Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city). The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia.
When to visit Siem Reap?
The country has a tropical climate – warm and humid. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Travellers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.
Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees.
The best time visit Siem Reap is the period from December to April of the following year, the temperatures are more moderate and rainfall is lighter.
Where to stay in Siem Reap?
Siem Reap abounds with accommodation and it is easy to find something at a low price. Siem Reap is not big but it is a bit spread out so if you stay in the town choose the area with a map in hand so you have a feel for how far from the action you’ll be. Sivatha Street and surrounding streets are popular for accommodation, Wat Bo options are around the eastern riverbank, with a more laid back vibe. Psar Chaa is a good choice and our personal favourite if you’re looking for accommodation at the cheap end of the scale. The road from the airport also has slightly more expensive budget options.
Which places to visit in Siem Reap?
Banteay Srei Temple
- Location: 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) north-east of East Mebon
- Access: enter and leave the temple by the east entrance
- Date: second half of the 10th century (967)
- King: Rajendravarman II (reigned 944-968) and Jayavarman V (reigned 968-1001)
- Religion: Hindu (dedicated to Shiva)
- Art style: Banteay Srei
The tenth century temple of Banteay Srei is renowned for its intricate decoration carved in pinkish sandstone that covers the walls like tapestry. This site warrants as much time as your schedule allows. The roads have been recently repaired and it takes about 30 minutes from Siem Reap to get to the temple.
To reach Banteay Srei, follow the main road north out of Siem Reap, turn right at Angkor Wat and follow the road to Srah Srang where you turn right past Preah Rup. At the East Mebon there is a check post where you need to obtain clearnce. Turn right again at the road before the East Mebon; pass through the village of Phoum Pradak, where there is a junctions (if you continue straight, after about 5 minutes, you will reach Banteay Samre). At this point, you come to a fork; take the road on the left and follow it to Batneay Srei which you will reach shortly after crossing two rivers – on your left hand side.
Banteay Srei is an exquisite miniature; a fairy palace in the heart of an immense and mysterious forest; the very thing that Grimm delighted to imagine, and that every child’s heart has yearned after, but which mature years has sadly proved too lovely to be true. And here it is, in the Cambodian forest at Banteay Srei, carved not out of the stuff that dreams are made of, but of solid sandstone.
The enchanting temple of Banteay Srei is nearly everyone’s favorite site. The special charm of this temple lies in its remarkable state of preservation, small size and excellence of decoration.
The unanimous opinion amongst French archaeologists who worked at Angkor is that Banteay Srei is a ‘precious gem’ and a ‘jewel in Khmer art’. Banteay Srei, as it is known by locals, was originally called Isvarapura, according to inscriptions. It was by a Brahmin of royal descent who was spiritual teacher to Jayavarman V. Some describe it a s being closer in architecture and decoration to Indian models than any other temple at Angkor. A special feature of the exquisite decoration was the use of a hard pink sandstone (quartz arenite) where enabled the ‘technique of sandalwood carving with even an Indian scent to it’.
Tonle Sap Lake
Five provinces circled the area of Tonle Sap Lake, more than three million of population inhabited around the bank of the Lake and 90% of them earn a living by catching fish and making agricultures. As you can see on the map of Cambodia It stretches across the northwest section of the country.
The Lake is the largest fresh water in South East Asia. Its dimension changes depending on the monsoon and dry season. During raining season from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong with 14 meters in depth and expands the surface of 10,000 square Kilometers. In dry season from November to May its size 3,000 square kilometers with two meters in depth and water flows out from the Lake to the Mekong, in and out flowing is the natural phenomenon occurrences. The flooded forest surrounding the edge of the lake is the best shelter and also very important for all kinds of fishes spawned and breeding babies. This lake providing many of bio diversities, over 300 species of fresh water fishes, as well as snakes, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles and otters. More than 100 varieties water birds including storks, pelicans, etc
The Lake is also an important commercial resource, providing more than half of the fish consumed in Cambodia. In harmony with the specialized ecosystems, the human occupations at the edges of the lake is similarly distinctive – floating villages, towering stilted houses, huge fish traps, and an economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of rising and falling waters
The lake located about 15 km south of Siem Reap town; you can make your journey from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh by express boat crossing the lake and dock at the village of Chong Khneas. Its takes only six hours, but this trip we may recommend you during Monsoon season. In dry season the boat sometimes stuck in mud because the water is low. There are several ways to see the culture and wildlife of the lake area depending on the amount of time you have and your interest.
Chong Khneas is the name of famous floating village at the edge of the lake. It locates at Southern part of Siem Reap town about 15 Km, and takes only 30 minutes by vehicles to the boat dock where there are always boats waiting for visitors. The boat trip through the floating village takes approximately two hours. You will explore the different of Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools, basketball course, pigsty and other boatloads of tourists.
Chong Khneas, was before very interesting, but now region is owned by private firm they did increasing prices and the area looks more commercial. The boat trip usually includes two stops: one at a touristy floating ‘fish and bird exhibition’ with a souvenir and snack shop, and the other at the very highly recommended Gecko Environment Centre, which offers displays and information introducing the ecology and biodiversity of the lake area.
There are few places anywhere on earth to match the splendour of Angkor Wat. The temple is one of the largest monuments to religion ever built and is truly one the wonders of the world. Believed to have been constructed as a temple and mausoleum for King Suryavarman II at the peak of the Khmer empire in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is probably the best-preserved of the Angkorean temples. As with other Angkorean temples and walled cities such as Angkor Thom, the central theme of Khmer architecture revolved around the idea of the temple-mountain.
By the time building on Angkor Wat was begun early in the 12th century, this had been elaborated to a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers. The central monument represents the mythical Mount Meru, the holy mountain at the centre of the universe, which was home to the Hindu god Vishnu. The five towers symbolise Mount Meru’s five peaks. It is difficult to express in words the enormous scale of Angkor Wat, but it can be explained in part by a look at the dimensions of the complex. The temple is surrounded by a moat which makes the one around the Tower of London, built at roughly the same time, look like nothing more than a garden trench.
At 190 metres wide and forming a rectangle measuring 1.5 km by 1.3 km, it is hard to imagine any attacking force overwhelming the defences. But the moat was more than just a defensive bulwark, in line with the temple’s Hindu origins it represented the oceans of the world. A rectangular wall measuring 1025 metres by 800 metres borders the inner edge of the moat. There is a gate in each side of the wall, but unusually for the mainly Hindu-influenced Angkorian temples, the main entrance faces west. This entrance is a richly decorated portico, 235 m wide with three gates. However, the temple’s greatest sculptural treasure is its 2 km-long bas-reliefs around the walls of the outer gallery and the hundred figures of devatas and apsaras. This intricately carved gallery tells stories of the god Vishnu and of Suryavarman II’s successes on the battlefield. The whole complex covers 81 hectares.
Angkor National Museum
Visiting the Angkor National Museum was an eerie, surreal experience. For the first 45 minutes of our trip through the mammoth, 20,000-square-metre building, we didn’t spot another visitor. The museum opened in November 2007, and its freshly painted, shopping mall-like feel contrasts with the thousands-year-old artefacts contained within it. A visit is a comfortable, air-con alternative to visiting the temples themselves, and a nice educational supplement to the history of Angkor if you visit the park without a tour guide. It’s composed of eight separate galleries, all connected by a vaulted corridor with a series of fountains and lined with what seems like all the Angkorian limestone lion and demon heads missing from statues at the temples. After an explanatory film screening called Story behind the legend, you’re pointed toward the galleries:
Gallery 1: 1,000 Buddha Images
This is the only gallery that’s just one large room, rather than a series of maze-like alcoves, and the sight of all these Buddhas at once is striking. Hundreds of small and miniature Buddha figurines, made of metals, jewels and wood, all individually illuminated, line the walls here, identified according to the period they were made during and where they were discovered. In the centre, life-size and larger Buddha characters are displayed. The display includes Buddhas from Banteay Kdei, Bayon, Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear.
Gallery 2: Pre-Angkor Period: Khmer Civilisation
This gallery and all the subsequent ones combine mural-size explanations and short films through maze-like rooms explaining Angkorian history. The styles of figurines precede the trademark Angkor style, and there’s a large collection of lingas, lintels and colonnettes.
Gallery 3: Religion and Beliefs
This room explains several of the most significant Hindu and Buddhist religious stories and folk tales depicted on Angkorian temples, including the most memorable Churning of the Sea of Milk carved into the rear wall at Angkor Wat. Carvings of Buddhist and Hindu religious figures are concentrated here as well.
Gallery 4: The Great Khmer Kings
The gallery focuses on King Jayavarman II, Yasovarman I, Soryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, those most responsible for Angkor’s greatest constructions. Figures of the kings and relics from the temples they commissioned abound.
Gallery 5: Angkor Wat
There’s a large film gallery inside this section of the museum. It features beautiful, panoramic images of the temple and explanations of how it was constructed. There are also many restored figures from the temple itself as well as post-Angkorian wooden statues used for worship at the temple until several hundred years ago.
Gallery 6: Angkor Thom
In addition to recovered artefacts from Angkor Thom, this gallery includes a history of and artefacts from the vast irrigation projects commissioned by the king who built Angkor Thom with his smiling face looking out from every tower: Jayavarman VII.
Gallery 7: Story From Stones
This room is one of the most interesting. It’s a collection of stone pallets with ancient Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. The writing on each slate is explained on placards below. The writing on them includes the declaration of the construction of a new hospital, lists of slave names, mediations of land disputes and adulations of kings and gods.
Gallery 8: Ancient Costume
From Apsaras and kings to princesses and warriors, this room contains the busts and statues of distinct fashions and styles as they evolved throughout Angkor time. There’s also a collection of ancient jewellery and headdresses. It’s a clever segue to the final room — the gift shop — where upscale imitations of these fashions abound.
It’s $12 to enter the museum, plus another $3 if you want to bring in your camera and another $3 for an educational headset. Sadly, like ticketing and management of the Angkor park, the museum is owned and run by a private company, so little of your admission money goes to Cambodia or to temple restoration (though what the company paid for the concession might). Still, it’s perhaps better than these artefacts remaining in the hands of private collectors. A connected mall is still under construction but has a few open stores, including a Blue Pumpkin satellite, several souvenir shops and the sure sign of apocalypse.
Preah Khan Temple
Preah Khan temple is located 2 kilometers north-east of Angkor Thorn on the Grand Circuit. The temple was built in the second half of the 12th century in AD 1191 by King Jaya-varman VII, dedicating to his father Dharanindravarman. The Buddhist complex covers 56 hectares served as the nucleus of a group that includes Neak Pean and Ta Som, located 4 kilometers long Jayatataka Baray—the last of the great re¬servoirs to be built in Angkor.
The inscription indicates that Preah Khan was built on the battle site where King Jaya-varman VII finally defeated the Chams. In those days it was known as Nagarajayacri which mean the city of Preah Khan.
Four concentric ramparts subdivide Preah Khan. The outer or fourth wall, which is encircled by a wide moat, today en¬closes a large tract of jungle, formerly the living quarters of the monks, students and attendants of Preah Khan. The second rampart delineated the principle religious compound of about four hectares within which there is a dense concen¬tration of temple and shrines. The central complex is Bud¬dhist. The northern and western sectors are dedicated to
Brahmanism— Vishnu (west) and Shiva (north), whilst the southern sector is a place of ancestor worship. The eastern sector forms the grand entrance to the central shrine.
A place for a king located near Preah Khan temple is called Veal Reacheak or Preah Reachea Dak. It is 1,500 meters long and 1,200 meters wide. Nearby about 700 meters north of Preah Khan temple along the road to Angkor Thorn district is another small temple called Ptu. The temple was made of laterite.
Prek Toal and Bird Santuary
Not far from the ancient temples of Angkor, in the heart of Cambodia, lies the huge Tonle Sap lake, the largest in Southeast Asia. The Tonle Sap is connected to the Mekong by a short river also called Tonle Sap. During the rainy season, from May to October, the river reverses its flow into the lake causing it to expand to more than six or seven times its normal size of approximately 2,600 square kilometers. It becomes a vast inland sea.
Each year, millions of fish come to spawn in the seasonally flooded forest surrounding the lake, attracting myriad waterbirds. Villages along the shores live with the rhythm of the season and the floods. Prek Toal is one of the most attractive floating fishing villages on the Tonle Sap lake, with a school, hospital, restaurants, shop and even a pagoda. Just behind the Prek Toal village are flooded forests with bird sanctuaries. Every year, between December and March, thousands of birds come to fish and to breed here.
Phnom Krom Hilltop Temple
This is the big hill that you see near the landing if you head to Siem Reap by bullet boat. The hilltop area provides magnificent panoramic views of the Great Lake Tonle Sap, the surrounding countryside and Siem Reap town. The commanding view of the lake was used for a more practical, albeit more deadly, purpose in the fairly recent past as evidenced by a big gun mounted on the side of the hill and pointing toward the landing part of the Great Lake.
A modern-era active temple shares the hilltop with the temple ruins of Phnom Krom. Thee are seven crumbling towers among the ruins in two lines, with four towers east and three towers a bit higher up nearby and west. The 11th ? century ruins are definitely in need of a facelift and it looks like they may get one at s0om e point as a sign in front states that a project is underway. Unfortunately, the same sign has made the same announcement with no results apparent since a year ago when I last visited the site.
To get here, just follow Sivutha Street south out of Siem Reap. The road follows the river for much of the way and road is in good shape for most of the short journey. You will arrive at the base of the hill after just fifteen minutes and there is an archway and stairway that you take up about halfway, which leads to the spot near the big gun. From there you follow a small road to the temple area. You can actually ride all the way up by going past the stairway, beyond the house and tree area, where you will see a long out-building off on the right side. Follow the small road that runs alongside of the building and stay on this winding road to the temple area. There are drink and food stands at the base of the stairway to re-hydrate after the trip.
What to eat in Siem Reap?
Cambodia is not only famous for the Buddist temple and Angkok Wats, but also well-known for its appetizing and original cuisine. Some dishes that you must try in Siem Reap as below:
Prahok is known as a distinctive feature of Cambodia cuisine. To make prahok, the locals have to prepare well processed fish, salt, sugar, pepper, garlic and cold rice. First of all they will process the fish and expose fish to the sun for a day then mix with all of the spice and keep this mixture in a jar for several months. Prahok is able to eat when it became pasty and the color turn gray with a specific smell. This food is a traditional food of Cambodian as well as a spice to put into broth of some noodles soup.
You can find Amok fish easily in Siem Riep because this it is the outstanding dish of Khmer’s cuisine. Foreign tourists say that Amok has a eye-catching look because it is served in a fresh coconut or sometime it is wrapped in banana leaf with the coconut cream on top. Amok is actually a thick yellow curry and the locals usually use catfish or white fish as the main ingredient of amok. Besides, the spices that come along with fish in this dish is also the key of amok’s unique flavor. Though every family here has their own recipe for this special food, the indispensable spices are garlic, satl, prahok, brown sugar, lemongrass, galangal, chili paste and coconut milk. You can also enjoy amok with rice.
Green Mango Salad
Cambodia has many good mango varieties; therefore, the green mango salad here is also a beloved dish of not only the locals but also the foreign tourists. Green mango salad is made from tart green mango and seasoned with fish sauce, lemon juice, sugar, minced garlic, red hot pepper, some types of fresh herbs. The subtle point of this dish is the moderated sourness of green mango and amazing taste of the dressing. This salad is so popular in the region so you can order this dish as you appetizer in every restaurant or at any roadside food stall in Siem Reap.
Chili Fried Insects
Walk down the streets in Siem Reap you will can’t help being at fault when there are too many fried insects sold at the roadside food stalls. It’s said that this is a popular food of the poor Cambodians in the past. Because insects are not only very cheap but also have a high nutrition content. Nowadays fried insects become so popular that you can find this special food at some luxury restaurants in the city. There is a market that specializes in selling fried insects in Siem Reap where you can see many kinds of insect like spiders, wasps, crickets or silkworms. The locals season the insects with salt, sugar, herbs and chili then fry them into deep oil pan. Fired insects taste really good and so crispy.
Bamboo Sticky Rice
Rice is a main food in every meal of every family in the Southeast Asian nations and normally people don’t pay much attention to this flat and vapid food. However, bamboo sticky rice in Cambodia will make you change your mind at first try. Bamboo sticky rice is absolutely cooked in bamboo sections so first of all the locals have to collect the bamboo then process cleanly and chop bamboo into sections that about 30 centimeters in length. In the next step, Cambodian mix sticky rice-a special rice grown in Cambodia with black eye peas and a little bit of salt then they stuff up those bamboo sections with this mixture. Finally they add the coconut water in these bamboo sections and grill it directly on the coal for an hour. The secret of good bamboo sticky rice is you have to revolve the bamboo sections while grilling. You will never forget the fresh taste of coconut together with the savory taste of sticky rice, peas and salt in this dish.
Nom Banh Chok
Khmer noodles is the popular English name for Nom Banh Chok being called by locals and tourists and one of the best noodles in Cambodia which is becoming a noodle symbol for this country. Basically Nom Banh Chok is served the most for breakfast. But when you come to Siem Reap, it is available in most restaurants and for all meals because it is beloved by most locals and visitors. You can easily find Khmer noodles from street vendors, restaurants, buffets or even in cafe shops. Primarily, Nom Banh Chok’s main ingredient are rice noodles, curry sauce, veggies like fresh mint leaves, spring onions, banana flower, bean sprouts, cucumber and some pork slices on top. What makes the noodles good and different from one to another is how the curry is made. But the common taste of all Nom Banh Chok is from lemongrass, turmeric root and kaffir lime which is cooked in the curry.
The Khmer cakes are sweet yet savory, made with taro, mung beans and a few preserved bits of fruit on top to give it sweetness. Khmer cake is another good option for someone who is sweet-tooth. But the special thing of this cake is the perfect combination of sweetness and savor which makes Khmer cakes beloved by everyone. When eating Khmer cakes you will find taro mung beans inside and some small pieces of dried fruits on top. Right at the first bite you can feel it is a bit crunchy outside and soft inside the cake which gives you the interesting joy of eating this cake non-stop.
Stir-fried ants with beef
You can find various dishes made from insects in Cambodia. One of them is stir-fried ants with beef, which appeals most tourists to put their order on the menu. The name of the dish speaks all enough the main ingredients. Food made from ants is not so strange to visitors who used to travel to Southeast Asia. But ants in association with beef can only be found in Cambodia. Ants of all sizes are stir-fried with a bunch of spices -lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots and thinly sliced beef. This is a aromatic dish with sour flavor which the ants impart to the beef during marination.
Jaggery sweet soup
After all spicy and hot food you have tried in Siem Reap, Jaggery sweet soup is an ideal balance to satisfy your taste. It is a concentrated product of date, cane juice, or palm sap (see palm sugar). It’s colors vary from golden brown to dark brown, which will make the typical color in a bowl of jaggery sweet soup. Jaggery is a rich source of iron. It also contains many minerals salts not found in ordinary sugar. Therefore a jaggery sweet soup will reboost your energy for the journey in Siem Reap. Jaggery sweet soup is a sweet thick soup with potato cubes and green beans and best served in cool or with some ice.
How to get to Siem Reap?
The majority of visitors to Siem Reap arrive by air from Phnom Penh and Bangkok. There are also regular flights from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports. From Phnom Penh, there are also daily boats and buses/vans going to Siem Reap. Some visitors make their way to Siem Reap overland from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.
Siem Reap is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, handicrafts, textiles and art. Only Phnom Penh offers a comparable selection, but much of what is available in Siem Reap is unique to Siem Reap. Until recently, the Old Market (Phsar Chas) and vendors at the temples were the only places to buy souvenirs. Over the last few of years there has been a small boom of new shops, galleries and boutiques, offering a more varied selection of quality handicrafts and silks as well as original artistic creations – paintings, prints, carvings and such.
The Old Market still has the widest variety of souvenirs, as well as the best selection of items such as baskets, silver work and musical instruments. It also offers an interesting local ambiance, but the boutiques, galleries and specialty shops offer generally higher quality items and a more sophisticated selection of Cambodian products. Of particular interest are the traditional craft workshops and silk farms where you can see crafts in the making as well as buy the final product.
When purchasing local crafts, be selective in your purchase as there might also be some fakes. Most of the crafts, particularly the carvings, silk products and silverwork are hand-made, making each piece a unique work. Masters as well as students produce much of what is available, so some pieces are significantly better than others.
Source: Tourism of Cambodia