How do you get to Siem Reap in Cambodia? Where do you stay? What other things can you see apart from the Angkor temples? What the hell are such big freakin' temples doing in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, anyway? The list below will answer your questions, and a few others you didn't know you needed to ask!
Siem Reap - Getting the Lay of the Land
In this introduction to Siem Reap, we give the newbie visitor to Siem Reap an overview of the city and its nearby attractions – not just the temples at Angkor (more on that below) but also the restaurants, the shopping, and even health tips.
Siem Reap is a paradox, which makes it such a great example of a Southeast Asian destination – tradition and poverty stand side by side with chic hotels and all the trappings of modernity.
Things to Do in Siem Reap
The temples of Angkor Wat are Siem Reap’s main draw, but did you know there are plenty of other interesting things to do in the general vicinity? From the Angkor National Museum to the Land Mine Museum to riding a hot air balloon over the Angkor ruins, you can explore a number of other destinations that help make Siem Reap the most popular tourist destination in Cambodia.
Cambodia Travel Requirements
What do you need to have before traveling into Siem Reap? Let's look at your Cambodia travel requirements. First, you have to take care of the Cambodia visa – before you can get one, you got to show a passport that’s valid for at least six months beyond the entry date.Read the article linked above to find out more.
Cambodia also offers an easy, online alternative to getting your visa – the Cambodia e-Visa that costs an extra US$5 in processing fees, but saves you the time and effort that comes with getting a regular Cambodia visa. These, and other pre-visit quandaries, answered in the linked article above.
Transportation to Siem Reap
Want to know how to get into Cambodia, then on to Siem Reap? (Hint: read International Travel into Cambodia, then Transportation to Siem Reap.) Once you're in Siem Reap, how the hell do you get around - specifically from your hotel to the Angkor temples and back? (This article, Getting Around Cambodia, might help.)
The articles linked here cover transportation basics to and within Cambodia and Siem Reap, offering all possible options for almost all possible budgets.
Weather in Siem Reap – When to Visit, What to Wear
The winter months from November to February represent the peak travel season for Siem Reap. These months are cool and dry, avoiding the extremes of heat and precipitation you’d find in other times of the year. Weather is crisp at night and just cool in the daytime. A number of festivals also take place during this season.
The temples are at their most beautiful during the rainy season: the grass is green and lush, the air seems clearer (the haze being washed out by the rain). Siem Reap in the rainy season is, weather permitting, a photographer’s favorite time of the year.
Etiquette, Dos and Don't's in Siem Reap
In spite of the influx of visitors (and foreign aid), Siem Reap is still part of a conservative society, one rooted in Buddhism and strong (if old-fashioned) values. Cambodians understand that, as outsiders, we may be unfamiliar with their ways, but if you know the basics of etiquette in Cambodia, you’ll go a long way in winning their trust.
“Orphanage tourism” in Siem Reap, while popular, should not be encouraged, either with your money or your time. Despite outward appearances, many orphanages are actually for-profit enterprises that needlessly split families apart and play up squalor to attract tourist bucks. For more information, read this: Orphanages in Cambodia are Not Tourist Attractions.
Where to Stay in Siem Reap
Siem Reap can’t be covered in one day – you’ll need at least three days to satisfactorily cover the huge expanse of the Angkor temples and other attractions in the area. So unless you have a friend in the area with an extra bed, you’ll need to stay at a Siem Reap hotel or hostel while you’re in town.
Budget hotels in Siem Reap or the area’s youth hostels will serve if you’re worried about your thinning wallet. If you have a little more cash to exchange for creature comforts, you can choose from a number of mid-range Siem Reap hotels. And if you really want to splurge, try one of the luxury hotels and resorts in Siem Reap like the Borei Angkor Resort & Spa (compare rates), seen at left.
Visiting the Angkor Temples
The temples in Angkor are Siem Reap’s biggest draw, attracting upwards of a million foreign visitors a year. Despite the passage of time, the temples retain much of the majesty they have had since they were constructed in the 12th century AD as the devotional centers of a sprawling Khmer Empire. The Khmer Empire is long gone, but the temples they have left behind are now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a source of awe for many generations of travelers.
Apart from the gallery linked above, here’s another travelogue of the Angkor temples you might appreciate: Visiting Angkor's Temples and a River Village in Cambodia.
History of the Angkor Temples & the Khmer Empire
The Angkor temples, are all that remain of what once was a powerful empire that ruled much of today’s Cambodia and parts of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar. Read these links to find out about the Khmer civilization that built the Angkor temples: History of Angkor Wat, and Angkor Wat Timeline.
At first glance, visitors may be entranced by the complex’s lotus-blossom towers, enigmatic Buddha images and dancing girls (apsaras). Upon closer inspection, one realizes that the temples are only the visible remnants of an advanced civilization in Southeast Asia, one which depended on – and was undone by – the abundance of water in the area. For more info, here’s an Archaeological Overview of the Angkor Civilization.