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.
Siem Reap Province
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 the 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 one-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. Having said that, park rangers, on occasion, will ask to inspect your Angkor Pass, so it is best to buy a proper ticket. Khmers are allowed in free of charge.
Angkor Temples Big Loop
There are two loops you can follow: the big loop and the small loop. 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. Forging ahead, you pass through the North Gate. Other temples on the big loop include Preah Khan and Ta Som. The path eventually cuts across the East Baray, past Pre Rup then back to Angkor Wat.
Angkor Temples Small Loop
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.
Additional hint, 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.
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.
The extraordinarily beautiful Banteay Srei is a tenth-century temple in the northern part of Siem Reap Province. Located about 30 kilometres northeast of Siem Reap you will need to hire a taxi or minibus 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.
After you visit Banteay Srei, head to Phnom Koulen which is about 50 kilometres northeast 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 reclining Buddha. 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.
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.
For many people, the Tonle Sap and its busy and grimy port of Chon Cheas is their introduction to Siem Reap Provence. 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 unique chance to see Cambodian life and wildlife along some of its waterways.
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 also 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-orange tea, ginger-red chilli, and pineapple-lime. The wine comes in hand-painted scarf-wrapped bottles.
Another way to see the Tonle Sap lake is to 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 alway try the famous rice wine that is produced and widely consumed in the Siem Reap Province.
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