The laid-back, low-rise town of Siem Reap is the gateway to one of the most spectacular man-made sights on the planet: the sprawling, root-strangled ruins of Angkor.
If you’re considering a trip to Cambodia, the chances are there's one place you want to see more than anywhere else. Built by Cambodia’s “god kings” between the 9th and the 15th centuries, blending tenets of Hinduism and Buddhism to represent heaven on Earth, the temples of Angkor are the ultimate expression of creative vision and spiritual devotion.
Most visitors assume that you can whizz around Angkor in an afternoon and be done with it, but this was once the seat of the Khmer Empire and the biggest city in the world – it’s huge! Angkor Wat is the tip of the iceberg. The Archaeological Park covers a whopping 400 square kilometres and over a thousand different ruins from different periods of the Empire. You only need to step off the beaten path to find equally magnificent and yet deserted ruins, locked in a battle with the jungle where it’s impossible to tell who’s winning. It’s these atmospheric but overlooked temples that really stick with us.
The town of Siem Reap itself has been catapulted from provincial backwater to tourism hub over the past couple of decades, with streets full of lively backpacker bars, all manner of accommodation, and enough shows, tours and activities to keep you entertained indefinitely. It’s also the jumping-off point to visit Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, where you can kayak to stilt villages and spot black-headed ibis, painted storks, and spot-billed pelicans.
Hopefully this isn’t your only stop in Cambodia, but if it is, there’s enough here to keep you busy for days on end.