Top Siem Reap Hotels
Angkor has many temples spread over a large area which could easily take up a week. Its better to spend a few leisurely days taking it in slowly and to avoid the standard tourist circuits - temples have rather predictable peak times. Tours are highly recommended if pushed for time. Absolutely essential are The Angkor Wat, The Bayon and Ta Prohm. Take plenty of camera film - the scenery is breathtaking. The chief attraction is the magnificent Angkor Wat. This stunning temple complex is the largest religious structure in the world and up there with the Great Wall and the Pyramids. Its a staggering and unique architectural achievement. A giant causeway leads to exquisite bass reliefs, courtyards and majestic towers. The temple is a joy to explore and can even be clambered to its loftier levels. Easily the most impressive site in Southeast Asia.
The second attraction is the small city of Angkor Thom, the highlight being the enigmatic Bayon. Giant carved faces smile contently at visitors exploring the nooks and crannies of this jumbled structure. Several lesser and collapsed ruins dotted within Angkor Thom could be missed if pushed for time. The gates to the city are worth a snap. The Bayon has perhaps the most character of any temple in Angkor - say goodbye to another roll of film.
Often top of the favourites list is the surreal Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm has been left pretty much as it has been for centuries - overgrown and tangled in roots. The jungle has enveloped the lost ruins. The result could be considered a work of art. Add to that the symphony of the jungle it wouldnt take much imagination to picture Indiana Jones popping up. Fantastic, cannot be missed.
Bantay Srei is one of the more remote temples further out and a little different to the grey stone temples around Angkor City. This small and well-preserved sandstone Hindu temple is a fiery copper colour featuring exquisite bas-relief carvings. The fine workmanship and condition of these carvings is striking. Well worth seeing and a contrast to the others.
All tours seem to include sunset at Phnom Bakheng, a small temple atop a steep hill. To be honest, this is Angkor tourism at its worst - everybody converges here at sunset and the air is thick with frantic cries from vendors. The view makes a good photo if you can exclude the crowds, but its certainly not a serene place. The temple itself is modest by Angkor standards, the novelty being the pricey elephant rides up to the top. If you dont mind the rush hour crowds its fine - if you do, forget it.
Another collapsing and tree-gripped temple is Preah Khan. This larger temple features some of the romantic disrepair of Ta Promh but is larger and in the open. Its size makes it easy to disappear down lonely corridors and emerge into deserted courtyards. Bold, imposing and quieter than some of the others.
Ta Keo is a historic construction site - it was never finished after a lightning strike was deemed a bad omen. The steep steps and towers are there but the sandstone was barely worked. Its pretty stark and rather average close up.
The brick Eastern Mebon is another that may be glimpsed from a passing car. This one warrants a mention as close up the bricks are full of drilled holes and the two well-preserved stone elephants are rare features. The carved towers are in good shape. OK for a wander.
Angkor artisans and Cultural Dancers
Ta Som is a quiet smaller version of overgrown and collapsing Ta Promh with a few faces of the Bayon beaming out. Often overlooked, its a good little spot that seems to have a bit of everything.
The Rulos group are ruins scattered 24km east of Siem Reap amongst local villages. The earliest surviving temples are made of crumbling brick and sandstone and are in varying states of repair. Less impressive and less visited but with a certain charm.
There are many other temples dotted about that are similar to those above but with lesser scale, atmosphere, craftsmanship or preservation. It can be very rewarding to visit them as you have the chance of having an ancient ruin all to yourself, at least for a while.
Note: Watch your footing! Its surely just a matter of time before someone plunges to their doom from the almost vertical steps of the upper tiers of the Angkor Wat. Also the uneven rugged blocks and floors and protruding roots that feature around any temple trip many a traveller. The heat and physical exertion required to clamber around is tough on older visitors.
Siem Reap is modest with few attractions but its easy to get templed out in Angkor and well worth breaking up the trip with a few diversions.
A great and enlightening trip is the Vietnamese Floating Village. Crowded on the shores of the highly fertile Tonle Sap Lake, the traditional fishing community is an interesting spot full of character that makes for some good photos.
The Department of Defence has opened a War Museum with plenty of military hardware on display. For a reminder on how Cambodia has been ravaged by war, worth a visit.
Run by the Cambodian foundation for deprived children, the Exhibition on Tonle Sap is a well presented extract on the lake and how it supports the community. It outlines some of the success stories the foundation has had with child welfare and how much more there is to do. On the road to the temples and worth a short stop.
The Tonle Sap Lake includes several UNESCO biosphere reserves that protect the superb biodiversity of the area. Bird watchers in particular are in for a treat.
In the centre of town is the unusual Butterfly Garden. Worth a quiet drink just to enjoy the 1000 or so butterflies.
Theres a low-key Crocodile Farm on the edge of town that also has a few lizards and monkeys. Crocodile products are available at this passable pit-stop.
Tourist Information Offices
There is a token tourist office opposite the Grand Hotel DAngkor - slack and not particularly helpful. Hotels and restaurants have plenty of useful stuff including the free Angkor Guide which gives a thorough breakdown of the area.
Entertainment and Eating Out
Theres not a huge choice of entertainment in town. The restaurant scene is better but still broadly budget. Most larger hotels put on cultural shows featuring traditional dancing. The Grand Hotel DAngkor has perhaps the best show taking place with a buffet on the lawns outside the hotel most evenings.
The Royal Angkor Sofitel Hotels inviting pool can be used by non-guests for a steep fee. Even during peak season its a quiet and relaxing spot. The stadium close by stages intermittent and varying local entertainment. Thai boxing is a popular feature.
The children from Krousar Thmeys Orphanage put on a shadow puppet play every Thursday at La Noria Restaurant - every cent goes to help disadvantaged Cambodian children.
Massage is widely available in Siem Reap, its usually very obvious to tell the legitimate establishments from the ones providing extra services. A good one is Angkor Massage on Airport Rd where you can be kneaded by the blind.
There aren't many top restaurants in Siem Reap. The finest dining is offered by the top hotels - some superb dishes are available at the sophisticated Grand Hotel D'Angkor and Sofitel restaurants. Restaurant food outside is average on the whole although the open atmosphere and prices are very attractive. There are a few good places worth sampling, probably the best being the FCC Siem Reap, sister to the successful restaurant in Phnom Penh. Outlets around the Old Market spring up and fall away so it's worth picking up a copy of the 'Free Angkor Guide' to see what is new.
There are plenty of great pizza outlets in town - Happy Herb Pizza is perhaps the best known but theres little between them. Difficult to go wrong.
There are two Indian restaurants that serve up good, cheap and spicy fare. Little India and New Delhi are behind the old market - Little India is a little better. Sanctuary 36.5C is the sole Japanese restaurant and bar.
A trendy joint offering a good international menu is The Red Piano. Another popular western style one is Continental Caf offering a broad but fairly expensive menu.
Definitely over-rated is the Bayon Restaurant which has slow service and fairly bland dishes. Seems to have gone downhill with a few good write-ups in the past guaranteeing its customers a good meal.
There are several clubs and discos in Siem Reap that offer the only activity at night. Many double as pick-up joints for the nearby brothels and dodgy massage parlours. Bakeng Night Club and Martini are the most popular. Please be careful, AIDS is rampant in Cambodia, many of the taxi girls youll see and their patrons are HIV+.
There are several expatriate pubs drawing those far from home. Tooi Tooi, The Angkor What?, The Blue Pumpkin and Liquid Bar are among the better choices with live sports, pool tables and familiar menus.
Shopping in Siem Reap is limited but improving. Its fairly low-key with no plazas. Worth avoiding for its ridiculously inflated prices and tacky mass produced gifts is the souvenir shop facing the Grand Hotel DAngkors gardens. The best place to pick up souvenirs and T-shirts is probably the Old Market in the town centre. Prices fluctuate wildly, from fairly reasonable to surely among the most outrageous in all Asia. Initial quotes for a small metallic statuette can be 15US on one day and 150US on another - depending on what you are wearing! Be merciless when bartering.
The Central Market is actually outside the town and is a fruit and veg affair.
Les Chantiers Ecoles is a vocational training centre with several hundred apprentices studying Khmer art. Visitors to the centre are led by guides through the workshops to witness crafts taking shape. Skilled carvings, sculpture and weaving works are available.
An interesting stop off is the Artisan Workshop of Tukvill which has a broad range of handicrafts in a scenic green environment. A little further out is The National Silk Centre. Guided tours of the centre take visitors from silkworm cultivation to spinning and weaving. Top quality silk is available.
The tasteful but pricey Les Artisans DAngkor opposite the Angkor Wat sells highly crafted stone and wood carvings, lacquerware and silks of the area.
Top designer names can only be found in the little shops of the Grand Hotel DAngkor.
Note: Banking services are presently very poor in Cambodia. Bank hours fluctuate, ATMs non-existent and commission rates steep. Most banks dont accept VISA. Hotels and travel agents are often more convenient. Effectively, the currency is the US dollar.
Siem Reap has a good choice of cyber cafes and online services available. There are plenty of small private operators, the best and cheapest being behind the Old Market. Siem Reap is currently a very expensive place to log on and connections can be slow.
Getting from A to B
Water Festival at Angkor
Getting around Siem Reap and out to the temples is simple, but as with the rest of the country, there is no state infrastructure. The vacuum has been filled by local operators who can arrange any transportation you might need. Roads rapidly degenerate a few km outside the town and there are no trains or buses. Note: The security situation can be questionable further out with the military a law unto themselves. However for those flying in and out, and not plunging headfirst into the jungle, seeing Angkors main attractions is easy and safe.
There are no taxis to flag down. Motorcyclists offering nippy transport around town, motos, are everywhere and cheap if haggled. Some have trailers for 2 people. Moto drivers are delighted to offer trips to the temples and many can double as guides. For the more remote temples the awful roads make motos a bad idea - expect gruesome saddle sore.
Hotel cars or the unmetered taxis available at the airport provide more comfortable travel. They are quite expensive compared to motos and steep by local standards but in many cases the best option.
Motorcycles can be hired for those wanting to get out and explore on their own. Bikes are available to a lesser extent - the heat restricts this to enthusiasts.
Siem Reap can be reached by boat from Phnom Penh and Battambang in 4 or 5 hours passing some great scenery. Boats can be chartered for trips of the lake.
Siem Reap International Airport is 8km from the town centre. The tourist centre of Cambodia is well linked domestically and to Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong. Unfortunately Siem Reap airport taxi counter is a bit of a racket and should not be trusted, this one rather conversely charges 5 times what the taxi touts do outside! The only difference is a paper ticket - you get in the same cars.
Plenty of independent operators offer a battery of tours to the temples from one-day trips cramming in the cream of Angkor to more leisurely circuits that take advantage of the lighting conditions for photography. Its very easy to fix your own itinerary. Note: Further away from Siem Reap tours are a good idea as security can be shaky and bribing the military essential. There are landmines out there too, and snakes - stick to the path! Although guides arent essential as paths are often marked, all things considered they arent a bad idea.
Some of the more remote temples are offered as day tours. Bantay Srei is often combined with a trip to nearby Kobal Spien, a hike through the forest to some interesting ancient carvings in the riverbed.
A more energetic excursion is to the holy mountain of Phnom Kulen, the focal point of Khmer pilgrimage and a 2-hr climb. The military have total control here and foreigners must bribe them to proceed. Fit walkers see riverbed carvings, a waterfall, a temple and some excellent views.
An arduous trip by 4WD through dreadful roads can take you to the lost temple of Beng Mealea deep in the jungle. This gets very few visitors due to its inaccessibility. The usual bribing is required to get here, but this large and overgrown temple has barely changed since its discovery and offers visitors an idea of what Mouhot must have seen back in 1868.Cultural shopping tours can cover the artistry and craft centres in and around Siem Reap.Trips to the Vietnamese floating village or biosphere reserves on Tonle Sap Lake are available. Osmose Nature Tours offer nature trips which include a specialist guide.
Helicopter flights over Angkor are available - not cheap but well worth it if you have the money.
The Cambodians understandably celebrate the Overthrow of the Genocidal Regime on 7th January. A few weeks later the Vietnamese and Chinese both welcome the Lunar New Year. The Khmers celebrate their new year in the middle of April. Chaul Chnam is a 3-day celebration involving temple offerings, traditional games, water fights and a spot of Spring-cleaning.
September sees a 15-day festival for the dead which peaks with the full moon. During the Dak Ben festival monks are offered food and the spirits roam the temples searching for offerings from their descendants.
Cambodia also celebrates the remarkable geographic phenomenon that occurs around the end of October. The Water Festival marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River - the river backtracks from into the Mekong to into the lake and is responsible for the regions fertility and ultimately Angkors rise. Longboat races take place around the Angkor Wat.
Featured Siem Reap Hotels
Siem Reap Travellers Tales
Marvellous temples to be seen...good restaurants: "amok" typical but fancy restaurant, "carnets d''asie" proposes you good meals in a very nice restaurant combined with a bookstore, gifts shop (french speaking)...
The Home Cocktail restaurant on Wat Bo Road was awesome value for money...cocktails $1.80 and large beer $1.50 till 9pm....food was excellent in quality and price $1-4 a dish...seek this place out!!!
Siem Reap is much more westernized than I thought it would be. One could go and never eat Cambodian food because of the number of American/Western options. Pub Street is an area that has only western bars/restaurants, which is nice. But tourists should try and avoid spending all their time there as they would miss the real Cambodia.
To visit all the temples you need to buy a pass: US$20 one day, US$40 3 days, US$60 6 days. You need a passport picture! The must see: Angkor Wat, Bayon, TaProhn, the rest you can skip if you don''t have lots of time. Take 1/2 day for the Floating Village (US$13 pp)1 1/2h tour. Rent a Tuk-Tuk (US$6 1/2day) to visit the town. The open air war museum is a nice change from all the temples. AngkorWeb, opposite Provincial Hospital, for $l 1hr internet. Go to the Old market for local souvenirs. You can pay everywhere in US$, but have small notes ready. If you can, visit Siem Reap in the low season, when there are less tourists and looks less commeercial!
There are many small pubs within one block of the hotel. They are located on what is known as the "Bar Street." Additionally, there is a nice disco just over the bridge from the hotel, named Martini.
Plenty of restaurants, bars around town but obviously the main reason for visiting are the temples. The main problem is the heat, try to start early and maybe think of taking a break midday to avoid the worst temperatures.
Siem Reap''s grown dramatically since I was there 5 years ago. As a result there are a number of good restaurants to choose from Red Piano restaurant is popular and was the home-based for film crews filming ''Tomb Raider'' with Angelina Jolie. Soup Dragon offers home-made ice crean including to its regular dining options. Blue Pumpkin serves crisp baquette sandwiches and good shakes. My guide recommended the US$12 evening show/buffet at the huge ''Koulen'' restaurant. Costumes and performances of traditional dances was top notch.
Went to the floating villages. Worth going to. We hired a taxi for the day. Actually the taxi that brought us from the airport. It cost approx £15 for the day. You have to pay a fee at a checkpoint before getting there but this includes the boat that takes you around. The boat trip was approx 1-2 hours. The road is pretty bad getting there but you see a lot of life on the way. On the way back we went into Raffles hotel for lunch.It was worth it just to see it and it wasn''t very expensive. The taxi also took us to see the Landmines museum run by an ex Khmer Soldier. They have volunteers from this country helping there as they run a sort of orphanage for children that are amputees. It really makes you think. Very interesting place. Of course we went to see Angkor Wat. We only spent one day here and found that it was enough for us. We hired a taxi again for the day with a guide. It was 20 dollars each to get in plus 45 dollars for the taxi and guide. It was really beautiful. One other thing that we saw was a cultural dance at a hotel just two streets away from our hotel. Can''t remember the name of the hotel but it was in a 4-5 star small hotel which had a theatre next to it which I think was the National Dance Theatre. Dinner was included and it was very, very good. More expensive than most of the other shows (like double) but worth it.
We arranged a car and driver through the hotel to take us to the temples at Angkor which was $50 for two days. Our journey from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is worth noting. We had bought high-speed boat tickets to make the four-hour journey from Phnom Penh. When we arrived at the boat dock, we were told that there weren''t enough people to make the trip worthwhile for them, so they took the eight of us who had bought tickets on a bus to the southeast end of Tonle Sap Lake -- about a 2-hour ride. There, at a floating village, we met the boat that was bringing people from Siem Reap. After an exchange of passengers in a sort of marshy area, we were off in the boat heading toward Siem Reap. At full speed -- probably 35 mph -- it took another 2-1/2 hours until we reached the floating village near Siem Reap. We then switched to another boat, which took us to this narrow, rickety, precarious dock made of single teak planks atop bamboo poles. There, we were swarmed by taxi drivers who wanted to take us the 15km into Siem Reap. They were very forceful and really surrounded us, making us really feel uncomfortable. All of them offered the same deal: $1 for two people. The driver I chose happened to have a flat tire when we arrived at his car. That fixed, we were soon on our way down a very bumpy and muddy dirt road that seemed very remote. At that time, he asked us whether we had anyone to take us around Angkor Wat. We said we had already arranged a driver. At that point, the one-dollar fare suddenly went up to $7 -- but we were welcome to get out in this remote area and get the next taxi that came by. Since a $6 difference really isn''t worth getting into a losing argument about the principle of the matter, I acquiesced to the sudden price hike and in a good-natured way tried to argue the Buddhist philosophy of lying about the price to lure customers in. He explained that all the drivers do the same, and that was the only way to get people''s business. Pretty sad, but he did get us to our hotel. What he did not realize, however, is that when he gave me his number to call if we needed him, I immediately threw it away; I certainly would never deal with a person like that again.
Siem Reap ia a must see destination - the size of the ruins is astounding as was the size of their Empire. Nothing compares to seeing Angkor Wat - and I have seen most there is to see at least in Asia. To understand the magnitude of the atrocity of the Pol Pot Khmer regime and to realise how far Cambodia has moved forward in a relatively short period of time is amazing. They will be fully back on their feet within 10 years for certain. The local cuisine is compartatively mediocre in comparison to Vietnamese and Thai cooking, but a brilliant French restaurant in a courtyard at the back of a library/art gallery was the culinary highlight for me. Definitely Angkor Wat is a must see - two full days of sight seeing is sufficient and if you are lucky enough to have a good driver and tour guide (ask for No. 0091) then all the better.