, cycling adventure, it’s just impossible to fit so many things into such a short space of time. If you thought three days was enough to experience Angkor, think again.
Floating Village of Chong Kneas
Nestled under the hill of Phnom Krom, the floating village of Chong Kneas moves location with the waters of the lake. During the wet season when the lake swells to five times its size, the village is near Phnom Krom, but during the dry season, it moves as much as 4km from the hill. Everything floats on water in this living fishing community. There are floating schools, floating shops, floating petrol stations, even floating karaoke bars. Many of the houses are floating fish farms with large pens of fish underneath. Stop at the Gecko Environment Centre to learn more about the lake, which is like the heartbeat of Cambodia, providing sustenance to millions of Khmers.
Another world, this remote village is home to the fabled bamboo skyscrapers. Houses here stand atop stilts as much as seven metres above the water. Everything lives on the water, pigs, dogs, crocodiles and people, all jockeying for space in this incredible floating town. For the return journey to Siem Reap, take a boat through the flooded forest and across the Great Lake to Chong Kneas and the holy mountain of Phnom Krom.
Kompong Khleang and the Tonle Sap
Kompong Khleang is one of the largest and least-visited villages on the Tonle Sap Lake, about 55km from Siem Reap. It has a population of about 10,000 people, all of whom make a living from the fishing industry. Explore the canals (wet season) or streets (dry season) of this incredible town. In the wet season, the houses appear to be floating, as water laps at the verandas, but in the dry season towering stilts are revealed, the houses almost like wooden skyscrapers.
Angkor National Museum
This new flagship museum on the road to Angkor is a showcase for the sculpture and culture of the Khmer civilisation. An ultra-modern art space, this museum uses the latest technology to bring this ancient empire to life. The collection is themed by period, religion and royalty and includes the impressive Gallery of 1000 Buddhas, inspired by Preah Poan at Angkor Wat. There is plenty of information on hand throughout the tour and lots of interactive displays, such as the sunrise over Angkor Wat, although we'd recommend the real sunrise as a more memorable experience.
This Ministry of Culture compound has long been home to some of the hidden treasures of the Khmer empire. A storage depot to protect statues and carvings during the long periods of war and instability in the second half of the 20th century, many of the best known statuary around Angkor was moved here for safe-keeping in the early 1970s. Some of it has been loaned to the new National Museum, but much of it is still here in large warehouses or strewn throughout the leafy grounds. This is an interesting place to explore for those with a keen interest in Khmer sculpture.
Cambodian Cultural Village
This is by no means a 'must' for visitors to Siem Reap, but for families travelling with children, it can be a lot of fun and a much-needed diversion from the temples. It aims to represent all of Cambodia in a whirlwind tour of recreated houses and villages. The visit begins with a wax museum and includes homes of the Cham, Chinese, Kreung and Khmer people, as well as miniature replicas of landmark buildings in Cambodia. There are dance shows and performances throughout the day. Even for those without children, it could make an interesting diversion, as it is a genuine Cambodian tourist attraction and most of the visitors are Khmers on a big day out rather than the foreign tourists seen around Angkor.
The Pagodas of Siem Reap
Spend some time to visit the historic pagodas of Siem Reap, a peaceful and charming alternative to the temples of Angkor. The modern pagoda of Wat Thmei includes a moving memorial stupa to the victims of the Khmer Rouge. Wat Preah Inkosei which is built on the site of a 10th century temple. Two brick towers remain and one includes a superb lintel depicting the Churning of the Ocean of Milk. The 19th century temple of Wat Bo is one of the most important pagodas in Siem Reap. Dating from the 19th century, the interior of the main temple includes some of the finest religious murals in Cambodia, depicting the life of the Buddha. The old royal palace compound of Wat Dam Nak has been converted to a place of learning for the Centre for Khmer Studies. There are some elegant old buildings here and extensive gardens. Wat Athvea is an interesting fusion temple which includes the impressive remains of an 12th century sandstone structure and an attractive old pagoda.
Birding at Prek Toal
The pristine biosphere of Prek Toal is home to some of the most endangered birdlife on the planet. The immense Tonle Sap Lake is one of the most productive bodies of water in the world and millions of fish spawn here in the flooded forest. Prek Toal lies on the northeastern shore of the Tonle Sap, about one hour by boat from the port at Phnom Krom. Prek Toal is a vast area of natural flooded forest that draws thousands of birds annually to breed during the dry season. This is one of the premier places in Southeast Asia to see rare birds such as storks, adjutants, pelicans and ibis. Birdwatchers will drift through their habitat and can observe large flocks of birds feeding on the lake shore, perched in the trees or soaring above the forest.
Birding at Ang Trapeang Thmar
Ang Trapeang Thmar Sarus Crane Reserve is a giant reservoir constructed during Khmer Rouge rule which now provides a habitat for more than 200 species of bird. During the dry season, this reserve provides a habitat for more than 300 rare Sarus Crane, one of the tallest birds in the world with a distinctive crimson head.
Classical Dance Show in Siem Reap
Get closer to Cambodian culture by attending a classical dance performance. We will see many of the most popular Cambodian dances, including the graceful Apsara dance, scenes from the Ramayana (known as Reamker in Cambodia), the coconut dance and more. The classical dances include elaborate costume and date back to the time of Angkor, while the folk dances are connected to the harvest and the cycle of the seasons.
Cambodian Cooking Class
Hanuman offers a range of cooking classes in Siem Reap. We spend some time learning the secrets of the Cambodian kitchen, a cuisine laced with subtle spices and tempting aromas. Choose from a selection of favourites, including meat, fish and vegetarian options. Enjoy the fruits of your labour, eating your very own creations. Take these recipes home and impress your friends with a Cambodian evening.
Golf at the Phokeethra Course
Everyone is talking about the brand new world class golf course at the Phokeethra Country Club, so make sure you enjoy a round at this par-72, 18-hole course that includes the par-5 18th hole, at a challenging 582 yards. The course stages the Cambodian Open tournament every year and proudly boasts, “Tee-off in the 11th century and finish your round back in the 21st century”. The Phokeethra clubhouse affords vistas overlooking the entire landscape of the course and within the grounds, the magnificent ‘Roluh’ bridge, and dates back to the time of the Khmer Empire. Located less than 20km from Siem Reap, the picturesque course stretches 7,145 yards. It has sweeping, tree-lined fairways and generous greens, though the natural lakes and water hazards, fast greens, and tricky bunkers will challenge golfers of all abilities.
Golf at ‘The Faldo Course’
For the golfing enthusiast, the brand new ‘Faldo Course’ at the Angkor Golf Resort, is a definite starting place to tee-off your round in Cambodia. The country’s first PGA standard championship golf course, its 7,230-yards, it offers a tough test on a course designed by Europe’s greatest golfer and winner of 6 Majors in his illustrious career, Nick Faldo. The course features generous fairways, a bold bunkering style, and greens with plenty of subtle undulations that not only encourage but reward a variety of approach shots. It’s within easy reach of the city centre, so why not sign-up for a round of golf in the shadow one of the world’s greatest monuments on a course designed by one of the world’s greatest players?
Horse Riding around the Temples
For those that enjoy a spot of riding, explore the countryside around Siem Reap on horseback. These gentle rides include some secluded temple spots and the chance to enjoy local life at a slower pace. Riding lessons are also available for children or beginners.
For those that have never experienced it, all-terrain biking is a lot of fun and all trips include a short introductory lesson to bring riders up to speed. Rides around Siem Reap include a sunset option through the rice fields, some quiet pagodas and temples and a series of backroads through the pretty countryside around Siem Reap.
Cambodia is a diverse country with mountains and beaches, rivers and jungles. Traveling through the rural areas is a great way to not only experience the variety of natural landscapes, but also unveils the lifestyle and genuine warmth of the Cambodian people.
Kampong Thom is located between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and is an excellent stopover for those traveling overland. Near this sleepy riverside town lie the temples of Sambor Prei Kuk, a collection of 7th century temples. Tucked in the forest, these ancient ruins can be explored on foot or by bike traversing small dirt paths which wind among the temples.