Siem Reap


 Set in northwest Cambodia, Siem Reap is best known for being home to the incredible Angkor ruins, a sprawling World Heritage-listed complex of ancient temples with the magnificent Angkor Wat as the focal point (Siem Reap).

Siem Reap

Siem Reap City

While the Angkor park is surely one of the globe’s most amazing historical sites, Siem Reap province is also home to an array of other ruins, such as Beng Mealea, Bantaey Srei, and the holy mountain Phnom Kulen. So if ancient temple ruins are your thing, this province — an expansive piece of mostly flat land, covered in rice fields and brush — must be explored fully. It runs along the north shore of the Tonle Sap, Cambodia’s “Great Lake”, and north to Oddar Meanchey province, where Pol Pot met his end. Few visitors get around to the fringes, even though they are becoming increasingly accessible after many improvements to Cambodia’s roads (Siem Reap).

The provincial capital of Siem Reap is also a transportation hub, with many people coming through here en route to Phnom Penh, Poipet (the northwest border crossing to Thailand) or by bus or boat to Battambang. And more and more people are now using it as a base from which to visit the renowned Preah Vihear temple (Siem Reap).

Siem Reap

Tonle Sap Lake

Siem Reap’s international airport now takes in more tourists daily than the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh. Mass tourism has well and truly arrived to this part of Cambodia and is expected to triple between 2010 and 2015 (Siem Reap).

The town itself is situated three kilometres south of the temple park, and has exploded from a relatively small backwater town to the fastest growing settlement in the nation. Annually, two million visitors now travel through the small city to see the adjacent Angkor ruins. This tourism hub has three PGA-rated golf courses, the presence of international hotels such as Sofitel, Raffles, Aman and Le Meridien, and an airport with 36 international and domestic flights arriving daily. Developers scramble to build facilities that complement the impressiveness of Angkor, described by Henri Mahout, the Frenchman who re-alerted the West to it in 1860, as “a rival to that of Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo… grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome.”

The chaotic growth has not always had the best results and some would argue it has all happened far too quickly, without any planning or considerations of sustainability. For example, the town has been experiencing serious issues with water access for a number of years now, driving businesses to distraction. No matter what your opinion of that, Siem Reap is booming and is set to remain a key stop for travellers to Southeast Asia for years to come (Siem Reap).

Straddling the Siem Reap River which flows from Phnom Kulen, the town itself is home to a couple of minor sites of interest, some reasonable shopping and hundreds of guesthouses and restaurants. It is the best base from which to launch your visits of Angkor and the surrounding area and the town offers a full range of accommodation options, from $4 flophouses to $3,000-plus a night luxury hotels (Siem Reap).

Siem Reap

Siem Reap River

Most tourists tend to visit the ruins in the morning and late afternoon, taking a break back in town during the middle of the day when the heat and poor light detract from the temples. The easiest way to visit is to hire a tuk tuk or motodop in the morning for a $10 to $15 flat rate, although you can also see the temples by bicycle (on average $2 per day), bus, car, helicopter, microlite and even hot-air balloon (Siem Reap).

Back in Siem Reap, visitors tend to spend their time lying around their guesthouse and splashing in a pool if they’re lucky, sipping or supping in one of the town’s many stylish (and some not-so-stylish) bars and restaurants, seeing the minor sites, visiting nearby villages and shopping. Although it seems like a new hotel opens every month, the impact on prices has been minimal and there has been little variation in the last few years. During low season, it is possible to bargain a little, depending on the month. This will rarely work in July and August though, when visitors numbers spike (Siem Reap).

Spas are springing up to tend to ruin-weary legs and dust-encrusted faces, some sumptuous, and many mid-range ones which can be just as good. Almost every hotel has a contract with a local spa to provide in-room massage, while most high-end hotels have separate spa facilities (Siem Reap).

Even those with a minimal interest in the ruins will easily be occupied for a couple of days, while if exploring tree-shrouded hidden crevices and piles of rocks are your thing, you could end up spending a month here (Siem Reap).

Siem Reap

tuk tuk in Siem Reap

How to Get There

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. See the airline list below. 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. Siem Reap: Arrival and Departure  (Siem Reap)
Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: Domestic: US$6. International: US$25 Siem Reap Airport: The airport sits 6km 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 (Siem Reap). Siem Reap Ferry Dock:
The ferry to Siem Reap arrives at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12km 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 (Siem Reap).

 
Air:
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/.
 
River Ferry:
 Daily ferries ply the Tonle Sap river and lake between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The end of the trip is marked by a hill, Phnom Krom, near the ferry dock at Chong Khneas 12 km 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 7am daily from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay. Ferries depart Siem Reap daily at 7am from the dock at Chong Khneas. Passage is around $18-$25 and should be purchased a day in advance (251km, 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 (Siem Reap).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.

 
Buses:
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. 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).
 
Share 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.) .

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