Named after the defeat of Siam (now Thailand) by the Khmer, Siem Reap is booming into an international city whilst retaining a quaint small-town atmosphere. The temples of Angkor are the main draw but venturing beyond Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom will reward the adventurous. The Khmer Rouge’s short but painful reign has left its scars, but Siem Reap has bounced back as one of Southeast Asia’s top destinations – a must-see on any bucket list!
Best of Siem Reap
1. Angkor Wat
The splendid Angkor Wat complex, the world’s largest religious monument, was built in the 12th century as a Hindu temple and before its conversion to a Buddhist temple. Join the throng waiting for the sun to rise over the iconic lotus bud towers and marvel at hundreds of intricate bas-reliefs on the sandstone walls. Athletic folks can also take part in the annual Angkor Wat Marathon, with gorgeous terrain and fantastic views to boot.
2. Angkor Thom
The ancient city of Angkor Thom, literally “Great City”, was the Khmer empire’s last capital. Admire enigmatic Bayon’s 54 towers, walk the length of the two terraces, climb the temple mountains and explore the astonishing hidden stupas that make Angkor Thom live up to its name.
3. Angkor Night Market
When darkness falls and the temples close, head to the town centre for souvenirs, shawls, shirts and the ubiquitous ‘elephant pants’ before you enjoy Apsara Dance dinners and drinks on Pub Street.
4. Cambodia Landmine Museum
This unique museum was founded by an ex-child soldier turned deminer. Many Cambodians still live with the effects of the landmines and the sight of unexploded ordinance remains a chilling reminder of the horrors of war. For visitors, it’s an eye-opening history lesson of Cambodia’s difficult past.
5. Tonle Sap
The great lake of Cambodia is the heartbeat of the country. Travel to the remote parts around the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and observe the way of life of the farmers and fisher folks who live in houses on stilts and floating villages in this remarkably rich ecosystem.
6. Angkor National Museum
Best for escaping the midday heat, this state-of-the-art museum is an ideal primer to the history and worldview of the Angkorians during the Khmer Golden Era. The museum’s ambiance is eerie and surreal, filled with treasures of the past, such as a room displaying 1,000 Buddhas and an Angkor Wat exhibition with a model of the famous temple.
7. Banteay Srei
Said to be the loveliest in Angkor, this 10th century temple is more human in scale than its counterparts closer to the city. Capture the details carved on the red sandstone, as every pediment and lintel is etched with patterns and devatas, female deities associated with the apsara dancers.
8. Beng Mealea
There are ruins and there are ruins, but there is no ruin like Beng Mealea. The temple complex was destroyed largely by war and partly by forest, but one can explore the ruins through the wooden planks, as you take the first step into a culture that will charm even the weary. Amidst the Khmer ruins and the hidden forest, you’ll find peaceful moments and inner calmness.
9. Fish Amok
Want a taste of Cambodia? Then you’ll have to try this well-known Cambodian specialty–a coconut milk-based curry cooked in a variety of spices, with some shrimp paste and fish sauce to taste. Served with kaffir lime leaves in banana leaf cups, and available from virtually every restaurant and eatery.
Khmer in origin, Siamese for a century and renowned for its well-preserved French colonial architecture, Battambang is a melting pot of cultures. This city of artists has resorts, circus performances and centuries-old temples, making it worth the 166-km trip from Siem Reap.