Come for Angkor’s temples; stay for the buzzing tourist scene, boutique shopping and great dining
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. 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. One of the best parts of any Siem Reap stay is relaxing poolside to beat the midday heat.
Things to do
Tonle Sap Lake is so large that it appears like a chocolatey ocean. It’s a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve teeming with marine life. A trip on a traditional vessel through colourful floating villages and beyond is a treat for nature lovers while also giving you a peek into 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 forwardSocial enterprise Artisans d’Angkor is serious about preserving and reviving ancient Khmer arts and crafts while providing a sustainable livelihood for local people. High-quality handmade clothing, lacquerware, silk paintings, jewellery and ceramics are the work of over 1300 rural artisans. Take a free guided tour of the main workshop and the Angkor Silk Farm, 20 minutes away by free shuttle bus.
There are plenty of bargains to be had at Siem Reap’s homegrown boutiques. The Old Market area is sprinkled with shops selling Cambodian silks, spices – try the Kampot pepper – and herbal soaps and creams. Fashion and design has blossomed here, too: check out Three Seasons’ for funky threads, Eric Raisina for silk couture, Ambre for vibrant gowns and Garden of Desire for exquisite jewellery.
Angkor Wat itself is astonishing, but don’t miss some of the more remote temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park opens in new window. 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, which is also a training restaurant for street kids. And don’t miss Cuisine Wat Damnak for chef Joannès Rivière's modern take on Cambodian cuisine. Try a lychee martini at the Shanghai opium-den inspired Miss Wong or enjoy a Femme Fatale – a champagne cocktail inspired by Jacqueline Kennedy’s 1967 visit – at Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor.
Distance to city centre 8km
Taxi Official taxis next to the terminal cost USD $10, the trip should take about 10 minutes. (Check with your hotel – they might be able to offer you a better deal for a transfer.)
Tuk tuk Offical tuk tuks at the airport cost USD $9, but if you walk outside the airport you should be able to find one for USD $4-6 (depending on your negotiation skills).Back to top
When to go
Siem Reap, like most of Cambodia, is hot and steamy. The wet season runs from June to October, when 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 kind in Southeast 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 picturesque lush green rice fields and fruit trees.Back to top
Siem Reap's amazing markets leave you wanting more
The resort town of Siem Reap in northwestern Cambodia is known for its temples and history. However, its array of markets will delight you.