Siem Reap Cambodia

Siem Reap Cambodia is best-known as the gateway to the ruins of Angkor Wat, perhaps the most illustrious and definitely the most famous of all Cambodia attractions. The 12th century UNESCO World Heritage Site is rampant with ancient temples surrounding central Angkor Wat within a large complex of Khmer cities. Due to its large size, most visitors opt to spend a few days or more staying in Siem Riep, visiting the temples during the day, and exploring the city surroundings during afternoons and evenings. Much like Machu Picchu, there are several important ruins within the province that are related to Angkor including Bantaey Srei and Beng Mealea.

Siem Riep province is blanketed in brush and rice fields, is relatively flat, and provides a unique look into Khmer history directly related to the Angkor ruins. The province lines the northern coast of the Great Lake called Tonle Sap, and connects to the province of Oddar Meanchey in the north. Though not many visitors make it to the outskirts of the province, exploring the area can bring some very rewarding and real experiences away from the tourist hustle of the Angkor complex grounds.

Today more than a million people visit Siem Riep each year. The rise in tourism is easily documented by the emergence of such sites as the PGA golf course, large chain hotels like Raffles, and a 40-flight-per-day international airport. Sadly, it seems some are aiming at a theme-park style area, with large developers creating hotels and other tourist complexes that aim to complement the temple complex.

Siem Reap Cambodia
Siem Reap Cambodia

There are dozens of excellent sites and sounds to explore when visiting Siem Reap Cambodia. Taking an extra day after exploring Angkor is highly recommended.  Some of the best city and nearby attractions during vacations include Tonle Sap Lake and the floating villages, the Land Mines Museum, Bakeng Hill, and Banteay Srei. Adventure tours that whisk tourist off to the outer reaches where isolated villages and lush countryside abound are also very popular things to do in Siem Reap. Not too surprisingly, there is also an 18-hole Sir Nick Faldo award-winning golf course just 5 minutes form the airport.

Geographically, Siem Reap sits roughly a mile and a half south of Angkor Wat and the other temples. It was only in the 19thcentury that Angkor was discovered by the French and Siem Reap was little more than a small village. It welcomed flocks of tourists after 1907 when Angkor was returned to Cambodia’s French controllers (the first hotel to open in 1929 was the Grand Hotel d’Angkor). Because of the onset of war and ongoing troubles with Khmer Rouge control, tourism halted for many years, surging upward again in the later 1990s.

Siem Reap Cambodia, as a provincial capital, has become a major hub for transportation, with many traveling through en route to the Thai crossing at Poipet, to Phnom Penh, and also via boat tours across to Battambang. The local airport transports more passengers daily then the airport in Phnom Penh, symbolizing the arrival of mass tourism to this Cambodian region. Though some complain of the city’s uncontrolled growth, there’s no doubt it will keep booming, all the while attracting thousands more visitors.

Top image: ND Strupler (flickr)

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