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Siem Reap - The Major Tourist Hub in Cambodia

Introduction:
Siem Reap Angkor WatSiem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world famous temples of Angkor (the Angkor temple complex is north of the city).

The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia.

The name of the city literally means “defeated Siamese”, referring to the victory of the Khmer Empire over the army of the Thai kingdom in the 17th century.  

At the turn of the millennium Siem Reap was a Cambodian provincial town with few facilities, minor surfaced roads and little in the way of nightlife. Tourism industry catered largely to hardy backpackers willing to brave the tortuous road from the Thai border on the tailgate of a local pick-up truck. There were a couple of large hotels and a handful of budget guesthouses. Tuk-tuks and taxis were non-existent and the trusty motodup (motorbike-taxi) was the chosen means of touring the temples of Angkor.  

The proximity of the Angkorian ruins turned Siem Reap into a boomtown in less than half a decade. Huge, expensive hotels have sprung up everywhere and budget hotels have mushroomed. Property values have soared to European levels and tourism has become a vast, lucrative industry.

The Siem Reap of today is barely recognizable from the Siem Reap of the year 2000.   Though some of the town’s previous ramshackle charm may have been lost the developments of the last few years have brought livelihoods, if not significant wealth, to a good number of its citizens.

This has been at a cost to the underprivileged people living within and beyond the town’s limits that now pay inflated prices at the central markets and continue to survive on poorly paid subsistence farming and fishing. If Cambodia is a country of contrasts Siem Reap is the embodiment of those contrasts.

Despite the massive shift in its economic fortunes, Siem Reap remains a safe, friendly and pleasant town. There is an endless choice of places to stay or dine and a host of possible activities awaiting the visitor.

Geography:
Siem Reap province is 10,299 square kilometres big and definitely one of the most famous ones in Cambodia. It’s located in the Northwest of the country bordering to the North with Oddor Meanchey, to the East with Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom, to the West with Banteay Meanchey and to the South with the biggest sweet water reserve in Southeast Asia, the huge Tonle Sap Lake.

The province in general, especially in the Southern part consists of the typical plain wet area for Cambodia, covering lots of rice fields and other agricultural plantations. The northern part is turning into an undulating area covered with some deeper, green forests.

A quite distinguished mark of Siem Reap Province is the smaller, but important Siem Reap River. It rises from Phnom Kulen, meanders through the northern part of Siem Reap Province and eventually into the Tonle Sap Lake.

Population:
The current population in this province is about 903,030 people or 6.3% of the country’s total population (14,363,519 persons in Cambodia, 2007, provincial government data), with 440,395 males and 462,635 females. The population density is therefore 87.7 people per square kilometre.

Climate:
The country has a tropical climate - warm and humid. In the monsoon season, abundant rain allows for the cultivation of a wide variety of crops. This year-round tropical climate makes Cambodia ideal for developing tourism.

Travellers need not to fear natural disasters such as erupting volcanoes or earthquakes, and the country is not directly affected by tropical storms.   Cambodia can be visited throughout the year. However, those plans to travel extensively by road should be avoided the last two months of the rainy season when some countryside roads may be impassable.

The average temperature is about 27 degrees Celsius; the minimum temperature is about 16 degrees. December and January are the coolest months, whereas the hottest is April.  

General information about the provincial climate: 
- Cool season starts from November to March with the temperature of 20ºc-28ºc
- Hot season starts from March to May with the temperature of 30ºc -35ºc
- Rainy season starts from May to October with the temperature of 23ºc-30ºc and with humidity up to 90%.

Economy:
Generally spoken Siem Reap Province is all in all economically focusing on the foreign tourism due to the famous Angkor Temples. Since 2000, the economic growth rate is gaining double-digits. It’s all sub-sectors such as hotels, restaurants, bars, entertainment places and transportation to profit from the annual influx of tourists, which was in 2007 more than 1,000,000 people.  

Except the tourism sector, the provincial economy was and still is growing due to the enforced fishery. Thousands of tons are annually exported to other provinces within the country or outside Cambodia. Farming and fruit cropping has probably become a minor profitable sector, but is still done by the vast poor rural population, who are the underdogs regarding the annual provincial revenue.
 
How to get there:
The majority of visitors to Siem Reap arrive by air from Phnom Penh and Bangkok. There are also regular flights from Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane. See the airline list below. Visas are available on arrival at the Siem Reap and Phnom Penh airports.

From Phnom Penh, there are also daily boats and buses going to Siem Reap. Some visitors make their way to Siem Reap overland from Thailand via the Aranyaprathet/Poipet border crossing.  

Siem Reap:
Arrival and Departure Airport Departure and Arrival Tax: Domestic: US$6. International: US$25   Siem Reap Airport: 

The airport sits 6km from town, close to the temples, occasionally affording spectacular views of Angkor Wat during landings and take offs. Outside the terminal is a ticket booth for registered taxis into town.

Independent taxis and motorcycles wait just outside the airport. The price is the same for both: motorcycles are $1 and cars are $4-5 into town. Most hotels offer free transportation from the airport but you must notify them in advance of your arrival.  

Siem Reap Ferry Dock: 
The ferry to Siem Reap arrives at Chong Khneas near Phnom Krom, 12km south of Siem Reap. There is always transportation waiting at the dock. Motorbike-taxis charge about $1.50-$2 and cars $4-$5 for the 20-30 minute ride into town.  

Air: 
Siem Reap Airways offer several daily flights to/from Phnom Penh.   River Ferry: Daily ferries ply the Tonle Sap River and lake between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. The end of the trip is marked by a hill, Phnom Krom, near the ferry dock at Chong Khneas 12 km south of Siem Reap.

During the dry season, the ferry stops short of the dock and passengers transfer to smaller boats to traverse the final few hundred meters.  Ferries depart 7am daily from the Phnom Penh Port on Sisowath Quay. Ferries depart Siem Reap daily at 7am from the dock at Chong Khneas.

Passage is around $18-$25 and should be purchased a day in advance (251km, 4-6 hours). Drinks are sometimes available. Tickets can be purchased through hotels and travel agencies cheaper than at the ferry offices.
Though generally safe, these ferries are ‘local transport’ and have experienced breakdowns, groundings and other difficulties.

Travel is best during the wet season (June-November). Dry season low waters can mean smaller, less comfortable boats and occasional groundings.   Compagnie Fluevial Du Mekong offers very leisurely paced boat trips between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap on a traditionally crafted wooden riverboat with deluxe facilities.

It is a 3-day excursion. Tel: 023-216070; www.cfmekong.com   

Buses: 
Several guesthouses, travel agencies and bus companies offer daily bus transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
It is a smooth 314 km, 5-7 hour trip. The bus makes usually two stops along the way (at Skun and Kampong Thom).

All charge the same, $3.50 (14,000R) one-way. The earliest buses depart starting at 6:30am and the last buses between noon and 1pm.  

Neak Krorhorm Bus: Phnom Penh office at the corner of Street 110 and Sisowath Quay. Siem Reap office is opposite the Old Market.  

GST: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market).  

Phnom Penh Public Transport Co.: Phnom Penh bus station near the southwest corner of Phsar Thmey (Central Market).   

Shared Taxis: Local shared taxis depart from southwest corner of Central Market in Phnom Penh for 25,000 riel per person (5-8 hours). A private taxi costs you US$38-$45 for the whole car. 5-6 hours. (Due to rising fuel costs, prices are in flux.)   

Motorbike Info to Siem Reap: 
The road to Siem Reap is in good condition, but driving in Cambodia is still challenging in the extreme, and should be attempted only by experienced riders. Speeding taxis, slow cows, and oblivious children are the norm. The trip calls for a dirt or road bike, no smaller than 250cc.

It can be made in a day, but two days with a layover in Kampong Thom is a more relaxed alternative and allows time to visit the pre-Angkorian ruins of Sambor Prei Kuk.  

Leave Phnom Penh via the ‘Japanese Bridge’ and follow National Highway No 6 north 75km to the Skun intersection. (Skun is known for its exotic foods - check out the fried spiders, turtle eggs and more at the roadside stands.)

Bear left and follow the National Highway No 6 to Kampong Thom - about 2-3 hours. In Kampong Thom, the Arunras Hotel (062-961294), Stung Sen Royal Hotel (012-309495) and Mittapheap Hotel are all decent mid-range places.

Arunras Guesthouses and Restaurant next to the hotel is the place to eat cheaply. From Kampong Thom to Siem Reap the trip takes another 2-3 hours.

Angkor Wat
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Angkor Zoo
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Phnom Krom Hilltop Temple
This is the big hill that you see near the landing if you head to Siem Reap by bullet boat. The hilltop area...
The Great Lake Tonle Sap & Floating Fishing
Continuing about ten minutes beyond the hilltop temple, on the same road that you took from Siem Reap, are a land...
Phnom Koulen (or Koolen) National Park
Phnom Koulen sits on a southerly extension of the Dangrek Mountains. The hill, combined with those around it,...
Civil War Museum
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Crocodile Farm
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River & Park Area
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Khmer Classical Dancing
The Hotel Grande de Angkor has a restaurant and stage near the river that features nightly performances of the...
Bakorng Temple
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Baksei Chamkrong
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Banteay Kdei
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Banteay Srey Temple
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Bapuon Temple
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East Mebon
It is also built in the 10th Century by Rajendravarman and this temple was situated on a small island in the...
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