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Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Siem Reap (Khmer: សៀមរាប, "Defeat of Siam") is a province (khaet) of Cambodia. It borders the provinces of Oddar Meanchey to the north, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom to the east, Battambang to the south, and Banteay Meanchey to the west. Its capital and largest city is Siem Reap. Siem Reap is the 10th largest province in Cambodia. With a population of 896,309, it ranks as the 6th largest in the nation. A large portion of Siem Reap's southern border is demarcated by the Tonle Sap and as such, it is one of the nine provinces that making up the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. In modern times the province is best known as the site of Angkor and the Angkor Wat temple ruins.
Siem Reap Overview
Back in the 1960s, Siem Reap (see-em ree-ep) was the place to be in Southeast Asia and saw a steady stream of the rich and famous. After three decades of slumber, it’s well and truly back and one of the most popular destinations on the planet right now. The life-support system for the temples of Angkor, Cambodia’s eighth wonder of the world, Siem Reap was always destined for great things, but few people saw them coming this thick and this fast. It has reinvented itself as the epicentre of the new Cambodia, with more guesthouses and hotels than temples, world-class wining and dining and sumptuous spas.
 
At its heart, Siem Reap is still a little charmer, with old French shop-houses, shady tree-lined boulevards and a slow-flowing river. But it is expanding at breakneck speed with new houses and apartments, hotels and resorts sprouting like mushrooms in the surrounding countryside. The tourist tide has arrived and locals are riding the wave. Not only is this great news for the long-suffering Khmers, but it has transformed the town into a pulsating place for visitors. Forget the naysayers who mutter into their beers about Siem Reap in the ‘old days’, now is the time to be here, although you may curse your luck when stuck behind a jam of tour buses on the way back from the temples.
 
Angkor is a place to be savoured, 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.
Siem Reap History
The name Siem Reap means ‘Siamese Defeated’, hardly the most tactful name for a major city near Thailand. Imagine Birmingham with the name ‘Germany Defeated’. The empire of Angkor once included much of modern-day Thailand, but there’s a touch of irony about the name, given that Thailand ultimately defeated Cambodia and controlled Siem Reap and Angkor from 1794 to 1907.
 
Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers discovered Angkor in the 19th 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 opened its doors in 1929 and the temples of Angkor remained one of Asia’s leading draws until the late 1960s, luring visitors including Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Kennedy. With the advent of war and the Khmer Rouge, Siem Reap entered a long slumber from which it only began to awake in the mid-1990s.
 
Tourism is the lifeblood of Siem Reap and without careful management it could become Siem Reapolinos, the not so Costa-del-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 the height of hotels and bus sizes. Either way, Angkor is centre stage on the world travel map right now and there is no going back for its supply line, Siem Reap.
Siem Reap Climate and best time to see
The country has a tropical climate - warm and humid. In the monsoon season, abundant rain allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism. Travellers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.
 
Climate: Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable. The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April. General information about the provincial climate:- Cool season: November- March (23-29c)
- Hot season: March- May (27c -37c)
- Rainy season: May - October (24-33c, with humidity up to 90%.)
Siem Reap Transportation
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/vans 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
Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: 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 Ferry Dock
The ferry to Siem Reap arrives at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12km south of Siem Reap. The ticket price costs from 35us$. 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.
 
Airs
Cambodia Angkor Airways offer several daily flights to/from Phnom Penh, another cheap opportunity is Bassaca Air or Bayon Airlines. Vietnam Airline also offer daily flight to/from Ho Chi Minh city and Hanoi, Singapore Airlines to/from Singapore and Loas Airlines to/from Luang Prabang. 
 
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.
 
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. 
 
Buses or Vans
There are many Bus companies like Giant Ibis, Mekong Express, PSD Xpress, Sorya Bus, Neak Krohorm, Thero Express (15-seat), Larryta, KSO, Virak Buntham, Kampot Express, Cambodia Post VIP Van offering bus/van services to Siem Reap town using modern air-conditioned buses/vans. Buses/vans depart every 15 minutes to one hour, daily from 6am-12pm mid night. The prices are reasonable.  Online Bus ticket  can be purchased in advance.
 
Share/Private 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.). Private taxi is also available in Siem Reap, and you can check with any travel agents or hotels to arrange for you. Now very easy, you can book Private Taxi before your arrival through online.
 
Motorbike Info to Siem Reap
The road to Siem Reap 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 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.
 
Leave Phnom Penh via the Japanese Bridge and follow National Highway No 6 north 75km 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 Mitttapheap 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.
Things to do and see in Siem Reap
Miniature Replicas of Angkor’s Temples
Before seeing the real deal, check out the miniature replicas of Angkor’s temples. The entrance fee to see these tiny temples is about $1.50, and it does not take long to explore the cluttered backyard. This initial experience will get visitors hyped to see the real temples up close and personal.
 
Visit the Temples
Angkor was the original capital of the Khmer Empire, and the temples within the Angkor Archaeological Park are all that remains of this epic realm. Visitors should expect to pay a driver no more than $18 to see the small circuit of temples, which includes Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon; this should take the entirety of a day. Visitors will pay about $30 to see the large circuit of temples. The one-day pass into Angkor Wat is $20, but there are also two and three-day passes available. Any one of these temples is absolutely spectacular at sunrise, so be prepared to set a few alarms and head out around 4:15 a.m. in order to get this photo op and beat some of the crowds. It can take days to explore all of the temples at Angkor, so we have selected the must-see temples of this historical sight.
 
Angkor Wat
Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument ever built, and it is one of the most spectacular temples in the world. It is surrounded by massive waterways and has survived both invasions and wars. The evidence of this turmoil can be found in the wear and tear in its structure.
In addition to its enormous size, Angkor Wat’s structure is also covered in intricate stone detailing throughout its entirety. Visitors are advised to wear modest clothing, be respectful to the monks that visit frequently and to not sit on the structures.
 
Bayon
Angkor Thom is actually a city, and it was the last capital of the Khmer empire. It is most famous for the impressive Bayon Temple found there, which was constructed to honor Cambodia’s king, Jayavarman VII. It is located just north of Angkor Wat.
There are 216 enormous faces of Avalokiteshvara carved right into the structure found throughout the temple, and its construction dates back to the 12th century.
 
Ta Prohm
Visitors may recognize the temple of Ta Prohm as soon as they ascend its grand entrance. Straight out of scenes from the movie Tomb Raider, Ta Prohm is a magical temple engulfed by overgrown, surrounding trees. The most popular area of the temple overtaken by nature is the entrance pavilion, where Angeline Jolie’s character Lara Craft roamed the grounds in the popular film, following the sounds of a child’s laughter before picking the flower that sends her falling through the ground. The grounds of this temple were also used for the filming of Two Brothers.
The temple was built some 1,000 years ago, and it is almost completely immersed in nature, as the forest continues to grow straight into the Ta Prohm. This has been incredibly damaging to its original infrastructure, and it is currently being restored by the Archaeological Survey of India.
 
Tonlé Sap Lake
More than three million people call the banks of Tonlé Sap home. Many Cambodians make their living here by fishing on the water. The lake is one of the largest bodies of freshwater in all of Asia. Visitors can get a glimpse of a variety of wild birds as well as turtles and maybe even a crocodile or two at this lake.
 
Angkor National Museum
Find out everything you need to know about the Khmer empire at the Angkor National Museum. It is here visitors will find a wide variety of historical artifacts and a souvenir shop. The museum is open April through September from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and October through March from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
 
Cambodia Landmine Museum And Relief Center
The Cambodia Landmine Museum educates visitors about the importance of clearing undetonated landmines, which have killed or maimed some 63,000 people in Cambodia. It is estimated that some 5 million bombs remain in the country, and these continue to affect the people living here. The museum has guided tours available to guests in both English and Japanese. The museum is open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
 
Experience The Nightlife
Head down to Pub Street in downtown Siem Reap for a wild night out at any one of the number of bars there. From clubs to pubs to bars, there are many nightlife venues to choose from. The Angkor What? bar is a popular destination for party-goers and backpackers alike. Heavy drinkers are rewarded with a free T-shirt for every two liquor-ridden buckets they finish.
Siem Reap Travel Tips
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.
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