Angkor’s temples are the main draw but this popular resort town boast plenty of attractions of its own, from boutiques to pubs and eateries
Once known primarily as the gateway to the Angkor temple complex, Siem Reap has evolved into a modern, fun and very visitor-friendly city. Tourism has exploded in Siem Reap and there are a host of lovely and affordable resorts and boutiques here. One of the best parts of any Siem Reap stay is relaxing poolside to beat the midday heat. The town is a hive of activity, with attractions running the gamut from contemporary galleries to edgy boutiques and slick eateries. Stroll along the leafy riverbank, enjoy a leisurely brunch in the old French Quarter and revel in the hubbub of Pub Street after dark.
Things to do
Tonle Sap Lake is so large that it comes across like a chocolate-y ocean. It’s also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is teeming with marine life. A trip on a traditional vessel through colourful floating villages and beyond is a treat for nature lovers while also shining a spotlight on everyday life in Cambodia. One of the highlights of any voyage is jumping off the boat and paddling a kayak through water hyancinths and trees in the ethereal “flooded forest” of Kompong Phluk.
Moving forwardThere’s a place in Siem Reap serious about preserving and reviving ancient Khmer arts and crafts, and providing a sustainable livelihood for the locals as well. Social enterprise Artisans d’Angkor’s opens in new window high quality products such as handmade clothing, lacquerware, silk paintings, jewellery and ceramics are the works of its rural artisans — over 1,300 of them. There are free guided tours of the main workshop in seven languages as well as of the Angkor Silk Farm, 20 minutes by free shuttle bus.
While the markets are fascinating there also plenty of bargains to be had at Siem Reap’s homegrown boutiques. The Old Market area is sprinkled with shops selling Cambodian silks, Cambodian spices – try the Kampot pepper – and herbal soaps and creams. Fashion and design has blossomed here, too. Check out Three Seasons’ collection of funky threads, Eric Raisina for high-end silk couture, Ambre for vibrant gowns in excellent cuts and Garden of Desire for exquisite silver and precious-stone jewellery.
Angkor Wat itself is astonishing, but don’t miss some of the more remote temples in the Angkor archaeological park. A one-day pass is USD $20, three days is USD $40 and one week is USD $60. The expansive Angkor Thom, and within it Bayon Temple, its walls lined with 216 enormous reliefs, is labyrinthine. Ta Prohm, with its looping tree roots and stone walls, is one of the complex’s most striking structures. Farther afield, vegetation-covered Preah Khan and Banteay Srei remain largely unrestored – check out the elaborate carvings – while Phnom Kulen National Park in Kbal Spean, two hours from Siem Reap, is home to ancient stone carvings known as lingams (phallic symbols of the Hindu god Shiva).
The diner things
Siem Reap boasts a top-drawer dining scene. Try Khmer delicacies like red ant fritters and fried tarantulas at leafy Marum opens in new window, which is also a training restaurant for street kids. And don’t miss Cuisine Wat Damnak opens in new window for chef Joannès Rivière's modern take on Cambodian cuisine. Try a lychee martini at the Shanghai opium-den inspired Miss Wong opens in new window or enjoy a Femme Fatale – a champagne cocktail inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1967 visit – at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor.
Travel time 10 minutes
Taxi Approx USD $7
Moto remork (tuk tuk) USD $5, journey takes 10 minutesBack to top
When to go
Siem Reap, like most of Cambodia, is hot and steamy. The wet season runs from June to October, at which time rainfall tends to come in short, heavy bursts.
Pchum Ben (Festival of the Ancestor Spirits) takes place in September and the Khmer New Year Festival is celebrated in mid-April. The city’s temples draw huge crowds at these times. The Angkor Photo Festival, which happens in November and December, is the longest-running event of its kinds in South-East Asia. The Angkor Wat half marathon is in December.Back to top
Siem Reap is small and its pavements and roads have been improved over the past five years, making it easy to see the city on foot or in the back of a tuk tuk. You can also rent bikes at most hotels. Cycle or ride a motorbike for less than 15 minutes in just about any direction and you’ll find yourself amid lush green rice fields, fruit trees and other picturesque sights.Back to top