Siem Reap the capital of the Siem Reap Province is the most visited and most Western-feel part of Cambodia where the party, culture, good food and hospitality meet. Only a few kilometers away from this vibrant town is situated one of the worlds' biggest temple complex the Angkor Archeological Park with the mesmerizing Angkor Wat.
The influx of huge amount of tourists result in the higher prices in this region than the rest of the country, nevertheless hotels, bars and restaurants are very affordable . You may think that there is one temple and that is all to it, but the Archeological park is actually more than 400 sq.km big, including numerous breathtaking temples and nature, offering unforgettable memories of a lifetime.
Angkor Wat is Cambodia's no 1 attraction and a reason alone to visit this beautiful country but Siem Reap offers many other interesting thing to do, let's dive right into it !
There are 2 suggested routes that will allow you to make the most of your time in the Angkor Archeological Park :
The Small circuit is generally doable in one day ( you can even complete it by bicycle ) while The Long circuit generally requires two days. Whilst the long circuit includes many of the sites in the short circuit it does not by any means include all of them.
It is for this reason that we recommend that people allow not less than 5 days in the Siem Reap region. You can take a 3 day pass for $ 62 to be used over the next 10 days and strike a balance between temples, non temples, sightseeing elsewhere, partying and shopping.
THE ANGKOR ARCHEOLOGICAL PARK
The most significant temple of many is the Angkor Wat, worth visiting in the small hours before the sun rises. Positioning yourselves on the far left side will result in pictures competing with postcard images. There is something spiritual as the sun rises and the five towers of the temple appear on the horizont symbolising the five peaks of Mount Meru. But don't expect to be alone as many other tourists think the same way, renting bikes and tuk-tuks to make sure they won't miss this special moment. Not to mention that this is the perfect time to start to tour a bit around the temples as later on it gets really hot.
The other very important temple to visit is the Bayon which is situated in the Angkor Thom complex where you will find the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leeper King which are both richly decorated among many other sites. Hoverever the highlight of this area as I mentioned is the Bayon temple from which are smiling down at you giant stone faces. It is easy to get lost in the many chambers on three floors while observing the Hinduist decoration. Make sure to climb on the top of Baphuon to enjoy the breathtaking views.
The next stop of the small circuit is the Ta Keo temples massive construction. It gives a very rough impression of big bulky stones and three terraces with difficult, steep steps to climb. It must have been one of the first temples to be constructed as it is lacking the decoration of other temples and the whole building has a raw look.
The next major stop on this circuit is the tourist favorite Ta Prohm, featured in the Tomb Raider movies. Here you really can observe how nature is mixing into the business of historical monuments and you just can't tell when a huge tree finishes and the building begins as they are forming one whole majestic creation.
Along the route you will see many other small temples that are worth of visiting like the Chau Say Tevoda, the Prasat Bei, the Banteay Kdei or the Prasat Kravan which are just short stops.
The grand circuit means that you have to go bigger distances to see some of the temples and it is recommendable to do it on a rickshaw while the adventurous visitors may want to do the small circuit by bike. Those can be easily rented by various agencies nearby the Night Market or also you can ask at the reception of your hotel or hostel. Prices may vary depending on the quality of the bike.
There are new and new temples being discovered each year adding more and more value for tourists worth buying at least the three day pass. Rickshaw drivers many times offer drinks together with some interesting stories, make sure that you haggle the price before if you are happy with your driver your can contract him/her for several days.
Other attractions in the area include :
Angkor National Museum is a centrally located archeological museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and presentation of Angkorian artifacts, also provides information and education about art and culture of Khmer civilization. This is the right place to get deeper education about the history of Cambodia. Some tourist prefer to see this museum first before visiting the Angkor Archeological Park in order to appreciate and understand better the history of the temples.
The Landmine Museum, located 25 kilometers north of Siem Reap was founded by ex-child soldier Aki Ra as a way to tell the world about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime. After the peace settlement in 1991 Aki Ra has been devoting his time to clearing land mines, the Museum not only tells his unique history and the history of landmines in Cambodia, but it is also home to over two dozen abandoned, orphaned or destitute children. All are cared for, housed, fed, educated and given a future they would otherwise never have had.
Kompong Phluk is a collection of three floating villages totaling somewhere between 2000 – 3000 residents. It is it located near the Tonle Sap Lake making it a convenient home for fishermen. Kompong Phluk has the largest mangrove forest in the region (called the flooded forest) as it is under water for part of the year. Kompong Phluk and the greater Tonle Sap lake is a UNESCO Biosphere reserve and contains unique plant species, fish, and animals, many of which find themselves endangered. There are many agencies offering half a day tours to get a closer view of the lifestyle and culture of this unique Southeast Asian lake community.
After a day of sightseeing head to Cambodia’s legendary party road-known as Pub Street right in the middle of the tourist center. All you do at night is likely to revolve around this part of the city. It is often said that unless you visit Angkor Wat and Pub Street, a trip to Siem Reap is not complete! When it comes to drinking and dancing away at night, the Angkor What? And Temple bar seems to feature most of the action around the area.
Nightime is also the perfect time to do shopping as Siem Reap is home to 2 popular night markets in downtown area which are open daily until midnight. Angkor Night Market & Noon Night Market are great for purchasing cheap souvenirs and fake branded clothes and bags or authentic Cambodian craftsmanship. Prices are highly negotiable so be patient and bargain hard, english is widely spoken as the markets are very touristy but you can always use a calculator to display the price if you are having problems communicating with a vendor. Here you will find many restaurants serving local delicacies such as fish amok, lok lak and Khmer red curry, and cheaper food stalls selling fish or meat skewers.
Recommended lenght of stay: 5 days