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Cambodia - Siem Reap


Siem Reap

 

Most visitors to Siem Reap are there to visit the famed Temples of Angkor and who can blame them? These spectacular ruins from the 9-14th centuries are an adventurer's dream. Located just 7km from the entrance gate, Siem Reap has become a popular stop on the tourist trail of Asia. Once a sleepy town full of farms and small shops, the increase in tourists over the past 15 years has brought an international feel to the town. Modern hotels, internet cafes, and international restaurants are a welcome treat after a day spent exploring the temples in the Cambodian heat. Yet, Siem Reap retains its small town charm and visitors who take the time to explore the town and its surroundings are rewarded with a deeper insight in to Cambodian culture and lifestyle. 

 

Although a three night stay is the perfect amount of time for exploring the temples, however we strongly recommend a longer stay to truly experience Siem Reap and its many wonders.

Where to stay in Siem Reap?

 

Whatever your budget and whatever your accommodation needs, Siem Reap has something to suit your tastes. With over hundreds of hotels and guesthouses to choose from, selecting accommodation can seem like a daunting task. However, our team in Siem Reap is constantly researching and visiting hotels, both old and new, to stay up to date on the best options in town.  Below is a selection of our recommended hotels for each category which we hope will make your decision easier. 

Boutique

A hidden gem in Siem Reap is Viroth’s, a small hotel with just seven rooms tucked on a quiet side street near the heart of the city. Trendy, relaxing, and intimate, Viroth’s made the Conde Nast Hot List in 2008. 

Mid Range

An Exotissimo favorite, the Tara Angkor is a chic boutique hotel with quality rooms, welcoming staff, and a great location near the Temples of Angkor. Likewise, the Victoria Angkor Resort & Spa is a graceful colonial building offering a refined atmosphere in the heart of Siem Reap. A bit trendier, the Hotel de la Paix features stunning Art Deco rooms accented by local art work and traditional textiles. The hotel also has a strong commitment to community development and its responsible travel outings are a great way to give back to the community. 

Splurge

For those seeking the ultimate in luxury, there is no doubt that Amansara is the place to stay. Housed in the grounds of a former royal palace and featuring top of the line service and facilities, the Amansara is redefining the face of luxury in Cambodia. La Residence D’Angkor is an ideal base for exploring the temples, with leafy green gardens, warm hospitality and luxurious rooms. New in 2009, The Sothea is emerging as one of our favorite places. With just over 30 rooms, the intimate feel and outstanding service (all rooms have a personal butler!) are sure to please even the most discerning of guests.

What to see in Siem Reap?


Of course, no visit to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to the Temples of Angkor. Over 100 temples lie within the Siem Reap province dating from the 9th-14th century. Passes are sold for 1 day, 3 days or 1 week and whilst you could spend a lifetime exploring, we recommend at least 2 full days for temple exploration. This will allow you to see all of the main temples, plus a few outlying ruins without racing around. 

There are several options for getting around the temples. Car, bus, and van remain the vehicles of choice, but we recommend taking a day to cycle through the temples. Traveling by two wheels, either by regular bike or electric bike, gives you a unique perspective and an eco-friendly way to see the temples. Elephant Rides are available and you’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to the days of the Angkorian kings as you meander through the woods and temples. A tethered hot air balloon is available near Angkor Wat which gives distant, but sweeping views of the temples and their surroundings. But the most exciting experience available is a helicopter flight around the area. Ranging in length from 8 minutes to a half day excursion, buzzing around the temples in a helicopter is an unparalleled experience.

Any itinerary should include Angkor Wat, the magnificent legendary temple. Bayon is another favorite with its mysterious faces smiling down on visitors, while the jungle covered Ta Phrom is an evocative blend of nature and architecture. Other temples in the vicinity worth seeing are Phnom Bakeng, Pre Rup, Baphoun, and Preah Khan.

If you have more time, trips further afield lead to less crowded temples and spectacular photo opportunities. Just 12 km from Siem Reap are the Rolous Group of temples, some of the earliest ruins in the region. The petite Banteay Srey features intricate carvings in pink sandstone and nearby Banteay Kdei is a hidden gem tucked away in the jungle. 

Beng Melea sprawls across one square kilometer and remains covered in trees, roots, and vines. Constructed in a similar style to Angkor Wat yet overrun by nature, Beng Melea is a truly adventurous place to visit.  Koh Ker, situated to the northeast of Siem Reap, is the remnants of the Khmer capital in the late 9th century and features a circular loop of about a dozen ruins.

Need a break from temple touring?  Siem Reap has several other activities and opportunities for travelers. 

A boat trip on the Tonle Sap Lake should also not be overlooked. Each year during the rainy season, the lake swells to five times larger and the plethora of fish provide the livelihood for the lake’s residents. An Exotissimo favorite is the Paneman Boat, a large wooden cruising boat run by an eco-tourism company which provides an elegant ride along the water. A boat trip departing from Kampong Phluck takes you through the floating villages and ancient mangrove forests of the lake, a great way to see the unique lifestyle of the lake’s residents. 

Artisan’s D’Angkor is a unique organization working to preserve traditional Khmer arts and crafts. They have established two centers in Siem Reap. The location in town features a stone carving workshop where locals produce magnificent sculptures, while the silk centre is a bit further afield. Here you can see the entire process of silk creation: from the breeding of the silk worms, to the dyeing and weaving of the material. 

Siem Reap’s small downtown turns in to a hive of activity as the sun begins to set. The small ‘Old Market’ closes down and tourists flood in to town to enjoy cocktails on ‘Pub Street’ and dinner in one of the many restaurants. Vendors have capitalized on this area’s popularity by establishing a night market at the south end of Pub Street. Cambodian crafts such as artwork, silks, carvings, and t-shirts are for sale in an open air market off a tranquil side street making it the perfect place to pick up souvenirs.

A traditional Apsara Dance performance is a great evening activity as the elegant dancers, elaborate costumes, and live music create an enchanting atmosphere. Another treat is a traditional massage at our favorite shop, Bodia Spa.  Here you will be treated to a relaxing spa or massage treatment, using top quality natural products and traditional techniques.

 

Shopping and Dining


Siem Reap is a diner’s paradise with a vast array of cuisines on offer. Seemingly every week a new restaurant emerges from fine French menus to local crocodile barbeques! Madame Butterfly is a ‘can’t miss’ in Siem Reap. The food is authentic, delicious Thai and Khmer cuisine served in an understated, elegant restaurant - the perfect combination for a relaxing evening out in Siem Reap. Viroth’s also features fine Khmer dining in a nice setting while Meric at Hotel de la Paix is reinventing modern Khmer cuisine.

For a romantic table for two, there is no better place in Cambodia - if not the world - than a candle lit dinner at Sra Srang. Catered by the Amansara chefs, your meal is enhanced by the tranquil surroundings of this ancient baray. A romantic candle lit meal, delicious food, exquisite wine, and a tranquil setting - what more could you ask for?

Dinner at Prasat Kravan within the grounds of one of the Angkorian temples is an experienced unmatched elsewhere in the world. Guests experience a private Apsara dance performance and shadow puppet show whilst dining by candlelight in the grounds of a temple

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