SIEM REAP (10 kilometers from Angkor Wat) is the town where tourists stay when visiting Angkor Wat, which has no accommodation itself. Siem Reap has a good selection of hotels, guest houses and restaurants that can accommodate all budgets. There is an interesting market and lovely countryside around the town. The main market covers several blocks. Shops sell things like temple rubbings, stone and wood sculpture and silks. Touts not only work out of Siem Reap’s airport they also work out of the airport in Phnom Penh to get customers for guest houses. Siem Riep means "Victory over the Siamese."
In the 1990s, Siem Reap was a Cambodian provincial town with few facilities, minor surfaced roads and little in the way of nightlife. The tourism industry catered largely to backpackers. There were a couple of large hotels and a handful of budget guesthouses. Tuk-tuks and taxis were non-existent and the trusty motodup was the chosen means of touring the temples of Angkor. The proximity of the Angkorian ruins turned Siem Reap into a boomtown in less than half a decade. Huge, expensive hotels have sprung up everywhere and budget hotels have mushroomed. Property values have soared to European levels and tourism has become a vast, lucrative industry. The Siem Reap of today is barely recognizable from the Siem Reap of the year 2000.
Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Siem Reap is an amiable tourist trap that has grown up since the late 1990s when sightseers began to return to Angkor. Now a city with a population of about 100,000, Siem Reap has a new branch of the national museum, an international airport, resplendent resort hotels and a flush economy driven by tourism. It is easy to visit Siem Reap without understanding the significance of bullet marks on the lintels at Angkor Wat; the limbless beggars around the downtown market; and the poverty, waste and deprivation left on the back streets in the wake of the civil war. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]
Development at Siem Reap
A lot of development occurred in Siem Riep in the late 1990s and early 2000s and continues today. The airport is relatively new and modern. Poor families have been moved to make room for a Malaysian-financed resorts with luxury hotels and a golf course. Development slowed somewhat after the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and then picked up again in the early 2000s. As of 2004, there were 71 hotels and guesthouses with 5,000 hotel rooms in Siem Reap, twice the number as 2000. The town itself grew from 83,000 people in 1998 to 108,000 in 2002.
Some of the development is quite ugly. New, hastily-built hotels line the road between Siem Reap and the airport. Some are nicely situated among rice fields and palms but require a taxi ride to get the town. Much of the development has taken place in ramshackle, chaotic manner. There are currently efforts to regulate the growth a little better There are plans to install the town’s first water and sewage system.
Though some of the town's previous ramshackle charm may have been lost the developments of the last few years have brought livelihoods, if not significant wealth, to a good number of its citizens. This has been at a cost to the underprivileged people living within and beyond the town's limits that now pay inflated prices at the central markets and continue to survive on poorly paid subsistence farming and fishing. If Cambodia is a country of contrasts Siem Reap is the embodiment of those contrasts. Despite the massive shift in its economic fortunes, Siem Reap remains a safe, friendly and pleasant town. There is an endless choice of places to stay or dine and a host of possible activities awaiting the visitor.
Stephen Brookes wrote in the Washington Post, “Siem Reap is no longer the scruffy, can-we-leave-now backwater of a decade ago. It has turned into a vibrant town with a slew of five-star hotels, lively new bars and restaurants, high-end art galleries and any number of chic boutiques. For the energetic, there's golf, mountain biking or flying around in ultra-light airplanes. For the sybaritic, there are massages and exotic spa treatments. There are restaurants for the epicures, museums for the studious, orphanage tours for the empathetic, and even a classical cello concert every Saturday night. [Source: Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, November 4, 2007]
“So once we'd notched a couple of temples on our belt, we hired a tuk-tuk — one of those motorcycle rickshaws you find all over Southeast Asia — and set out to explore the town. Siem Reap may be changing fast, but it still has a small-town feel. We would spend our evenings exploring the lively streets of the French Quarter, where surprises awaited us at every turn: huge, black deep-fried spiders (a Cambodian delicacy) from street stalls, delicately hand-tinted photographs at art galleries, elegant silks from tiny boutiques, massages from blind masseuses at the Seeing Hands Spa, even a net-covered garden bistro where thousands of butterflies fluttered around us as we ate.”
Siem Reap Province
Siem Reap Province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city). The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia. The name of the city literally means Siamese defeated, referring to the victory of the Khmer Empire over the army of the Thai kingdom in the 17th century. [Tourism of Cambodia]
Siem Reap province is 10,299 square kilometers in area. It is located in northwest Cambodia and bordered by Oddor Meanchey Province to the north, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom Provinces to the east, Banteay Meanchey Province to the west and Tonle Sap to the south. Much of the province, especially the southern part, consists of typical wet plains covered by rice fields and agricultural plantations. The northern part of the province is hilly area covered by forests. A distinguishing feature of Siem Reap Province is the smaller, but important Siem Reap River. It rises from Phnom Kulen, meanders through the northern part of Siem Reap Province and eventually empties into the Tonle Sap Lake.
The population of Siem Reap Province is about 903,030 people or 6.3 percent of the country's total population (2007, provincial government data), with 440,395 male and 462,635 female. The population density is 87.7 people per square kilometer. Much of the economy is focused on the foreign tourism due to presence of the famous Angkor temples. Since 2000 the economy has grown at double-digit rates. In 2007 more than 1,000,000 people visited the province. Fishing is the second most important industry after tourism. Thousands of tons of fish are annually exported to other provinces within the country or outside Cambodia. Farming is still done by the vast poor rural population.
The cool season in Siem Reap Province is from November to March with temperatures ranging from 23 to 29 degrees C. The hot season is from March to May with temperatures ranging from 27 to 37 degrees C. The rainy season is from May to October. Temperatures are 24 to 34 degrees C, with humidity up to 90 percent.
Impact of Tourism on Siem Reap
Ker Munthit of Associated Press wrote: “ Nineteen-year-old Ra Pheap is a garbage sweeper at Cambodia's world-famous Angkor Wat archaeological site, and is keenly grateful for the influx of tourists to the centuries-old monuments - it's because of them she has her $50 a month job. Suos Samnang, a 17-year-old souvenir vendor, also knows that her livelihood is closely linked to the busloads of camera-toting foreign visitors that arrive everyday. But as they witness the frenzied construction of hotels and guest houses to tap the flow of visitors' dollars in this once-quiet town, even these two poor country girls realize that the blessings of tourism are mixed ones. "I am worried that this will cause more pollution and migration to the town. The number of people living here just keeps growing. The streets are getting more crowded now," Suos Samnang said. And some experts are even more concerned than that. They fear the unregulated development — specifically, unrestricted local pumping of underground water to meet rapidly rising demand — may literally be undermining Angkor's foundations, destabilizing the earth beneath the famous centuries-old temples so much that they might sink and collapse. [Source: Ker Munthit, The Associated Press, November 21, 2006]
“The steady boom has already transformed Siem Reap into a bustling town filled with luxury hotels and vehicles. Its streets are adorned with billboards promoting the latest mobile phones, pizza and burger joints and shopping malls. Several notable old buildings have been razed to make way for visitors' lodgings, and honky-tonk strips have sprung up catering to low-budget travelers. "The identity Siem Reap had for centuries is gradually disappearing, or maybe almost disappeared," said Teruo Jinnai, director in Cambodia of the U.N. cultural organization UNESCO, and a 10-year resident of the country. "You have restaurants, massage parlors, hotels, and it's very sad to see that."
“Culture shock aside, the health and quality of life of many of its 120,000 residents is imperiled by the boom, as is plain to see when traffic snarls the roads and streets get flooded by rain because of clogged sewers. "This tremendous growth added to population increase has been exacerbating pressure on infrastructure," said a World Bank report on Cambodia's tourism sector last year. "Energy, water, sewage and waste are all significant problems." It noted that hotels are not legally required to have sewage treatment facilities, though larger ones do have their own plants. "But most guesthouses reportedly dump used water directly into the river, causing noticeable river pollution," it said, adding that E. coli, the bacteria found in human feces, has reportedly begun seeping into local wells.
“At least as threatening over the long run is the uptake of water, with unrestricted pumping from the water table underlying the area. "Water is being drawn from 70-80 meters (230-260 feet) underground by hotels and treated for use," warned the World Bank, noting that no one was quite certain how this affects the aquifers, or underground layers of rocks and sand, from which it is pumped. Already though, "one of Angkor's temples is reportedly falling into a sinkhole, suggesting that the underground aquifers may be rapidly disappearing," said the report. Japanese Ambassador Fumiaki Takahashi, whose country has drawn up a development master plan for Siem Reap to deal with the tourism boom, said most of its hotels are pumping underground water for their own use, "and there is no control." It is the Cambodian government's "urgent task" to control the practice, he said, because "if you take too much water, it might affect the Angkor site. In the long run, the underground water will go down and the site would sink." The plan of the Japan International Cooperation Agency calls for tapping underground water from near Phnom Kraom, a hill near the edge of the Tonle Sap lake about 7.4 miles south of the town, to avoid depletion of Siem Reap's underground water and reduce the risk of endangering the fragile temples, he said.
Deputy Tourism Minister Thong Khon said the government is ready to accept the master plan to address existing problems and accommodate future growth. He sees a bright future for Siem Reap, in which the province won't just be a destination for touring the temples but will also become a hub providing air links for tourists to enjoy the sandy beaches of southwestern Cambodia and ecotourism in the jungles of the northeast. He envisions that by promoting a diversity of destinations, the crowds will be distributed around the country, and the Angkor temples won't get "too jammed up."
Ra Pheap, the 19-year-old sweeper, said she knows the onslaught could damage the delicate monuments. She is employed by a Cambodian company that sells entry tickets to the temple site, and the visitors there are essentially paying her salary. With her earnings, she has reduced her family's reliance on rice farming and been able to help pay for Japanese-language classes for her younger brother and sister. "I want them to become tour guides because I am confident more tourists will visit here," she said.
GETTING TO SIEM REAP
The majority of visitors to Siem Reap arrive by air from Phnom Penh and Bangkok. There are also regular flights from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports. From Phnom Penh, there are also daily boats and buses going to Siem Reap. Some visitors make their way to Siem Reap overland from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.
The road to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh is in good condition, but driving in Cambodia is still challenging in the extreme, and should be attempted only by experienced riders. Speeding taxis, slow cows, and oblivious children are the norm. The trip by motorcycle calls for a dirt or road bike, no smaller than 250cc. It can be made in a day, but two days with a layover in Kampong Thom is a more relaxed alternative and allows time to visit the pre-Angkorian ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk.
Part of the route follows the Greater Mekong Sub-region Southern Corridor. According to ASIRT: The GMS Southern Corridor splits into two branches before reaching Siem Reap. One branch runs east to west across the center of the country, linking Bangkokin Thailand, Siem Reap and Strog Treng in Cambodia and Pleiku and Quy Nhon in Vietnam. The second branch links Bangkok in Thailand, Phnom Penh in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh and Vung Tau in Vietnam. Upgrades are completed in some sections [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2010].
To get to Siem Reap from Phnom Penh leave via the Japanese Bridge and follow National Highway No 6 north 75 kilometers to the Skun intersection. (Skun is known for its exotic foods - check out the fried spiders, turtle eggs and more at the roadside stands.) Bear left and follow the NH No 6 to Kampong Thom - about 2-3 hours. In Kampong Thom, the Arunras Hotel (062-961294), Stung Sen Royal Hotel (012-309495) and Mittapheap Hotel are all decent mid-range places. Arunras Guesthouses and Restaurant next to the hotel is the place to eat cheaply. From Kampong Thom to Siem Reap the trip takes another 2-3 hours.
By Airplane to Siem Reap: ??? Siem Reap Airways offer several daily flights to/from Phnom Penh. http://www.siemreapairways.com/; another cheap opportunity is http://www.airasia.com/; or www.laoairlines.com/. You can make your flight booking throught http://www.tourismcambodia.com/flights/.
Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: Domestic: US$6. International: US$25 Siem Reap Airport: The airport sits 6 kilometers from town, close to the temples, occasionally affording spectacular views of Angkor Wat during landings and take offs. Outside the terminal is a ticket booth for registered taxis into town. Independent taxis and motorcycles wait just outside the airport. The price is the same for both: motorcycles are $2 and cars are $6-7 into town. Most hotels offer free transportation from the airport but you must notify them in advance of your arrival.
By Bus and Shared Taxi to Siem Reap
Several guesthouses, travel agencies and bus companies offer daily bus transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. It is a smooth 314 km, 5-7 hour trip. The bus makes usually two stops along the way (at Skun and Kampong Thom). All charge the same, $3.50 (14,000R) one-way. The earliest buses depart starting at 6:30am and the last buses between noon and 1pm. Bus companies that run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: Neak Krorhorm Travel: Phnom Penh office at the corner of Street 110 and Sisowath Quay. Siem Reap office opposite the Old Market.GST: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market). Phnom Penh Public Transport Co.: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market).
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap - Leaving 7:30am and 12:30pm, Operated by all companies listed below. Tickets are $5 one-way and $9 for Mekong Express Luxury bus. 1) Mekong Express Limousine, #87 Eoz, St. Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 427 519. 2) Ho Wah Genting, Corner Street 217 and street 67, Phnom Penh 12209 Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 210-359, 210-859. 3) GST Express Bus, #13 Street 142, Phnom Penh 12209 Cambodia. Mobile: (855) 12 838-910, 12 895-550. 4) Capitol Tours, #14 Street 182, Phnom Penh 12258 Cambodia. Tel: (855) 23 217627, 724-104. Fax: (855) 23 214-104.
Shared taxis: Local share taxi depart from southwest corner of Central Market in Phnom Penh for 25,000 riel per person (5-8 hours). A private taxi costs you US$38-$45 for the whole car. 5-6 hours. (Due to rising fuel costs, prices are in flux.)
Boats to and From Siem Reap
Siem Reap Ferry Dock: Boats and ferries to Siem Reap arrives at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap. There is always transportation waiting at the dock. Mototaxis charge about $2-$3 and cars $6-$7 for the 20-30 minute ride into town.
By Boat Between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap: Daily ferries ply the Tonle Sap river and lake between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The end of the trip to Siem Reap is marked by a hill, Phnom Krom, near the ferry dock at Chong Khneas 12 kilometers south of Siem Reap. During the dry season, the ferry stops short of the dock and passengers transfer to smaller boats to traverse the final few hundred meters.
Ferries depart 7:00am daily from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay. Ferries depart Siem Reap daily at 7:00am from the dock at Chong Khneas. Passage is around $18-$25 and should be purchased a day in advance (251 kilometers, 4-6 hours). Drinks are sometimes available. Tickets can be purchased through hotels and travel agencies cheaper than at the ferry offices. Though generally safe, these ferries are local transport and have experienced breakdowns, groundings and other difficulties. Travel is best during the wet season (June-November). Dry season low waters can mean smaller, less comfortable boats and occasional groundings.
There are eight boat companies currently providing services between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and one boat company operating Phnom Penh to Chau Doc. Since there is limited numbers of passenger travel, boat companies are taking turn to cruise, one company a day. 7:00am is the departure time and half hour shall be arrived prior to the departure. Ticket shall be bought at least one-day advance for the assured seat but it is also available at location. All boats are equipped with air-conditioner, toilet and Video TV. Enjoy your ride, experience your journey with rooftop and you will have the benefit of spectacular scenery and see the true Cambodian villagers.
Boat Companies: 1) Khemara Express Boat: High Way No 5A In Front of Soksan Club: Tel: 023 430 777; 2) Soon Ly Boat: Tel: 023 725 797/ 012 728 055; 3) Channa Boat: Tel: 023 725 788; 4) Royal Express Boat: Sangkat Sras Chork Khan Daun Penh, Road No 5. Tel: 023 725 538; 5) Angkor Express Boat: Sisowath Squay International Phnom Penh Port. Tel: 023 426 892; 6) Rambo Express Boat: Tel: 012 846 818/ 011 876 678; 7) Mittapheap Boat (Friendship): Tel: 023 880 857/011 876 555; 8) Hang Chau Boat: Sisowath Squay International Phnom Penh Port. Tel: 012 883 542.
Compagnie Fluevial Du Mekong offers very leisurely paced boat trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on a traditionally crafted wooden riverboat with deluxe facilities. 3-day excursions. Tel: 023-216070; http://www.cfmekong.com.
Shopping in Siem Reap
Siem Reap is an excellent place to buy Cambodian souvenirs, handicrafts, textiles and art. Only Phnom Penh offers a comparable selection, but much of what is available in Siem Reap is unique to Siem Reap. Until recently, the Old Market (Phsar Chas) and vendors at the temples were the only places to buy souvenirs. Over the last few of years there has been a small boom of new shops, galleries and boutiques, offering a more varied selection of quality handicrafts and silks as well as original artistic creations - paintings, prints, carvings and such.
The Old Market still has the widest variety of souvenirs, as well as the best selection of items such as baskets, silver work and musical instruments. It also offers an interesting local ambiance, but the boutiques, galleries and specialty shops offer generally higher quality items and a more sophisticated selection of Cambodian products. Of particular interest are the traditional craft workshops and silk farms where you can see crafts in the making as well as buy the final product.
When purchasing local crafts, be selective in your purchase as there might also be some fakes. Most of the crafts, particularly the carvings, silk products and silverwork are hand-made, making each piece a unique work. Masters as well as students produce much of what is available, so some pieces are significantly better than others. Angkor Handicraft 1 is located 1.5 kilometers from Siem Reap in Stoeng Thmey Village. Angkor Handicraft 2 is seven kilometers from Siem Reap in the Angkor Compound.
Accommodation in Siem Reap
Siem Reap has an ever-growing number of hotel and guesthouse rooms, and a variety that is wide enough to satisfy all tastes and requirements. Though staying right in the middle of town is a bit more convenient to the Old Market and Sivatha road area, the town is relatively small making any location almost equally convenient as any other.
Less expensive mid-range rooms with a/c, cable TV, and hot water are available in a variety of styles and look and begin at about $15 or $20 but average $25 - $60. More expensive usually means newer, more stylish rooms, and more hotel services. Budget guesthouses, usually family-run, cost $2-$10 a night. Dozens of budget places are scattered across town, with a concentration in the Wat Bo and Taphul Village areas. Almost all guesthouses and hotels can arrange anything a tourist might need including tours, transport and information. For more information or booking, please visit: www.tourismcambodia.com/hotels.
There are now several four and five-star hotels in town, especially along the airport road. The Sofitel chain opened a sprawling resort in 2000. The premier hotel is the Raffles Grand Hote d’Angkor. It originally opened in 1932 and reopened again after an extensive $30 million renovation in 1997. Rated as one of the top 25 hotels in Asia by Travel and Leisure magazine, it has a 115-foot pool and a lovely, well-maintained 15-acre, $3 million garden, which sits between the hotel and a palace used by King Sihanouk. Among the celebrities that stayed here in the old days were Graham Greene, Somerset Maugham and Jackie Kennedy. Viroth’s Hotel d’ Angkor has also been highly was ranked by travel magazines
Stephen Brookes wrote in the Washington Post, “Dozens of new luxe hotels have been built, varying from the blandly elegant Sofitel (with its own golf course outside town) to the sleek, sexy Amansara, built in 1962 as a guesthouse of then-Prince Sihanouk. The recently renovated Amansara is one of the most striking examples of modernist architecture in Asia. With off-season prices so ridiculously low, we tried several; our favorites were La Residence d'Angkor, an atmospheric place set on a quiet, leafy street near the river, and the amazing Hotel de la Paix, a cheerfully over-the-top art deco palace in the heart of town. With flaming sconces on the roof, hanging beds in the courtyard restaurant and Stolichnaya at the breakfast buffet, it's not for every taste. But we found it decadently luxurious, and my wife cried when we left. We both cried, a little. [Source: Stephen Brookes, Washington Post, November 4, 2007]
On a small boutique hotel outside town, Geoffrey Dean-Smith wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Navutu Dreams Resort & Spa is just a short drive from the center of Siem Reap, and then a bone-jarring 10 minutes over potholes into the countryside of sugar palm plantations and rice fields. This family owned boutique establishment has 18 luxury rooms, a tropical spa with massages, a resident yoga teacher and a restaurant offering delectable Asian dishes and fine wines. The Imperial Sweet Curry with organic jasmine rice was sensational. I finished up with chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. Bliss. [Source: Geoffrey Dean-Smith, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2013]
Amansara in Siem Reap
Amansara in Siem Reap is one of the more luxurious hotels in Siem Reap. Jane Perlez wrote in The New York Times, “For exotica with luxury in Asia, it is hard to beat the Amansara in Siem Reap, an enclave of refinement close to the glorious temples of Angkor. Like all Amanresorts hotels, it is very expensive. But if you are going to see Angkor only once, what the heck. As you would expect for the price, you get attentive service: there are five staff members for every guest and the hotel's guides take guests to the temples on routes not used by tour buses. Amansara was built in the 1960's as Prince Sihanouk's guesthouse. The single-story structure became a hotel and in the 70's, as political conditions worsened, a state guesthouse for the Khmer Rouge. Ultimately, it deteriorated. After a restoration, the villa opened to guests late in 2002, retaining the modernist look of stark white exteriors and plenty of glass. Given that many new hotels in Siem Reap are huge, hastily erected concrete piles, the Amansara is definitely in a discreet class of its own. [Source: Jane Perlez, The New York Times, July 13, 2005]
Set behind a high white wall, you are on the main drag of what has become a busy town. Pedicabs with uniformed drivers and comfortable open-air cabins can take you on excursions to boutiques and restaurants. But once you have spent hours at the temples, there is little reason to leave the cocoon of the compound. The 12 suites are arranged around a swimming pool and a grassy courtyard. They are spacious, even though a lot is packed in, including a freestanding white bathtub overlooking a private courtyard. The furniture is clean-lined, the tones are muted and the polished gray terrazzo floor is cool. There are plenty of closets, a large desk behind a king-size bed, a sitting area with a sofa and a circular table. Two sinks with large mirrors are near the bathroom. It's definitely open-plan living.
Room service includes an early morning, pretemple excursion array of tropical fruit, coffee and juice is served on the terrace outside each room. The dining room menu - a choice of European or Cambodian - doubles as room service. Since the bathtub and sinks are in the main room, the bathrooms are minimalist: a shower in one area, a toilet in another. A brilliant blue Cambodian silk sarong hangs on a peg, alongside two cotton bathrobes. Watch out, the sarong costs $70 at the boutique. At dusk, a housekeeper runs the bath, adding a romantic touch of floating lotus flowers.
The manager, Toby Anderson, takes pride in trying to ensure that guests see the various Angkor sites in as compelling - and for those who want it, as adventurous - a way as possible. He initiated motorcycle rides through the jungle, with an experienced guide, to pre-Angkorian ruins. Also available: a helicopter to some of the far-flung temples - for $3,000. On the ride to the hotel from the airport, the driver avoids the main road, which is flanked by tacky hostelries. Instead, he takes a longer route that includes the distinctive towers of Angkor Wat. On departure, a hefty 1962 black Mercedes that is reputed to have carried Jackie Kennedy takes you to the plane.
The Crowd: Definitely rich, with a few gate-crashers splurging for special occasions: superthin, tanned Italian women and their husbands, Japanese honeymooners, Parisians and Americans, many of whom have stayed at other Amanresorts. A night costs $775, plus 10 percent service charge and 11 percent tax. This covers breakfast; lunch or dinner; house wine, spirits and beers; and temple tours. Amansara, Road to Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia; (800) 477-9180, (855-63) 760-335; www.amanresorts.com .
Restaurants in Siem Reap
There is no shortage of restaurants in Siem Reap. They have been opening steadily over the past couple of years. Siem Reap offers an excellent variety of restaurants. Shinta Mani and Hotel Grand D'Angkor lead the fine dining category though there are several places offering excellent cuisine in a stylish, refined atmosphere. There are also plenty of moderately priced Cambodian and international restaurants. Almost every restaurant offers Cambodian food. For the budget minded, check out the inexpensive Chinese places at the south end of Sivatha Blvd. or the local food stalls and noodle cookshops next to Phsar Char (Old Market).
Dinner Theater and Khmer Dance in Siem Reap: Attending a traditional dance performance is a must when visiting Cambodia. Several restaurants offer dinner performances. Nightly performances: Grand Hotel D’Angkor, Apsara Theater, Kulen II, Angkor Mondial, Chao Pra Ya, Tonle Mekong, and Tonle Sap. Some restaurants, such as the Dead Fish Tower, offer traditional music during the dinner hour. Shadow puppetry can be seen at Bayon 1 and La Noria Hotel. The Hotel Grande de Angkor has a restaurant and stage near the river that features nightly performances of the apsara-style dancers. The show and buffet dinner is US$ 22.
Pubs and Bars in Siem Reap: Pub Street in the Old Market area is the happening place to be in the evening these days offering several bars and restaurants, not only on Pub Street, but on nearby streets and allies. Things get going in the late afternoon and some places stay open quite late. The piano bar at Grand D'Angkor, and the live traditional music at Dead Fish Tower make for pleasant venues to begin the evening. Buddha Lounge, Ivy Bar, The Red Piano, Temple Bar, Linga Bar, Molly Malone's, Angkor What and not to forget the bars of the Pub Street where you can find popular early evening pubs, drawing tourists and expats alike, and getting more crowded as the evening progresses.
ANGKOR NATIONAL MUSEUM
Angkor National Museum is housed in a mammoth, 20,000-square-meter building. Opened in November 2007, the air-conditioned museum has a shopping mall-like feel that contrasts with the thousands-year-old artefacts contained within it. It's composed of eight separate galleries, all connected by a vaulted corridor with a series of fountains and lined with what seems like all the Angkorian limestone lion and demon heads missing from statues at the temples. After an explanatory film screening called Story behind the legend, you're pointed toward the galleries:
Gallery 1: “1,000 Buddha Images” is the only gallery that's just one large room, rather than a series of maze-like alcoves, and the sight of all these Buddhas at once is striking. Hundreds of small and miniature Buddha figurines, made of metals, jewels and wood, all individually illuminated, line the walls here, identified according to the period they were made during and where they were discovered. In the centre, life-size and larger Buddha characters are displayed. The display includes Buddhas from Banteay Kdei, Bayon, Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear.
Gallery 2: “Pre-Angkor Period: Khmer Civilisation and all the subsequent ones combine mural-size explanations and short films through maze-like rooms explaining Angkorian history. The styles of figurines precede the trademark Angkor style, and there's a large collection of lingas, lintels and colonnettes. Gallery 3: “Religion and Beliefs” explains several of the most significant Hindu and Buddhist religious stories and folk tales depicted on Angkorian temples, including the most memorable Churning of the Sea of Milk carved into the rear wall at Angkor Wat. Carvings of Buddhist and Hindu religious figures are concentrated here as well.
Gallery 4: “The Great Khmer Kings” focuses on King Jayavarman II, Yasovarman I, Soryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, those most responsible for Angkor's greatest constructions. Figures of the kings and relics from the temples they commissioned abound. Gallery 5: “Angkor Wat”: There's a large film gallery inside this section of the museum. It features beautiful, panoramic images of the temple and explanations of how it was constructed. There are also many restored figures from the temple itself as well as post-Angkorian wooden statues used for worship at the temple until several hundred years ago. Gallery 6: “Angkor Thom”: In addition to recovered artefacts from Angkor Thom, this gallery includes a history of and artefacts from the vast irrigation projects commissioned by the king who built Angkor Thom with his smiling face looking out from every tower: Jayavarman VII.
Gallery 7: “Story From Stones” is one of the most interesting. It's a collection of stone pallets with ancient Khmer and Sanskrit inscriptions. The writing on each slate is explained on placards below. The writing on them includes the declaration of the construction of a new hospital, lists of slave names, mediations of land disputes and adulations of kings and gods. Gallery 8: “Ancient Costume”: From Apsaras and kings to princesses and warriors, this room contains the busts and statues of distinct fashions and styles as they evolved throughout Angkor time. There's also a collection of ancient jewellery and headdresses. It's a clever segue to the final room — the gift shop — where upscale imitations of these fashions abound.
It's $12 to enter the museum, plus another $3 if you want to bring in your camera and another $3 for an educational headset. Sadly, like ticketing and management of the Angkor park, the museum is owned and run by a private company, so little of your admission money goes to Cambodia or to temple restoration (though what the company paid for the concession might). Still, it's perhaps better than these artefacts remaining in the hands of private collectors. A connected has a few stores, including a Blue Pumpkin satellite, several souvenir shops and the sure sign of apocalypse.
Angkor Conservancy (in Siem Reap) is a compound of workshops, laboratories and storage facilities established by the French and now run by Cambodians. Housed in three large warehouse-like buildings, it contains many of the finest Angkor statues and art works to keep them out of the hands of looters and to repair and restore them. Many of the sculptures and bas reliefs missing from Angkor's temples are here not in private collections.
Among the 2,400 pieces in the conservancy are a few well-preserved life-size figures of ancient kings; a magnificent statue group of the god Vishnu and his two consorts; Buddhas protected by “naga”serpents, pediments, lintels ornaments, and stelae. Visitors are sometimes allowed in.
The conservancy is surrounded by barbed wire fences and watchtowers. In 1993, thieves machine gunned their way in and killed three civilians and made off with 10 valuable pieces. The conservancy and Angkor are now protected by 450-member team of French-trained motorcycle-mounted Heritage Police. Looting has largely been shut down in the Angkor area. If only the same could be said for remote Khmer sites in Cambodia.
SIGHTS IN SIEM REAP
Angkor Zoo (5 kilometers from Siem Reap on a dirt road on the way to Angkor, just past the ticket gates off of Charles De Gaulle Blvd) is a fairly small zoo that houses over 100 species of animals and birds, including bears, serow, peafowl, gibbons, muntjac, civets and cheetahs. Unfortunately the zoo has gone pretty much to ruins and is not very well maintained. If you wish, you can donate some money for the maintenance of the zoo. Porcupines to some extent always present a problem. They are expert excavators and cages often need solid cement floors to prevent their escape. Both groups of porcupines from Angkor are now in our two spacious, forested serow enclosures, one group in each. Other species share enclosures as a way to save money and use resources wisely.
Crocodile Farm (on the south end of Siem Reap) that has about 300 crocodiles of various sizes and dispositions. There is US$ 1 admission charge for foreigners and 1,000 riel for Cambodians. You can buy stuffed crocs on the premises. To get there head south on Sivutha Street, cross the bridge and it's down another kilometers from there.
Parks in Siem Reap: The Siem Reap River parkways and the big park in front of the Hotel Grand d'Angkor are nice for a jog, stroll and people watching, especially in the early evening hours when the locals are out in numbers. The river area is pleasant and the park is nicely landscaped. There are plenty of drink and snack vendors around. The king's Siem Reap residence is just across from the park.
Shooting Ranges (about 40 minutes on rough roads from Siem Reap) offers visitors a chance to shot AK-47s, Uzis, M-16s, M-50 machine gun, shotguns, pistols, bazookas and even B-40 rockets. The cost for shooting off 30 rounds from an AK-47 at a paper target about 90 meters away is $20. The same number of rounds fired from an Uzi will set you back $50. The B-40 rocket launcher costs about $200 to use. For $10 extra you can shoot at a live chicken. rabbit or cat. Dogs cost $15, cows, $300. Some places will let you shoot at car batteries or buckets of gasoline. The main range is inside an operating military camp. All the motorcycle guides know where it is. To get inside the base generally requires the payment of a $5 bribe.
Land Mine Museum
Land Mine Museum (20 miles northeast of Siem Reap) offers information on land mines themselves and the destruction they can cause. Located on a rutted road parallel to the main road to Angkor Wat and also called the Civil War Museum, it is identified by a hand-painted sign and is housed in a shack. The mines and weaponry on display include bouncing betty mines, Russian rockets, Vietnamese fragmentation mines, poisoned spikes and other nasty stuffy. The founder of the museum Aki Ra, often accompanies visitors and offers explanation to visitors as they wander around. Many of the mines in the museum were disarmed by Aki himself. Aki opened the museum in 1999. he speaks pretty good English and Japanese and continues to hunt for mines in his free time.
Also on view are public service poster warning children to stay clear of mines, some Khmer Rouge cut-up-tire sandals and pictures made by Aki Ra that show atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge that he witnessed himself. If asked Aki will do a demonstration on how to look for and deactivate a mine. town. In 2000, local officials forced Aki to take down his sign on the main highway because they did not want tourists to link mines with Angkor Wat (the area has been thoroughly cleared of mines) but allowed the museum to remain open.
Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “With Khmer Empire architectural glories nearby, it would be easy to skip the Cambodian Landmine Museum and Relief Center. When I visited, I met its founder, Aki Ra, who at the age of 10 was given a gun by the Khmer Rouge and sent into the rice paddies to set explosives. After the war he devoted his life to dismantling 50,000 land mines left in the countryside and to raising maimed and orphaned children, work that last year won him nomination as a CNN Hero.[Source:Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. To get there, go past the Hotel Grande de Angkor (on the road to the Angkor ticket checkpoint) about 1 kilometers to a small sign on the right for the Civil War Museum. Turn right, and follow this road to a four-way intersection and turn left. There is a sign for the place here. Go about 1 kilometers and you will see it on the right.
Phnom Kulen National Park
Phnom Kulen National Park (50 kilometers northeast of Angkor Wat) was opened to tourists in 1999 by private owners who charge a $20 toll per foreign visitor. It takes approximately two hours to drive from Siem Reap and up a 487-meter-high hill height to a plateau stretches for 30 kilometers. The owners that charge admission developed the road up to the peak. It is only possible to go up before 11:00am and only possible to come down after midday, to avoid vehicles meeting on the narrow road.
Kulen is considered by Khmers to be the most sacred mountain in Cambodia and it is a popular place for domestic visitors during weekends and festivals. The hill is used as the ancient capital city II in AD 802 when the Phnom Penh king declared himself as god king and announced independence from Java, then giving birth to present day Cambodia. On the hilltop there are 56 Angkorian temples made of bricks and volcanic stones, but most of them are badly in poor condition. Hahendrapura, founded in the reign of King Jayavarman, is the only temple with its base intact. Visible sites include Prasat Krau Romeas, Rong Chen ( the first mountain temple), Sra Damrei ( Elephant pond) and thousands of phallic symbols carved a long river bed and divided in three areas for the Hindu trinity gods. These three areas are used for ritual bathing. At the summit of the hill you can see a Buddhist pagoda and a large reclining Buddha statue 8 meters length carved into a sandstone bock in the16th century. There is also a waterfall that splits in two spots. The first waterfall is four or five meters high and 10 to 25 meters wide in the dry and rainy seasons respectively. The second waterfall is 15 to 20 meters higg and 10 to 15 meters wide in the dry and rainy seasons respectively. The water is considered holy and Khmers like to bottle it to take home with them. The water eventually flows in to Tonle Sap Lake and is thought to bless the water ways of Cambodia.
Sights in the Siem Reap Area
Thmat Boey (4 hours away from Siem Reap Town or 7 hours from Phnom Penh) is in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. During the dry season Thmat Boey can be reached by 4-wheel drive vehicles. During the rain season motorbikes have to be used for the
Skoeun (near Phnom Penh) is famous for its spider brochettes. The mildly-toxic two-inch- long spiders are caught in the nearby forests, dipped in flour and powered peanuts and fried. Sold for about 20 cents a stick, they are served in restaurants and hawked from trays to passing motorists. One customer at a spider restaurant told the Phnom Penh Post. "It's not as tasty as cricket, but it could be good if you eat it with wine." Another said, "It's nice, it tastes good. They clean the stomach.”
Heidi Fuller-Love wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Skun is home to Cambodia's largest concentration of tarantulas. Tthe market stands were piled high with fried crickets, grilled locusts and braised a-pings, as the beleaguered arachnids are known locally. All around me school kids and old women were buying the spiders. They are black, hairy, as big as a hand and, at 50 cents each, didn't come cheap. "We fry them to destroy the poison, then dip them in garlic and salt," a vendor said.[Source: Heidi Fuller-Love, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2011 ^^^]
“Steeling myself for the big one, I browsed the stands, sampling crickets (bland and crunchy) and locusts (meaty and the legs stick between the teeth) before buying a bag of tarantulas. Shutting my eyes, I dipped my hand in the bag, pulled off a leg and nibbled. Surprisingly, once the initial revulsion wore off, the taste was not so bad. The texture of the a-ping was rough and crispy like a pork crackling, but inside it was tender and fatty and tasted a bit like cod. "The head is the best bit," said an old woman, with half a spider in her hand, half in her mouth. I decided to take her word for it and offered her the rest of my bag. She accepted gratefully and made short shrift of the three arachnids inside. ^^^
“The edible insect exhibition at the Skun Spider Sanctuary, where I learned that arachnids are a gastronomic delicacy in Cambodia. "Along with lizards, scorpions and rats, they were introduced onto the menu during the famine under the Khmer Rouge regime, but now they have become so popular that there are fears they could be hunted to extinction," sanctuary employee Sopheap told me. ^^^
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
Last updated August 2020