Siem Reap Introduction
Literally mean Sieamese defeat, the name of Siem Reap refers to the victory of the Khmer Empire in the war against Thai Empire in the 17th century. Being a province in the Northwest of Cambodia, Siem Reap is globally known as the main access to Angkor Wat, the majestic ruins from the Angkor Kingdom. Hence, this is a must-visit destination for tourists traveling to Cambodia. Nevertheless, this is not the sole thing that charms visitors to Siem Reap. Other than Angkor Wat, travelers have lots of things to see and do in the town, including thriving local businesses, with mixed Chinese and French architectural styles, which make it a modern but ancient city; or even the surroundings , where situated the enormous Tonle Sap Lake and its floating villages.
How to get to Siem Reap
Since Siem Reap is the main and number one tourist destination in Cambodia, every trip to Cambodia should include this city and the best means of transportation is, of course, by air. There are numerous airlines that operate flight to Siem Reap. If you are from far away country that do not have direct flight to Siem Reap, you can choose to flight to nearby destinations and then book another short flight to the city. Cambodia National Airway is the national airline and offers the most international flight routes from Siem Reap to surrounding destinations and vice versa. Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways (Thailand) provide flights from Bangkok. While Vietnam Airlines offers more options with flights from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Phu Quoc to Siem Reap. For budget travelers, you can choose between Air Asia with daily flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to Siem Reap; Jetstar with flights from Singapore and Cebu Pacific from Manila (Philippines) are other great options. Direct flights from Pakse, Hongkong, Taipei and long-haul flights from Doha and Tokyo are also available. In case you are not starting your trip from Siem Reap but from Phnom Penh, it would take around 8 hours to travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap by bus, or by boat with longer travel time.
Things to do in Siem Reap
Check out some main things to include in your Siem Reap Travel Itinerary
This is the main reason for traveler to visit Siem Reap. About 5.5 km to the north of Siem Reap center, the enormous Angkor complex stretching over 400 km2, consist of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and numerous other temples since the ancient Khmer Kingdom. Among them, Angkor Wat is the largest and most famous, with a total area of 162.6 hectares. Angkor Wat, which was built in the early 12th century, has been seen as one of the largest monuments ever in Angkor Complex. It’s also one of the seven wonder of the world by UNESCO. This temple constructions was during King Suryavarman II, with the purpose of serving as a temple to worship Vishnu as well as his own mausoleum. But its completion was until the reign of King Jayavarman VII. The architecture of Angkor Wat is the typical Khmer architecture and symbolized the Meru Mountain – the origin of Hinduism Gods Vishnu. Indeed, it includes a central tower surrounded by 4 other smaller towers, representing Mount Meru and its peaks and the whole templer is covered by a large moat. Initially, the main purpose of erecting Angkor Wat was as a Hinduism temple, the main religion of Khmer Kingdom at that time. Nevertheless, the kings of Khmer have different preference of religions, thus, eventually in late 12th century, Angkor Wat became a Buddism temple until present. Angkor Wat was the capital and religious center of the Khmer Kingdom since its early erection until Champa invasion. Later on, King Jayavarman VII revived the kingdom, then move the capital to the north, which is now popularly known as Angkor Thom, and built another temple called Bayon.
With the distance of around 1.7 km to the north of Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom was the last capital of Khmer Kingdom. King Jayavarman VII was the one ordered the establishment in the late 12th century. Angkor Thom cover a total area of 9km2 with Bayon temple located at the center. Bayon Temple features plenty of massive stone faces on numerous towers jutting out from the upper terrace. This temple is “the most striking expression of the baroque style” of Khmer architecture, on the contrary to the Angkor Wat’s classical style. Each tower has four faces, and the faces are considered the face of the king. On the other hand, some people believe that are the faces of Avalokitesvara. The most remarkable things in Bayon Temple is that people use Laterite to build all constructions of this temple from the four-faced tower, the walls, or even Naga statues. Other temples in the complex including Baphuon Temple, Phimeanakas Temple, Terrance of Elephants, Terrance of Lepher Kings and so on.
Tonle Sap Lake
Its situation is 15 km to the south of Siem Reap, Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia. There are 5 provinces circle Tonle Sap Lake and connect with Mekong River. This lake is an important commercial resource of Cambodia, which provides 90 percent of fish consumed for the whole country. It also is a great destination for travelers. With diverse ecosystem, distinctive local life at the edge of the lake and unque floating villages as well as water stilt houses, Tonle Sap is definitely an ideal place for those who want to immerse deeply in the local culture. The only way to explore the lake is by boat. Sitting on the boat, you will go through floating villages, towering stilt houses and other outstanding constructions in different styles, including Khmer, Vietnamese or even Muslim. All activities of local people take place on the lake, from the households, markets, fisheries to hospitals, schools or sports.
Apsara is the traditional dancing, which only to perform to the Kings and Royal family in the past. According to the legend, fairies present Apsara for Hinduism Gods. Recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage, it would be a mistake if you skip this outstanding show. Visitors can easily find the places where offer Apsara Dancing around Siem Reap, furthermore, there are numerous restaurants performing Apsara during dinner.
Angkor National Museum
Opened in November 2007, Angkor National Museum is a archeological museum, where preserves and presents thousands of Angkorian artifacts from 9th to 14th century. It is also dedicated for visitors who seek to learn about art and culture of Khmer civilization with a bundle of information and collections. The museum consists of a Briefing Hall and 8 galleries, all connected by corridors, each of them displays different collection discovered mostly from the Angkor Complex and nearby:
1: 1,000 Buddha statues
2: Pre-Angkor Khmer Civilization
3: Religions and Beliefs
4: The Great Khmer Kings
5: Angkor Wat
6: Angkor Thom
7: Story from Stones
8: Ancient Costumes
Kbal Spean is an ancient archeological site dated since Angkor era, in the northeast of the Angkor Complex in Siem Reap. In fact, this is a small part of Stung Kbal Spean River, but what make this site special is actually hidden underneath the water. On the riverbed, there are thousands of neatly arranged sandstones with carvings of lingas on the surface. That is also the reason why this place is so-called “The River of Thousands Lingas”.
Banteay Srei Temple
Banteay Srei Temple was built in the 10th century with the purpose of worshipping Shiva, a Hinduism God. The temple is renown for its intricate carvings on hard red sandstones (known as quartz arenite) on its walls. The carvings represent kala, the god of time and death. Nevertheless, Banteay Srei is not the original name of the temple, as people believe that the recent name is due to the carvings on the walls made by devatas. Literally, Banteay Srei means the citadel of women, or the citadel of beauty. This meaning relate to numerous women statues and carvings all around the temple. Being the only temple at Angkor was not build by a mornach, Banteay Srei is a “jewl in Khmer art” that visitor cannot miss.
Traditional massage is a popular service when you visit any country in Southeast Asia. Howerver, when travel to Siem Reap, tourists will have a chance to experience another unique type of massage that cannot be seen nowhere else – fish pedicure massage. Walking around the Old Town, travelers may see lots of stores with fish tanks, but do not sell any fish at all. These small aquariums full of small fishes, along by cozy chairs are the perfect treatment for your feet after a long day wandering around. Just immerse your feet in the water, the fishes will nibble away all dead skin from your feet and toes.
Take a tuk tuk ride
Tuk tuk is a most common transportation in Cambodia and has become the symbol of this country. Tuk tuk looks like a carriage, with a cabin pulling by a mortobike engine, each can carry 4 people. You can easily find a tuk tuk in every corner in Siem Reap and the drivers are always ready to ride you to anywhere you want. This is definitely the most authentic way to experience around the city and the price is much cheaper than taxis.
Places to Eat in Siem Reap
As the city of booming tourism, there is no lack of restaurants in Siem Reap. Siem Reap offers an outstanding variety of restaurants. If you are seeking for fine dining experience, Shinta Mani and Hotel Grand D’Angkor are the best choices. Despite the fact that there are quite a few restaurants offer excellent cuisine in an elegant and classy atmosphere. Options for moderate price Cambodian and international restaurants are also various. Almost every restaurant serve Cambodian cuisine. If you would like to try some local experience, check out the Chinatown at the south end of Sivatha Boulevard or the local food stalls and cookshops next to the Old Market.
Attending a traditional Apsara dance performance is a must when you are in Siem Rap. Several restaurants offer Apsara show during dinner, including Grand Hotel D’Angkor, Apsara Theater, Kulen II, Angkor Mondial, Chao Pra Ya, Tonle Mekong, and Tonle Sap.
Bars, Pubs & After Dark
Nightlife in Siem Reap is extremely colorful. The most popular place to enjoy the nightlife is Pub Street, the liveliest place in town for both locals, expats and tourists. Here you can find popular early evening pubs, bars and restaurants. The street will get more and more crowded in the evening. Pub Street starts from the late afternoon and some places are available until late.
Best time to visit Siem Reap
The best time to visit Siem Reap is in the dry season, from November to early April, since the weather during this period is the most ideal. Indeed, there are more tourists in December and January due to the fact that these are the coolest time of the year with the temperature only around 21oC.
How to get around in Siem Reap
Traveling to Siem Reap, you will have numerous options to getting around. The most popular one is tuk tuk, also a must try experience in Siem Reap with negotiable price, from $2 for short trip. Taxi is another option, most suitable when the weather is hot. Normally, taxis in Siem Reap do not have meter so you need to bargain before getting on the car, and of course the price is more expensive than tuk tuk. Otherwise, renting a bike for $5 a day is not a bad idea.