Best known as the gateway to the incredible temple complexes of nearby Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is fast becoming a substantial fascination in its own right. It has resisted and emerged from the 90s trauma of Pol Pot’s dictatorship to become a relatively rich corner of Cambodia all thanks to her tourist dollars calculated in US rates. Home to French-influenced shops and shady, tree-lined boulevards, Siem Reap is the place to be if you are looking for the word quirky.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Siem Reap without a trip to Angkor. Though expensive by South East Asian standards, the temples are undeniably magnificent, and are still towering and dominating despite being slowly reclaimed by the jungle, hiding lengthy walkways, phenomenal statues and tiny Buddhas amid the massive temple complex. If you have an appetite for adventure, cycle round them all, stopping for a soda and lime at the height of the scorching day, or head out early and watch the sun rise over the entrance bridge of Angkor Wat as the monks sing in their many crumbling temples. Best of all, get away from the main tourist spots and you’ll find you’re all but alone, save the harassment of young postcard salesmen.
When you’re done with some of the world’s most famous temples – and you should allow at least three days for that – head to the old market, Psar Chaa, where you can haggle over ample souvenirs or snack on a crunchy, deep-fried insect. Make the effort to go out and explore the Aki Ra landmine museum, a horrifying taste of Cambodia’s least welcome problem, or explore a less daunting insight into Cambodian history by taking in a nightly performance of Apsara Dance. If it is luxury that you crave, head for the delicate ambience and high-class services of the Amansara Spa. Then there’s always the ever-present roasted nuts, westernized bar scene, street-side rice paddies and a heady backpacker culture to explore.
When it comes to leaving Siem Reap though, there can be no better way than catching the speed boat past the floating villages of central Cambodia’s Tonle Sap Lake, back to capital Phnom Penh, dreaming of root-cracked temples and ancient ceremonies of a distant pass. Perfect.
As Angkor’s most famous temple complex, Angkor Wat is an inarguable highlight of Cambodia, or rather, of the region. Because of its status, the monument has been put onto the flags of Cambo…