Siem Reap, a former outpost of a pariah state run by the bloody Khmer Rouge, has risen admirably into an international tourist destination, one that boasts the status of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and host to one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. Only twenty years ago, the region was still off limits to tourists, its local denizens ruled over by terror and fear of the atrocities of one of the bloodiest regime in the world.
Now, Siem Reap is a booming city alongside the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat, seeing almost a million international passengers coming and going at its international airport in 2007. While Angkor Wat remains the top drawing factor of the area, the city of Siem Reap itself is not lacking in attractions, boasting some of the best hotels, restaurants, museums and galleries in the region.
Photo credits - tylerdurden1
Awe Inspiring Angkor Wat
The Angkor Wat is the biggest, best preserved, most intricately designed and awe inspiring temple in Indochina, a jewel in the crown of ANgkor’s extensive palace complex. It is a source of national pride and international renown, covered with beautiful bas relief carvings depicting the Ramayana epic of Hinduism. Like most temples in Asia, it is best seen at the crack of dawn or during sunset, when the colorful sun-lit sky accentuates the five towers for an exquisite scene.
Photo credits - Taiger808
The Number Nine
To know Asia is to understand the continent’s superstitions, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the massive Angkor Thom, a temple fixated with the number nine. The pronouncement for “nine” is similar to the word for “development”, and almost everything on the temple can equate to this number – 54 carved towers, 216 faces on the towers, 54 gods on the left of the entrance, and 54 demons on the right – all those numbers adding up to 9.
Photo credits - cornstaruk
One of Angkor’s best known temples is Ta Prohm, a picturesque temple boasting hundred-year-old giant roots that thread themselves around the temple. This made it a very photogenic subject, and one that is a big hit with the tourists. Bayon is known as the “Temple of Faces”, and once you’ve been there you’ll easily know why – as you climb the steep stone steps and make you way into the inner sanctum of the temple, looking up you are struck by the hundreds of large stone faces looking down upon you. There is also the Banteay Srei, a temple filled with awe-inspiring elaborate carvings covering every single inch of stone there. Even with today’s technology it is almost unbelievable that such precise and intricate patterns and sculpture can be made from stone.
Photo credits - jimdavidson
Around 50 km north east of Siem Reap is the River of Thousand Lingas, an impressive river streaming into the Siem Reap River along its riverbed, which had been carved with thousands of lingas – phallic symbols prevalent in Cambodia. They are estimated to have been carved between 1100 to 1300 as a form of fertility ritual, and made for a perfect place to enjoy Siem Reap’s tropical beauty.
Photo credits - Allie_Caulfield
Siem Reap boasts not only one of the world’s most famous archeological sites, but also one of Southeast Asia’s biggets and most colorful lake. Tonle Sap is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a marine wildlife reserve that has some of the world’s rarest birds and at the same time is the only river in the world whose flow of water changes twice a year.
Photo credits - Mai…
The fine arts scene in Siem Reap is burgeoning, you can find anything from cheap souvenirs to luxurious fine-arts. Some of the highlights for the arts lovers include: The McDermott Gallery, where world-class photography of Angkor and its surrounding region are on display; The Red Gallery, where the most extensive collection of contemporary Cambodian art is hosted; and The Asia Craft Center, which stocks lots of unique Cambodian and Southeast Asian traditional handicrafts.
Photo credits - Travel Aficionado
Siem Reap has a whole host of colonial buildings left by the French which are now put to pretty good use. Set among lazy boulevards, the architecture is now home to some of the best hotels, restaurants and galleries, such as the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor, the city’s first ever luxury hotels established in 1932. The proud hotel boasts an array of VIP guests, including King Norodom Sihanouk, Charlie Chaplin, the Sultan of Johor and even Jacqueline Kennedy.
Like this list? You may also enjoy our list of Things To Do in Hong Kong and Top Attractions in Hokkaido. On a final note, do check out as well our latest feature – the magazine. Check it out online or download a PDF copy!
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About the Author. Trangh Nguyen. Come to Vietnam, enjoy a cup of bia hoi in the street restaurant, ride moto, cruise in the labirynth of Mekong Delta and Halong Bay. Come with us and share the delight of one of the most beautiful country in Asia. We welcome you with our heart, hospitality and excellent cuisine.
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