Siem Reap is the gateway to the remarkable temples of Angkor. These incredible temples, which are scattered throughout the forest and across the countryside, really do have to be seen to be believed. However there is also plenty to see and do beyond the temples, such as boat trips on Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, or cooking classes in rural villages.
The highlight of any visit to Siem Reap is of course to see the amazing temples of Angkor. There are many temples with varying designs and locations, meaning there is always something new to explore, even if you return to Siem Reap many times. The most famous temple is Angkor Wat, which is the largest religious building in the world. The Angkor Empire, also known as the Khmer Empire, lasted from the 9th to the 15th century, with the majestic Angkor Wat being constructed during the 12th century.
Another well-known temple is Ta Prohm, often referred to as the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ as it featured in the Angelina Jolie film in 2001. Whilst the temple is impressive, what makes it so special is the extraordinary way nature has reclaimed the site. Huge trees sit on top of many of the buildings, with their roots twining through the ruins and framing mysterious doorways. The affect is wonderfully atmospheric.
The third popular temple is the Bayon in the Angkor Thom complex. Whilst from distance, this temple may not seem as dramatic as Angkor Wat, or as mysterious at Ta Prohm, once you get up close, its incredible intricacy and design are revealed. 54 towers are adorned with 216 huge faces, creating an affect that is both awe-inspiring, and a little disconcerting! There are also extensive bas-reliefs which feature over 11,000 figures.
Beyond these three temples, there are many more to visit, including a few which are further afield, such as the beautiful Bantay Srei which is around 25 kilometres from the main temple site. For those who want to get off the beaten track, there are a number of temples hidden away, such as Beng Mealea, which is reached by a trek through the forest, and visitors will need to clamber over vines and traverse roof tops to fully explore the ruins.
Like the temples of Angkor, Tonle Sap Lake is UNESCO protected. The lake is close to Siem Reap, and home to a number of floating villages. Tonle Sap is connected to the Mekong, and the flow of water changes twice a year, flowing out to the river between November and May, and filling up from the river from June to October. This does mean much of the lake is not accessible in the dry season from November to May due to low water levels.
The town of Siem Reap is a traveller’s delight, with fantastic restaurants, a fun atmosphere, and some great options for accommodation.