SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
Siem Reap, Cambodia, is the town where travelers stay when visiting Angkor, just 5 miles away. Located 145 miles northwest of Phnom Penh. Siem Reap is rapidly building a tourism infrastructure to cater to the demands of Western travelers.
Although the temples top everyone's list, there is much more to Siem Reap. The Tonle Sap is a genuinely unique ecosystem that sustains life for those living on the lake and its tributaries, and the countryside around Siem Reap is home to vibrant rice paddies dotted with Cambodia's iconic sugar palm trees in between picture-perfect villages. It's also home to diverse and as yet largely undocumented wildlife.
There are a couple of good museums in the area, but be warned that you may find them disturbing. Oftentimes the best sightseeing in Siem Reap is simply relaxing outside, watching the people go by.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Set within a 150 square mile protected area, the extraordinary temples of Angkor are the vestiges of an empire that once embraced much of what we now know as Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. A UNESCO World Heritage site, these towering testaments to the skills, artistry and power of the ancient Khmers attract millions of visitors each year, all drawn by the mystery, legends and exquisite carvings the temples hold. The primary attractions are Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world; and the Bayon and Ta Prohm, of Tomb Raider fame. Other noteworthy sights include the pink temple, Banteay Srei; Baphuon, which was at one point the largest, unmarked jigsaw puzzle in the world; Preah Khan, the arguably lovelier sister to Ta Prohm; and mysterious, lovely Bakong to the west of Angkor. However, there are many lesser-known but no less fascinating temples to be explored.
Beng Mealea and Koh Ker
47 miles from Siem Reap, Beng Mealea is a wonderland where man's ingenuity and nature's beauty combine within a structure built along similar lines to Angkor Wat, but whose immense walls have fallen to the ravages of time and warfare. Visitors climb over and among huge, carved sandstone blocks to gain access to the inner sanctums, before floating above it all on a wooden walkway. It is the adventurer's temple.
Koh Ker is a further, 25 miles in the same direction, but a completely different world: Buried within the surrounding forests, behind the romantically tumbled-down principal temple, Prasat Thom, Kor Ker is a seven-tiered ziggurat that affords views all the way to the Dangrek Mountains on the border with Thailand. Numerous other sanctuaries can be found among the forests.
This temple offers an outstanding view of the countryside around Siem Reap, although Phnom Bok will make you work for its prize. It was built by Yasovarman I, the king who moved the capital of the Khmer Empire to its final seat where Angkor Wat, the Bayon and so many more were later built. Phnom Bok is part of a trilogy, including the temple at Phnom Krom, overlooking the Tonle Sap, and Phnom Bakheng, which is now a vantage point from which to view sunsets over Angkor Wat. About 16 miles northeast of Siem Reap, Phnom Bok's peak is reached by a winding, 20-minute road, or by 635 steps straight to the top (not to be done in the middle of the day). En route, an old gun emplacement left by the Khmer Rouge can still be seen. At the top are the remains of a temple originally dedicated to the three Hindu Gods: Shiva, Vishnu and Brahma. Entrance requires a ticket for the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The birthplace of the Khmer Empire, Phnom Kulen is a series of forested hills 30 miles to the north of Siem Reap. A winding, bumpy road offers impressive views across the surrounding countryside on its way to the waterfalls, small temple remains and a sacred riverbed teeming with lingas. A Hindu symbol of the power and energy of the god Shiva, Phnom Kulen offers a cool respite from the lowland heat. Within the dense forest, a small population of silver langurs has been formally recorded, and visitors may be able to catch a glimpse of them on a guided tour along specially cleared paths.
Angkor National Museum
The Angkor National Museum is a worthwhile experience that explains the history of Angkor in a clear and concise manner. It also includes a stunning collection of more than 1,000 Buddha images.
The Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Centre
A difficult but important and informative examination of the devastating effects landmines and unexploded ordinance continue to wreak even today, primarily on farmers and their children, decades after conflict has formally ended. Money raised by the museum goes toward supporting victims of landmines, and landmine clearance carried out by the museum's sister organization, Cambodian Self Help Demining. Guided tours available.
Angkor Golf Resort
A world-class 18-hole golf course designed by Nick Faldo, just 10 minutes from Siem Reap. Players can choose from either a nine-hole stroll or the full 18. There is also a 300-yard driving range, pro shop with top branded gear, and a Western-style club house.
In the evening, relax on Pub Street or take a stroll around the boutiques and the night market looking for souvenirs and local crafts. You can play a game of pool at Laundry Bar or go late-night dancing at Angkor What?
Bars, Taverns & Pubs
One of the longest-running establishments on Pub Street, it has come a long way since it started serving occasional stray backpackers. Packed almost every night, Angkor What? pumps out the beer, the vodka buckets, and the tunes to a happy crowd of partiers until the early hours.
The Elephant Bar
An iconic experience that blends a classic, colonial setting with unrestrained luxury. Located inside the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor, the Elephant Bar offers wood-panelled comfort and a cocktail list that reflects its environment, with an emphasis on the classics. It also has one of the best wine selections in Cambodia.
The Living Room at Park Hyatt Siem Reap
In a setting that unites evocations of Angkor's temples with an unmistakably contemporary tone, the Living Room at the Park Hyatt is a stylish and intimate lounge bar. The menu takes a modern approach, though guests can also enjoy the unique sweet and sour cocktail, which blends tamarind, palm sugar, lemongrass, basil and kaffir-limes with rum to create a seriously zesty mojito.
For a taste of local life, head to the Phsar Leu on National Road No. 6 and explore the Old Market in the French colonial center of town for local handicrafts—Cambodian silk, wooden musical instruments, wall hangings, shadow puppets, and wood and stone carvings.
Constable Gallery At Large
A collection of works from some of Cambodia's most celebrated artists, as well as up-and coming talents. The gallery's aim is to promote young, contemporary Khmer artists, as well as artists inspired by Cambodia. Curated by Sasha Constable, a sculptor and painter whose work is also featured, the selection reflects her long experience in the country as an artist, curator and teacher.
Angkor Night Market
The original and still the best, notwithstanding the multitudes of poor imitators. Angkor Night Market is a beautifully laid-out environment with plenty of souvenirs, clothing, fish massages and more. Wind down after exploring with an expertly-mixed cocktail at the Island Bar, or one of several restaurants and food stalls.
Made in Cambodia Market
A unique market specializing in products made in Cambodia, and especially Siem Reap, ensuring that jobs are created locally. More than 50 stalls offering beautiful artisan products, handicrafts, silks, toys, drinks and food, as well as live performances, music, cultural shows and more.
In the heart of town, Phsar Chaa doubles up as a tourist and local market. On the riverside, you'll find souvenirs including prints, carvings, jewelry, clothing and spices. The local market is on the other side. Drop in to get your hair washed local-style (it requires a little flexibility) for just US$2.
The real deal, Phsar Leu is where the locals go to buy everything—clothes, jewelry, homewares, fabrics, tools, and tonight's dinner. This sprawling market is well-spaced out and comfortable to explore and provides a fascinating insight into daily life, as well as a great shopping opportunity.
Take time out to rest at one of the French-style, open cafes and people-watch. Most restaurants in Siem Reap serve a mix of French, Thai and Cambodian cuisine, and some offer formal French dining. Le Meridien Angkor, one of the finest upscale hotels in Siem Reap, regularly hosts a four-course set dinner within the temple grounds of Angkor. These spectacular evening events include transport to and from the venue, predinner cocktails and canapes, a two-hour dinner with wine and a beautifully choreographed Cambodian cultural performance with live music. It makes for a memorable evening in one of the world's most engaging locations. For early-evening cocktails, drop in at the Park Hyatt Siem Reap, or for more of a colonial feel, try the Elephant at the Raffles Grand Hotel.
Siem Reap is served by a modern international airport and direct land routes from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and points within Cambodia. Siem Reap International Airport is just over 5 mi/8 km from the town center, and easily accessible by tuk tuk, taxi or motodop (local motorcycle carrier). The usual price for a tuk tuk into town is US$5, from US$7 for a taxi and US$2 for a motodop. There is no public transportation system. Within Siem Reap, the easiest form of transport is by tuk tuk, of which there is an abundance. Most short trips within town should cost roughly US$2; US$1 for the same route on a motodop. Longer trips cost more, and prices should always be negotiated before taking off in order to avoid confusion. Visitors can also hire bicycles for as little as US$2 a day, though their comfort will be greatly enhanced by spending a little more, especially if planning to cycle to the temples. Plenty of motorcycle scooters are advertised as being available for hire. It should be noted that it is still technically illegal for tourists to rent motorbikes in Siem Reap, and those who do hire one risk being stopped and fined by the police.
The Cambodian currency is the riel, denoted by KHR. Riel come in notes denominated from 100 up to 20,000. The U.S. dollar is Cambodia's unofficial second currency and is widely accepted, if not preferred by many traders. It is advisable to carry riel and small denominations of U.S. currency.
ATMs are available in all the tourist areas of Siem Reap and dispense American dollars, but if you are planning to go on a trip into the countryside be sure to take enough cash. Credit cards are accepted in medium to upscale hotels, restaurants and a few tourist oriented shops. Be sure to change money only with authorized dealers and keep your receipts. When you leave the country, complete the currency declaration form accurately, or you may have currency confiscated upon departure.
Value-added tax is levied at 10% in Cambodia. Hotel rates are subject to a 12% government tax and a 10% service charge.
Tip 10% for good service from taxi drivers, waitstaff and hotel staff.
The weather is best in December and January, but even then it's hot and humid. It's still tolerable in November and February but can be murderously hot March-May, when high temperatures average 95 F/35 C. The worst weather is June-October, when the rainy (monsoon) season is in full swing and the humidity is astronomical. Unless you're in the mountains, the temperature never drops below 70 F/21 C.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Canada and the U.S. need passports and visas. Visas can be obtained on arrival at the international airport in Siem Reap. A visa costs approximately US$20. A passport-size photograph is also required. A yellow-fever certificate is required if you're arriving from an infected area.
Languages: Khmer, French, Vietnamese, Cantonese.
Predominant Religions: Theravada Buddhist.
Time Zone: 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
Voltage Requirements: 220 volts in Phnom Penh; 110 volts elsewhere.
Telephone Codes: 855, country code; 063,Siem Reap.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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