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Siem Reap Attractions & What to See – Cambodia Travel Blog

Posted by: Ms.Alex on 2015-09-05 09:50:08

An Oxcart in Siem Reap – Cambodia

In addition to the magnificent ancient temples of Angkor, there are many other interesting attractions in Siem Reap to see. The attractions available are and varied, and range from museums, to traditional Khmer dance, to visits to a silk farm. Many package tours to Cambodia include several of these attractions.

The descriptions here are provided to help you plan which attractions you would like to see during your visit. Please see the Activities Page for things to DO in Siem Reap.

MOST POPULAR ATTRACTIONS IN SIEM REAP

Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat Temple

Angkor Wat is the most famous ancient temple site in Cambodia, and visiting the ancient Angkorian temples is the reason most visitors come to Cambodia, and to Siem Reap. With its five lotus-like towers rising 65 meters into the sky, it is truly a monumental, and awe inspiring sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was at one time the largest pre-industrial city in the world, and is considered one of the ancient wonders of the world. Angkor Wat is the crown jewel of any visit to the temples of Angkor. The ruins of Angkor Wat are located in the Angkor Archaeological Park, and the entrance to the park is located about 3km north of modern-day Siem Reap. There are no hotels within the park grounds, and most visitors to the ancient temples stay in Siem Reap, using it as a base from which to make daily visits to the temples. The most significant temple ruins are found 6 to 25km north of town, with the closest major temple being Angkor Wat. The Roluos Group of temples are 13km east of Siem Reap.

It is best to arrange your tour of the Angkor Archaeological Park with a reputable tour agency and a knowledgeable tour guide. They can assist with purchasing the admission pass, and arrange the transportation you will need. There are also guidebooks available, which will help in understanding the history of the temples.

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre

Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre (BBC) is one of the most visited tourist spots in the country, with the largest butterfly exhibition in the Southeast Asia. A visit to Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre is a great way to take a short break from the temple tours and spend some time in spectacular surroundings filled with rare and vivid butterflies. Situated about 25km from Siem Reap, it is a project with a difference, as the centre also contributes to the welfare of the community by training local people to rear butterflies for sale locally exhibits as well as abroad. In other words, it has been primarily developed as a poverty mitigation project, and the revenues generated by way of admission fees and butterfly farming are used to employ impoverished people in Siem Reap’s remote villages. Most significantly, the centre and its activities render a livelihood to poor families without causing any species extinction or destruction to the natural habitat. In a way, the project itself is a nature-conserving initiative that educates people on the importance of raising income through the preservation of nature. The key highlight of Banteay Srey Butterfly Centre is its large netted enclosure with a variety of free-flying butterflies – most of which are indigenous to the country. It is truly a great experience to feed butterflies here and see them fluttering from one flower to another. Another interesting attraction is the pupae stage. Some of the species featured here are Atlas Moth, Blue Glassy Tiger, Dark Blue Tiger, Five-Barred Swordtail, Great Mormon, Gaudy Baron, Lime Butterfly, Orange Emigrant, Peacock Pansy, Red Helen and Tailed Jay.

Visitors can also obtain valuable information on other stages of butterfly metamorphosis. If you’re lucky enough, you may sometimes catch sight of a caterpillar morphing into a chrysalis (pupa). Above all, the BBC stands out for its stunning plant and floral varieties that include, but not limited to, multihued orchids and red ixora chinensis. So if you ever plan to take a tour to Siem Reap or Cambodia, this butterfly centre is definitely an attraction not to miss out on.

The BBC is on the way to Banteay Srey Temple in Siem Reap, and is located about three kilometers from the Landmine Museum. It is open throughout the week from 09:00 to 17:00, and admission fee is $4 for adults and $2 for kids. The staff members are friendly and knowledgeable people and clearly explain the centre’s colourful exhibits as well as the background and mission of the project.

• Tel: (+855) 0978 527 852

Bayon & Ta Prohm Temples

Ta Prohm Temples in Siem Reap – Cambodia

Aside from Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm and Bayon may be the best known and most photographed of the “other” temples. Ta Prohm is popular because of its lost temple in the jungle atmosphere, overgrown with trees and vines, and Bayon is famous for its huge enigmatic, carved stone faces.

The Bayon Temple is the dominant feature inside the walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm is not far outside the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom. Both are Buddhist temples, and were constructed by King Jayavarman VII; Bayon in the late 12th century, and Ta Prohm from the mid 12th century to the early 13th century. These two magnificent examples of Angkor temple architecture should not be missed. See below for details of these two ancient structures.

Bayon Temple

The two must see ancient Angkorian temples are Angkor Wat and Bayon. The huge enigmatic stone faces of Bayon have become some of the most iconic and recognizable features associated with the ancient Khmer Kingdom and its architecture. The Bayon Temple is at the centre of the great walled city of Angkor Thom, which is at the heart of the Angkor Archeological Park. Bayon has some 50 towers, with four huge carved faces on most of them. Each of the four faces are four metres high and oriented toward the four points of the compass. The faces all have the same strange smile and closed eyes, creating a mysterious and serene countenance, representing an all-knowing state of inner peace, and perhaps a state of Nirvana. There is debate as to who the faces actually represent, and some theories put forward say that they are the face of a Bodhisattva (Buddhism’s compassionate and enlightened being), or a combination of Buddha and Jayavarman VII. Bayon was constructed as Jayavarman VII’s state-temple, and it represents the height of his massive building program. Bayon is rich in decoration, and the bas-reliefs on the exterior walls of the lower level and on the upper level are outstanding. The bas-reliefs on the southern wall are of scenes from a sea battle between the Khmer and the Cham. However, it is not known if they represent the Cham invasion of 1177AD, or a later victorious battle for the Khmer. There are also interesting and extensive carvings of scenes from everyday life, including market scenes, religious rituals, cockfighting, chess games and childbirth. Of note are the unfinished carvings on some walls, which were probably not finished due to the death of Jayavarman VII. Subsequently, Bayon underwent several additions and modifications under later kings, and some of the bas-reliefs on the inner walls were carved at a later date under the Hindu king Jayavarman VIII. The terrace to the east of the temple, the libraries, the square corners of the inner gallery, and parts of the upper terrace appear to be additions that were not part of the original structure.

Since the Bayon Temple was constructed in stages over a span of many years, it appears to be somewhat of an architectural jumble. When seen from a distance, at first it can seem like a rather formless jumble of stone, but on the inside, there is a maze of galleries, towers and passageways on the three different levels. The best time for photographs is when the sun is rather low near sunrise and sunset.

Bayon Temple in Siem Reap – Cambodia

• Location: Central Angkor Thom. • Construction Period: Late 12th century C.E. • Religion: Buddhist. • Built by: King Jayavarman VII.

• Building style: Bayon.

Ta Prohm Temple

The temples of Angkor Wat and the walled city of Angkor Thom are perhaps the most famous and best known of all the ancient temple sites. To the east of Angkor Thom is the third most important, and one of the most photographed of all the ancient temples due to its dramatic scenery. Ta Prohm is a quiet, and sprawling monastery, and unlike most other sites, it has only been partially cleared of overgrowth, and has been intentionally left more or less the way it was originally found. Some walls and doorways of the ancient structure were left overgrown and gripped by huge trees and other foliage. Flocks of parrots in the trees add to the atmosphere, and give the visitor the feeling of discovering a temple lost in the jungle. With this image in mind, it is not hard to imagine what the French naturalist Henri Mouhot must have felt when he ‘discovered’ the temple in 1860. The monastery was one of King Jayavarman VII’s first major temple projects, and was dedicated to his mother. It is estimated that at one time this vast 600-room monastery and the surrounding area had a population of over 70,000 people. The temple is 145 metres by 125 metres, It was home to high priests, monks, assistants, dancers and laborers, and was very wealthy with great stores of jewels and gold, and controlled an estimated 3,000 villages. It contains a maze of courtyards and galleries, and is well worth spending some time to explore its many dark corridors. Ta Prohm was used in both the movie and game of ‘Tomb Raider’, and has some of the best temple-in-the-jungle photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is similar in general design to the temples of Preah Khan and Banteay Kdei, which were also built by Jayavarman VII at a later date. Preah Khan was dedicated to Jayavarman VII’s father. Ta Prohm is an excellent example of the monastic complex style temples, and is a must to be included in any visit to the temples. • Location: One km east of Angkor Thom. • Construction Period: Mid 12th – Early 13th century C.E. • Religion: Buddhist. • Built by: King Jayavarman VII. • Building Style: Bayon.

• Best Time to Visit: Early morning when it is not as crowded.

Cambodia Landmine Museum

Cambodia Landmine Museum in Siem Reap

During Cambodia’s three-decade-long conflict, approximately six million landmines were planted in the nation, and the Landmine Museum represents an agonizing window into the realism of the country’s landmine situation. This museum was founded in 1997 by Aki Ra, with the prime objective to make the country safe through the removal of mines from wherever he could find them. Aki Ra was forced to work as a mine layer by the Khmer Rouge, planting landmines from an age as young as five. Later, as part of the United Nation’s endeavor to restore peace in the country during the 1990s, Aki Ra got the opportunity to work as a de-miner. Though the UN left the country in 1994, he continued the mission in his own way, even though it was not according to international demining standards. Initially, Aki Ra turned his own home located on the outskirts of the Siem Reap into a museum displaying decommissioned bombs, landmines and other explosive weapons that he had unearthed since 1995. In 2001, a Canadian photojournalist Richard Fitoussi founded the Cambodia Landmine Museum Relief Fund (CLMMRF) in Canada to promote as well as raise funds for Aki Ra’s work. From legal and monetary support to providing an NGO license for the museum’s relief facility that serve as a safe residence for disadvantaged children, the CLMMRF became instrumental in realising most of his goals. He also was able to find a better venue for the museum that was officially opened on April 22, 2007. After Angkor Wat, the Landmine Museum is the most popular attraction in Cambodia. The key highlight of the museum is its four galleries with a vast assortment of deactivated arms that not only throw light on the landmine curse in the country but also the consequences of wars. The displays include hidden mines, mortars, booby traps, guns and other ordnances recovered from different parts of the country. A small shop and an area devoted to carrying out the works of his NGO can also be seen here. Perhaps the best aspect of this museum is that it serves as a source of income for amputees to support their families, in addition to caring for hundreds of children badly affected by poverty and mine laying. The Landmine Museum holds the distinction of being the first of its kind in the world. It’s completely safe and abides by all protocols put forward by the Ottawa International Treaty to Ban Landmines and the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Association Authority (CMAA). • Opening Hours: 07:30 – 17:30. • Location: Located within the Angkor Wat Archeological Park, the Landmine Museum is five kilometers from Banteay Srey Temple, about a 30-minute drive from Siem Reap.

• Remarks: A donation US$1 per person is required to enter the museum.

Cello Concert by Dr Beat Richner

Cello Concert by Dr Beat Richner

This cello concert, as the name implies, is a unique show presented by Dr. Beat Richner – a Swiss national who is fondly referred to as Beatocello by Cambodians. Born in 1947 in Zurich, he received his medical degree in 1973 and worked as a pediatric specialist at the Zurich Children’s Hospital before he came to Cambodia in 1975 as per the request of the Red Cross to work at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. Though he was forced to return to Switzerland because of Khmer Rouge invasion, he came back to Cambodia in 1991 and founded the Kantha Bopha Foundation in 1992. Started with 68 local staff and 16 foreign staff, the foundation currently employs more than 2,000 Cambodian staff and has only one expatriate staff member other than the doctor. The foundation now operates five hospitals that render free medications and healthcare services to children in the country. They include the Jayavarman VII Hospital in Siem Reap, where Beat Richner conducts solo cello performances that are more than just a source of entertainment, primarily focused to raise funds as well as awareness of child health care in the country. Donations received, along with funding from the Cambodian government, Swiss government and large private Swiss donors, are solely utilized to run these hospitals that admit more than 200 children on daily basis, in addition to performing 50 surgical procedures and providing about 2,000 vaccinations.

On recognizing his services for poor children, Dr Beat Richner was awarded the title of ‘Swiss of the Year’ in 2003.

Dr Beat Richner’s Cello Concert

Every Thursday and Saturday, the conference hall of Jayavarman VII Hospital becomes the venue for Dr Beat Richner to perform Bach on his cello. An accomplished entertainer who used to act as a singing clown in Switzerland, Beatocello however now performs as a cellist primarily to collect money for the activities of his Kantha Bopha hospitals that also include a maternity ward for HIV mothers. The performance is followed by a video, which throws light on social prejudices in the country. As part of the concert, he also speaks about his work in these hospitals and encourages audiences to generously contribute towards the mission of combating child health crisis in the country. In addition to money, the doctor also requests young audience members to donate blood in order to maintain the Kantha Bopha Foundation’s blood bank that observes the WHO guidelines. • Opening Hours: from 19:15 to 20:30 twice a week. • Location: Located outside the city centre in Siem Reap, Jayavarman VII Hospital is easily accessible from the road to Angkor Wat.

• Remarks: Entry is free though donations are encouraged.

The Temples of Angkor

Angkor Thom

With the capital of the Khmer Empire being situated at Angkor for some 500 years, there are a wealth of ancient temples and other sites near Siem Reap Town. Most of these sites are in and around the Angkor Archaeological Park. The largest and most significant ruins of the Angkorian Empire are found just to the north of the municipality of Siem Reap, and thus has grown into a tourist oriented town. It is the base from which most visitors explore the temples of Angkor.

The ruins and restored sites in the Angkor Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and form part of the largest pre-industrial city in the world.

Tonlé Sap Lake

Floating House on Tonle Sap Lake

The Tonlé Sap Lake is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. During the dry season the lake drains into the Tonle Sap River which flows into the Mekong River. But in the rainy season (June to October), the huge amount of water in the Mekong causes the Tonlé Sap River to reverse its flow.

The combination of water flowing into the lake, and the backup of the Tonle Sap River swells the lake to 5-times its size in the dry season. This increase in size floods the surrounding floodplain and forests, creating an incredibly diverse and rich eco-system.

Tonle Sap Floating Villages

There are actually several so-called floating villages located on, and around the Tonle Sap Lake (Boeung Tonle Sap) and they are all somewhat different. The Tonle Sap Lake is the largest feature of the map of Cambodia, and is an important natural resource in terms of fishing and wetlands.

In the rainy season, the Mekong River backs up into the lake, and it swells to more than 5 times its size in the dry season, flooding the surrounding forests and plains. Of course the best time to visit ‘floating villages’ is during the wet season when the water is high. You can try a “do-it-yourself” tour, but it can be a hassle, and there are stories of people having problems trying to do it themselves. The four main ‘floating’ villages are listed below.

Chong Khneas

The floating village nearest to Siem Reap, it is the one most visited by tourists. In the wet season, it really is a floating village, with houses, shops, schools, etc. all bobbing on the water. Even though it is somewhat ‘touristy’, it is still interesting, and worth seeing. Stops usually include a souvenir and snack shop, and the Gecko Environment Center.

Kampong Phluk

This is not actually a floating village as the houses are built on tall stilts. In the dry season, the village is high and dry, with the tall stilted houses lining the road. When the water level is high, the stilts are submerged, and the houses seem to ‘float’. This is also the place where you can take boat rides through the flooded forest. It is visited by relatively few tourists. Home-stay is available.

Kampong Khleang

Being far from Siem Reap, it takes about 2 hours by boat from the Phnom Krom boat landing. There is an outer floating village, and an inner tall stilted village. It has the largest population of all the villages on the lake. Visited by few tourists.

Prek Toal

A somewhat smaller floating village, it is the starting point for bird watching tours to the Prek Toal core area of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve. (see Bird Watching) This is an important habitat for many endangered bird species. There is a Biosphere information canter, and a water hyacinth weaving center. Overnight stay is possible, but is not well organized, and may not be suitable for all visitors.

Good to Know

The best time to see the lake is when the water level is high, and floating villages are truly floating, and trips to the flooded forest and wildlife reserves are interesting. Trips to the bird sanctuaries are best from December to April. In the dry season, the lake becomes very shallow, and large boats sit on the bottom of the lake. During this time, villages on stilts are left high and dry, and floating villages move out onto the lake. Also, forests are dried up, and some bird sanctuaries cannot be reached.

• Location: Near Siem Reap.

Phnom Kulen National Park

Phnom Kulen National Park

Situated about 50km north of Siem Reap, Phnom Kulen National Park is one of the most revered destinations in Cambodia, as it features Kulen Mountain. Once referred to as the Mount Mahendraparvata – the Kulen Mountain is a cultural and historical resort that marked the origin of Khmer empire in the 9th century when King Jayavarman II announced independence from Java and declared himself as the “Chakravartin”, meaning universal king. Stretching for more than 13km down to the Angkor Plain, the Phnom Kulen is home to a slew of temple ruins and several centuries-old consecrated carvings as well as sculptures. Further, since most of the areas in Phnom Kulen are still untouched, this allows visitors to immerse in the cool, spellbinding attractions that nature itself offers by way of jungle-covered verdant surroundings, rivers and dazzling waterfalls. One of the most noteworthy attractions of the park is the archeological site of Kbal Spean. Located in the western region of the Phnom Kulen mountain range, Kbal Spean, alternatively referred to as the ‘River of a Thousand Lingas,’ is a carved sandstone riverbed that has numerous sculptures dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. The inscriptions and mythological scenes carved out here have been categorized into three factors that illustrate the Hindu Trinity Gods: Lord Vishnu, Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. Among the carvings that deserve special note are the engravings of Vishnu reclining on the serpent Ananta with his consort Lakshmi and a lotus flower obtruding from Vishnu’s navel holding the image of Brahma. Once used for baptism, the water in this area is considered sacred. Another attraction worth seeing in Phnom Kulen is Chup Preah – a plain with refreshing streams that meander into the mountain valley. This is truly a serene spot with a big 16th century Buddhist image, in addition to a tree about 15 metres high alongside it.

Equally interesting are Preah Ang Thom – a Buddhist temple that enshrines an enormous 17-metre long statue of a reclining Buddha and the Terrace of Sdach Kamlung – with a small wrecked brick temple at its centre. Studies reveal that this spot was covered by lava for hundreds of years. Aside these, there are two impressive waterfalls that form the focal point of Phnom Kulen.

Good to know

Sprawling over an area of about 37,500 hectares, Phnom Kulen National Park is accessible by car, van or tuk tuk, and it takes about two hours to reach here from Siem Reap. The renowned Angkor Wat is about 30km away. There is a private road that leads to the key attractions of the park. However, since the area is not demined, it is advisable to accompany an expert guide as you get deep into the park.

Angkor Silk Farm

Angkor Silk Farm – Siem Reap

The silk farm was established by Artisans d’Angkor for the revival and perpetuation of traditional sericulture in Cambodia. They provide training in silk production, and produce the silk they use in their products. The guided tour includes all aspects of silk farming and production, from the raising of the silk worms, to dying the silk, to weaving the final product. A very interesting and informative tour. A free shuttle bus leaves at 08:30 and 13:30 from Artisans d’Angkor in Siem Reap. The entire tour takes about 2 hours. • Location: Artisans d’Angkor Silk Farm, Hwy. No, 6, Puok District.

• Tel: +855 (0) 63 767 018, +855 (0)12 222 404.

Angkor Wat in Miniature

Angkor Wat in Miniature

Constructed in 1994 and 1995 by Dy Proeung, you can see that a lot of time and effort went into creating the miniature of Angkor Wat, Baneay Srey and other ancient temples. Unfortunately in recent years they have not been well cared for, and sadly the place is in a state of disrepair. The person in charge doesn’t speak much English. The entrance fee is $1.50. • Opening Hours: 07:00 to 18:00.

• Tel: +855 (0)12 776 264 (Khmer only).

Cambodia Cultural Village

Cambodian Cultural Village Siem Reap

Cambodia Cultural Village first opened to public in late 2003. Covering a total area of 52 acres, this theme park showcases the traditional Cambodian way of life, and the local customs and practices of the various ethnic groups in the country. It is home to more than 10 villages, showing off the different cultures and characteristics of 19 Cambodian races. The shows include Apsara dances, traditional wedding ceremonies, circus acts and an elephant show. • Opening Hours: 09:00 to 21:00. • Tel: +855 (0)63 963 836.

• Price Range: Entrance fee $12.00.

Movie Mall

Movie Mall in Siem Reap – Cambodia

Usually when you go to the movies, you can escape and forget about the world outside, but not in this theatre. Here it is a bit different, and you come face-to-face with reality. They feature only three movies: “Pol Pot: The History of Genocide” a documentary chronicling the nightmare of the Khmer Rouge years, “Angkor Wat: History of the Jewel of the Jungle” a history of the Khmer Empire from the 9th century to the 15th century, and “From the Land Mine.” These movies will give you a better understanding of Cambodia as it is today. The theatre is air-conditioned. First showing is 16:00, and last showing is 23:00. • Location: Angkor Night Market.

• Tel: +855 (0) 12 494 705.

Siem Reap Crocodile Farm

Siem Reap Crocodile Farm – Cambodia

There is now only one commercial crocodile farm in Siem Reap open to the public. They have over 1,000 South China crocodiles, ranging in age from 1 year to 50 years old. They also have a store selling leather handbags, wallets, belts, etc. made from crocodile, sting ray, and snake skin. • Opening Hours: 07:00 to 19:00. • Location: South of Siem Reap on road to Tonle Sap Lake. • Tel: +855 (0)67 979 999, +855 (0)12 927 718.

• Price Range: The entrance fee is USD$0.50 for Cambodian Nationals, and USD$3.00 for non-Cambodians.

MUSEUMS IN SIEM REAP

Angkor National Museum

Angkor National Museum in Siem Reap – Cambodia

Opened in 2007, the museum houses many archeological treasures and cultural relics from the Angkorian and pre-Angkorian periods. The tour of the eight galleries begins with a short orientation presentation. The galleries include 1,000 Buddha Images, Pre-Angkor, Religion and Beliefs, The Great Khmer Kings, Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, Story from Stones, and Ancient Costume. Tour guides and audio tour guides in various languages are available. • Opening Hours: 09:00 to 20:00. • Location: 968 Charles de Gaulle Road. • Tel: +855 (0)63 966 601.

• Price Range: Entrance fees are USD$3.00 for Cambodian nationals, and USD$12.00 for non-Cambodians.

War Museum Cambodia

War Museum Cambodia in Siem Reap – Cambodia

Outdoor displays of old, rusted and broken down military hardware taken from the battlefield are featured at this museum. Equipment on display includes old tanks, artillery guns, rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, small arms, mines and bombs. There is also an old Shenyang J-6 jet fighter, an XU-814 Mil Mi-8T helicopter, and other military hardware in various condition. The entrance fee is $5/person and includes: a free guide (e.g. learning the history, explaining about the different mines and weapons, personal war stories; holding small arms (m16, khalasnikov, rpg); and free photographing/filming. • Location: near National Highway No. 6, between the city of Siem Reap and the International Airport.

• Tel: 088 848 7351.

Tours in Cambodia

• Impressive Cambodia – 7 Days/ 6 Nights
• Charms of Cambodia – 5 Days/ 4 Nights
• Angkor Magnificence – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Highlights of Cambodia – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Cambodia Spotlights – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Siem Reap to Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Tour in Siem Reap & Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Highlight Ancient City – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Classic tour in Phnom Penh – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Siem Reap & Angkor Wat tours – 2 days/ 1 night