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.

Kratie Province cambodia

A Brief History of Krong Siem Reap Cambodia

Krong Siem Reap Tourist History

Not More of the Same | A Personal Story
street food stall in krong siem reap

If you were lucky enough to see Cambodia not so many years ago, then you would have seen a different place: the look of the cities and towns was from pre-Khmer Rouge occupation and civil war, during a time when the people were recovering from that group’s terror on the Khmers. Yet, and still, there was a gentleness, acceptance and generosity about the people that was alluring for a person who has lived in places where these qualities are rare. While, in general, Cambodians maintain much of these characteristics there are places where it is quickly disappearing and a condition that is spreading. One such place is Krong Siem Reap.

I first came to Krong Siem Reap in the mid-nineties, and there were few foreigners in town. Siem Reap was a small dusty outpost with Khmer Rouge forces just a stone’s throw away. It was still shell-shocked. People went about their business by foot or bicycle. A visit to Angkor meant dealing with temples surrounded by mine fields to protect them from thieves. A distant explosion could mean an unfortunate cow had just become tonight’s dinner, or worse. The ticket sellers took three days to catch up with me, but I think they had more important business to deal with than collecting a twenty-dollar entrance fee.

People were helpful and kind, strange considering their recent catastrophic history. Cambodian couples would spend romantic sunsets on the banks of Angkor Wat’s moat. People would laze about in the early evening cool. It was a place where everything moved at a different pace.

And Krong Siem Reap Now …

Let’s fast forward to contemporary Krong Siem Reap.

Nothing cool about the town now, but people think it is. The mine fields have been cleared only to be replaced by a new kind. The pace of life has changed drastically and not for the best. The new cool seems to mean clubs and bars on Pub Street and foreigners wearing tacky T-shirts and poorly made Khmer garb. Touts at places in this entertainment area launch themselves upon you as you pass by.

A gentle “no” is met with a persistent “cheap drinks” and “greats music” further rejection increases the volume of invitations to a place which is a front for an over-priced beer joint with loud music and terrible food. Eventually, you peel off this annoying fellow only to be accosted by another: Welcome to Pub Street, welcome to the new Krong Siem Reap.

Every step you take in Pub Street means that you are accosted by everything awful about a tourist town: cheap food, lousy service, diarrhea-inducing food and drink, hassly people and over-priced everything with attitude.

Which reminds me, I walked into a mini-mart and the cashier dealt with me with such derision that I had to ask her if she was having a bad day. She smiled and flicked me off.  Then, the foreigner after me spoke to her so demeaningly that it was disgraceful. No wonder that she has a low opinion of foreigners.

The Problem Or Opportunity For Cambodian Tourism

And there lies part of the problem. Tourism has turned the people of Krong Siem Reap.

The tuk tuk driver that pounces on you when you leave your hotel, the restaurant tout that launches themselves on you as you walk along Suvitha road near the Night Market are a product of the tourist industry. How ignorantly and arrogantly foreigners have informed Cambodians.

A tuk tuk driver scuttles over to you and asks, “where you go” then “Angkor, tomorrow” then in a hushed voice “girl”. This is the Siem Reap of today, the new Thailand.

Typically, you see the bad behaviour of tourists at several levels. There is the impatient version who yells at waiting staff for a menu or check. Another type talks derisively to the locals. Then there are the drunk and abusive types that prowl the streets in search of their next whiskey bar. Or, the type that yells at people to get out of the way of their picture of a temple. No wonder the Khmers are developing poor opinions of foreigners.

And it is not exclusive to Krong Siem Reap. And here lies another part of the problem, the creep.

In Phnom Pehn, this attitude towards foreigners is also moving in. There was once a time when visitors to Phnom Pehn were treated well. However, that is changing. The surly waitress, the pushy tout and the rude mini-mart attendant are in full strength in the capital.

Of course, it is easy to generalise about such matters. While the Cambodians’ deteriorating attitude towards foreigners has increased over the years in certain places, most Khmers still maintain a good attitude towards outsiders.

A Hopeful Journey To Kratie Province

Kratie Province in flood

A colleague of mine took a friend of his to a village in Kratie Province. The two of them travelled from Phnom Penh in a mini bus – no mean feat – along some of Cambodia’s unkinder roads. They were dropped off in the middle of nowhere and were met by a Khmer friend. They stayed in a house where they were given every hospitality: comfortable lodgings, friendly encounters, and meals. Nobody asked for anything from these two men but were given a lot from people who don’t have a lot to give, materially.

It will be interesting to see how the attitude towards foreigners develops in the future in Cambodia. Places such as Krong Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh will worsen as the country develops. Hopefully, other places will retain that Khmer charm.

Cyclebodia takes pride in allowing its’ meet and greet clients to experience a more wonderous Cambodia. We achieve this through using local people and re investing all our profits back into Cambodia through social enterprise and commerce. We strongly believe that Krong Siem Reap is where to start your cambodian adventure wether it be temples, eco tourism or charity. or a simple spa and relaxation holiday.

French Archaeologists surveying Angkor Wat c1930s

Be Your Own Archaeologist In The Siem Reap Temples

Be Your Own Archaeologist In The Siem Reap Temples

French Archaeologists surveying Angkor Wat c1930s

Don a dashing French Colonial Explorer vibe for an adventure into the past and archaeology of the Siem Reap Temples. Let’s do some amateur archaeology to uncover the remarkable story of this area for yourself.  A bullwhip is not necessary, but a Fedora is acceptable.

Guy Pearce 2 Brothers exploring the temples of siem reap
1. Guy Pearce in 2 Brothers. You can still get around on a water buffalo cart if you like.

We are going to explore the archaeology of the area in and around the temples of Siem Reap.  Not through excavating, that’s too hot and dirty, but through the physical clues and evidence that remains today.  Evidence you can discover, to appreciate the layers of history of this amazing country and which will enrich your visit far beyond a few social media posts and eating a spider.

Shaun Mackay Archaeologist in old angkor wat complex
2. Shaun Mackay, a real archaeologist in Fedora waiting for his ride to the excavation site. Photo Courtesy Shaun Mackay

Archaeology is the study of material remains of human activity. Basically anything that humans have used, modified or done something with is archaeology. It is multidisciplinary, so we are going to be historians, landscape analysts, heritage architects and art historians on our journey.  Not one of them requires a bullwhip.

3. The Original French Mekong Exploration Team, 1866 on the steps of Angkor Wat

The Khmer Empire

Cambodia’s Khmer Empire lasted from 802 until 1431 and at its height covered most of South East Asia. 

Khmer Empire Extent
4. French Colonial Map of the extent of the Khmer Empire

The Khmer Capital city at Angkor had a population estimated to be about 1 million people, at a time when London and Paris were muddy towns holding a maximum of 30 thousand. Even many of the temples supported a population much larger than any city in Europe at the time.  But the magnificence of Khmer Empire was completely unknown to the French when in 1863 Cambodia became another of France’s colonial possessions.

5. French Colonial Explorers Cambodia c1860s

Background and History Of Siem Reap Archaeology

When Henri Mouhot was guided through the forest by local Khmers and shown Angkor Wat in 1859 he was stunned.  It was completely unexpected. He could not have known that he was also standing in a former city that was the largest in the pre-industrial world. 

It was built by a civilization which at its height, was more advanced and grander than anything in Europe at the same time since the Romans. It was larger than the contemporary Byzantium Empire.

First photo of Angkor Wat, John Thompson
6. First Photograph of Angkor Wat. John Thomson 1866

However, it took around 150 years after the French explorer first laid eyes on Angkor Wat to begin to understand just how large and sophisticated the Khmer Empire really was. Without the advances in the 21st century in radar technology and its first application to an archaeological use, there would still be little idea of the extent of the Khmer Empire.

It is the equivent of the Roman Empire disappearing. In many ways the Khmer Empire and the Roman Empire were similar, especially in their engineering and building of great monuments, as well as the sheer size of the Empire at its height. Unlike the Romans, other than bridges, the Khmer Empire only built Temples and Sacred Monuments in Stone, even the Royal Palaces were wooden. As a result, Temples are the only buildings which remain visible, but other clues exist.

Lidar Scans 2013 and 2015
7. Lidar Scans 2013 and 2015. The Capital City founded by Jayavarman II on Phnom Kulen is outlined. It held 800 thousand people.

Siem Reap City – Hiding Hints Of History In A Modern Metropolis

If you ever fly into Siem Reap, look out the window at the rice paddies. At certain times of the year, you can make out the grid pattern of the former city under the paddies.  This is a great way to get an appreciation of the size of the former capital and how closely settled it was. On the ground, it cannot be seen.  

Grid of former Capital of Angkor in rice paddies
8. Outline of the features of the Capital City of Angkor are still visible in rice paddies from the air.

Siem Reap is a modern city, most of the buildings are less than 20 years old, however, it’s because of the infrastructure built by the Khmer Empire a millennium before that the city exists at all.  The river that runs through Siem Reap is not natural, it is a canal that was hand dug to connect the Khmer Capital city with the great lake of Tonle Sap. It was a highway used to transport people and resources into and out of the city.  The river has changed course in some sections now and is no longer straight.  A dramatic illustration of how far it has moved is Wat Athvea. This temple and monastery was built on the banks in 12th century about the same time as Angkor Wat. 

Siem Reap River
9. Siem Reap River. Wat Athvea marked with red arrow. The river formerly ran to the left of Wat Athvea

When the canal first came into use, small docks were built along its banks. They were the local centers where the rice and other produce was collected for transportation.  This prompted the building of small villages and eventually Wats near these docks.  The oldest Wats in the city were established in this way, they are all built near the river. 

Siem Reap River 1948
10.Market Dock, Siem Reap, 1948

Siem Reap was originally just one of these small villages.  The name is said to be a celebration of the victory in a legendary battle by the Khmer over a Kingdom of Siam, now modern Thailand. According to this tradition, the name means Siam Defeated.  This another clue to the past, it hints at traditional enemies and the political situation.

Siem Reap Grows to a City

Siem Reap grew and swallowed the surrounding villages as the French, stunned and delighted by the awe inspiring temples, began to travel here to explore.  Soon they began promoting the area for adventurous tourists, tapping into the 19th Century equivalent of a Gap Year, the Gentleman’s Grand Tour. 

First Tourists Angkor Wat 1866
11. First Tourists at Angkor Wat 1866

This prompted the expansion of the local market and the village grew into a town. By 1925, the Raffles Hotel had opened, the old market was provided with a building, and a town center with brick buildings had begun to spring up.  Some of them survive and can be found around the perimeter of the Old Market.

Siem-Reap-market 1921-35
12. The ‘Old Market’ when new in 1925. Note buildings behind, they are still there.

Today you can see people using the river much as they did for hundreds of years in the past. If you go down there early in the morning, you may see men setting out nets in wooden boats.  If they are dressed in a sarong and krama[1], you are seeing a sight that hasn’t changed for generations, it is living history. Watch the monks walking around collecting alms of a morning for another example of the ancient and modern co-existing in this remarkable city.

13. Monks walking along the river, Siem Reap

There are other clues to the history of the city remaining, mostly in the Wats. They are all interesting and worth a visit, most have beautiful gardens and ancient trees.  Many still have historic buildings giving you a glimpse into the architectural traditions of the past.

Wat Danmak was built for King Sisowath in 1904, it held the Royal Palace in the largest Pagoda in Siem Reap. In the years 1975-79 the Khmer Rouge used it as a military depot.   

In here you can find a reminder of the ideology of the Khmer Rouge and their desecration of the Wats in the Khmer Cultural Center.  Now used as a library, the building has a mural painted on the interior wall. The mural depicts a bucolic countryside with animals on the banks of a river and sacred icons painted in the sky.  The painting was used as target practice by the Khmer Rouge. However, it gives us a remarkable insight into the thoughts of the individual soldiers doing the shooting.  Animals and other mundane features of the painting have bullet holes in them. Not one is in any of the sacred images.  Despite the ideology of the Khmer Rouge and the fact that when this occurred, they were  actively sacking the Wat, no one was brave enough to shoot anything sacred. We must remember that the vast majority of those soldiers were very young and from rural villages, but it shows that the brainwashing didn’t entirely work.

Wat Damnak Mural
14. Mural in Wat Damnak Khmer Cultural Centre
amimals as target practice khmer rouge
15. Detail of mural showing bullet holes in animals.
Sacred Images Mural Wat Damnak
16. Detail Mural, Directly above the animals, no scared icons were shot.

Finding the Khmer Empire in Siem Reap

Wat Athvea, mentioned above, is still a working monastery, it has been in continuous use since at least the 12th century. However, that date is when the temple in the Angkor Wat style was constructed, it is likely it was an operating Wat prior to that[2]

Wat Athvea Khmer Empire
17. Wat Athvea built in the 12 century around the same time as Angkor Wat.

Another of the Wats, Wat Enkosei has the ruins of Brick Prasats built in the 10th century in the grounds. It is probably the earliest Wat in Siem Reap.

Khmer Empire Prasats Siem Reap
18. 10th Century Brick Prasats, ruins behind indicate it was once a much larger temple complex

If you enjoy a round of golf, you can play on a course that has an 11th Century Roluh Bridge between the 9th tee and 10th hole.

Khmer Empire Bridge Phokeethra Golf Club
19. 11th Century Roluh Bridge at the golf course Phokeethra Country Club. Photo Phokeethra Country Club

How to Read the Temples

The progression of building materials and the layout of the temples helps us to put them into a timeframe and understanding this will show you how to ‘read’ a temple.  The progression of building materials is our first big clue as to when a temple was constructed. 

Prior to the Khmer Empire there were two Chenla Kingdoms and Jayvaraman II united them to form his Empire.  The Chenla Kingdoms also built many temples and some of those survive as well.  They built their temples in brick, as did the early Khmer Empire, so when you see a brick temple, you are seeing a Chenla or early Khmer Empire temple. 

chenla temple
20. Chenla Temple c8-9th centuries

The foundations were made of Laterite. Laterite is a soft stone with a high iron content, when it is cut and exposed to the air, it hardens dramatically due to the iron and makes great foundations. It is a red colour and resembles swiss cheese.

The next progression of the materials are Sandstone and Laterite.  The temples were clad with sandstone over laterite and carved into wonderful images and patterns.  The best example of Khmer sandstone carving is arguably the Banteay Srei temple. This temple uses pink sandstone, and it is so magnificently carved, the reliefs stand out in 3D.

Banteay Srei
21. Banteay Srei intricate carvings into pink sandstone

Layout of the Temples

The earliest temples built by the Khmer Empire resemble those built by the Chenla, there was no dramatic stylistic change, it happened gradually.   These were brick stupas built in lines, with carvings directly into the brick. Many were covered with lime mortar and brightly painted. 

22. Kravan Temple. Brick carved temple 10th Century

However, once more than five stupas were needed, they began to be arranged with a central stupa and the others around the four cardinal points; North, South, East and West.  The next step was arranging the temple buildings on eight points to represent the Hindu universe.  Angkor Wat and the Bayon are the pinnacle of these temples.  The three temple plans below illustrate this growing complexity.

23. Phnom Bakheng Temple Plan built late 9th century. The central Stupa is surrounded by four more on the Cardinal Points.
24. Temple Plan of Ta Keo built late 10th Century. Stupas become more ornate and larger, outbuildings (called libraries) begin to be constructed in the grounds.

25. Temple Plan  of Angkor Wat (inner temple only), built early 12th Century. Stupas are connected, more outbuildings (not shown) and covered galleries are included.

State Temples are all built to represent the scared Mount Meru. They become Temple Mountains, Angkor Wat is the best example. But there are many others, the first being Phnom Bakeng which incidentally is a great place to see sunrise or sunset.

26. Phnom Bakheng, built for Yashovarman I in late 9th century.

Temples built for other purposes like universities, or by non-royals are flat, and do not rise with a central tower.  The most beautiful is probably Banteay Srei, the only temple not built by Royalty. The most well-known is Ta Phrom, built to be a temple monastery that supported around 80 thousand people. Another great example is Preah Khan, a temple that most tourists miss but would be a national monument in any other country.

Preah Khan
27. Preah Khan built late 12th Century as a university temple. The only two story library that survives is on the left.

Buddhist Temples were built beginning with the reign of Jayavarman VII. However, his State Temple, the Bayon, built in the center of Angkor Thom still represents the sacred mountain.

Bayon Angkor Thom
28. Bayon, Angkor Thom, State Temple of Jayavarman VII the first Buddhist King. Built 13th Century.

Landscape Archaeology For The Wider Picture

Now we are going to take our archaeological journey a step beyond and look at the wider area. We are going to do Landscape Archeology to understand how it all fits together.

The sheer number of Temples and monuments around Siem Reap is bewildering, there’s more than 50 in the Angkor Archaeological Park alone.  Then there are many more outside the Park.  Without a big picture, these amazing temples and sites will become a confusing blur jumbled together. 

Phnom Kulen, Where Your Investigation Begins

In 802CE when King Jayavarman II founded the Khmer Empire he held a ceremony on Phnom Kulen which proclaimed him a God-King.  This event is considered to mark the beginning of the Khmer Empire. Jayavarman then established his Capital City here and today it is difficult to believe that around 800 thousand people called it home.

It’s difficult to believe unless we look at it through our archaeology lens and travel a bit further than the waterfall and village. Off into the jungle and down dirt tracks we will find the evidence we are looking for. Throughout the jungle are monuments and temples, attesting to a large population capable of building them. 

Rong Chen Phnom Kulen
29. Prasat Rong Chen, Phnom Kulen. One of the many treasures in the jungle of the sacred mountain.

Let’s look at the shape of the mountain, it has a large plateau capable of supporting a huge population.  Next look out from the mountain, it has a 360 degree view over the immense plain below. Imagine the military advantages for a new King in a new Empire which he was still subduing.

Shaun Mackay, David Brotherson, and Tse Siang Lim. Photo Rothsophal Nguon
30. Archaeologists Shaun Mackay, David Brotherson, and Tse Siang Lim and photographer Rothsophal Nguon inspect the views from Phnom Kulen. Photo courtsey Shaun Mackay

However, Jayavarman II had more important reasons for choosing Phnom Kulen for his ceremony and coronation than the mundane of food and defence. Phnom Kulen was also known as Mount Mahendr, the representation of the sacred mountain where Hindu Gods lived.  By choosing this location he was legitimizing his rule and in turn adding another layer of significance to the mountain.

Today it is still the most sacred mountain in Cambodia, and the monuments to that reverence lay everywhere on the mountain.  The river is carved with thousands of sacred Yoni and Linga; creative fertility icons. This makes the water sacred and fertile before tumbling over the waterfalls and eventually reaching the plain of Angkor. These carvings are estimated to be around 1000 years old.  The huge reclining Buddha in the temple in the village was consecrated in the 14th century.  This indicates that a large population were still invested in the site 500 years after Jayavarman II and a century after the decline of the Empire when Royal Court moved south of the Tonle Sap.

31. Preah Ang Thom Pagoda, Phnom Kulen. 14th Century Reclining Buddha

If you look closer at the rocks around Phnom Kulen, you will find the individuals who have left their mark here. And there is some remarkable ancient and modern rock art on the mountain.  We are going to look at the modern, as it records events of the last century.  Phnom Kulen became a Khmer Rouge stronghold, they too recognized its defensive advantages.

This art is naïve, it was done by people not trained in art or rock carving, and it was done by people caught up in horrendous events. Individuals who were trying to understand the events taking place around them left this poignant record for future generations.

Rifle Rock Art Phnom Kulen
32. One of many images of rifles and weapons etched into the rocks of Phnom Kulen

Cambodia was bombed during the Vietnam War by American B52 bombers.  Someone has etched a image of these aircraft and other aircraft overhead. Other rock art has depictions of a rifles.  

Bombing Rock Art Phnom Kulen
33. Aircraft shown overhead, a possible record of the secret bombing campaign by the USA.

The mountain was quarried for the sandstone to build many of the temples, including Angkor Wat.  Look out for the quarry marks on the sides of the mountain.  Those sheer cliffs are not natural.  There is a site in a riverbed near the base of the mountain which was obviously a quarry.

Quarry Site PK
34. Ancient Quarry, Phnom Kulen

Red Jungle Bananas
35. Insiders tip; when you visit Phnom Kulen try the Red Bananas that only grow here, they are delicious.

Rolous Group – The First City On The Angkor Plain

The next Capital of the Khmer Empire was built at Rolous, at the foot of Phnom Kulen.  From our archaeological landscape analysis, we can see that it was built next to the floodplain of the Tonle Sap and close to the conjunction of several major streams coming off the Kulen Hills.  By the time the first temple was built here, the Khmer Empire was secure. The change in temple architecture happened here. Preah Ko and Lolei follow the linear arrangement and are brick temples, but Bakong is a temple mountain built of sandstone.

Preah Ko
36. Preah Ko built 879

37. Lolei built 893
Bakong Rolous
38. Bakong built 881, the first State Temple Mountain

Angkor Archaeological Park

Then the Khmer Empire settled into the Capital City in today’s Angkor Archaeological Park and built a plethora of temples and monuments.

As you travel around the park, you should now be able to make sense of the enormous number of temples and place them in a general timeframe. So now let’s zoom in on one temple to find the archaeological evidence of individual people, Angkor Wat.

The Snapshots In Time Left By People Of The Past On Angkor Wat.            

Angkor Wat was never abandoned, it remained a living building used since its dedication in 1150, to the present day.  Millions of people have been through the temple, and some have left evidence of their visit behind. Now we become architectural archaeologists to look for the evidence of individuals in this amazing edifice.

The Craftspeople

Incredible as it may seem, Angkor Wat was not completely finished, and you can find the evidence in the artworks decorating the building.

Unfinished columns decorations. Look at the base of the columns as you walk around the temple. You will see how they were done, step by step as there are many in different stages of completion.

Unfinished bas relief.  If you look closely, you will find evidence of where the bas relief was unfinished or the carver changed their mind. Or possibly in this case, was trying to insert a joke and was stopped?

Incomplete monkey warrior
39. A monkey warrior who was going to bite his enemy on the behind.

Bored Novice Monks?

Look for the amateur depictions of sacred icons and animals etched into the walls and columns.  These must have been made by someone who spent a lot of time in the temple. The people who carved these were interested in the myths, legends and icons already carved into the walls of the temple, so they were most likely religious.  The guess, and it can only ever be a guess, is that these were made by novice monks.

Apsara graffiti Angkor Wat
40. Amateur Apsara, Angkor Wat

Buddha graffiti Angkor Wat
41. Buddha?

Deer graffiti Angkor Wat
42. Deer with possible target practice marks.

French Colonization Of Cambodia

The French Colonial period is also evident on the walls of Angkor Wat.  Some left beautifully carved memorials of their visit. There is a French Solider head depicted wearing a Kepi Cap, and some beautifully done inscriptions.

Kepi cap graffiti Angkor Wat
43. French Soldier in Kepi Cap, possibly by DB in 1929.
French graffiti on a column in one of the courtyard galleries of Angkor Wat 1993
44. French Colonial Graffiti. Image Australian War Memorial


Conquering Armies like to leave their mark behind and show their superiority by desecrating sacred sites of the vanquished. Angkor Wat is no exception.  There is graffiti left by armies from the Cham 1000 years ago, through to UNTAC in 1993.

The Japanese also left their mark during their occupation of South East Asia in World War 2.  In the central tower, the holiest of places, you can see the Imperial Red paint and Japanese text painted and etched into the walls.  There is a great deal of Japanese writing etched into the walls.

Japan WW2 Graff AW
45. Japanese text possibly WW2

Evidence Of A Battle

On the southern side of the temple is evidence of a battle. This side of the temple was restored with concrete in the 1950s and 60s. There is bullet holes in the concrete and this tells us that the battle happened after the restoration works. So we can rule out WW2.  

After the military coup of 1970, the Khmer Rouge took over the Park, five years before taking the entire country.  The battle could have occurred then, or during the Vietnamese invasion of 1989, or during the clearing of the Khmer Rouge entirely from the temples by the UN in 1993.

Bullet holes sth side AW
46. Scars in the temple from a battle. Bullet holes
mortar scars sth side AW
47. Scars in Angkor Wat from a battle. Possible mortar, grenade or booby trap.

The Khmer Culture

The biggest and most wonderful artefact of the past you will find is the culture of the Khmer. They blend their ancient past with the modern day gracefully. The exquisite hand gestures of the Apsaras carved into the temple walls can also be seen in the most trendy dance clubs being made by thoroughly modern women.  Monks, dressed as they have been for time immemorial using the latest tablet or mobile phone.

The Khmer were noted for their hospitality by Chinese merchants who left journals of their visit here in the 11th century. You will still find that friendly hospitality in Cambodia in the 21st Century. This unique and stunningly beautiful place deserves exploring.

Friendly Monk Photography Teacher
48. One of the friendly modern monks you will meet in any of the modern Wats of Siem Reap. This Monk was teaching a child photography and their history.

Insider’s Tip: It is not compulsory to eat a spider, but silkworms go well with a beer.

[1] Krama is a Cambodian cotton scarf that Cambodian put to an amazing array of uses.

[2] Insider’s Tip; don’t try to play with any puppies you find here, the mother dogs don’t like it and you may have to be rescued by the monks.

Siem Reap Cambodia

Siem Reap | 14 Compelling Reasons To Visit

Siem Reap | 14 Compelling Reasons To Visit

Welcome to Siem Reap!

Welcome to Siem Reap or should we say welcome to Temple town!

Cambodian artist at work

Indeed, if you are searching for Angkor Wat, then you will realise that all your results will point out to Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Even if Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers discovered Angkor in the 19th century it is today a busy city and the departure town to visit the magnificent temples.

Usually, a short stop over for people travelling around Cambodia, Siem Reap has actually so much to offer! How many times have we heard guests regretting to leave this magical town too soon…?

Located just a few minutes away from the Angkor Archaeological Park, Siem Reap will be your home for some days. This joyful and lively city has a real unique vibe that you will not find anywhere else in Asia. Not only will it be your departure point to visit the 8th World Wonder, you will be able to enjoy many other beautiful spots such as the Tonle Sap (the biggest unsalted lake in Asia) or the Kulen mountain… After a day of visit, you’ll enjoy the great sunset on the top of Phnom Krom, or you’ll be attending a cooking class, wondering along the river, listening and dancing in the famous Pub Street where the music will keep you awake until late at night!

Not convinced yet? Let us give you 14 reasons why you should not miss to stay longer in Siem Reap!

Siem Reap Is Temple Town

traditional khmer jewelry

Inevitably, the first reason you will be coming to Siem Reap is to visit the Angkor Temples. Hence is famous nickname: Temple Town.

With more than 1000 temples stretching over 400 square kilometres in the middle of a forested area, you’ll wander between the magnificent remains of several capitals of the Khmer Empire. Dating from the 9th to the 15th centuries, only some survived the years and the sacking during the Khmer Rouge times.

If you want to explore more than Angkor Wat you can be your own archaeologist in Siem Reap.

Our recommendation is to spend minimum two days in the temples. On the first day, join the so-called “Small Tour”. You will be going to the most famous monuments: Angkor Wat, Ankgor Thom, Bayon and Ta Prohm. Their names probably don’t mean anything for you, but you have seen all of them already, for example Angkor Wat on the Cambodian flag (by the way, did you know that the Cambodian flag is the only flag in the world representing a religious monument?), or you vibrated with Angelina Jolie running around Ta Phrom in the movie Tomb Rider… 

Then the second day, we recommend you head outside town to a temple called Bantey Srei or Woman’s temple. This temple is definitely a must see! It is built largely of red sandstone, a medium that lends itself to the elaborate decorative wall carvings which are still observable today. The buildings themselves are miniature in scale, unusually so when measured by the standards of Angkorian construction. No Wonder why it is praised today as a “precious gem”, or the “jewel of Khmer. On the way back, you would stop for something different: Kbal Spean, the sculpted river. Five cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small Linga carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed. Just a unique sightseeing!

With his infrastructure completely enhanced, you can now cycle around the temples on a safe cycling path on the verge of the forest. An amazing experience to feel the spiritual atmosphere and quietness of the area.

For your information, the Angkor Archaeological Park entrance fees are as follow:
1-day ticket – $37 USD
3-day ticket (valid for 1 week) – $62 USD
7-day ticket (valid for 1 month)- $72 USD

traditional cambodian artisans at work

But … Siem Reap Is Not Only The Temples

For many people, Siem Reap has just the temples to offer. But this is not true! Siem Reap has many places and attractions to offer for who is willing to stay longer! Let us give you some examples…

Have you ever heard about the Tonle Sap? This lake, made of unsalted water, is the biggest lake in Asia!

After a nice tuk tuk drive in the country side, you’ll get to the shore of the lake where you’ll embark on a small boat for a beautiful ride along stilt houses. If you head there in the afternoon, the sunset view is incredible, giving the water a nice orange-gold color…

Talking about fascinating sunsets… how about heading to West Baray? At the time, the Angkor complex was once a big city with an impressive irrigation system allowing multiple crops of rice each year.

To achieve this, the villagers required a vast holding tank for water that fed irrigation canals in dry times: the West Baray.

Today, the Baray still provides water to all the surrounding villages but it is also a great spot where Cambodian go and relax with their family. Lots of food stalls offer grilled chicken or fish skewers that you can enjoy while relaxing in a hammock. 

The West Baray is the closest to a beach that you can get in Siem Reap and yes swimming there is possible! Definitely a place we recommend for a nice walk, a boat ride to the temple, the West Mebon, built in its centre on an artificial island, or to admire one of the most beautiful sunset close to Siem Reap…

Ever dreamt of climbing up a sacred mountain? Then head to Kulen mountain, just 30km from town. The highest of the three sacred mountains (Phnom Bok and Phnom Krom) located in the area, features a beautiful pagoda where you can see a big sleeping Buddha, and as a highlight: two great waterfalls. The first is between 4 and 5 metres high and 20 to 25 metres wide while the second waterfall is 15 to 20 metres high and 10 to 15 metres wide. The latter pours into a larger area of water which is popular to visit and swim in. Locals believe that swimming in Kulen waterfall pool is bringing you luck, so don’t forget your swim suit!

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track moment, hop on a moto-dop (aka moto taxi) at the bottom of the pagoda and enjoy a ride for 12km on small dusty roads and you’ll be rewarded with a life-size replica of a stone elephant (a full 4m long and 3m tall) and smaller statues of lions, a frog and a cow. You have arrived at Sra Domrei, an impressive site with giant stone animals or guardians of the mountain.

Fancy walking between hundreds of butterflies? Well, did you know that Cambodia was the home of many endemic butterflies? To discover them, visit the Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC) which is an interactive butterfly exhibit located 25 km north of Siem Reap. The centre consists of a netted tropical garden with thousands of free-flying butterflies, all of which are native species to Cambodia. The enclosure is South East Asia’s largest butterfly exhibit and provides residents and tourists with an interactive and visual environment to learn about butterflies and support local communities.

Siem Reap is Cultural

raw cambodian silk

The history of Cambodia left deep-rooted traditions still anchored in the daily life.  In order to better understand them, artists have built shows relating the traditional Khmer life. Two directly come to mind:  the Phare circus and the Apsara Dance show.

What a performance! More than just a circus, Phare performers use theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories; historical, folk and modern. The young circus artists will astonish you with their energy, emotion, enthusiasm and talent.

Apsara theatre gives you the opportunity to enjoy a unique and traditional dance show. The Apsara dance is the national dance of Cambodia. You’ll get to experience the Praying Mantis Dance, the Peacock of Pailin Dance, the Bokator Fighting Preparation ceremony and other special performances which you won’t see anywhere else in town. Usually combined as diner show, you will at the same time enjoy a delicious menu which also features traditional Cambodian cuisine.

Museum wise, there are only a few museums in Siem Reap. The main one being the Angkor National Museum which relates the history of the Angkor temples and exhibit most of the original statues or lintels found (The other majority being exhibit in Phnom Penh in the National Museum). A second must visit is the Cambodian Landmine Museum. As you know, Cambodia has been infested by landmine during the Khmer Rouge times. This museum explains that dark chapter of the country but is also a message of hope. Indeed, The Landmine Museum was founded by ex-child soldier Aki Ra as a way to tell the world about the horrors landmines had inflicted. After the war, he returned to the different places where he had installed mines himself and clear them out. He then founded an NGO specializing in demining. He so cleared out most of Cambodia. He too, founded a schools for children victims of mines so that they are cared for, housed, fed, educated and given a future they would otherwise never have had.

Siem Reap is Fun

cambodian woman weaving at a traditional jenny

If Siem Reap is known as Temple town, it is also famous for its endless nights! Gather in the centre of the city in Pub Street!

Full of bars and restaurant, all lined up selling cheap beer and reasonable food, then around 8 or 9pm all start playing loud music…  let the party start! Get in the mood and you would even end up dancing in the street directly! Memorable souvenirs ahead for sure!

Looking for more adventurous experiences? We have you covered too! Ride a quad in the countryside or discover the zipline experience in the forest, many opportunities exist in Siem Reap to keep you busy!

Siem Reap is Great For Shopping

made in cambodia market

Ahhh shopping! Well, even if Siem Reap does not have (yet) any commercial centre, except for a small shopping area named The Heritage Walk where you’ll find the biggest western style clothing shop called Zando, you’ll find almost everything you need in the different local markets!

Cherry on the cake, visiting them bring you in the centre of the real Cambodian life! Head to Psar Leu, the biggest market a little out of town. From the vegetable, meat or flower stalls to the impressive sewers creating beautiful dresses using traditional and colourful fabrics, all in an exceedingly small spot, or passing by the gold shops, you will be surprised by the richness of the place!

To get the experience to its fullest, head to the markets at dawn with fresh vegetables, meats, and various foods on display! They are then all bustling with life!

In the evening, head to the different night markets. The atmosphere is different than in the daytime markets, but as cheerful! You’ll be welcomed by all shop keepers with a “Buy Something Madame? Buy Something Sir?” to which you’ll just reply with a nice smile or by a friendly “Ort te Orkun” meaning No thanks.

Mainly selling souvenirs related products, you can also find little gems that are not to be found on all stalls, so double check before declining their invitation to get something from them!

Whether you are heading to the local markets daily or at night for souvenirs, there is one rule you should never forget: always bargain! Discuss with the sellers until you find the best acceptable price for both of you.

Last but not least, if you are carving for Western products, don’t worry, some big supermarkets have settled in town and offer an impressive choice of Western products but be ready to pay the price!

Siem Reap is Value For Money

cambodian silk worms

From luxury treats to 0.50$ beer, there is something for all budgets in Siem Reap.

Whether you are looking for a 5 stars resort, a small boutique hotel or a cheap bed in a dorm, you can find it. And this is also true for food! From delicious 0.75 cents street food to fine cuisine, both are available here!

Whatever option you go for, all the money you will spend here will be worth every penny as the experience will be unique!

Siem Reap is Easy To Get To

All the roads lead to Siem Reap! Or almost all

local cambodian artists

If you want to get to Siem Reap you have several modes of transport options to choose from: including bus, plane, boat, taxi and mini-bus.

Depending on where you are traveling from one of the above options will be best. Obviously, the plane will be the most expensive one but will make you save a lot of time.

The bus and the mini-van remain the most popular options. Different companies offer their services allowing you to travel very easily from or to Siem Reap. From some destinations in Cambodia, you will even be able to get on a night bus which would leave you the whole day free to visit or relax!

The boat is also a nice option! You can reach Siem Reap by boat from either Battambang or Phnom Penh. Both are only running during or after the rainy season when the water level is high enough (between July and March). These rides are an adventure on their own! The operating boats are small, not very comfortable and long – foresee between 6 and 8 hours to get to Siem Reap.

BUT… these rides are a great local experience combined by great sights of local Cambodian life around the lake when crossing all the floating villages.

Siem Reap Has Cheap Transport

kompong phluk kompong river taxi

When talking about getting around Siem Reap, again different options are available: tuk tuk, PassApp, Grab, electrical bike or bicycles.

Tuk Tuk remains the most traditional way to go around. Usually around town a ride would cost you 2USD, but that will also depend on your negotiation skills!

For PassApp or Grab, download the application on your phone and book your ride. The price is fixed and set as soon as you book. This is an extremely easy way to go around for short rides.

Electrical bikes: as it is not allowed for tourist to rent a motorbike in Siem Reap (even if many shops will offer you deals!), the electrical bike is the best option to be independent and go around freely. Different charging stations are at your disposal, even in the temples, so this is a genuinely nice and ecological way to wander around.

Last but not least: the bicycle!  Very often bikes will be provided by your hotel for free or against a short rental fee. As for the electrical bike, the bicycle is the perfect way to be independent and go around freely.

Siem Reap is Spa Heaven

With more than 100 spas, yes Siem Reap is definitely a spa heaven!

Whether you are willing to enjoy some foot massage to relax your legs after a long day climbing up and down the temples, or whether you are looking to plunge yourself with a pure relaxing massage in a luxury spa, you will find your dream spa.

One of the specialities to definitely try on is the body scrub! For 60 minutes or more, you will be relaxing while your entire body will be washed with natural products like, coffee or mango seeds for example. You will get out of there relaxed with a super soft skin!

Pub Street area is full of little spas offering 1$ (yes, 1$!) foot massages. Do not be fooled by the price, some of these places are real gems with professional masseurs.

Last but not least, if you fancy a different spa experience, why not put your feet in a tank full of small hungry fishes? For a couple of dollars, you will get a nice fish pedicure, with hundreds of small fishes fighting to eat your dry skin… Not to try if you are ticklish!

Siem Reap is Gay Friendly

bar code siem reap

Siem Reap is one of the most gay friendly cities in Asia.  Proof is every year Siem Reap host the Cambodia Pride Week! During a couple of days, many events and activities are organized all around town.

Compared to other cities, Siem Reap does not have a defined gay neighbourhood. Instead, the main gay hangouts and hotels are spaced out in and around the city centre.

If some hotels also cater solely to LGBTQ travellers, you’ll see that most hotels, bars, and restaurants are gay friendly, and nobody would ever give you a look down.

Drag shows are also famous in town! Two bars offer them currently and we recommend you attend one for a nice party out!

Find all information on gay friendly places and activities here (Note – the entire page is under review and will be completely revamped soon):

Siem Reap is Tour City

We talked a lot about what Siem Reap had to offer as attractions, but what about the city itself?

Well, you should expect a lot too! Go for a walk along the river and enjoy all the food stalls selling all different kinds of local specialities, join locals exercising in the late afternoon in the garden in front of the Royal Palace, stop by the serene Proum Brea pagoda, the most beautiful pagoda of Siem Reap, for a relaxing moment or sit down on a terrace facing the Old Market, Psar Chaa,  to enjoy watching the local villagers who come every day to town to sell all their crops, meat and fish, all that in the middle of the souvenirs shops…

If you still have the strength, walk to the National Museum to better understand the history of the city and its temples.

Note that at the time of writing, major road works are ongoing in Siem Reap, the city will be completely rethought with wider sidewalks and wider roads, all incorporating cycling tracks. (Expected end of the work by the summer 2021). This will be a great improvement for all to wander into town safely!

Siem Reap Is Food Fusion

If you are a real Epicurean, then you will not be disappointed in Siem Reap! With more than 400 registered restaurants, you will always find something to tickle your taste buds!

Do you fancy Khmer food or Western food? Well just pick one and you will find a matching place!

If you go for Khmer food, as this is also part of the trip, you will have a lot of choice!

Try the fried noodles in the street, sitting on a small plastic chair along the river, head to a Khmer barbecue where you will have the possibility to try the authentic Koo Laeng Phnom which translates into “the cow climbing the mountain” due to the form of the barbecue and how the meat is displayed on top of it when cooked; or go for the more traditional dishes such as amok, usually served with fish, which is a kind of curry, or try the beef lok-lak, a very typical Khmer recipe that was invented at the time of the French occupancy to please the French while giving the beef an Asian twist with soya sauce. Do not miss out any of these experiences!

Nowadays, more restaurants also offer fusion food with delicious preparation inspired by a mix of Khmer and Western food.  Also, a must try!

Carving for something sweet? Well, there are not a lot of Khmer desserts… but it does not mean that the one they have are not simply delicious! Try the sticky rice with mango, the rice is cooked in sugar and coconut milk and serve with fresh mango or the banana flambées with passion fruit…. Mmmhhh so good!

And if you are keen on bringing these recipes home, then why not learning how to prepare these delicious dishes? Register for one of the numerous cooking classes available! You will usually be preparing different tasteful starters, mains, and desserts that you will be enjoying afterwards! We therefore recommend booking a class around lunch or dinner time so you would kill two birds with one stone 😉

Siem Reap is Safe

Yes, Siem Reap is a safe town! I have lived and worked in Siem Reap for a long time now and I can confirm that Siem Reap is probably the safest destination in Cambodia. You can walk around everywhere without any issue; people will always welcome you with the legendary Khmer smile!

At night, the city is also very safe. It being so busy all the time makes you feel safe for sure!

However, our recommendation is to always be careful if you are heading back, alone, late to your hotel.

Simply just do not do in Siem Reap what you would not do at home, and nothing will happen to you!

Siem Reap is Simply Worth Visiting

Yes, Siem Reap is worth visiting because it is simply unique!

When arriving in this town you can immediately feel the special vibes it has… Does it come from the spiritualty emerging from the numerous pagodas, from the peaceful energy emerging from the temples, from the magical Khmer smiles you will get all along, from the delicious food you can find,… or maybe a bit of all?

In any case, whatever the reason, many people could not resist its attraction and simply never left temple town…

What about you? Will you also fall in love with Siem Reap?

Frequently Asked Questions About Siem Reap

You will find dozens of answers to any question about Siem Reap and Cambodia. It is nice to be prepared, however the best solution is to visit. If you feel a bit unsure you can always use our meet and greet service in Siem Reap

Is Siem Reap And Cambodia Safe?

If you mean are you likely to get mugged, the chances are slim. Not zero. Take simple precautions like not wearing expensive jewelry into a market, spas, or bars. If you are invited to somewhere special then you can dress up to the nines but ensure you have arranged transport to your hotel. But generally, it is not recommended to take expensive items to any country you are visiting. Flashing cash is never a good idea; anywhere. Not only is it vulgar it make you a target for the less scrupulous.
Are you likely to catch a weird disease, once again the answer is no. However, even if you suffer a minor cut attend to it immediately. Siem Reap has some good hospitals and doctors. In rural Cambodia you are less likely to recover the standard of treatment you would expect in your home country.  

Does Siem Reap Have Internet?

Siem Reap like the rest of the world has internet. But do not be expecting to stream 4k movies. You will pay for decent internet.  You will get what you pay for. You will see adverts for mobile internet at $5 for 2 weeks or so. It is not great. If you are going to need stable broadband ask your hotel. Generally speaking, the better the hotel, the better the internet. You might want to invest in a good hotel. If you are paying $10 per night do not expect to be live streaming video.

What Are The Medical Facilities and Hospitals Like?

Ensure you have adequate accident and health insurance, before arriving. Many serious accidents will require you to be moved to Thailand. Saying that, the medical services are getting better. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh have many good hospitals.

If you need a certain medication, take the usual precautions. Carry enough for you holiday plus 1 week in 2 separate bags. Or have your partner or friend carry a set for you. Personally, I have 1 set in my case, one in my hand luggage and 3-4 days on my person.

No matter how minor an accident is, take immediate action.

What is the Currency Of Cambodia?

Cambodia’s national currency is the riel and the de facto currency is the USD. However, in places like Siem Reap and Cambodia other currencies can be used or exchanged easily. We have a whole section on the Cambodian currency.

What Currency Should I Use in Cambodia?

The questions should not be what currency can I use in Cambodia rather than what denomination? The general rule of thumb is the smallest USD demonization and the largest riel denomination.
With 4,000 riel to the dollar, you can end up with a barrowload of local currency. On the other had trying to change a $50 or $100 bill can be a problem. The other precautions are ensuring the dollar bills are not defaced or torn nor should they have anything written on them. Pristine condition. Although any Riel currency you have can feel that it will disintegrate in a small breeze.

Can You Get A Visa On Arrival?

Most tourists can obtain a Cambodian Visa On Arrival. If you are unsure stop asking questions in forums, ask your local Cambodian embassy or consulate. Apply for it at the embassy.
Many of the online applications are a pain in the rear.

Can I extend My Visa?

Some Cambodian visas can be extended, and some cannot. We could write and entire encyclopedia about visas for Cambodia and it would be out of date tomorrow, or yesterday! Decide how long you want to be in Siem Reap or touring Cambodia and apply for the best suited visa before you arrive.

If you want to extend a stay to more than 30 days it is fairly simple. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are choc a bloc of visa agents who can make extension arrangements.

Ask at your hotel. They will have arrangements with people.

Can I Use My Credit Card in Siem Reap?

Yes and no. Your hotel and larger malls “might” accept credit cards. If you are in the market or rural Cambodia it is going to have to be cash. Prepay your hotel and tours by card if possible, or at least confirm they will be happy to accept card payments.

Once in Siem Reap most tours will be cash.

Does Siem Reap Have Banks and ATM’s?

Yes. And handily, most of them are in the same street with a plethora of ATM’s. We have always found that the services they offer are surprisingly good. However, it can be slow. Patience is the name of the game.

If you open a bank account in Siem Reap it can be several days before the account is actually open and you receive a card.

Can I transfer Cash To Siem Reap?

If you get into difficulty the best solution is Western Union. Many of the international transfer agencies have not yet recognized Cambodia as a safe or profitable place to set up their business – for whatever reason. Cyclebodia via its hotel the Siem Reap Sapphire can help you.

However, it takes time. Ensure you give as much notice as you can. Leaving unpaid bills in Cambodia is not a good idea.

What Is Immigration Control Like?

Bureaucratic but friendly. You will have to queue a couple of times at Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports. Ensure you have small denominations and pictures.

At land borders you might need to part with some tea money. Smile and keep smiling.

What is Airport Customs Like at Siem Reap?

We think the word you would use is relaxed. None of us have ever been stopped.
Once you have completed immigration your bags will be waiting for you and it is a 20 meter stroll, and you are outside. However, we suggest that you do not bring anything untoward into the country as it will either involve a large fine and/or jail time. Neither will be pleasant.
As a by the by, the airport taxis are great value. Assuming your hotel is not picking you up. Just have the hotel phone number handy so the taxi people can call reception.  The price is generally less than $10. However, they might charge for the number of people and bags.

How Much Is A Tuk Tuk?

Tuk Tuks are a great way to navigate Siem Reap and are the best way to visit Angkor Wat. A short journey about town is $2 give or take. And do not become involved is arguments that locals get them cheaper. A full day with a driver is between $10 and $20. They may charge differently depending on how many people they are carrying.

If you have to negotiate – keep smiling!

How Much Should I Tip?

Tipping might not be the done thing for many people. However, your server, hotel cleaner or Tuk Tuk driver will appreciate your kindness enormously. Leave any Cambodian Riel and a USD dollar.

Many skilled and happy people will be earning less than $5 per day – so and extra dollar or 2 is of huge benefit to them. And when you leave your hotel you can leave behind any items that are not worth their weight in your luggage.

Some people will buy a bike and at the end of their Cambodian holiday leave it to a local charity or family.

Are There Any Golf Courses in Cambodia?

There are not many; however, some of them are exceptional. The only one we have tested so far is Angkor Golf Resort in Siem Reap. It is not cheap, but it is awesome.

Can I find Indian/Thai/American Food? Is this many questions?

Yes, yes and yes! There is a large Indian community, and the restaurants are fabulous and great value. Thailand being next door means that there are a couple of fabulous Thai eateries. And if burgers are your thing you will find some delicious burgers in Siem Reap. There is a wide range of other nationalities represented. From our Scottish fayre to happy pizzas.

Though some of the Cambodian fusion food is truly awesome as is the vegetarian offerings.

Does Siem Reap Have A Cinema?

Siem Reap has a cinema if you can find nothing better to do. It is primarily aimed at locals. However, it does have a coffee shop and bakery that is exceptionally good.

Are Drugs Legal In Cambodia?

If you are thinking about taking class A drugs think again. Or even better still, avoid Cambodia. Dealing in drugs is dangerous – extremely dangerous. You will be offered drugs and the best solution is to walk away.

Entrapment is a very real danger.

Can I Hire A Car At Siem Reap Airport?

There are car hire firms at the airport from which you can hire a car. However, you might want to consider hiring a driver with a car. Whatever you choose, ensure that there is proper insurance. If in doubt walk away – as jail is the option with a large fine.

It is undoubted that you will be held responsible for any accident. That is how it is.