Siem Reap - Abbey Travel, Ireland

Siem Reap

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Welcome to Siem Reap

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the main access city for the temples of Angkor, and launching pad for onward travel into Thailand. Although marred by hastily constructed modern buildings, Siem Reap does have beautiful colonial and Chinese-style architecture adorning the streets of the Old French Quarter. The town itself offers many attractions for visitors, including Apsara dance performances, museums and craft shops. Siem Reap's most famous feature is the Temple of Angkor Wat, dating from the 9th century. Situated just 3 miles (5km) from the city centre, this intriguing site has been luring visitors for decades. Nearby, there are also silk farms, rice-paddies and fishing villages to explore, as well as the bird sanctuary near Tonle Sap Lake. Siem Reap is a popular holiday destination and has numerous hotels and guesthouses, both luxury and budget, as well as Western-style bars and restaurants to enjoy. Many of these venues can be located near the Old Market. With so much in the way of amenities and attractions for tourists, the town of Siem Reap is a great base from which to venture into this fascinating province.

Information & Facts


The Siem Reap climate can be described as tropical with seasonal monsoons, and the weather is warm year-round. There are two distinct seasons - the rainy season and the dry season. Temperatures during the rainy season (June to October) average at about 88°F (31°C). Dry season temperatures, from November to May, are slightly higher at 91°F (33°C).

Getting Around

All modes of transport arrive in Siem Reap; an airport lands planes from all over South East Asia, a ferry arrives via Tonlé Sap Lake from Phnom Phen and buses arrive from all over the country (and also from Thailand and Laos). A terrible road leads to Siem Reap from the Thai border, but a six hour stretch from Phnom Phen is easy riding. Coercion from bus guides to stay in their associated hotels is common but finding available accommodation elsewhere is usually easy. There are taxis, rental cars, buses and tuk-tuks available throughout the city, while renting a bicycle or scooter is also an option. There are many attractions in the city and surrounds that can easily be reached on foot.

Khmer is the official language. French is also spoken, but English is fast becoming popular with the younger generation.

Riel (KHR) is the official currency and is divided into 100 sen. Foreign currency is difficult to exchange with the exception of US Dollars. Most transactions require cash. US dollars and Thai Baht are accepted, although smaller transactions are usually done in riel. A torn US dollar note renders it useless. Credit cards are only accepted in a limited number of tourist-orientated hotels and restaurants in Phnom Penh and larger towns. There are a few ATMs in Phnom Penh, but they shouldn't be relied upon as a source of money; travellers cheques in US dollars or sterling can be cashed at a limited number of banks and larger hotels, though travellers cheques are not recommended due to limited acceptance.

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A jarring counterpoint to the ancient Khmer glories on display at Angkor Wat are the more recent horrors of Cambodia's political and social upheavals. This museum, founded by Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge child soldier, provides a clear and compelling account of this troubled time, and the appalling legacy of landmines and unexploded ordinance that still blights the lives of the Cambodian people's lives today. Despite ongoing effort to find and defuse these sleeping weapons, it is estimated that less than half have been cleared. Aki Ra himself deactivated over 50,000 of them, many on his own initiative. The museum contains hundreds of these landmines, and many other weapons too.

This museum is a useful stop-over en route to the temples, so visitors can gain some perspective on the centuries of history, rich symbolism, and other stories that often remain hidden when viewing the Angkor temples without a guide. The museum uses multimedia displays and various artefacts to evoke the golden age of Khmer culture. The building itself is ultra-modern, lavishly air-conditioned, and enormous, with over 20,000 square metres of floor space.

For those visitors especially charmed by Tah Prom's jungle clad stones within the Angkor Wat complex, it is well worth making the five hour round trip to visit Beng Mealea, a little-visited sandstone temple, now fused with the surrounding jungle. Built in the 12th century, and long since abandoned, this sprawling temple complex is as on a similar scale to Angkor Wat, and closely approximates what the first western visitors there must have experienced when stumbling upon these forgotten wonders. Many of the carvings have been desecrated by earlier souvenir hunters, but in other ways the mystery and quality of the structure has remained intact due to the small number of visitors.

This is Siem Reap's most popular shopping experience for visitors. The outside stalls sell souvenirs such as silk, carvings, stoneware, faux vintage items, t-shirts, and paintings and photos of Angkor Wat temples. Further inside the market are fresh produce and seafood stalls. The food stalls are an excellent opportunity to sample authentic Khmer food, invariably served with the distinctive local Prahok, a type of fermented fish paste. A good accompaniment is coconut milk drunk directly from the fruit. The ubiquity of baguettes and frog legs is a clear, and delicious legacy of the French colonial era.

A sightseeing must on any trip to Cambodia are the historical Temples of Angkor, set in the heart of the ancient Khmer Empire. Built between the 9th and 13th centuries, more than 100 temples have been uncovered and stand testament to this ancient civilisation and one of the biggest cities of its time. Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument ever built, an impressive Hindu temple surrounded by a moat, and acknowledged as one of the wonders of the world. The walled Royal City of Angkor Thom is home to the Bayon Temple and its huge stone faces, another fascinating attraction.

Boeung Tonlé Sap(Tonlé Sap Lake) is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, and boasts a rich and diverse eco-system. Inhabitants include birds, fish, crocodiles, turtles, macaques and otter, as well as villagers living in stilted or floating houses. The Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary in the Tonlé Sap Biosphere Reserve is home to ibis, stork, pelicans and fish eagles; the best time to view these birds is in the dry season. There is also a Tonlé Sap Exhibition in Siem Reap, showcasing Khmer heritage through a display of the local people's culture and environment.

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