With its wide streets and colonial architecture, Siem Reap is a delicious cocktail of contradictions. Noise, heat and dusty streets contrast exquisitely with lush, shady trees and wide, elegant bridges spanning across the river. A tangle of electric wires lithe overhead; cars tuk-tuks, bikes and pedestriansvie for space in the crowded roads. At every turn there are fascinating sights, from overladen motorbikes to street vendors selling all kinds of food and, of course, the odd Buddhist monk. To say that Siem Reap has soared in popularity on the coat tails ofthe famous temples of Angkor Wat is a little unfair, but it has certainly helped. Of the major cities in Cambodia, Siem Reap, in the north, is the most cosmopolitan and the most popular with tourists. As can be expected, some areas are also the seediest. However, there is a warmth and beauty about Cambodia that is impossible to define. Maybe it is the warm climate. Maybe it is the delicious food. Or maybe it is the optimism of a nation brought to its knees 30 years ago, but who are finally seeing a brighter future. Whatever it is, once Siem Reap gets under your skin, you will be itching to return and discover more of this bright, brilliant city.
Direct Flights to Siem Reap will bring you to Siem Reap International Airport (REP), just outside the city. There are plenty of tuk-tuks outside the terminal, making it easy to travel to your hotel; take the address with you and find out the price before you board the tut-tuk.
Siem Reap enjoys a subtropical climate and, as such, has two seasons: hot, and hot and wet! During the wet season, from May – early October, some roads become impassable as river banks flood and the rain continues to pour, but temperatures hover at around 30°C, dropping to the early twenties at night. Late October sees the rain ease up, with the occasional refreshing shower, but many of the more rural areas can still be waterlogged. By April, Siem Reap can be unbearably hot, reaching over 40°C. If you are looking for cheap flights to Siem Reap, plan your trip outside of the UK school holidays in the dry season, to enable you to get the most out of your trip.
The lost city of Angkor Wat is the primary attraction for most and is considered to be the heart of Cambodia – it is even depicted on the national flag. A 10-20 minute tuk-tuk ride will bring you to the dazzling site, which is as awesome in size as it is in beauty. To make the most of your trip, book a tuk-tuk driver the night before and ask for a price for the whole day. If you want to avoid the early morning queues, head out to buy your tickets the night before. Tickets to Angkor Wat almost doubled at the end of 2016, from $20 for a one-day pass to $37. It now costs $62 for a three-day pass and a week pass costs $72. To see one of the Wonders of the World, however, it is a relatively small price to pay. Within the 150-square-mile archaeological site, there are dozens of temples in various states of repair; undoubtedly the best introduction to the world’s largest temple complex is to view the main temple, Angkor Wat, at dawn. Ignore the hundreds of tourists streaming over the ancient bridge towards the temple; once you are within the grounds, they will melt away from your consciousness, as you witness the sun rising over the main temple and see it reflected in the twin pools on either side of the walkway. From here, you can tour the temple, climb to the top of the main tower for stunning views and to grasp the sheer size of the jungle-entombed temple complex. Once you have had your fill of Angkor Wat, return to your tuk-tuk driver for the next temple. Head to the closer temples of Bayon, with its exquisitely detailed carvings, or the remains of Ta Prohm, where the film Tomb Raider was filmed, or go to some of the more far-flung temples, where you will find fewer tourists and, within the tranquillity, discover the spirit of Angkor Wat. Wild monkeys roam through the jungle and are a delight to behold – but keep possessions safe, in case they take a fancy to them.
It is only in the last decade that Cambodia has become a popular tourist destination, as the echoes of the genocide of the late ‘70s made people fearful of visiting the country. From 1975 – 1979, Cambodia was held in the grips of civil war. The communist regime, led by Pol Pot saw more than 2 million Khmer people murdered, tortured, or worked to death in labour camps. The legacy of these atrocities will continue for generations, but the beauty of the people is undeniable, and their strong spirit is evident in the continued economic growth and development of the country. While there are plenty of good hotels and restaurants, and wealth is returning to the country, poverty is still an issue; on the outskirts of Siem Reap, it is not unusual to see street children collecting rubbish, and the river banks are littered with workers resting in the shade of trees. To find out more about Cambodia’s recent past, you will need to head south to Phnom Penh. Here, in Siem Reap, the focus remains on the country’s ancient past and the 1,000-year-old remains of Angkor Wat. You can find out more about Ancient Cambodia at the Bayon Information Centre and the Angkor National Museum.
Many global brands are made in South East Asia, in Cambodia itself, or in neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. As a result, the shopping opportunities are endless! Indulge yourself in traditional Khmer produce – from beautifully woven sarongs and pashminas, to delicately enamelled coconut shell bowls. In the labyrinthine markets, you will discover traditional arts and crafts, copies of big brands (anything from music systems and DVDs to bags and shoes) and quirky Khmer trinkets. Enjoy a haggle, and don’t feel pressurised to buy everything you see! And remember, you need to carry purchases home – the preserved cobra in a bottle might seem like a good idea, but you might regret it if (when) it leaks in your suitcase!
Khmer food is like a more subtle, creamier version of Thai. You will discover plenty of fresh vegetables stir-fried and served in rich sauces, delicately spiced with ginger, garlic and curry leaves. Must-try dishes include beef loklak, Khmer curry and fish amok. Sticky rice accompanies most dishes. From street vendors, you will find fresh fruit and coconuts, chicken, fish and freshly squeezed palm juice (be wary – some vendors add “unclean” water to palm juice. You may get an odd look, but ask for yours without water or ice). You will also find frogs legs and insects, grilled, barbequed or fried; worth trying, just so you can say you have! Down Pub Street you will find countless shops, restaurants and bars. The restaurants serve fantastic Khmer food at reasonable prices. After your meal, amble through the pedestrianised zones, where you can stop at a mobile cocktail bar. Order your cocktail and pick a tune to listen to while you drink. Your trip to Siem Reap is so full of opportunities. The breath-taking scenery of Cambodia is unrivalled; the sensation of riding a tuk-tuk through busy streets; the smiling faces; thriving markets; fantastic weather and wonderful food add layer upon layer of delight to your trip. Your only problem will be leaving this beautiful country behind. Do you want to discover this land of sunshine and hope? Travangelo can help you to find cheap flights to Siem Reap.