Serving as the gateway to the Angkor region, Siem Reap is home to the majestic remnants of Khmer Empire and some of the most iconic temples in the world. A chic resort town that draws tourists from far and wide for its proximity to world-famous Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is equally loved for its excellent hotels, food and nightlife. A city that exemplifies the paradoxes of Cambodia as a country, Siem Reap offers a startling contrast between rich and poor and tradition and modernity.
A contender for the title of ‘eighth wonder of the world’, the ancient Angkor temples are the main reason tourists flock to Siem Reap. Built in the first half of the 20th century, Angkor Wat served as the bedrock of the Khmer Empire, which spanned more than 600 years. Get up early and watch the sun rise over this famous temple complex before spending the day discovering some of the most iconic sights in South East Asia.
If you eventually tire of temple hopping, head to the Cambodian Cultural Village. Comprised of a collection of miniature houses and landmarks, the village offers tourists a flavour of all parts of Cambodia without having to rack up the air miles. The War Museum Cambodia is also worth visiting for an insight into Cambodia’s tragic late 20th century history.
Eat and Drink
A cooking class is a wonderful way to experience traditional Cambodian cuisine, and Siem Reap has no shortage of classes on offer. Most span a few hours in the morning or afternoon, starting at the local food market to pick up supplies before you settle in to cook typical Khmer dishes. Local favourite fish amok, a fragrant curry cooked in banana leaves, is likely to be on the menu.
Sticky rice is also popular. Whether you cook it yourself or pick it up at one of the food stalls that line Siem Reap’s roads, it’s a must-try. If you’ve had your fill of traditional flavours and are looking for something a little more familiar, head to Pub Street and Sok San Road where cheap beer, Western classics and raucous nightlife are served up in spades.
Where to Stay
Accommodation in Siem Reap ranges from budget-friendly backpacker hostels to stylish bed and breakfasts and luxury villas. The majority of accommodation will require you to take a tuk-tuk to the temples, so basing yourself near the heart of the action around the Old Market will pay dividends if you want affordable accommodation within close proximity to restaurants and bars. Alternatively, the majority of quieter boutique hotels are nestled among the trees on Wat Bo Road, close to the Siem Reap River and some great restaurants.
Bursting with day and night markets, and several shopping centres to boot, shopping is big business in this tourist town. Siem Reap Night Market and the Noon Night Market are the pick of the bunch when it comes to souvenirs, Khmer handicrafts and fabrics. The food stalls attract flocks of diners and offer authentic, cheap meals to hungry shoppers.
Tailoring is a little-known option in Siem Reap; often overshadowed by nearby tailoring powerhouses Bangkok and Hoi An. Head to Wat Damnak to purchase quality bespoke replicas of Western clothing, often at a fraction of the price of other South East Asian cities.
Siem Reap Like a Local
The popular Old Market is considered a tourist trap by locals, so they typically head to the Psar Leu (New Market.) For a glimpse into a traditional Cambodian marketplace, take a leisurely stroll to the New Market or to one of the smaller street markets that line the riverbanks. Pick up Khmer delicacies and browse the hundreds of stalls selling everything from clothing, fabrics and furniture to medicine, tools and cosmetics. Try out any Khmer dialect you’ve picked up during your Siem Reap adventure, and soak up a real taste of Cambodian life.