Siem Reap

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For the province with the same name, see Siem Reap Province.
Siem Reap
Siem Reap, town and river
Siem Reap, town and river
Nickname(s): Great Gate to Angkor
Siem Reap is located in Cambodia
Siem Reap
Siem Reap
Location of Siem Reap, Cambodia
Coordinates: 13°21′44″N 103°51′35″E / 13.36222°N 103.85972°E / 13.36222; 103.85972
Country  Cambodia
Province Siem Reap
Settled 802
Official 1907
 • District Chief & Governor Khim Bunsong (CPP)
 • Deputy Governor Kim Chay Hieng (CPP)
Elevation 18 m (59 ft)
Population (2008)[1]
 • Total 174,265
Time zone Cambodia (UTC+7)

Siem Reap (Khmer: ក្រុងសៀមរាប, pronounced [siəm riəp]; Thai: เสียมราฐ) is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, and a popular resort town as the gateway to Angkor region.

Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are museums, traditional Apsara dance performances, a Cambodian cultural village, souvenir and handycraft shops, silk farms, rice-paddies in the countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake.

Siem Reap today—being a popular tourist destination—has a large number of hotels, resorts, restaurants and businesses closely related to tourism. This is much owed to its proximity to the Angkor temples, the most popular tourist attraction in Cambodia.


Sisophon, Battambang & Angkor Wat received by King Sisowath, 1907

The name Siem Reap can be translated to mean 'Defeat of Siam' (Cambodians call Thailand Siam or "Siem"), and is commonly taken as a reference to an incident the centuries-old conflict between the Siamese and Khmer kingdoms, although this is probably apocryphal. According to oral tradition, King Ang Chan (1516–1566) had named the town "Siem Reap", meaning "the defeat of Siam", after he repulsed an army sent to invade Cambodia by the Thai King Maha Chakkraphat in 1549.[2] However, scholars consider this derivation to be simply a modern folk etymology, and maintain that the actual origin of the name is unknown.[3]

The traditional tale claims that King Ang Chan of Cambodia tried to assert greater independence from Siam, which was then going through internal struggles. The Siamese King Chairacha had been poisoned by his concubine, Lady Sri Sudachan, who had committed adultery with a commoner, Worawongsathirat, while the king was away leading a campaign against the Kingdom of Chiang Mai. Sudachan then placed her lover on the throne. The Thai nobility lured them outside the city on a royal procession by barge to inspect a newly discovered white elephant. After killing the usurper, along with Sudachan and their newly born daughter, they invited Prince Thianracha to leave the monkhood and assume the throne as King Maha Chakkraphat (1548–1569). With the Thais distracted by their internal problems, King Ang Chan decided the time was right to attack. He seized the Siamese city of Prachin Buri in 1549, sacking the city and making slaves of its inhabitants. Only then did he learn that the succession had been settled and that Maha Chakkkraphat was the new ruler. Ang Chan immediately retreated to Cambodia, taking his captives with him. King Maha Chakkraphat was furious over the unprovoked attack, but Burma had also chosen to invade through the Three Pagodas Pass. The Burmese army posed a much more serious threat, as it captured Kanchanaburi and Suphanburi. It then appeared before Ayutthaya itself.

Nightlife in Siem Reap

The Thai army managed to defeat the Burmese, who quickly retreated through the pass. Maha Chakkraphat's thoughts then turned to Cambodia. Not only had Ang Chan attacked and looted Prachin Buri, turning its people into slaves, but he also refused to give Maha Chakkraphat a white elephant he had requested, rejecting even this token of submission to Siam.[4] Maha Chakkraphat ordered Prince Ong, the governor of Sawankhalok, to lead an expedition to punish Ang Chan and recover the Thai captives. The rival armies met, and Ang Chan killed Prince Ong with a lucky musket shot from elephant back. The leaderless Thai army fled, and Ang Chan allegedly captured more than 10,000 Siamese soldiers. To celebrate his great victory, King Ang Chan supposedly named the battleground "Siem Reap", meaning "the total defeat of Siam".

Pub Street in Siem Reap

In reality, surviving historic sources make this folk tale appear very unlikely, since they date the decline of the Angkor kingdom to more than a century before this, when a military expedition from Ayutthaya captured and sacked Angkor Wat, which began a long period of vassal rule over Cambodia.[5] The 1431 capture coincided with the decline of Angkor, though the reasons behind its abandonment are not clear. They may have included environmental changes and failings in the Khmer infrastructure.[6]

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, infighting among the Khmer nobility led to periodic intervention and domination by both of Cambodia's more powerful neighbors, Vietnam and Siam. Siem Reap, along with Battambang (Phra Tabong) and Sisophon, major cities in the northwest of Cambodia, was under Siamese administration and the provinces were collectively known as Inner Cambodia from 1795 until 1907, when they were ceded to French Indochina. In fact, during the 18th century, under the rule of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, it was known as Nakhorn Siam (Siam's city), not as "Siam's Defeat".[7]

Re-discovery of Angkor[edit]

A part of Sivutha Blvd in the downtown area

Siem Reap was little more than a village when French explorers such as Henri Mouhot "re-discovered" Angkor in the 19th century. However, European visitors had visited the temple ruins much earlier, including António da Madalena in 1586".[8] In 1901, the École française d'Extrême-Orient (EFEO; French School of the Far East) began a long association with Angkor by funding an expedition into Siam to the Bayon. The EFEO took responsibility for clearing and restoring the whole site. In the same year, the first western tourists arrived in Angkor, a total of about 200 in just three months. Angkor had been 'rescued' from the jungle and was assuming its place in the modern world.

Grand Hotel d'Angkor was built in the mid 1920s.

With the acquisition of Angkor by the French in 1907 following a Franco-Siamese treaty, Siem Reap began to grow. The Grand Hotel d'Angkor opened in 1929 and the temples of Angkor became one of Asia's leading draws until the late 1960s. when civil war kept them away. In 1975, the population of Siem Reap, like all other Cambodian cities and towns, was driven into the countryside by the communist Khmer Rouge.

Siem Reap's recent history is coloured by the horror of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Since Pol Pot's death in 1998, however, relative stability and a rejuvenated tourist industry have revived the city and province.

Royal Residence, Siem Reap

Siem Reap serves as a small gateway town to the world heritage site of Angkor Wat. It is a vibrant town with modern hotels and restaurants, still managing to preserve much of its culture and traditions. Siem Reap ranked fourth in the World's Best Cities of Travel and Leisure survey in 2014.

The Wat and the river[edit]

A covered pedestrian bridge over the Siem Reap River, next to the Old Market in Siem Reap

The Town is a cluster of small villages along the Siem Reap River. These villages were originally developed around Buddhist pagodas (Wat) which are almost evenly spaced along the river from Wat Preah En Kau Sei in the north to Wat Phnom Krom in the south, where the Siem Reap River meets the great Tonle Sap Lake.

The main town is concentrated around Sivutha Street and the Psar Chas area (Old Market area) where there are old colonial buildings, shopping and commercial districts. The Wat Bo area is now full of guesthouses and restaurants while the Psar Leu area is often crowded with jewellery and handicraft shops, selling such items as rubies and woodcarving. Other fast developing areas are the airport road and main road to Angkor where a number of large hotels and resorts can be found.


Businesses centered on tourism have flourished due to the tourism boom. There is a wide range of hotels, ranging from several 5-star hotels and chic resorts to hundreds of budget guesthouses. Plenty of shopping opportunities exist around the Psar Chas area while the nightlife is often vibrant with a number of western-styled pubs and bars.

Most tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, (about 6 km north of the city), and other Angkor ruins.

The Gecko Environment Center is a floating environment center located in the province of Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap Lake. The goal of the center is to promote environmental awareness among the local community as well as visitors to the great lake.[9] The province of Siem Reap is part of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve.ot

There are also a large number of NGOs and other not-for profits that operate in and around Siem Reap, and play a vital role in the economy, as well as helping to develop it for the future. Thousands of expatriates call the city home and also significantly impact the economy.


Buddhist monks in front of Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat[edit]

Main article: Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat (Wat temple) is the central feature of the Angkor UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the magnificent remains of the Khmer civilization. Angkor Wat's rising series of five towers culminates in an impressive central tower that symbolizes mythical Mount Meru. Thousands of feet of wall space are covered with intricate carving depicting scenes from Hindu mythology.

Angkor Thom[edit]

The towers of Bayon in Angkor Thom
Main article: Angkor Thom

This magnificent inner royal city was built by the end of the 12th century and is renowned for its temples, in particular the Bayon. Other notable sites are Baphuon, Phimeanakas, The Terrace of the Elephants and The Terrace of the Leper King. The city can be accessed through 5 city gates, one on each cardinal point and the Victory Gate on the eastern wall.

Other temples[edit]

A number of significant temples are dotted around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom within the Angkor Archaeological Park, including Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, Banteay Kdei, Phnom Bakheng, Ta Keo, Ta Som, East Mebon, Pre Rup and Neak Pean. These temples may be visited along the grand circuit or the small circuit routes.[10] Other sites are the Roluos group of temples located to the east of Siem Reap.

The Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center[edit]

The Landmine Museum offers tourists and Cambodians the chance to see (safe) landmines up close, understand how they work, and what they can do to help rid Cambodia and the world of their continuing threat. It is located approximately 25 km north of Siem Reap (30 minutes by tuk tuk), just 7km south of the Banteay Srey Temple complex in Angkor National Park. On the way to the museum there are quaint countryside villages, rice paddies and wide views of of locals working their fields, as well as local handicrafts "outside the hussle and bussle of town."[11] Some two dozen at-risk Khmer children are educated and live, along with staff, at the Relief Center located on the museum property. The organization has plans for building a farm behind the Center sometime in 2016. [12][13][14][15]

War Museum Cambodia[edit]

The War Museum Cambodia covers the last three decades of the 20th century when the Khmer Rouge was active in Cambodia. There is a vast array of vehicles, artillery, weaponry, landmines and equipment on display. The museum is making use of guides who are war veterans who fought for the Cambodian army, the Khmer Rouge or the Vietnamese army.

Angkor National Museum

Angkor National Museum[edit]

Opened on 12 November 2007, the Angkor National Museum offers visitors a better understanding of the area's archaeological treasures. The Golden Era of the Khmer Kingdom is presented, including the use of state-of-the-art multimedia technology. The museum covers Khmer history, civilization, and cultural heritage in eight galleries.[16]


A view of the Old Market (Psar Chas) in Siem Reap
Main article: Psah Chas

The Old Market or Psah Chas is located between Pub Street and the Siem Reap River, and offers a mixture of souvenirs for tourist and a variety of food produce and other items meant for the locals.[17]

Other markets in Siem Reap include the Angkor Night Market which is located off Sivutha Street,[18] Phsar Kandal (The Central Market) located at Sivutha Street which mainly caters to tourists, and Phsar Leu (The Upper Market) which is located further away along National Road 6 but is the biggest market of Siem Reap used by the locals.[19]

Craftsman at Artisans Angkor creating Buddha images in stone

Artisans Angkor[edit]

Main article: Artisans Angkor

Artisans Angkor is a semi-public company founded in 1992 which aims to revive traditional Khmer craftsmanship and provide employment for rural artisans. It is also associated with a silk farm where visitors may learn about sericulture and weaving.[20]

Cambodian Cultural Village[edit]

Opened on 24 September 2003, the Cambodian Cultural Village assembles all the miniatures of famous historical buildings and structures of Cambodia. There are 11 unique villages, which represent different culture heritages, local customs and characteristics of 21 multi races.

Notable sites near Siem Reap[edit]

Lingas curved into the riverbed of Kbal Spean.

A number of notable sites further away from Siem Reap are also accessible from the town.

Phnom Kulen[edit]

Main article: Phnom Kulen

The Phnom Kulen National Park is about 48 km from Siem Reap and contains a number of attractions such as its two waterfalls and the Kbal Spean's "river of 1000 lingas".

Floating Village of Kampong P'luk

Floating Villages[edit]

There are three floating villages around Siem Reap - Kompong Khleang, Kompong Phluk, Chong Kneas, with Kompong Khleang considered the most authentic.[21]

Tonlé Sap[edit]

Main article: Tonlé Sap

The Tonlé Sap, Khmer for "Vast Body of Fresh Water" and more commonly translated as "Great Lake" is a combined lake and river system of major importance to Cambodia. It is located in the heart of Cambodia about 30 minutes south of downtown Siem Reap and has many attractions.

Phnom Dei[edit]

Phnom Dei is a hill near Siem Reap.

Banteay Srei[edit]

Banteay Srei is a 10th-century temple located about 30 km northeast of Siem Reap. It is notable for its fine intricate decorative carvings on rose pink sandstone.[22]


According to the Köppen climate classification, Siem Reap features a tropical wet and dry climate. The city is generally hot throughout the course of the year, with average high temperatures never falling below 30 C in any month. Siem Reap has a relatively lengthy wet season which starts in April and ends in November. The dry season covers the remaining four months. The city averages approximately 1500 mm of rainfall per year.

Climate data for Siem Reap
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °C (°F) 32.0
Average low °C (°F) 19.7
Average precipitation mm (inches) 0.7
Source: [23]


The boat from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

The town is 7 km from the Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport (IATA code REP). Siem Reap is accessible by direct flights from many Asian cities, and by land from Phnom Penh and the Thai border. It’s also accessible by boat (via the Tonle Sap lake) and bus from Phnom Penh and Battambang. A new airport is planned 60 km from Siem Reap.[24]

It is possible to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap via Poipet. The road from Poipet to Siem Reap is newly paved and sealed as of 2013. If travelers take a taxi from Bangkok to Poipet and from Poipet to Siem Reap, it is possible to complete the whole journey in 6–10 hours, depending on border-crossing times. This journey is also possible by bus and minibus.

Sister cities[edit]


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  9. ^ "?". 
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  11. ^ Where we are located - Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center
  12. ^ Cambodia Landmine Museum and Relief Center
  13. ^ Land Mine Museum video by Al Brenner
  14. ^ Poem of the Land Mine Museum by Al Brenner, additional video footage of Museum
  15. ^ Reviews of Land Mine Museum at Tripadvisor
  16. ^ "Angkor National Museum website". Retrieved 2011-01-31. 
  17. ^ "Psar Chaa". Lonely Planet. 
  18. ^ "Angkor Night Market". Lonely Planet. 
  19. ^ "Local markets in Siem Reap". 
  20. ^ Walter E. Little (2011). Textile Economies: Power and Value from the Local to the Transnational. AltaMira Press. p. 207-208. ISBN 978-0759120617. 
  21. ^ "Siem Reap floating villages: What to expect and why we choose to go to Kompong Khleang". Triple Adventure Cambodia. 
  22. ^ Beverley Palmer. The Rough Guide to Cambodia. Rough Guides. p. 196. ISBN 978-1848368897. 
  23. ^ "Weather for Siem Reap". Retrieved 28 Feb 2008. 
  24. ^ "Cambodia eyes new airport for Siem Reap". Retrieved 2010-09-22. 
  25. ^ "?". 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 13°21′44″N 103°51′35″E / 13.36222°N 103.85972°E / 13.36222; 103.85972