As the gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park, A UNESCO World Heritage site home to the iconic Angkor Wat temple, Siem Reap has long been a popular destination with travellers from around the world. Between recent archaeological findings and a growing emphasis on modern Cambodian culture and creativity, Siem Reap has become much more than simply a place to stay while touring the temples. Fascinating museums, lively markets, world-class dining, designer hotels and even a grassroots circus add to Angkor’s timeless appeal and make Siem Reap a destination in its own right.
Heritage and Culture
Naturally, Siem Reap’s leading allure is Angkor Wat and surrounding temple ruins, but the town itself is home to a number of other intriguing activities, areas and attractions that highlight the region’s captivating history. Learn more about the importance of the ancient Khmer Empire, and what to expect when visiting the temple ruins, at The Angkor National Museum, a contemporary museum showcasing immersive multimedia exhibits. At the Cambodia Cultural Village, visitors can dive deep into 13 recreated villages that represent different cultural heritages from throughout the region along with a variety of traditional dance performances – a hit with kids. In the centre of Siem Reap, you’ll also find extensive marketplaces, including Psaa Char, the “Old Market”, selling a range of goods from popular souvenirs to handmade artisanal items. For a unique night out, enjoy a performance of Phare: The Cambodian Circus. The young Cambodian circus artists use an entertaining mix of music, dance, theatre and circus acrobatics to re-tell Cambodian tales all under a charming big top.
New Discoveries on Ancient Grounds
As one of the world’s most stunning and iconic ruins, Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples have fascinated explorers for centuries. Now, archaeologists have discovered even more ruins hidden underground that mark never-before-seen sprawling ancient cities sure to fascinate a new wave of visitors and fellow archaeologists. The recent discoveries made by Siem Reap’s École Française d’Extrême-Orient and Cambodian Archaeological Lidar Initiative show densely populated cities lying just outside the Angkor complex which denotes the Khmer Empire as the largest empire on earth during the 12th century. Using an airborne laser scanner attached to a helicopter, the research teams flew across Siem Reap collecting laser data that was then printed into 3D models showing ancient differences in terrain and elevation that has long since been covered by the jungle. Though findings from the study were just revealed this past July, the long-lost cities are sure to provide new sites for visitors to explore in the future.
Dos and Don’ts in the Kingdom
- Hire a guide – With its great size and even grander history, the Angkor Archaeological Park can be overwhelming, especially for first-time visitors. A professional guide will help you understand the secrets to what you’re seeing.
- Make the most of mornings – Siem Reap’s tropical temperatures make it a hot spot throughout the year. To better enjoy the town’s surroundings, and beat the heat, rise early to explore the temple ruins and local markets in the morning before the hottest part of the day. Many package tourists tend to flock to Angkor Wat at sunrise then head back to the hotels for breakfast – stay at the park for the entire morning and take advantage of the quiet grounds.
- Stay hydrated – Even when touring the temples in an air-conditioned car, you’ll still often be out in the sun as you wander through the ruins. Drink plenty of water and other fluids to help stay cool and keep dehydration at bay.
- Wear revealing clothing – Wearing modest clothing is an important part of Cambodian culture and walking around town in a swimsuit or with your shirt off is not only unacceptable, but offensive to the local people. Whilst touring the temples, it’s even more important to wear modest clothing and women must keep in mind to choose attire that covers their knees and shoulders.
- Climb or touch temple ruins – Throughout Siem Reap there are a number of historic monuments and ancient sacred sites that should be treated with utmost respect.
- Give food or money to children – It’s difficult to say “no” to a begging child, but giving handouts only encourages children to continue begging and counteracts initiatives to get children off the streets and into the school. Instead, try making a donation to an established charity or non-governmental organisation to ensure support is properly used.
- Underestimate Angkor’s immense size – The ancient city of Angkor is unlike anywhere else you’ve ever been, or ever will be. Around 1,000 temples span the 400-square-metre area – with even more temples and ruins soon to be discovered thanks to the new Linar findings. Take your time (and plenty of breaks!) so you can make the most of your visit.
Modern Accommodation Fit for a King
After a satisfying day of sightseeing, it’s important to rest up for the next adventure. Just minutes away from the Angkor Wat complex is the Anantara Angkor Resort, a boutique retreat inspired by ancient royalty that resembles a grand Khmer villa. From this regal refuge, guests can design their own Angkor experience complete with knowledgeable local guides, relaxing signature Khmer spa treatments, unique private excursions, such as a picnic on Angkor Thom’s historic grounds, and more. Anantara Vacation Club Points Owners can use Club Points to reserve rooms at the Anantara Angkor Resort through the Club Escapes programme.
SIDEBAR: What to Know About Angkor Wat
- Angkor Wat is considered as the world’s largest religious monument designed as an earthly representation of the mythical Mount Meru – home to ancient gods in the Hindu faith.
- According to inscriptions at the site, 300,000 labourers and 6,000 elephants helped construct the massive Angkor temple.
- Originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist site sometime around the late 13th
- The sandstone blocks used to build Angkor Wat were transferred to the site from more than 50 kilometres away.
- More than 3,000 enchanting apsaras (celestial nymphs) are carved into Angkor Wat’s walls. (With 37 different hairstyles among them!)
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