Siem Reap & Angkor
Gateway to the Temples of Angkor
Nestled between rice paddies and stretched along the Siem Reap River, the provincial capital of Siem Reap City serves as the gateway to the millennium-old ruins of the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins including Bayon, Ta Prohm and the legendary Angkor Wat whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact put it in a class with the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. And though the major temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park are very well touristed these days, it is still possible to capture a bit of the old explorer spirit and discover the ancient temples of Angkor.
Siem Reap Town is where you will stay during your visit to Angkor. The area has been receiving foreign visitors to the temples for over 100 years. The town is actually a cluster of old villages, which originally developed around individual pagodas, and later overlaid with an French colonial-era center. Note the colonial and Chinese style architecture in the town center and around the Old Market. Nowadays, Siem Reap offers a wide range of hotels, restaurants, pubs and shops including several upscale hotels and dozens of budget guesthouses. Often missed are the many opportunities to experience traditional Cambodia: ‘Apsara’ dance performances, craft shops and silk farms, road tours through rice-paddy countryside, boat trips on the great Tonle Sap Lake to fishing villages and bird sanctuary, and much more.
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. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April. General information about the provincial climate:- Cool season: November- March (23-29c)
- Hot season: March- May (27c -37c)
- Rainy season: May – October (24-33c, with humidity up to 90%.)
HOW TO GET THERE
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. See the airline list below. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports. From Phnom Penh, there are also daily boats and buses going to Siem Reap. Some visitors make their way to Siem Reap overland from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.
Siem Reap: Arrival and Departure
Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: Domestic: US$6. International: US$25 Siem Reap Airport: The airport sits 6km from town, close to the temples, occasionally affording spectacular views of Angkor Wat during landings and take offs. Outside the terminal is a ticket booth for registered taxis into town. Independent taxis and motorcycles wait just outside the airport. The price is the same for both: motorcycles are $2 and cars are $6-7 into town. Most hotels offer free transportation from the airport but you must notify them in advance of your arrival. Read More…
THINGS TO SEE & DO IN SIEM REAP
Covering an area of one square mile, Angkor Wat is the largest, and most famous of the temple complexes at Angkor. Dedicated to the Hindu God Vishnu, Angkor Wat represents the highest point in the evolution of Khmer architecture. The temple consists of pyramids, and ringed by an outer wall of bas-relief depicting the Ramayama. Read More…
Angkor Thom is the royal city itself, where kings and their subjects lived during the Angkor era. The city is characterized by massive stone structures, towers, and sculptures. Angkor Thom covers an area of four square miles and is surrounded by an outer protective wall. Other worthy visits include two buildings constructed within the wall namely, Baphuon Temple and Phimeanakas Temple.
At the center of Angkor Thom is the immense Bayon Temple. Bayon stands at what was once the geographic and spiritual centre of the royal city. At first glance, the temple appears to be a shapeless mass of stones. As the eyes adjust, a face gradually appears then another, and another – each enigmatic and silent, watching with half-closed eyes. The faces are carved into each of the tower’s four sides where an all-seeing presence stares out from a primitive and remote past.
This Buddhist temple was built by King Jayavarman VII in honour of his father. The two-storey temple is characterized by a series of round stone-column pillars. The columns are unusual because of their rounded shape, a style not seen in any other Angkor architecture. Because of this anomaly, archaeologists suspect the temple was an ancient wooden structure long since devoured by the jungle.
A former capital city of the Angkor Kingdom, today Phnom Bakheng is best known for its panoramic views of Angkor Thom, Angkor Wat and the surrounding areas. The location is ideal for sunset views of the Angkor region.
Phnom Kulen is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer empire and is some forty eight kilometers from Siem Reap. This hilltop site has the country’s largest reclining Buddha and it was here that the King Jayavarma II proclaimed independence from Java in 802 A.D. It has only just returned to government hands after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and is currently fairly inaccessible due to the poor state of the roads especially in the rainy season. Cutting through the area is the River of 1000 Lingas. Just five cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed while further downstream larger blocks of stone are carved with Apsaras, Vishnu, and other figures. All the sandstone used in the construction of Angkor was quarried here.
THE ROLUOS GROUP
About 10km from Siem Reap is the complex of Roluos, amongst the first Khmer capitals built by Jayavarman II. Today we can visit three remaining Hindu sanctuaries: Preah Ko; Bakong; and Lolei. All three temples were built from bricks but are not as spectacular as the other temples of Angkor.
This temple built by Udayadityarvarman II was the most spectacularly constructed of all the temples in Angkor. From the remaining ruins, it is possible to gauge the imposing temple. The temple’s hill was dedicated to Shiva, but in its bas-relief many motives from the Vishnu epic can be seen. Restoration work continues to be carried out on the Baphoun to this day.
THE ELEPHANT TERRACES & THE LEPER KING TERRACE
At the north of the Baphoun lays the royal city, of which very little remains except these two Terraces. The first owes its name to the outstanding depiction of elephants, whilst the second gets its name from the magnificent sculpture of King Yasovarman, popularly known as the Leper King. The original statue is currently protected and displayed at the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
BANTEAY SREI TEMPLE
Built by a Brahman in the 10th century, this temple was dedicated to Shiva. The famous pink sandstone structure bears a series of beautiful sculptures, lintels, pediments and friezes. Whilst not a particularly large temple complex, the beauty of Banteay Srei is not within its great scale rather its details. Some say the bas-relief work is the best example of Khmer remaining classical art.
BANTEAY KDEI TEMPLE
This temple was constructed by Jayavarman VII during the 12th and 13th centuries. Its system of galleries and vestibules that was added after the construction of the main towers makes it look like a cloister. Built in sandstone, the structure has thus poorly deteriorated. However, there remain some very beautiful lintels and pediments.
Located in Banteay Srei District about 30km from Siem Reap Town or 40-45 minutes bus drive, the museum has collected artefacts from landmines that were used during three decades of regional and civil wars in Cambodia. The museum has a local school in its backyard for children who were landmine victims.
King Suryavarman I commissioned this temple in the 10th century but it was never completed. It is a 5-level pyramid whose total height is 22 metres. Originally intended a dedication to Shiva, nowadays it serves as a perfect place for sunset views.
Angkor Silk Farm presents the grand tour of an 8-hectare site, to discover silk farming with specialized guides. Discover the various stages involved in silk production, from mulberry tree chards, to silkworm breeding, the spinning mill and the weaving process.
KHMER CLASSICAL DANCING
No visit to Cambodia is complete without attending at least one traditional Khmer dance performance, often referred to as ‘Apsara Dance’ after one of the most popular Classical dance pieces. Traditional Khmer dance is better described as ‘dance-drama’ in that the dances are not merely dance but are also meant to convey a story or message. There are four main modern genres of traditional Khmer dance: 1) Classical Dance, also known as Court or Palatine Dance (lakhon preah reach troap or lakhon luong); 2) Shadow theater (sbeik thom and sbeik toot); 3) Lakhon Khol (all-male masked dance-drama.); 4) Folk Dance (Ceremonial and Theatrical). The Hotel Grande de Angkor has a restaurant and stage near the river that features nightly performances of the apsara-style dancers. The show and buffet dinner is US$ 22.
ANGKOR BUTTERFLY CENTER
Located 25km north of Siem Reap, on the road to Landmine Museum and Banteay Srei Temple, the Angkor Butterfly Centre (ABC) is an add-on tourist attraction for Siem Reap Province featuring a live display of Cambodian butterflies. Revenue generated by tourist admissions provides support for local poverty alleviation and conservation projects. The exhibit consists of a netted tropical garden with hundreds of free-flying butterflies, all of which are native species to Cambodia. The enclosure is Southeast Asia’s largest butterfly exhibit and provides residents and tourists with an interactive and visual environment to learn about butterflies. At ABC it is possible to observe butterflies feeding and flying very close at hand and to witness the complete life cycles of many species. The butterflies (in pupae form) are farmed sustainably by villages in Siem Reap Province.
ANGKOR NATIONAL MUSEUM
Angkor National Museum is a profound cultural landmark in Siem Reap covering 20,000 sqm which houses: the Museum, the world-class museum revealing the legend of Golden Era of Khmer Kingdom; and the Museum Mall, a landmark providing facilities and recreation services to both tourists and the local community.
ANGKOR NIGHT MARKET
The Angkor Night Market, found in Siem Reap, was designed to provide visitors an enjoyable shopping and dining experience in a vibrant and contemporary Khmer environment. The goods available in over 80 different stalls include handicrafts, multi-item of souvenirs, live painting, and clothes. Additionally, restaurants and bars with Asian and European cuisines and acoustic music entertainment can be readily found.
CAMBODIA CULTURAL VILLAGE
The construction of Cambodian Cultural Village (“CCV”) started in mid year 2001, and opened to the public on September 24, 2003, with total area of 210,000 sqm. CCV assembles all the miniatures of famous historical buildings and structures, local customs and practices of all ethnic groups. There are 11 unique villages representing different cultural heritages and characteristics. At each village, tourists shall enjoy the excellent wooden houses; carving; traditional performances in the different styles including Apsara Dancing; performance of ethnic minorities from Northeast of Cambodia; traditional wedding ceremony; circuses; popular games; peacock dancing; acrobat; elephant shows; boxing; and many more.
SMILE OF ANGKOR
Smile of Angjor is a unique traditional show that rediscovers the lost history of Angkor Wat. This spectacular show takes the audience on a sensory odyssey through magnificent multimedia performances of light & sound, water screen, other special effects and Khmer traditional dances. The audience will be flashed back in history during a time when this ancient wonder was once central to a powerful empire.
SHOPPING IN SIEM REAP
Whether you’re looking for traditional Khmer handicrafts or chic contemporary fashion, Siem Reap is an excellent place to shop for all things Cambodian. In addition to classic Cambodian souvenirs, Siem Reap has a unique and growing variety of contemporary art galleries, fashion boutiques and trendy shops. Shopping venues are scattered across the town with a concentration of places along Sivutha Blvd., and near Phsar Chas (the Old Market) and Pub Street. The Pub Street alleys, especially Alley West, harbor several distinctive small contemporary galleries and funky boutiques. For traditional items and souvenirs, start at the Old Market, Phsar Chas.The Angkor Night Market, found in Siem Reap, was designed to provide visitors an enjoyable shopping and dining experience in a vibrant and contemporary Khmer environment. The goods available in over 80 different stalls include handicrafts, multi-item of souvenirs, live painting, and clothes. Additionally, restaurants and bars with Asian and European cuisines and acoustic music entertainment can be readily found.
‘Phsar’ means ‘market’ in Khmer. The traditional Cambodian phsar is a sprawling, semi-covered affair of small shops and stalls, and a visit to one is an important part of any Cambodian experience. Siem Reap’s most popular traditional market Phsar Chas (Old Market), caters to visitors and locals, offering a varied selection of souvenirs, home wares and food – a true cultural shopping experience!
DINING IN SIEM REAP
There is no shortage of restaurants in Siem Reap. They have been opening steadily over the past couple of years. Siem Reap offers an excellent variety of restaurants. Shinta Mani and Hotel Grand D’Angkor lead the fine dining category though there are several places offering excellent cuisine in a stylish, refined atmosphere. There are also plenty of moderately priced Cambodian and international restaurants. Almost every restaurant offers Cambodian food. For the budget minded, check out the inexpensive Chinese places at the south end of Sivatha Blvd. or the local food stalls and noodle cookshops next to Phsar Char (Old Market).
Attending a traditional dance performance is a must when visiting Cambodia. Several restaurants offer dinner performances. Nightly performances: Grand Hotel D?Angkor, Apsara Theater, Kulen II, Angkor Mondial, Chao Pra Ya, Tonle Mekong, and Tonle Sap. Some restaurants, such as the Dead Fish Tower, offer traditional music during the dinner hour. Shadow puppetry can be seen at Bayon 1 and La Noria Hotel.
PUBS & BARS
A traditional dance performance at one of the dinner theaters is a perfect place to begin the evening. If you’re looking for something a bit more conventional, there are a variety of places from which to choose. The piano bar at Grand D’Angkor, and the live traditional music at Dead Fish Tower make for pleasant venues to begin the evening. Buddha Lounge, Ivy Bar, The Red Piano, Temple Bar, Linga Bar, Molly Malone’s, Angkor What and not to forget the bars of the Pub Street where you can find popular early evening pubs, drawing tourists and expats alike, and getting more crowded as the evening progresses. Pub Street in the Old Market area is the happening place to be in the evening these days offering several bars and restaurants, not only on Pub Street, but on nearby streets and allies. Things get going in the late afternoon and some places stay open quite late.
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