A Brief History Of Tourism In Siem Reap

A Brief History Of Tourism In Siem Reap

Siem Reap city celebrated its 1,200th anniversary in 2002, but most of the city is less than 20 years old.  Originally a series of villages that eventually merged to become a city, it has been voted one of the top tourist destinations in the world in the last decade.

Ensure you get to the end to see more amazing images.

The Villages of Siem Reap

To begin with, Siem Reap was a series of villages that sprung up along the Siem Reap river. The river is actually a hand-dug canal constructed by the Khmer Empire to connect the Tonle Sap to their Capital city at Angkor Thom.  There was most probably a river port in the vicinity of the Old Market during this time. It would have been used to collect rice and other agricultural produce from the local people for transportation to either the Capital city or the Tonle Sap.

Siem Reap River at Siem Reap c1860. One of the earliest photos of Siem Reap. Bibliotheque National de France

The 11th century Wat Athvea and the 9th-century stupas in Wat Enkosa, also indicate a reasonably large population in their areas over a millennium ago. Wat Prom Rath, a modern Wat right in the center of Siem Reap city dates to the 12th century and was founded when the Khmer Empire’s Capital city was still at Angkor Thom.  This shows there was at least a village large enough to support a Wat, on the site that would become central Siem Reap city. 

The French and Siamese

The colonial French began the tourism industry in Siem Reap, but when they took over the country in 1863, Siem Reap was part of Siam, modern-day Thailand. The provinces of Siem Reap and Battambang were ceded to Siam in 1795 by Khmer King Ang Eng in return for protection.  The Siamese established a fortified town in 1867 calling it Siem Nakhom meaning “Siamese Town” featuring a citadel and city walls.  This indicates a reasonably sized center worth defending. Its strategic location between the temples and the lake was probably the main reason for its construction. 

Remains of the Siamese Citadel in Siem Reap, c 1909. EFEO Archives

Historic photos taken in the late 19th century show a mainly rural environment with some grand buildings for the Siamese elite of the town. These were taken over and added to by the French and by Chinese merchants who built shophouses around the market area.  Some of them built in 1920 still stand and are the oldest non-religious buildings in the city. The photos also show a landing point or small river port near the Old Market.

Postcard. Siem Reap River c1909. Biblioteque National de France

In 1907 the provinces held by Siam were ceded to French Indochina in the Franco-Siamese Treaty. The French immediately began temple restoration and by 1912 were producing guidebooks to the Temples.  The first hotel was a wooden building near Angkor Wat called the Bungalow which opened in 1909, it featured a huge surrounding veranda to keep the building cool.

The Bungalow c1910. DatAsia Press Archive

Initially, it was a week-long steamship voyage to get from Europe to Phnom Penh, then another boat or oxcart journey to the Tonle Sap and Siem Reap.  Due to the itinerary, most visitors had only two days in the area before they had to get the return boat to Phnom Penh.  Limited time is still a feature of tourism in Siem Reap.

In 1929, tourists could board a seaplane in Phnom Penh which landed on the moat of Angkor Wat. But the numbers of visitors were still low, only 999 in 1931, tourism was only for the wealthy.

In 1931 France held a colonial exhibition in Paris which presented a reconstruction of the top levels of Angkor Wat.  After this tourism numbers jumped and in 1932[1] the first luxury hotel opened in Siem Reap. The Grand Hotel D’Angkor was built not far from the Royal Residence and featured the first elevator in the city, perhaps the entire country. 

The Hotel Grand d’Angkor c1947. Biblioteque National de France

The French did not promote Khmer culture, beyond the Apsara dancers and the Royal Ballet. They cleared Angkor Wat of the monks’ dwellings that surrounded the Temple as they ruined the “Vue générale” and turned what was a living heritage site into a dead archaeological ruin.  The early guide books hardly mention the local people, however one did state that the monk’s caretaking for the temple was primitive and the French had taken over.

Meanwhile, Siem Reap was growing in response to the increased tourism and the needs of the French residents.  The Siamese Citadel was removed along with other obvious traces of the Siamese and the name changed to Siem Reap. Anecdotally the name of the town is said to mean “Siam Defeated”. 

In 1925 a new market building was erected near the landing place on the river in the center of town. Chinese shophouses had already been built surrounding what is now known as the “Old Market”, indicating it was a commercial center by at least 1920.

The New Market Building c1927. The Chinese shop houses in the background still survive. Biblioteque National de France

However, the French weren’t the first tourists to Angkor Wat, and it is important to understand that the temple was never abandoned and continued to be a site of pilgrimage.  It was never ‘lost to the jungle’ but many of the other temples were.   There continued to be an international community in the vicinity for hundreds of years after the Khmer Empire moved their court to the south in 1431.

Early ‘tourists’ To Cambodia

The person to rediscover the jungle-covered temples was not a Frenchman in the 19th century, but a Khmer King in the 16th century. King Satha I (1539–1596, reigned 1576 to 1584) was on a hunting trip when he came across the walls of Angkor Thom. Evidence suggests that the King restored some of the temples in 1577-78 and may have moved his court here in the 1580s. King Satha I had several Europeans visit his court at Longvek but it appears only one ever went to the former Khmer Empire Capital.  In 1586 a Portuguese friar visited Angkor Thom as part of the King’s retinue and was impressed, despite himself:

“I confess I hesitate to write this; it appears as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato. Today the city is uninhabited. A learned man supposed these to be the works of Trajan”

He was not the last European to ascribe the building of the temples to someone other than the Khmer.  Alexander the Great is another European who was given credit for their construction.

In the 17th century, inscriptions on Angkor Wat indicate there was a Japanese community living nearby.  Then the Siamese took control of the temples in 1795 when they were granted the provinces of Battambang and Siem Reap by the Khmer King.  While Angkor Wat was unknown to the majority of Europeans, it was never lost and continued to have international visitors sporadically over the centuries. Local people continued to live beside and around the temples in the former Khmer Empire Capital City, and at Siem Reap. 

20th Century Cambodia

Rather than a smooth growth, Siem Reap has grown in fits and starts.  It began to grow in the 1920s and 30s as a response to the flood of heritage workers and the beginnings of the tourist industry. While World War 1 does not appear to have affected the tourist industry, there were not enough tourists coming at this time. World War 2 did – Cambodia was occupied by the Japanese under an agreement made by the Vichy French Government, the archaeologists and conservators could continue work, but tourism was completely halted.  After the War, the French began to promote Angkor as a tourist destination until Independence in 1953.

Whilst the French were in charge, they proclaimed the Angkor Archaeological Park and installed the great and petite circuits. These roads did not follow the meandering village tracks that previous visitors had used riding ox cart or elephant. They were geometric and built to impose order into the chaos of the jungle and on the tourists and the routes they used, now by automobile. The local traces of how the Khmer had used the area for millennia were being erased and tourism contained.  The French also built the road network to connect Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, and an airport, and this brought more people to the city.

French Map of Cambodia c1950. Biblioteque National de France

The newly independent Cambodia continued to promote tourism and with Chinese assistance built an international airport in the 60s. Intrepid hippy backpackers began to discover Siem Reap along with the well-heeled traveler. But it all came to a grinding halt in 1970 when the coup overthrew the government and sparked a civil war. By June, the temples but not the city, were in the hands of the Khmer Rouge.  In 1975 they took over the entire country and Siem Reap became a place of terror with its own torturous prisons and killing fields.  The Khmer Rouge demolished much of the French Quarter but left the Grand Hotel d’Angkor.  They claimed the city was bombed by the USA in 1976 killing many including school children.  What really happened is still a mystery.

Khmer Rouge Soldiers at Angkor Wat c1970.

Siem Reap’s next growth spurt was in the early 1990s when backpackers with an adventurous streak started to return, but it still was not safe.  In 1990 after 20 years of neglect, Siem Reap had only two guesthouses, the Grand Hotel D’Angkor had not yet reopened.  Backpackers stayed in the guesthouses or bunked down in the local wats and temples.

In 1993 the UNTAC contingent arrived and there was a building boom as accommodation, bars, and restaurants to cater to them sprang up. Photos show a dusty town with dirt roads and small huts and bars lining the riverbank.  The contingent helped to provide the infrastructure that the tourism industry could build upon. In 1993 there were just over 100 000 tourists to Siem Reap, but this number includes the UN personnel.  After the final disbandment of the Khmer Rouge, tourism numbers soared to millions in the new millennium.  But the city continued to grow along the river, rather than spreading out until very recently.  It is only in the last decade the city has started to expand towards the east and west.

Bars along the river 1993. Australian War Memorial

21st Century Siem Reap

In the first 20 years of the new century, tourism became the largest economic earner for Cambodia and Siem Reap boomed into a cosmopolitan, vibrant city.  Arts and culture were revived and promoted, two world-class museums of the Khmer Empire opened but the city did not forget its dark past either and there are three excellent war museums. The city was hosting international golfing tournaments, marathons, triathlons, and other major sporting events as well as numerous arts and cultural festivals.

Siem Reap Marathon. Khmer Post Asia

The city was booming, until March 2020 when the worldwide pandemic closed the tourism industry. The government took advantage of the lack of tourism and began the 38 Road Project which is making much-needed improvements in the road and drainage network of the city.  Whilst the temples are very quiet, they are not completely deserted and ex-pats and locals are enjoying the peace and tranquility of these amazing buildings.  Although everyone is waiting impatiently for the visitors to return and revive our vibrant, cosmopolitan city.

Phimeanakas Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom | as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato

Angkor Thom | As fantastic As The Atlantis Of Plato

“I confess I hesitate to write this, it appears as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato.”

Friar António da Madalena 1609

Angkor Thom, located just outside Siem Reap, Cambodia, was the former heart of the Capital City of the Khmer Empire.  Today taken over by the jungle, it was once absolutely spectacular.

map of angkor thom
Map of Angkor Archaeological Park and Siem Reap

The larger metropolitan area was the city once known as Yashodharapura, although it is now referred to as Angkor. It covered what is now the entire Angkor Archaeological Park and was the largest city in the pre-industrial world.

Angkor Thom today refers to the walled inner city where the State Temples, Royal Palace and the Ceremonial center of the Empire lay. In its heyday its name was Indrapattha, the city of the God Indra. It’s modern name, Angkor Thom translates as Angkor – city, Thom – big, just as Angkor Wat translates to City Temple. Angkor Wat is not inside Angkor Thom, but was part of the larger city surrounding it and about 100 years older.

Background History To Angkor Thom

Angkor thom Map
Figure 2. Angkor Thom

Yashodharapura became the city of King Yashovarman I in 889 when he built his State Temple, Phnom Bakeng in the Angkor area. But there was probably rice growing villages on the site previous to any of the early Kingdoms. The ruins of 6th century temples nearby indicate there was a significant community a hundred years before the Khmer Empire at least. Lovea, a village less than 20 kms away has been occupied for at least 4000 years.

Later rulers constructed their State Temples in the area and the Baphoun and Phimeanakas were built inside the future Angkor Thom. After the city was sacked and burnt by invading armies in the late 12th Century it was rebuilt by King Jayavarman VII and he constructed Angkor Thom as his administrative, ceremonial, religious and royal center.

King Jayavarman VII. Lived c1123-1218, Reigned 1181-1218

Jayavarman VII angkor thom
Figure 3. King Jayavarman VII (c1123-1218)

Jayavaman VII[1] recognized as the Khmer Empire’s most powerful King, and one of the most prolific builders in history. Yet, he is also suspected of initiating the decline of the Empire by over stretching its resources.

Jayavaman VII is a complex character about whom little is known. Even his date of birth is unclear, some sources cite 1120, some 1125 and others settle somewhere between.

In his 30s and 40s he lived in Champa, now Central Vietnam. The Cham were traditional enemy of the Khmer Empire since 950 although their culture appears very similar. Jayavarman may have been captured in battle in 1149 when the Khmer were forced out of northern Champa which they had occupied in 1145. In 1166 Jayavarman returned to Angkor when a usurper took the Khmer throne from his brother. He arrived too late to prevent the overthrow and didn’t challenge the new leadership.

The Cham invaded again in 1177 and 1178 and defeated the new King. The city was sacked and burnt, Angkor Wat and other temples looted and the Empire humiliated under foreign rule. Jayavarman organized resistance and independence movements and drove the Cham out after a Naval battle on the Tonle Sap. He was crowned King in 1181 and brought all the warring factions under control. By this time, he was in his late 50s and began a prolific building program which included rebuilding the Capital City.

Bayon Temple Reflection at Sunrise
Figure 4. The Bayon Temple at sunset
 Bayon ancient and present
Figure 5. The State Temple of Jayavarman VII, the Bayon. Ancient and Modern views. Angkor Guide Book

Many of his temples, including the Bayon were built rapidly and never fully completed.  It is said he may have also been suffering from leprosy and combined with his advanced age when he took the throne, prompted this rapid building spree.  He constructed the Terrace of Leper King, and the story of its name may refer to him.

Bayon from the Southern Entrance
Figure 6. Bayon from the Southern Entrance.

Bayon bas relief showing incomplete carvings
Figure 7. Bayon bas relief showing incomplete carvings

He named Angkor Thom Indrapattha, the city of the God Indra. He mixed Hindu and Buddhist iconography in his building works, smoothing the transition of religion from Hindu to Buddhism.   He was only the second Buddhist King of the Khmer Empire and may have converted under the influence of his wives.

The bas reliefs around two levels of the Bayon, his State Temple, tell his story from his return to Angkor, the land and military battles against the Cham and the Victorious Parade afterwards.  They also show daily life and temple building; it was the bas relief which answered the question of how the stones of the temples fit so well together and how the temples were constructed.

Bayon Bas Relief showing workers tamping the ground prior to construction.
Figure 8. Bayon Bas Relief showing workers tamping the ground prior to construction.
Bayon Bas Relief showing workers rubbing stones together to ensure a perfect join
Figure 9. Bayon Bas Relief showing workers rubbing stones together to ensure a perfect join.

Jayavarman’s works reflect his philosophy of feeling the pain of his subjects as if it were his own and he looked after his people’s spiritual and physical needs. He built 102 hospitals open to all during his reign and expanded the educational centers, one of his most remarkable temples, the Preah Khan was built as a university. He built highways to connect his expanded empire with rest stops placed at a day’s travel apart.

The five gates into the city are topped with faces looking in the four cardinal directions. The faces represent the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Lokeshvara. King Jayavarman identified with this Bodhisattva and the faces bear his likeness.   The Bodhisattva are supported by the three headed elephants which are associated with Indra. 

Angkor Thom Gates, Louis Deporte 1824
Figure 10. Angkor Thom Gates, Louis Deporte 1824. Note the four heads supported by the multiheaded elephant.

Until recently it was accepted that the faces on the Bayon towers were similar, until the University of Tokyo took 3D scans of the temple and examined the library of faces.  What they found suggests there is much more to these faces than was known, they have been grouped into 3 categories which have been interpreted as Devata (Goddesses), Asura (Devils) and Deva (Gods).  The meaning behind these groupings is still being researched.

the bayon faces
Figure 11. The Bayon faces
3D images of the Bayon faces, University of Tokyo
Figure 12. 3D images of the Bayon faces, University of Tokyo.

Jayavarman also built monuments and temples outside the walled city, indicating that the walls he built were not for military defense or protection of wealth or citizens. Angkor Wat is outside the walls; a temple so richly decorated that looting it became the pastime of every army who took control of the area right up until the 1990s. His walls were built for spiritual defense and although they may have slowed an Army, they wouldn’t stop it. 

The City Layout

The city is divided into four quadrants with five gates, four of which are arranged centrally in the cardinal directions. The roads from these gates lead directly to the Bayon, Jayavarman’s state temple mountain.  The fifth gate, the Victory Gate leads directly to the Royal Palace and the Ceremonial area of the Terraces of the Elephants and Leper King.  The Eastern Gate is the Gate of the Dead, and there are several explanations for the name. One is that the dead soldiers from the battles were brought through this gate, the other is that it is where criminal were escorted to their executions.

The Gate of the Dead, Angkor Thom.
Figure 13. The Gate of the Dead, Angkor Thom.
Central Angkor Thom and the Ceremonial Area
Figure 14. Central Angkor Thom and the Ceremonial Area

Each of the gates is at the end of a bridge over the 100m wide moat. The bridges are lined with the myth of the Churning of the Sea of Milk. On each side a Naga is being used in an eternal tug of war with the Devatas on one side and the Asura on the other, each stone statue was carved with a unique face.  The bridges and their iconography also provide spiritual protection to the city.

Carte De Poste D'Angkor
Figure 15. Carte De Poste D’Angkor. Antique French Postcard. Note the celestial tug of war lining the bridge
Angkor Thom South Gate. Note the Gods and Demons lining the bridge
.Figure 16. Angkor Thom South Gate. Note the Gods and Demons lining the bridge.

The vast Royal Palace was built on the Ceremonial terraces. Nearby lay the former State Temples, the Baphoun beside the Palace and behind is Phimeanakas.  A vast parade ground was between the Ceremonial Terraces and the Prasats of Khleang and Suor Prat Towers.  These towers were used for punishment according to a Chinese account of the late 13th Century:

“In front of the palace there are twelve small stone towers. When two men dispute over some unknown matter, each of the contestants is forced to sit in one of them while the relatives stand watch at the base. After three or four days, he who is wrong shows it by suffering some illness – ulcers, or catarrh, or malignant fever – while the other remains in perfect health. Thus right or wrong is determined by what is called divine judgment.”[2]

The city has a moat around the outside of the walls and a reservoir on the interior. The moat keeps the water table high and supports the walls, if it begins to drop, it is filled from the reservoir.  This reservoir was also used to take waste water and sewage out of the city.

The city supported a large population and also held a bronze, stone and other workshops as well as a large residential area.  As everything but the temples and ceremonial terraces were built of wood, they haven’t survived the ravages of time.  The Royal Palace was also wood and archaeologists have been able to estimate its size and layout from the postholes and some remaining beams. 

The Lidar scans of 2013 and 2015 showed that the inner city was built up with roads and canals with a huge urban area.  The citizens in the city had an urban infrastructure that contemporary European Cities would not achieve for another 700 years. They had an effective transportation system, water and drainage, including the removal of sewerage and waste, and agricultural system that produced three rice crops a year and the huge bounty of the Tonle Sap. They also enjoyed a low-density urban area which allowed families to live in individual separate homes with enough garden space to grow vegetables and raise small livestock. 

Figure 17. Plan of the canal and other infrastructure of Angkor Thom from Lidar images.

The city was abandoned by the Royal Court and elite in 1431 but some people remained in the area.  Jayavarman’s building projects and expansion of territory may have stretched the Empire beyond its capabilities and contributed to the eventual decline of the Khmer Empire.  Certainly, much of the new territory he conquered was lost soon after his death and no other large Temple was built after his reign. The population of the city had started to drift away over the decades prior to 1431 as the power of the Empire declined.

Gates to Angkor Thom

Figure 18. The first photograph of the Gates to Angkor Thom taken by. John Thomson 1865.

There is some evidence of Angkor Thom being reoccupied at later dates.  A Portuguese Friar visited in the 16th century (discussed below) and Japanese inscriptions indicate a community was there in the 17th Century.  The French in the 19th century was just the last in a long line of ‘discoverers’ of the city in the jungle.

Descriptions of Angkor Thom

Angkor Thom was certainly one of the most magnificent cities of its time. Descriptions of the city when it was at its height come to us through the pen of a minor Chinese Diplomat who lived there for a year in 1296.  Zhou Daguan (c 1266 – 1346 CE) was part of an emissary of the Emperor Temür Khan, the second Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty and the 6th Mongol Emperor.  His part in the diplomatic mission between China and King Indravarman III is unknown. When back in China in 1309 he wrote a book, The Customs of Cambodia which describes the city and daily life in the Khmer Capital.  He was especially impressed with the Royal Palace and regretted he was not allowed to visit it.

“The Royal Palace stands north of the Golden Tower and the Bridge of Gold: it is one and a half mile in circumference. The tiles of the main dwelling are of lead. Other dwellings are covered with yellow-coloured pottery tiles. Carved or painted Buddhas decorate all the immense columns and lintels. The roofs are impressive too. Open corridors and long colonnades, arranged in harmonious patterns, stretch away on all sides…

The dwellings of the princes and principal officials have a completely different layout and dimensions from those of the people. All the outlying buildings are covered with thatch; only the family temple and the principal apartment can be covered in tiles. The official rank of each person determines the size of the houses.”

Figure 19. Royal Palace  area. Key: 1.  East gopura 2. Sanctuary remains 3. Remains of four sanctuaries 4. Cruciform terrace 5. Phimeanakas 6. East pond 7. Large pond (Srah Srei) 8. West pond and Queens Terrace 9. Wall, basin and base structure remnant 10. Annexe with basin. Courtesy Ron Charles L Huillier  

Recently a project entitled “Virtual Angkor” has reimagined the city and temples from the time the Empire was flourishing. Their images are based on archaeological and architectural evidence and eye witness accounts.  They show a magnificent Imperial City which stunned visitors, even those who had been to Chinese Imperial cities.  To see the images, please go here.

King Satha, King of Cambodia discovered giant statues and walls on a hunting trip deep in the forest near Angkor Wat in the 16th Century.  It is said he employed over 6000 workers to clear the encroaching forest to reveal the walled city of Angkor Thom. He may have reoccupied the city for a time during his reign in the 1580s.

Portuguese Friar António da Madalena was part of the entourage of King Satha when he visited Angkor Thom.   Madalena was well travelled and had seen some impressive cities, including Rome. He was one of the earliest European Christian Missionaries into Southeast Asia and had travelled overland from the Siamese Court at Ayutthaya. 

The Portuguese Empire in the 16th Century were just as enthusiastic missionaries as they were merchants.  They had a presence, grudgingly in Japan and China, but also in Thailand, Myanmar and India. They saw Asia as millions of lost souls ready for conversion to Christianity.  Friar Madalena’s Christianizing mission in Cambodia failed, although he did ingratiate himself enough with the King to be invited to visit Angkor Thom. 

The Portuguese Capuchin Friar amazed description of the city he witnessed in 1586:

“I confess I hesitate to write this, it appears as fantastic as the Atlantis of Plato. Today the city is uninhabited. A learned man supposed these to be the works of Trajan.…the finest, the best regulated, and the cleanest of all [cities] in the world…On one of the sides of this town there were incomplete monuments which seem to have been the palaces of kings, because the workmanship, sumptuousness and grandeur immediately look royal in their numerous cornices, leaf decoration, figures and other ornamentation which delight the eye and witness to the skill of their sculptors.”

Angkor Thom Today

Angkor Wat lays directly to the south of Angkor Thom and a little closer to Siem Reap. Therefore, most visitors enter Angkor Thom through the South Gate.  The sealed road leads directly to the Bayon Temple and the ceremonial and former Royal Palace area just beyond.  Nearby are the former State Temples of Baphoun and Phimeanakas.  These are the major sites in the city and are the easiest to access.


More than 75% of the former city is still covered in forest.  Many of the ancient monuments remain, most of which can be accessed via the dirt tracks throughout the forest.  Some can be reached via motorbike, but others require hiking. For the adventurous you can really get into your jungle explorer vibe and be richly rewarded by ‘discovering’ these lost temples in the jungle for yourself!


Local Guardian of Angkor Thom

Local Guardian of Angkor Thom
Figure 20. This friendly boy lives near the southern entrance to the Bayon, he may join you on your visit.

siem reap province

Siem Reap Province A Brief Guide

Siem Reap Province

In Khmer, the Siem Reap in Siem Reap Province means “Siam Defeated”, or more accurately “Siam Kneel”. Not a happy entry point into Cambodia if you are Thai. Siem Reap is also the name of the province the town is located in. Siem Reap Province is famous for the ancient city of Angkor; however, the province is full of places to visit. After all, this is the centre of the former Khmer Empire. So, let’s start with some temples.



The big draw card to Siem Reap Province is the World heritage centre of the ancient city of Angkor and its temples. The sheer size of the place can make it a bit overwhelming. However, there are two main routes you can follow which will take you to a lot of the better-known places of interest. Conveniently known as the small loop and big loop.

You can start on either side of Angkor Wat, but most people visit Angkor Wat first, especially at sunrise. It can be a bit crowded with all the tour buses that descend on the temple, and there so much to see that you’ll want a return visit to Angkor Wat. You can opt for a 3-day pass which you can use over a 1-week period. You do not need to use the Angkor Wat pass on consecutive days; allowing you time to reflect on what you have experienced.

Oh yeah, make sure you enter the park via the main road. This is where you buy your tickets. However, there other ways to get in and avoid the park’s minders. Park rangers will ask to inspect your Angkor Wat Pass, so you might be as well to buy a proper ticket. By the by, Khmers are allowed in free of charge.

Angkor Temples Big Loop

There are two loops you can follow: the big and small loops. First, let’s follow the big loop. This will take you past Phnom Bakheng and through Angkor Thom’s South Gate. Eventually, you’ll come to the Bayon.

After the Bayon you can visit places such as the Royal Palace, Terrace of the Leper King and Terrace of the Elephants. Onwards you go passing through the north gate.

Other temples on the big loop include Preah Khan and Ta Som. The path cuts across the East Baray, past Pre Rup then back to Angkor Wat.

Angkor Temples Small Loop

Preah Khan

The small loop starts like the big loop but after the Bayon turn right and head through the Victory Gate. This path takes you past Ta Keo, Ta Prohm and Banteay Kdei. It eventually joins the Big Loop and back to Angkor Wat.

This is a small list of places to visit. It is exhausting trying to see everything, but there is a lot to see, so much in fact, that many people return.

In addition, if you already have your ticket then enter Angkor via the smaller road to the west of the main entrance road: less traffic and cooler.

Roulos Temples

The Roulos temples are about 14 kilometres east of Siem Reap. The Roulos Group is some of the earliest Khmer temples and marks the beginning of classic Khmer civilisation. The three main temples are Bakong, Lolei, and Preah Ko, along with the tiny Prasat Prei Monti. Entrance to Roulos is also included on your Angkor ticket. It is rarely crowded and a different take on Khmer civilisation. This is an often-missed area of Siem Reap Province and we believe that you will find the area enchanting and relaxing.

Banteay Srei

The extraordinarily beautiful Banteay Srei tenth-century temple is in the norther part of Siem Reap Province. Located about 30 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap you will need to hire a taxi or mini bus to get there. For the more energetic you can join in a Cyclebodia group from Siem reap city

Banteay Srei has many intricate and exquisite carvings and the red sandstone is stunning in the early morning or late afternoon sunlight as it takes on a rose-pink hue.

The name Banteay Srei means “Citadel of Women” or “Citadel of Beauty” and is probably related to carvings found on the walls. The temple is small by comparison to most other monolithic Angkorian structures.

Visitors often drop by this temple on their way to Phnom Koulen. It is easy enough to organise transport for the trip, and your hotel will be able to assist you with this.

Phnom Koulen

The enigmatic Khmer Empire had such a profound impact on the region, yet, in comparison to this impact, so little is known about the Khmer society.

After you visit Banteay Srei, head to Phnom Koulen which is about 50 kilometres north of Siem Reap. Originally a sandstone quarry for building Angkor, this mountain is rightly considered the birthplace of the Khmer Empire. It is also a sacred site for Cambodians: no littering.

Here you will find the Chup Preah and a giant who is reclining. Nearby Kbal Spean’s waterways have more than a thousand carvings on the riverbed. You can go swimming at a nearby waterfall. A refreshing way to wash off the heat of the day to meet fellow adventurers or volunteers on their day off.

Beng Mealea

The Beng Mealea structure is very impressive and if you only visit one other place outside of Angkor then this should be it. It is about 65 kilometres from Siem Reap. Book an early taxi to get there early to avoid the tour buses.

Beng Mealea is an Angkorian-era temple believed to have been built the same time as Angkor Wat. However, like so much about the Khmer Empire, little is known about Beng Mealea.

There are balustraded causeways leading into the temple. You can wander through galleries and passageways, or scramble over the many piles of sandstone.

If you go, try a side entrance to avoid the expensive entrance fee.

Tonle Sap

For many people the Tonle Sap and its busy and grimy port of Chon Cheas is their introduction to Siem Reap Province. However, beyond the port, which is 15 kilometres from the Siem Reap, the lake has quite a few places to visit.

Of course, if you are leaving Siem Reap by boat to Battambang or Phnom Penh then you will use Chon Cheas. Travelling by boat gives you the chance to see Cambodian life and wildlife along some of its waterways.

kompong phluk village siem reap

Hire a boat and visit ethnic Vietnamese or Khmer houseboats. You can go further and visit the impressive Kampong Phluk floating village. There is also the Preah Toal bird sanctuary. It is popular to take sunset boat trips. Perhaps take a bottle of Sombai with you.

Sombai is a popular local beverage. There are many flavours, such as lemon-lemongrass, green tea-orange, ginger-red chili, and pineapple-lime. The wine comes in hand-painted and scarf-wrapped bottles.

Another way to see the Tonle Sap lake is hire a Tuk Tuk and get the driver to take you along the shores and visit places less travelled.

Siem Reap Province

This is by no means an exhaustive list of places to visit in Siem Reap Province, but it will get you started and along the way you will discover other places to visit, especially the less visited ones. And remember, at the end of the day you can try the famous rice wine that is produced and widely consumed in the Siem Reap Province.