The Cambodian city of Siem Reap (which means 'Defeat of Siam') has long been known as the gateway to the Angkor region. The temples are definitely must-sees, but the city itself has many attractions and is becoming a tourist destination in its own right.
However long you have in the city, it is worth having at least a day to visit the incredible temples. Constructed in the twelfth century as part of Angkor, the capital city of the once-powerful Khmer Empire, these ruins represent the achievements of this ancient civilisation. The most famous, and arguably most impressive, is Angkor Wat, with its five towers and intricate Hindu carvings. Efforts are being made to restore many of the temples, but a notable exception is Ta Prohm, which is intentionally being preserved in the state it was rediscovered, reclaimed by nature, with trees growing through the ruins.
To maximise the time you spend here, try varying the order in which you see the temples – many tours will aim to see Angkor Wat as the sun rises, so it could be quieter to head to Ta Prohm then and visit Angkor Wat later in the day. Remember, these temples were part of a megacity at one time, so try and visualise what that would have been like – look for signs of roads, waterways and houses to really get a sense of location.
With a wide range of attractions to suit a variety of budgets, a vibrant cultural scene and a rise in ethically minded food and shopping, there really is something for everyone.
The Royal Gardens are the only open green space in central Siem Reap and are free to visit. Fronting the impressive Raffles Hotel and next to the Royal Residence, there is plenty to admire, with over 20,500 plant species and a beautiful avenue of trees, which are home to large numbers of fruit bats.
Try using local tuk-tuks to get around cheaply, though make sure that you agree the price with the driver before setting off. For shopping, try the Old Market and Kandal Village, which has a number of ethical shops. The Wat Bo area has the city's oldest Buddhist monastery and there are a number of bridges to cross the river, including an attractive one taking you to the old French quarter, with its leafy streets, art galleries and colonial buildings.
The Angkor National Museum is definitely worth a visit to learn more about the rich and varied history of this area. A fantastic way to experience part of the culture is a visit to Phare, the Cambodian Circus, which shares the folk tales and explores the troubled past of this region through music, acrobatics, contortion and fire-eating.
The food choices in Siem Reap range from street food, through cafes, all the way to fine dining. Some highlights include Bugs Cafe, specialising in insects, Cuisine Wat Damnak, which uses seasonal Cambodian ingredients to produce high-quality plates and Blossom Cafe and Training Centre, where delicious cakes are baked, whilst profits are used to train and empower Cambodian women.
This vibrant, historical area has so much on offer to see and do – enjoy your river cruise!
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