Siem Reap was a capital city within the Khmer kingdom of Cambodia. The city thrived between the 9th and 15th centuries, when most of its incredible complex of stone buildings was constructed. Siem Reap is home to many unique treasures like the Terrace of the Elephants, a must-see on your visit and part of the walled fortifications of the Angkor Thom temple complex.
Siem Reap was brought back to the public eye after a French adventurer happened upon the temple in the 1800s. The city has many relics of its French colonial past, including the Grand Hotel d'Angkor, which was built in the 1920s.
Sleek modern hotels and ancient ruins compete for your attention in historic Siem Reap. You'll find a thriving modern town with a trendy hotel, dining, and nightlife scene, minutes away from one of the world's most incredible archaeological sites.
This is the main temple inside the ruins of Angkor. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, five towers surround a large central tower that is meant to represent Mount Meru, a sacred mountain in Eastern philosophies. The temple is considered so crucial to the history of Cambodia that it appears on the nation's flag. Not just one building, this is a complex dating from the 13th century that includes several temples and statues of Buddha in the wonderfully ornate Khmer style.
This may not be the place to get your designer duds, but there are unique opportunities to buy locally produced goods at the markets. You can buy souvenirs, spices, clothing, and of course food to fuel your shopping expedition in many open air markets, including the oldest night market in Cambodia.
The ancient city is an archaeological wonder, with so many places and sites to explore, including Angkor Thom, the former royal city that itself includes several Buddhist temples. Most, like the Banteay Kdei, a Buddhist monastery, have not been restored, and you can explore the buildings, sculptures, and moat in all their ruined glory.
The Angkor National Museum includes more than 1,000 statues and images of Buddha along with authentic Khmer-era artifacts. Other museums include the War Museum Cambodia for a look at much more recent history.
Aside from the historic ruins, the floating villages are a popular attraction in Siem Reap. There are three, including Kompong Phluk, Chong Kneas, and Kompong Khleang, the quietest of the three, where about 6,000 people make their homes in stilt houses on the river.
Siem Reap lies in a tropical zone, with a hot climate that sees a wet season between April and November, and a drier season the rest of the year. Average temperatures hover around the high 80s and low 90s all year round. The dry season of December to March is usually popular with tourists.
Siem Reap lies just over four miles from the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (REP). Taxis to town are an inexpensive alternative at ៛28,355 or so, with rates set so you don't have to worry about negotiating after a long flight. A tuk-tuk ride (an auto rickshaw) will cost you about ៛20,000.
There are trains from Bangkok that arrive at the Aranyaprathet station, which lies less than four miles from the Cambodian/Thai border. From there, it is possible to take a taxi or mini bus shuttle into Siem Reap. A shared ride will cost about ៛48,600, while a car all to yourself should run about ៛195,000.
Siem Reap is accessible by car from Phnom Penh and is not far from the border with Thailand. Driving from Bangkok is theoretically feasible via NR6. However, because of stringent requirements, most private vehicles would not meet the border stipulations of both countries, and so driving on your own is not recommended. There are many car and driver services that can do the work for you for about ៛200 or less.
Bus service is available directly from Bangkok to Siem Reap through Transport Co./Nattakan, a company operated by the Thai government. Buses also arrive daily from Phnom Penh through a number of companies including Asia Win Alliance, Golden Bayon Express, and Mekong Express, starting at about ៛24,500.
For tropical comfort and stylish modern furnishings at budget prices, try the Royal Empire Hotel or the Diamond D'Angkor Boutique hotel. At the higher end of the scale, there is the sleek, contemporary Borei Angkor Resort & Spa, with upscale amenities and a gorgeous pool. The Golden Temple Hotel offers Cambodian-style splendor at a mid-price range.
The Old French Quarter - this is where you'll find the trendy - and the wealthier - side of town, chock full of restaurants of every kind and many luxury hotels and resorts. You'll find both Chinese-style and colonial French architecture, along with crowds of tourists from all over the world.
Pub Street - as the name implies, this is the place to be for nightlife in Siem Reap. Here the bars, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs are open until 4 am daily, and you'll find options at every price point from luxurious retreats to beer halls full of backpackers.
Wat Bo - you'll find many restaurants and accommodations in this bustling area of town on the east side of the river. It is also the place for shopping from local artisans who specialize in goods like wood carvings and jewelry, often including rubies. You'll also find Wat Damnak, the former royal palace, Siem Reap Art Center, and the Wat Bo temple in this area.
There is no public transportation system in Siem Reap, but cheap taxis and tuk-tuks fill the gap.
Taxi service may cost you as little as ៛4,050 for a trip across town. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are also hugely popular in Siem Reap, and you'll generally find them a cheaper alternative to the automobile variety. A tuk-tuk can usually be rented for the whole day for about ៛60,750.
With chaotic traffic at times, and a shortage of parking spaces, a car rental is something you can probably do without in Siem Reap. If you need one, a rental should cost about ៛405,800 per day and local providers include Avis, with pick-up trucks and vans the most popular choice. A car with a driver is a better alternative, and should cost you about ៛142,000 per day. You'll find many drivers looking for day fares along the Siem Reap River and near the Old Market area.
Angkor Night Market Street, located just off the main tourist hub of Sivutha Street, is where you'll find the night market, open most days from 4 pm to 11:30 pm. The Siem Reap Old Market or Psah Chah is located right in the heart of town on the west side of the river, and offers bargain shopping for clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, food, and much more.
There are many well-stocked supermarkets in Siem Reap, including Angkor Market. Lucky Supermarket is another favorite, with Thai Huot a more locally oriented alternative. A quart of milk should cost about ៛8,100, and a dozen eggs will set you back about ៛6,500.
The Sugar Palm offers traditional dishes starting at only ៛20,250. East meets west in the fusion menu at Haven, where profits go to help young adult orphans and mains start at only ៛12,150. Cuisine Wat Damnak is operated by celebrity chef Joannes Riviere in a traditional Cambodian wooden house, and features five or six-course menus that start at about ៛101,250. Be sure to try the local rice wine, a regional specialty made by many households. Sombai is a commercial version that adds rum to the rice wine kick.