Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor
One of the world’s most magnificent sights, the temples of Angkor are so much better than the superlatives. Choose from Angkor Wat, the world’s largest religious building, Bayon, on the world’s weirdest, with its immense stone faces, or Ta Prohm, where nature runs amok. Buzzing Siem Reap, witha sperb selection of restaurants and bars, is the base for temple exploration, Beyond lie floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake, adrenaline-fueled activities like quad biking and microlighting, and such cultured pursuits as cooking classes and birdwatching.
The life-support system for the temples of Angkor, Siem Reap (see-em ree-ep, សៀមរាប) was always destined for great things. It has reinvented itself as the epicentre of cool Cambodia, with everything from backpacker party pads to hip hotels, world class wining and dining, and sumptuous spas.
This is a good news for the long-suffering Khmers riding the wave, but it can make the town a little bling in places. Authentic it is not, although just a short distance away lies Siem Reap Province and the real Cambodia of rural beauty. Explore floating villages and rare-bird sanctuaries or just cycle (or quad bike or pony trek) through the paddies as and antidote to the bustle of town.
Angkor is a place to be savored, not rushed, and this is the base to plan your adventures. Still think three days at the temples is enough? Think again, with Siem Reap on the doorstep.
When to Go
Peak season is November to March, a good time to avoid if you want to dodge the crowds, April and May can be shockingly hot, which makes exploring hard work and the countryside barren. The wet-season months are generally OK, as you can st your watch by the late-afternoon showers. However, the town centre has been under water for long periods in October during the past few years.
Fixtures in the calendar include February’s Giant Puppet Parade and the Bon Om Tuk (Water Festival) in October/November.
Siem Reap wase little more than a village when French explorers discovered Angkor in the 9th century. With the return of Angkor to Cambodian – or should that be French – control in 1907, Siem Reap began to grow, absorbing the first wave of tourists. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor open its doors in 1929, and the temples of Angkor remained one of Asia’s leading draws until the late 1960s. luring luminaries such as Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Kennedy. With the advent of war and the Khmer Rouge, Siem Rap entered a long slumber from which it only began to awaken in the mid-1990s.
Tourism is the lifeblood of Siem Reap and without careful management, it could become Siem Reapolinos, the not-so-Costadel-Culture of southeast Asia. However, there are promising signs that developers are learning from the mistakes that have blighted other regional hot spots, with restrictions on hotel height and bus size. Either way, Angkor is center stage on the world travel map right now, and there’s no going back for its supply line, Siem Reap.
Visitors come to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor. The Sights in and around the town pale in comparison for those who find themselves temple out after a few days. That said, some of the best sights are… yet more temples. The modern pagodas around Siem Reap offer and interesting contrast to the ancient sandstone structures of Angkor.