Siem Reap

SIEM REAP

Tourism has made Siem Reap one of the most advanced cities in Cambodia, with an international airport, shopping malls, and a variety of both fast food and fine restaurants. But scratch the surface of this gateway province to the Angkor Wat temple complex and life moves at the same relaxed pace as it has for centuries.

Outside the main town, Siem Reap province remains charmingly rural, with life revolving around rice cultivation and fishing the great Tonle Sap. It also boasts huge forests perfect for trekking and hiking, and is the jumping off point for eco-tourism sites unparalleled in the region, such as the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary. At Prek Toal, the men who once hunted the thousands of birds who make these wetlands their home or migrate here to breed and nest have become rangers. The site is world famous for birdwatchers now and with their help, the birdlife teems.

One of Siem Reap’s most famous attractions is the sprawling floating village at Kong Kneas at the mouth of the port. Here hundreds of families have built their homes on the waterway which provides their lifeblood. Between the fishing lots, several restaurants, shops, places of worship, and even a school flourish. Some villagers even raise livestock such as pigs and chickens which will never set foot on dry land.

Back in Siem Reap town, the shops and galleries rival the capital for variety. Aid organisations have set up training programs and marketing outlets for underprivileged local people, who now produce some of the most innovative and unique handicrafts in the Kingdom. Silk, wood, and stone carvings as well as leather shadow puppets are just some of the gems to be found. The town’s boutiques and galleries have begun attracting top local designers and artists. For those looking for nightlife, Pub Street near the Old Market is literally lined with bars and restaurants offering all sorts of entertainment from good old fashioned pubs with music to bistros, cafes, and even flamboyant cabaret shows. A trip to Pub Street is a great end to the night after a stroll around one of Siem Reap’s night markets, where bargains and unique local products are available in the atmosphere of a true Southeast Asian night bazaar.

Without a doubt, the main attraction of Siem Reap is its hundreds of temples crowned by the magnificent Angkor Wat. No visit to Cambodia is complete without seeing Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the word. Visitors can spend days exploring by car, tuk tuk, on foot or by off-road vehicles and mountain bikes. Elephant rides can be enjoyed around the Elephant Terrace and Bayon temple at Angkor Thom.

REGIONAL PRODUCE

Golden silk, rattan handicraft, prahok (Khmer fish paste), green beans, crocodile, cassava, paddy rice

GEOGRAPHY

A large portion of Siem Reap’s southwestern border is demarcated by the Tonle Sap and as such, it is one of the nine provinces that make up the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. The northeastern area has forested mountains.

MUST SEE

Kbal Spean (“Bridge Head”). It is commonly known as the “Valley of a 1000 Lingas” or “The River of a Thousand Lingas”, this Angkorian-era site lies around 25 kilometres north-east of the main Angkor complex. Kbal Spean has hundreds of Brahmanist yoni and lingas which have been carved into the stone riverbed of Steung Siem Reap. The river is said to represent the life force which joins the phallic and feminine carvings creating blessed water.

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