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talesofasia guide to the provinces of Cambodia


Siem Reap

updated February 2006

A town, a rural province, and some temples. Well, a lot of temples. Okay, Angkor Wat. The temples - that's why you're here, but as you'll hopefully find out, there is more to do than just look at temples and if you're like a lot of tourists, you're looking for something else to do, anyway.

Siem Reap is accessible by road from everywhere, by air - international and domestic, and by boat from Battambang and Phnom Penh.

See my FAQ-transportation page for information on getting to and from Siem Reap by any means and more importantly, see my Cambodia-Overland page for information on getting to and from Siem Reap and Thailand.

For comprehensive Siem Reap informatiom see the talesofasia Guide to Siem Reap and Angkor.

The province is bordered by, clockwise from the north, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear, Kompong Thom, the Tonle Sap Lake, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey.

Guesthouse - Siem Reap

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See the bottom of the page for additional information sources on Siem Reap.

Angkor Archaeological Park
Siem Reap (town)
Chong Khneas
Prek Toal
Kompong Phluk
Kompong Khleang
Moat Kla
Kompong Kdei
Beng Mealea
Phnom Kulen
Kbal Spean
Svay Chek

Angkor Archaelogical Park
These are where the temples are. Many books have been written on them. Start with the Canby website for specific details on visiting them and see my monthly columns, Cambodia Update, for current news on the goings on around the temples. Also see the Siem Reap Guide to learn about who takes care of the temples and where your admission dollars go.

Siem Reap (town)
This is where you'll stay, eat, drink, and shop. It's a small town devoted almost entirely to serving tourism and is experiencing a few growing pains as it does. As with the temples see the Canby website for specific details on Siem Reap and see my monthly columns, Cambodia Update, for current news on the goings on in and around Siem Reap.

Other than the temples, there is the privately-run land mine museum (click for details), the military's war museum (three dollars and be sure to bring a sense of humor), artisan shops, a crocodile farm, and more.

Chong Khneas
Okay, now I can start providing real information instead of pushing you somewhere else. This is the Vietnamese floating village at the foot of Phnom Krom and the water gateway to Siem Reap. If you take a boat to or from Phnom Penh or Battambang it's here you will arrive or depart. If it's the only village you can see, then it will have to do, but I think it's an over-priced tourist trap with the local police taking the lion's share of the money and the residents either sneering at you or trying to sell you something. Though more expensive, if at all possible visit one of the other lakeside villages listed below. If you do end up in Chong Khneas at least give the Gecko Environment Centre a look if for anything, to learn a bit about the ecology of the great lake.

Prek Toal
This is the bird sanctuary about an hour west of Chong Khneas. The time to come is during the dry season. Getting here will set you back about $100. Inquire in Chong Khneas or see the Canby guide when you get to Siem Reap. I have not yet been here.

Kompong Phluk
About 25 kilometers east of Chong Khneas, here's a much better option for visiting a village on the lake. Kompong Phluk is a permanent village opposed to floating and is accessible by boat only. I have an extensive write-up (click to read) from my October 2000 visit, my first of several, that will tell you more about the village and the flooded forest. There are a number of ways of getting here. You can go either through the corrupt police-controlled boat operation in Chong Khneas or try to arrange a private trip through your guesthouse or driver, but be sure the person taking you there actually knows the village as this can make a big difference in your level of enjoyment. To avoid the police controls have your driver take you by way of Roluos Market and not Chong Khneas, if he can't or won't do this, find another driver. Trips to Kompong Phluk start at around $35-40 and go up from there depending on number of people and quality of the trip. Two Dragons Guesthouse can arrange private half-day trips to this village for around $50 for two people. Peace of Angkor and Garden Village guesthouses also can arrange decent trips here.

Kompong Khleang
The next Tonle Sap town east of Kompong Phluk, this place is huge, the largest on the lake, actually. A permanent town, it's accessible by water and by land. The view coming in from the lake, especially when the lake is down in the dry season and the hundreds of houses and other buildings are soaring several meters above the water is nothing short of spectacular!

There are no established guide services in Kompong Khleang, but once you get here it shouldn't be too hard to find someone willing to take you out in a boat for an hour or two for a fair price. Ask around. To get here on your own, head east on Highway 6 towards Phnom Penh, go about 35 kilometers to the village of Damdek - you'll know your here when you see a large market to your left along with the remnants of a billboard. Pass the market and the billboard and turn right. Follow a not very good road until you reach the town. Towards the end of wet seasom it usually becomes necessary to switch to a boat for the final two kilometers or so.

Alternatively, ask around in Siem Reap. The guesthouses listed above under Kompong Phluk, Two Dragons, Peace of Angkor, and Garden Village can all get you here in proper fashion, usually combined with a trip to Kompong Phluk.

Moat Kla
This is the last village in the province on the southeastern end of the lake. It's several hours by boat from Siem Reap and impossible to reach by land. It's a floating village and predominantly Vietnamese. There are some nice forests and inland waterways including a small lake (compared to the Tonle Sap). Getting here will take a bit of money.

There is nothing here in this village some 35 kms southeast of Siem Reap on Higwhay 6 but a bustling market and the remnants of a billboard. But these are important landmarks so you'll know where to turn if you're going to Kompong Khleang or Beng Mealea. Kompong Khleang is a right turn after the remnants of a billboard and market, Beng Mealea is a left turn immediately at the end of the market and below the remnants of a billboard. The ride north from here to Beng Mealea is a beautiful ride, especially in the rainy season as sugar palms soar overheard on both sides of the road, and lush vegetation surrounds the villages. Do enjoy as you make your way up to Beng Mealea.

Kompong Kdei
A small village on Highway 6 near the Kompong Thom province border. The only thing here is an ancient Angkorian-era bridge that is still used today as part of the highway. Restoration work is about to begin. You can make a left turn at this village and travel about 50 kilometers on a fast new road to the village of Khvau. Once in Khvau you can follow positively wretched roads east to Preah Khan, north to Koh Ker, and west to Beng Mealea. When Preah Vihear province is sorted out Khvau will be some little crossroads village.

Beng Mealea
A few years back this Angkor Wat-sized temple was seen by hardly anyone. However, by 2001 mines were cleared, roads were built, and now Beng Mealea temple entertains a handful of tourists each day. Beng Mealea takes the Ta Prohm experience to new heights. There is a $5 admission fee. Beautiful ride through the country getting here. Accessible from Damdek or by a road that follows along the base of Phnom Kulen which will connect with the road between the Angkor Park and Banteay Srei.

You can do this in a half day. My recommendation is to devote a full day and include Kbal Spean and Banteay Srei. Come here first by way of Damdek, when finished, head west (back the way you came) and then shortly after the road turns south, make a right turn. This is the road that follows the base of Phnom Kulen. When you get to the junction, it's a right for Phnom Kulen, straight for Kbal Spean, and a left turn for Siem Reap.

Phnom Kulen
This sacred mountain, some 40 kilometers from Siem Reap is a major pilgrimage site for Cambodians, not only for its religious significance, but the waterfalls and picnic grounds make for a great way to spend a Sunday.

Not so many foreigners come here largely in part due to the $20 admission charge levied on anyone not Khmer, as the road to the top of the mountain was built with private funds. The man behind it is Sieng Nam, the CPP MP for Siem Reap province. Head to the City Angkor Hotel (he owns it) and you can get an entrance ticket for $15. My personal assessment is that this place is not worth much more than about $3.

I visited once in March 2000 and was not overly impressed and have not been back since. However, beyond the main tourist area there are a number of small temples buried in the jungle. Andy Brouwer has explored this mountain rather thoroughly and his report may be read here http://cambodia.e-files.dk/2002.html.

Kbal Spean
Kbal Spean is the River of a Thousand Lingas. Once way off the beaten track, this too, is now a regular part of the tourist loop, so much so that they now require visitors to hold an Angkor pass (the ticket you need to see all the temples) to visit this attraction about 15 kilometers north of Banteay Srei. Once here, it's a relatively easy 45-minute walk up the hill to the riverbed carvings, which are now all roped off. If you have the time, do come here. Worth combining with a trip to Beng Mealea as you can do both in a day and spend a lot of time seeing the countryside, some of it quite remote, most notably between here and Beng Mealea.

Svay Chek
Good luck finding this on any map. This is a small village about 15, maybe 20 kilometers northwest of the Angkor Archaeological Park. There are a number of insignificant temples in the area that are quite a bit of a challenge to visit but for hardcore temple enthusiasts, it's another chance to relive the past when people still made discoveries (though that opportunity will in some ways return as the Koh Ker area in Preah Vihear province becomes more accessible). I went through here in March 2000 and you can read the report here. Andy Brouwer followed later and here's his report: http://cambodia.e-files.dk/2001.html.

Head west on Highway 6 to Poipet and halfway to Sisophon is the village of Kralanh, on the Banteay Meanchey - Siem Reap border. Many towns and villages in Cambodia are famous for one thing or another - marble, spiders, furniture making, whatever. Kralanh has a unique distinction - it's Cambodia's toilet capital. About four years ago, somebody there got the idea to build a block of clean toilets, advertising this fact with a large sign in English, Thai, and Khmer. The plan worked as numerous taxis, buses, trucks, etc., pulled up with weary travelers pouring out en masse paying the happy toilet owners 500 riels for the privilege of using these clean facilities. So what happened? Cambodians being the great imitators they are, all the neighbors began building their own rest facilities and at one point there were about ten of these toilet blocks and "Clean Toilet" signs all over town. But laws of diminishing returns set in and where there were once many, now there are only two. It was fun while it lasted.

Additional information on Siem Reap:

For detailed information on Siem Reap see the talesofasia guide to Siem Reap and Angkor.

One website worth checking out is the Angkor Guide at: http://www.theangkorguide.com. In 1944 Maurice Glaize published the Angkor Guide which at the time stood as the definitive guide to the Angkor temples. Sixty years later this book remains a relevant resource item and is available in its entirety online. No doubt one might think, well, what use is a 1944 guidebook? Especially in a country like Cambodia? Political situations certainly haven't remained constant, temples are destroyed, research brings in new interpretations, practical matters of travel changes, etc. All of this has been taken into consideration and where applicable, information has been amended to reflect relevant changes. And as the guide serves essentially as a descriptive work on the temples and not a practical guide for visiting the temples, e.g., how to get around, etc, much of the information is as useful today as it was in 1944.

All the guidebooks cover Siem Reap and the Angkor temples quite well. There is also Dawn Rooney's, Angkor - An Introduction to the Temples, published by Odyssey. This book is a thorough survey of all the major monuments and many smaller ones as well. Numerous coffee table style books on Angkor have been published as well.

Upon arrival in Siem Reap get a copy of the free The Siem Reap Visitor's Guide. Until then, visit their website for detailed information on hotels, restaurants, etc. Also worth getting is the Angkor Guide, much the same thing, it's another person's version of Siem Reap. They're both good publications, and more importantly, they're both free!

On this website, I have a Siem Reap page which provides information on the village of Kompong Phluk, the land mine museum, the Angkor ticket concession held by Sokimex, and some information about the Apsara Authority which control the temple monuments.

Also on this website, my monthly column, Cambodia Update, provides up to the minute news on Cambodia with emphasis on Siem Reap. All columns dating back to August 2001 are on line and most (I hope) are worth skimming through.

Andy Brouwer's websites (you can connect to the old site from the new site which is linked to here) has quite a bit of information about exploring some of the temples away from the Angkor Archaeological Park.

There are hundreds of sites out there from tour operators (mostly of questionable value) and just as many travelogue sites - some are quite interesting, others suck. Play around on Google for awhile and see what you find.

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