Siem Reap - The Ancient World in Cambodia

To travellers all over the world, the temples of Angkor seem to be the most outstanding symbols in Siem Reap. However, this tourist hub is destined for more other great things which are worth being spent time on discovering and experiencing.


Siem Reap is well known as the gateway to Angkor region. According to the tales passed over time, Siem Reap literally means “Defeat of Siam”. It was named by King Ang Chan (1516-1566) as a way to celebrate his great victory after defeating the Siamese. However, in reality when Cambodia was under the rule of Ayutthaya Kingdom, Siem Reap was known as Nakhorn Siam (Siam’s city) not as “Defeat of Siam” in the traditional tales. Thus, the origin of the name Siem Reap seems to be unknown.

This vibrant destination is one of the biggest cities in Cambodia, which covers a total area of 10.299 square kilometers. It includes 12 districts, 100 communes and 875 villages with several luxury hotels, colonial buildings, silk farms, markets, delicious cuisine, the world-famous Angkor Complex, etc.

Things to Do and See in Siem Reap

It is obvious that the first “must-see” attraction in Siem Reap is the temples in Angkor Archaeological Park. This important site stretches over 400 km2 and includes dozens of temples, hydraulic structures from 9th to 15th century. The structure, myth and stories of the rise and fall of Khmer Empire seem to make the temples of Angkor more stunning and mysterious. Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are typical examples.

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Angkor Wat is considered one of the world’s greatest monuments. It was built by King Suryavarman II in the first half of the 12th century. Unlike other Kings, Suryavarman II built this temple to dedicate Vishnu instead of Siva. After the death of Suryavarman II, Angkor Wat gradually transformed to worship Buddism like it does nowadays. It was neglected a long time but thanks to a Western naturalist and explorer this temple s came back to its inherent position. Angkor Wat’s purpose is to worship Vishnu - an Indian God, however, it was built in Khmer style which reflected their belief “home of God is the cosmic world”. Five like-lotus towers, the outer wall and the moat represent the Mountain Meru and the ocean. Moreover, Angkor Wat also leaves strong impression on visitors by beautiful stone statues, sculptures of great charm, inside and outside the Wat as well as the nature around this temple. Thanks to its significant cultural value and its own beauty, Angkor has become a symbol of Cambodia and one of the ancient wonders in the world. Sunset is the good time to contemplate the beauty of this temple in a different way.

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Another impressive site is Angkor Thom, the largest site in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Angkor Thom meaning Big Angkor was constructed by Jayavarman VII after defeating the Cham invaders as the capital of his empire. The city lies on the bank of the Siem Reap River. The most notable temple in this city is Bayon temple which gains the fame for the faces with mysterious smile on the towers. Visitors can enter the city through one of the five huge entrance gates, four gates at cardinal points respectively and another gate called Victory Gate. Victory Gate which is far 500m from the north of the east gate is the entrance way to the Victory Square and the Royal Palace. Each gate was capped by face-towers and decorated by impressive sculptures on the both sides of the entrance.

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Besides contemplating the stunning temples, visitors can enjoy the culture value of Cambodia through the Apsara, a traditional art form. Apsara is a Khmer classical dance created by the Royall Ballet of Cambodia under the patronage of Queen Sisowath Kossamak. When Cambodia was under the reign of the Khmer Rouge, dancing was prohibited. Khmer Rouge almost destroyed all forms of Cambodian culture and art. They closed school and killed many dancers. However, thanks to a small number of people surviving from this slaughter, this dance is making a comeback. Unlike in the past, nowadays Apsara is performed both by men and women dressing the traditional costumes. Dancers will wear crown, sampot and flower and perform the charming movements to narrate classical myths or religious stories. This classical dancing will take you back to Angkorean era. You will find that it seems to show one part of Cambodia history somehow.

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If you overload with sightseeing, the nightlife hubs of the town such as Pub Street and Angkor Night Market are good options for you. Pub Street is full of bars, night clubs and the international restaurants. It opens throughout the day and late into the night. It’s the place where you can enjoy the modern life “inside the ancient world”.

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Just five-minute stroll from Pub Street, you can come to Night Angkor Market. This outdoor market has several things being available for you to choose. You can find the traditional Khmer handicrafts, silk painting, shadow puppets,etc, in this place. Moreover, you can have a chance to enjoy the bustling atmostphere, communicate with friendly people and enjoy local dishes as well as live music performances.

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