The closest settlement to the temple complex at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap has seen its population explode over the past 20 years, following the cessation of hostilities with the Khmer Rouge. Now, with peace reigning supreme over the area for the past decade, and all remnants of war cleared away, the city’s airport has become Cambodia’s busiest to the surprise of many, outdoing arrivals at the nation’s capital airport (Phnom Penh) by a wide margin. While the vast majority of visitors are here to temple tramp from one archaeological site to the next, there are other things to do in the area that have nothing to do with Angkor Wat; we’ll fill you in on what they are. Do explore the temples for a few days, get your Tomb Raider on, but don’t rush off to the next destination afterwards. Siem Reap has so much to offer!
Angkor Wat – Temples To See
Through your accommodation, arrange a tuk-tuk driver to take you to, around, and back from the temples at Angkor. Rental cost for the day should run you $10-15, not counting the gate admission. If you are a causal tourist, the one day admittance that costs $20 should be more than enough, as most of the major temples are easily reachable in a morning/afternoon of exploring. More serious cultural/archeological buffs will want to purchase either the 3 day ($40) or 7 day ($60) pass, depending on their level of interest. The first site to which your guide will transport you is Angkor Wat itself, the massive complex that gives the archeological park its name. This site is best photographed at sunrise, when the sun comes up behind the temple towers. Take your time at this site, as there are a lot of courtyards, carvings, reliefs, and statues to photograph here.
Next, Angkor Thom contains many temples worth seeing, most notably Bayon, built during the period when the Khmer king had converted to Buddhism. The close quarters, dark tunnels, and lower levels of tourist traffic gives this site more a Tomb Raider feel than Angkor Wat itself, so get your Lara Croft and explore this site thoroughly (just don’t take anything please – that’s kinda illegal 😛 )
Finally, while there are many other temples to visit on your own time (read up on them all beforehand if ancient ruins are an intimate interest of yours), one temple you should climb a hill to visit at sunset should be Phnom Bakheng. Here, atop a relatively large hill, surrounded by ancient ruins, and burning incense, watch the sun disappear from view beneath the horizon as you reflect upon your productive day.
Other Points of Interest
After having done the temples at Angkor, there are other attractions in and near town that are certainly worth your time. The first place you should visit is the Cambodia Land Mine Museum. Located 25 kilometres north of Siem Reap, and 7 kilometres south of the Banteay Srey temple complex, this museum exists to educate people about the dangers of landmines, their inhumanity, and their gruesome history, which continues to unfold every day across the country. Admission fees go towards the ongoing treatment of the children in their care, so it is well worth the trip out to see this amazing exhibit.
The war’s after effects has also supplied many gun ranges in the area targeted towards tourists. If you are so inclined, you can fire off many different varieties of manual, semi-automatic, and fully automatic firearms. They also offer an option to throw grenades into lakes for 30 bucks per chuck (remember to throw it, just a tip).
Those looking for something not focused on war will find it at the Angkor Silk Farm. Watch as workers claim the cocoon from busy silkworms, and work the stock into luxuriously soft sheets and clothes you’ll never want to take off!
After all that driving around, you are no doubt hungry and jonesing for a beer or two. The Pub Street area offers Cambodian cuisine, but they also offer a dizzying array of international cuisine, at prices that are nearly impossible to beat anywhere else in the world. From Thai to Mexican to Italian, Pub Street has got you covered.