Siem Reap Province
Siem Reap, located in northwestern Cambodia, is the gateway to the world-famous Angkor temple complex, which includes the magnificent Angkor Wat. The province also contains a vibrant capital city boasting many luxury hotels, beautifully-aged colonial buildings, a buzzing Pub Street, silk farms, markets, and much more. The city of Siem Reap, also the capital of the province, is a ‘must-visit’ destination for all visitors to Cambodia. This is where the glorious 12th Century Angkor Wat temple, the largest religious building in the world, is located. Situated on the northern bank of the Tonle Sap Great Lake, this mesmerizing eighth wonder of the world can be easily accessed by plane, land, and boat.The ruins of Angkor, located in thick jungle, are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over one thousand temples ranging in scale from nondescript piles of rubble scattered through rice fields to the awe-inspiring Angkor Wat–the best-preserved temple. to the heritage site of the Kulen Mountain, to the recently discovered Koh Ker ruins. In town, there are a bevy of ethnic craft shops, galleries, cafes, eateries and top-notch restaurants serving every type of cuisine. The famous ‘Pub Street’ and the night markets of Siem Reap are now renowned tour destinations in their own rights. Additionally, silk farms, rice-paddy countryside, fishing villages and a very rich bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake make Siem Reap one of the most captivating places in the world.
The province of Siem Reap is conveniently situated 314 km northwest of Phnom Penh, along National Road No 6. It can be reached all year round by National Road No 6 from Phnom Penh, Poipèt Border Checkpoint from Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham Province and Kampong Thom Province, and by National Road No 5 and 6 from Kampong Chhnang province, Pursat province and Battambang province.
Around Siem Reap
The reason most people come to Siem Reap is to visit the Angkor Archaeological Park. The town is worth strolling about for itself and there are a number of means to go about enjoying the city. Going about on foot is perhaps the most leisurely and most rewarding. Here, the pace may be quite laid-back to some, but all in all it’s a pleasant place to be at. Along the streets, there are many shops offering services and goods ranging from the basic necessities to fine silk; chic galleries with beautiful display of local art pieces and lots of souvenirs. For food, there are whole streets catering for the travellers tastes, with tasty Khmer fares such as Amok and ‘Khmer curry’, or pizzas, hamburgers and other international cuisines. Explore the backstreets for more shops and restaurants and have fun. In the evening, stroll down Pub Street and mingle with the crowd. There is never a lack of colours while in Siem Reap.
The Kulen Mountain National park
The Kulen Mountain or Phnom Kulen is declared as a National Park. It is an isolated mountain massif located in Svay Leu District and some 48km from Siem Reap. Its highest point is 487 meters. This is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer Empire. During the constructional period of the ancient temples in the nineth century, sand stones were brought from this sacred mountain to Angkor. It was here at Phnom Kulen that King Jayavarman II proclaimed independence from Java in 802 A.D. The site is known for its carvings representing fertility and its waters hold special significance to the people of Cambodia. Just a few inches under the surface of the water, over 1000 carvings of Yoni and Linga are etched into the sandstone riverbed. The waters are regarded as holy, given the sacred carvings which also include a stone representation of the Hindu god Vishnu lying on his serpent Ananta, with his wife Lakshmi at his feet. A lotus flower protrudes from Vishnu’s navel bearing the god Brahma. The river then ends with a beautiful waterfall. Phnom Kulen is regarded highly by Cambodian people as a sacred location and has developed into a great tour destination.
The Tonle Sap Lake
Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, is itself a natural wonder.This great lake exists as an ecological anomaly. In early June, at the start of the rainy season, the water level of the Mekong River rises to divert part of its flow off its course to the South China Sea and redirect it into the Tonle Sap. This forces the current to reverse direction, beginning a process that by the end of October will see the great lake increasing its size almost tenfold, making it the largest freshwater body in Southeast Asia. The Tonle Sap Lake, fed by the mighty Mekong and the Tonle Sap Rivers, is a vast expanse of water that forms the most significant topographical feature in Cambodia. This ‘Great Lake’ represents a people’s identity and way of life for the thousands of Cambodians who live on the lake and are dependent on the Tonle Sap and its ebbs and flows to maintain life. There is a whole community here; besides homes, there is a school, police post, fire station, church and a few restaurants as well. This self-sufficient community of the great lake, known commonly as the floating village of Cambodia, draws crowds daily to observe life and to share their time in this wonderful neighborhood of the great Tonle Sap Lake.
The Angkor National Museum
The Angkor National Museum is classified as one of Cambodia’s premier museum sites. On display are thousands of important Buddhist and Hindu sculptures from the various Angkor temples. Many original pieces recovered for safe-keeping by the authorities from the temple ruins are also on exhibit at this museum. Since the discovery of the Angkor temples, many of the antique artifacts have been stolen and sold to private collectors, museums and auction houses all over the world. Over the years, efforts have been made by the Royal Cambodian government to recover them and with the cooperation of various government agencies from around the world, many of the lost pieces have found their way back to Cambodia. The Angkor National Museum houses and exhibits many of the recovered items amongst the several thousand exhibits now on display. In this very modern building, tourists will discover the Golden Era of the Khmer Kingdom and through state of the art multimedia technology, enjoy a full story of the legend.
Cambodia Cultural Village
The Cambodian Cultural Village is designed to provide tourists with an excellent insight into the life and culture of the Cambodians; their traditions and practices, etc. In all, eleven villages or sectors, each a showcase of different landmarks and providing a peek into the lifestyles of the people from various provinces including the ethnic minorities. Like a theme park, tourists are treated to miniatures of historical buildings, stone carvings, wood works and many forms of arts and crafts. There are performances; dances of the ethnic groups, traditional wedding ceremony, circus acts, acrobats, elephant shows, Khmer boxing, the famous Apsara dance and more to entertain the tourists.
Like the one in Phnom Penh, the Angkor Night Market is also designed to give visitors a secure and enjoyable shopping and dining experience in a vibrant, contemporary Khmer environment. Both these night markets offer a wide variety of stalls offering a diverse range of goods and services. A ‘must visit’ when in the vicinity.
How to reach Siem Reap
Siem Reap is accessible by direct flights from many major cities in the region including Bangkok, Danang, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Paksé, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, Kunming, Taipei, etc. From the capital of Phnom Penh, Angkor Air operates several direct flights per day to and from Siem Reap. There are also speedboats operating along the Tonlé Sap from Phnom Penh and Battambang Province.
A ´baray´ is a water reservoir – an area of land where dikes have been raised to catch and hold water. Beginning in the 9th century, the construction of massive baray and other such grand projects became one of the marks of Angkorian kingship. There are four major barays in the Park area. When the barays were constructed, an island temple was set at the center of each. The first major baray to be constructed was Indratataka by King Yasovarman I, measuring 3.8km x 880m and completed in 889AD when the capital was still at Hariharalaya near Roluos. The Roluos Group temple Lolei sat on an island in the middle of Indratataka. Construction of the second major baray, the East Baray (Yashodharatataka.) began almost immediately after the first. At 7.8km x 880m it was almost five times larger than the Indratataka. Almost 50 years later, the temple East Mebon was constructed on an island in the center. The third and largest baray (8km x 2.2km) is the West Baray built in the early 11 th century, Unlike the other barays, the West Baray is still partially filled, creating good sized lake. The temple ruins of West Mebon sit on an artificial island at the center of the baray (requiring a short boat ride to visit.) The last baray (Jayatataka) was constructed by Jayavarman VII in the late 12 th century. It is considered to be the baray of Preah Khan though it is Neak Pean that actually sits at the center. The function of baray is a matter of academic debate. A recent study has argued that the barays did not serve an agricultural purpose but were built and maintained solely for political/religious reasons. Conventional wisdom has it that the barays were part of a giant water works used to irrigate the rice paddies and provide water for year round cultivation, though they certainly served a political and religious function as well.
In Siem Reap, after returning from the temple tours in the evening, many tourists are taken to the Pub Street to take advantage of the happy hour deals or a good meal. The street is so named because it is lined end to end on both sides by pubs, restaurants and shops. The street is closed to traffic in the evening; allowing pedestrians to stroll about freely. The street comes alive when the bars crank up the music and join the restaurants to spill their seats out onto the curbs. On this street, one can find bars and restaurants serving drinks and food of almost all culture and flavors. Here too are a few fine galleries for the discerning to enjoy.
Wat Athvea Temple
Though lacking carvings, this laterite and sandstone temple is still in relatively good condition. It bears no inscriptions to allow precise dating but seems to have been constructed employing Angkor Wat architectural style, which is particularly apparent in the towers, suggestive of late 11th century construction. This temple seems to have been left unfinished as evidenced in part by the lack of carvings. Some of the apsara carvings were abandoned half finished. It is next to an active wat of the same name. Because it is well outside the regular temple complex, it is relatively untouristed. Located 7km south of town, 200m off the main road from town to the Tonle Sap. Look for a white concrete arch/sigh at the turnoff to the wat. For a countryside sunset. Follow the dirt road for a kilometer or two past the wat. Palm trees and small huts lining the road open to rice paddies and Phnom Krom on the horizon.
The temple complex at Koh Ker, northeast of Siem Reap, represents the remnants of the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928 AD. – 944 A.D. – a very unique period in the Age of Angkor. From the time the Khmer capital was first moved to the Angkor area in the late 9 th century, it would remain there for almost 500 years, with one brief interruption. Just a few decades after the establishment at Angkor there was a disruption in the royal succession for reasons that remain a matter of academic debate. What is known is that in 928 A.D. King Jayavarman IV, possibly a usurper to the throne, created a new capital 100km away at Koh Ker, either moving the capital city from Angkor or creating a rival capital. Obviously a king of much wealth and power, he raised an impressive royal city at Koh Ker of Brahmanic monuments, temples and prasats, surrounding a huge baray (reservoir) Rahal. Jayavarman IV reigned at Koh Ker for 20 years before he died in 941 A.D. His son Hashavarman II would remain at Koh Ker for another 3 years before returning the capital to the Angkor area. The monuments of Koh Ker are now on a road loop around the baray past the most importants temples. The premier ruin of the complex is Prasat Thom, an imposing 7-tiered pyramid and temple complex. (Best photographed in the morning and offering a bird’s eye view from the top.) As you round the loop, there are several nicely preserved ruins sit just off the road., impressive prasats and small temple complexes. There are lingas still in place in some monuments such as Prasat Balang and Prasat Thneng. For the enthusiast, there are also dozens of other, more remote ruins in the area. A good guide can be most helpful at Koh Ker. A trip to Koh Ker takes the better part of a day out of Siem Reap and is usually combined with a visit to Beng Melea. To get there take Route #6 east from Siem Reap to Damdek. Turn north and follow the sign. Part of the way is a toll road. Check road conditions before leaving Siem Reap, especially in the wet season. $10 entrance fee to Koh ker.
Prea Khan of Kompong Svay Temple
A jungle temple of many names: Preah Khan of Kampong Svay, Preah Khan of Kampong Thom and Prasat Bakan. Preah Khan is a massive monastic complex enclosing near five square kilometers, originally constructed under Suryavarman I but receiving addition and modification by later kings. Most of the carvings have been looted or removed including a bust of Jayavarman VII which has become and iconic image and much reproduced. Located about 100 km east of Beng Melea this temple is difficult to reach by road. Requiring the better part of a day to get there, but only adding to its ‘magical’ atmosphere.