Siem Reap in Cambodia is one of the major tourist hubs in South-East Asia. This is the closest city to the internationally renowned temples of Angkor; the Angkor complex is in the north of the city. Traveling to Siem Reap seems to be the foremost thing to do if you’re in Cambodia, and in fact, the tourists always combine the fantastic exploration of Angkor Archaeological Park with Siem Reap.
About Siem Reap City
Siem Reap City is settled in the south of the Siem Reap Province on the shores of Tonle Sap Lake (popularly called the Largest Freshwater Lake in the Southeast Asia). Regarding the name of ‘Siem Reap’, it means “Siamese defeated,’ pointing to the victory of Khmer Empire over the Thai kingdom in the 17th century. In the past, Siem Reap was just a provincial town with the poor facilities and lack of nightlife entertainment. However, the storm of tourism towards the temples of Angkor did help to promote this city a lot. The proximity of the Angkorian temple ruins turned Siem Reap into the bustling city with the increasing number of the luxurious hotels, restaurants, and nightlife establishments. Besides functioning as the perfect gateway to Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap itself is spectacular, amidst the green rice paddy and the idyllic river. Also, the city has the unique Cambodian characteristics of Apsara dance performance, Mekong river cruises on Tonle Sap Lake to reach the fishing villages and bird sanctuary, craft shops and silk farms, etc.
Unique Tourist Attractions and Activities in Siem Reap
Angkor Wat is one of the grandest religious monuments ever built and is the UNESCO World Heritage. The monument is said to be the private mausoleum temple of King Suryavarman II during the peak of Khmer Empire in the 12th century. The Wat reflected the King’s intention to dedicate it to Vishnu rather than to Siva. There was half-a-mile-long wall on each site portraying the Hindu cosmology. About the traditional Khmer architecture of Angkor Wat, the central tower represented Mount Meru (home of the Gods), the outer walls denoted the mountains bordering the world, and the moat meant the ocean. In fact, each image in the Wat embodies a special cosmological meaning in the Khmer belief, which encourages the later generations to learn. Perhaps, Angkor Wat is the best-preserved ruin of Angkorian temples, which is on par with Machu Pichu, Taj Mahal, or even The Pyramids.
Royal City of Angkor Thom
Angkor Thom means “Great City” in the Khmer language. This was the last capital city of the Khmer empire. Angkor Thom was erected in the late 12thcentury by King Jayavarman VII via his massive building campaign and was dedicated to the King’s state temple. In this old royal city, there were some significant religious sites and especially was the Bayon Temple. The successors of King Jayavarman VII continued his attempt to build more temples in the royal city, and the last temple known was Mangalartha in 1295. Then, in the Ayutthaya Kingdom, Angkor Thom was sacked and abandoned until 1609, when a Western visitor wrote about Angkor Thom as an uninhabited city. Then, this fantastic ruin became well-known.
Ta Prohm was erected by King Jayavarman VII and was around 1km to the east of Angkor Thom. The temple functioned as a Mahayana Buddhist monastery and university. The ancient site had the photogenic atmosphere with the magnificent ruins and the lush jungles, making it one of Angkor’s most favorite temples for tourism. In 1992, Ta Prohm was inscribed on the World Heritage List. Today, the travelers frequently visit this mysterious ruin whenever they discover the Angkor Archaeological Park.
Beng Mealea was constructed under the reign of King Suryavarman II, in the middle of the 12th century. Its name meant ‘Lotus Pond.’ The temple was in the style of Angkor Wat and dedicated to Hinduism. Beng Mealea was made of the blue sandstone and had decorations on the walls and pilasters; most of the carvings showed the mythology of Vishnu, Shiva, and Buddha. Some of the archaeological and historical issues about Beng Mealea remain unexplained until today that is the big magnet attracting thrill-seekers to explore the mystical religious site amidst the jungles.
This occult temple was built in the second half of the 10th century and dedicated to Shiva of Hinduism. Banteay Srei was famous for the elaborate carvings in the pinkish sandstones. It looked like a fairy palace in the middle of the magical forests. Some people said the temple could not be true until they entered the Cambodian forests and touched the solid sandstones there. Though being in a small size, Banteay Srei had the highlights of the intricate decoration and art, and the charming look in overall. Arguably, Banteay Srei is a ‘jewel in Khmer art.’
How to Get to Siem Reap in Cambodia
Most tourists come to Siem Reap by air and arrive at Siem Reap International Airport. It’s possible to get Cambodian Visa on arrival at the international airports or overland border crossings in Siem Reap. You can, of course, drive to Siem Reap. Another fantastic option is using Mekong River Cruises, especially during the wet season.
International Flights to Siem Reap
You can take the direct international flights between Siem Reap in Cambodia and other cities, predominantly in East Asia, including Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Seoul, Manila, and Yangon. Besides, it is easy to travel by the domestic flights between Siem Reap and two cities: Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville.
Drive to Siem Reap
You can drive a motorcycle or a car on the paved road to Siem Reap, but note that the driving route is quite challenging; only the experienced riders should. On the route, it is normal to see the buses and the wandering farm animals. For instance, if you drive from Kampong Thom to Siem Reap, the trip might take around 2 hours, but make sure you know the route clearly. Otherwise, it’s better to use a local taxi or coach.
Mekong River Cruises
In the wet season (from July to March), there are daily river ferries or Mekong River cruises between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The cruises might take 5-6 hours. Due to the passengers’ budgets, they can choose to use the local ferries or book the expensive cruises. Just let the travel agents know so that they arrange for the cruises as well as other related interesting activities such as visiting the floating markets, having lunch on the floating houses with the Khmer families, or try fishing in the Cambodian style, and more. After the cruises, you see lots of taxis and tuk-tuks await the passengers at the dock. Then, it is time to get around the city and explore the temples of Angkor. Note that the Angkor Archaeological Park is 4km from the town! This means you need to find a tuk-tuk to move from the town to the park in a convenient and short way. For the smooth tour in Siem Reap, make sure you negotiate all details of the drivers’ services including the exact charges, the extra charges for the distant temples if any, the service of lunch, what time you expect the tour to begin and end, etc.