- Come-hither Khmer classic
- Pretty pagoda district
- Living canvas
- Old Market alleyway
- Tranquil, artistic haven
- Leafy hidden courtyard
- Med beach resort
- Rural outskirts of town
- Contemporary Angkorian
- Tranquil French Quarter
- Pop Art shophouse
- Siem Reap's hip strip
- Dinky designer den
- Lush Wat Bo quarter
Siem Reap Overview
- Colonial streets, sacred sites
- City life
- Market shopping, temple hopping
Thronged by adventurers and travellers since the 1900s, this once-sleepy Khmer village is now a bustling tourist hotspot.
Dark years under Pol Pot may have taken Cambodia to the brink of collapse, but the green shoots of recovery are nowhere stronger than in Siem Reap, where a fresh crop of boutique hotels, trendy French bistros and lavish spas breathe new life into the town. Siem Reap has never needed fancy trimmings to draw visitors: its star attraction is the architectural marvel Angkor Wat. Rescued from their jungle embrace, the Angkor temples have the grand scale of the Great Wall, the iconic beauty of the Taj Mahal and the powerful symbolism of the pyramids. With its laid-back pace and good-time vibe, Siem Reap feels like a happy grin barely hidden by a shy hand.
Suitably Siem Reap
Browse Banteay Srei, the art gallery of Angkor also known as ‘the temple of the women’; this jewel in the crown of Angkorian artisanship is a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva. The petite proportions of its architecture and the delicacy of the sculptural reliefs has led to speculation that the temple was built by and for women only.
- You can take a taxi from the airport for a flat rate of US$7 to any destination in Siem Reap. There are no metered taxis as such, but the tuk tuk drivers more than make up for it by offering their services every 10 seconds or so. Motorbikes are a cheap way to get around the temples, starting at just US$8 a day. Short hops around town are US$1 or less.
- Tipping culture
- Most Cambodians don’t tip, but forget ‘When in Rome’ and all that, as most Siem Reapers are well used to a little extra. Five to 10 per cent should be fine unless encountering exceptional service (good or bad).
- Siesta and fiesta
- Banks are open 8am–3.30pm weekdays, and ATMs are pretty common. Shops vary widely, but core hours are 8am–8pm. Cambodians like to eat just after sunset, so truly local places close early. Night spots warm up around 9pm, but the bassline doesn’t fully kick in until around midnight.
- Packing tips
- A scarf, T-shirt and guidebook – so you have something to wave at temple touts when they shout ‘You buy scarf, T-shirt, guidebook?’
- Recommended reads
- Of the often-dry temple guides, Ancient Angkor by Claude Jacques is the least likely to make you nod off, partly thanks to beautiful photography by Michael Freeman. River of Time by Jon Swain is a trip back to old Indochina and includes a gripping account of the French embassy stand-off after the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh.
- Thailand and Vietnam may be the region’s gourmet heavyweights, but Cambodia is no slouch when it comes to going a few rounds in the kitchen. Angkor has put Cambodia on the tourist map, and amoc (baked fish with coconut, lemongrass and chilli) may yet put the country on the culinary map.
- Cambodian riel (KHR) or US dollar (US$); US$1 equals approximately KHR4000.
- Time zone
- GMT + 7 hours.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Cambodia: +855; Siem Reap: (0)63 (drop the zero if dialling from overseas).
- Do go/don't go
- The cooler, drier months from November to February make rambles in the jungle more enjoyable, but the world and his wife will be there, too. The wet season, which peaks from June to October, need not put a dampener on your trip, as the landscape is lush and the showers short.
Don't go home without...
… exploring the watery world of the Tonlé Sap lake, Tintin-style, in a dugout canoe. Terre Cambodge (www.terrecambodge.com) offers a day cruise of the lake for US$60 a person. Teetering on soaring bamboo stilts, over-water skyscraper village Kompong Pluk resembles something from a film set.