Last updated on : Jun 16, 2020
Most people come to Siem Reap to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site Angkor Wat, and for good reason! It’s a lovely temple and the world’s largest religious monument. Recently, I crossed ‘Angkor Wat’ of my trip wish list. But there’s actually many more places to visit in Siem Reap than Angkor Wat. It’s such a fun place to explore, a small scale city, like Bangkok, which mixes the ancient and modern worlds seamlessly.
For a little taste of the city, check out my short video.
I was first impressed by how organized the tourism sector is in Siem Reap. It’s unlike anywhere else I’ve been. Before sightseeing, I visited a facility to take a photo and purchase a pass that served as entry into the sites. Really neat!
After I got my pass, I was off to explore the many interesting sites in Siem Reap.
It’s no wonder why filmers chose Ta Prohm as one of the sites for the Tomb Raider movies featuring Angelina Jolie. The enormous trees bursting through or perched along the intricate, mossy temples built of natural stone is such an intriguing contrast. It’s as if Mother Earth is reclaiming the temples as her own.
Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, I really loved the detailed carvings and the beautiful color of the red sandstone at Banteay Sreai, the lady temple. The scale and style of this monument was much smaller and more elaborate than the other temples in Siem Reap, which makes it unique.
This Bayon-style massive temple is so stunning, the photo just doesn’t do it justice. Angkor Thom is where you’ll see the four faces of King Jayavarman VII, oriented in the four carindal directions. Each face represents a charming smile, sad smile, glad smile, or beautiful smile. Aside from the four faces, the temple also has beautiful reliefs, which depict scenes from daily life, as well as massive towers, such as Bayon Tower also called the Face Tower. The South Gate of Angkor Thom is most impressive, overlooking a serene moat and featuring more than 50 faces of gods.
Phnom Bakehng is a lesser known temple near Angkok Wat, for which the US Government and international non-governmental organizations are supporting the restoration. It’s a 15-minute uphill walk to the temple, followed by a moderately steep climb via stairs to the top, where the views are fantastic!
Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake Tonle Sap is home to a community of thousands, mostly ethnic Vietnamese. Since most of them cannot buy land, this lake is their very livelihood.
As I rode through the village via boat, I observed people going about their lives in their homes, as well as at churches, gas stations, and schools. A boat is essential, and while riding, one family’s boat malfunctioned, so they were waiting for help. It seemed that this community was very tight-knit and peaceful.
And for a night on the town, shop at Siem Reap’s night markets where you’ll find all sorts of goods from elephant-print pants to sombai, a Cambodian liqueur made from rice. For bars and dancing, including in the streets, Pub Street is where it’s at!
For an upscale experience in the heart of all the action, the Park Hyatt Siem Reap is the place to stay. It’s within walking distance of shops, restaurants, and nightlife, and to venture further, you have tuk-tuks at your door. The hotel is immaculate, and I enjoyed every minute of my stay in the Presidential Suite.
Put Siem Reap on your list! No matter the time of day, the city is vibrant and welcoming. You can start your adventure by riding in the ubiquitous tuk-tuks to the temples during the day, and explore the boutique shops, night markets, and party scene at night.