It's a tough life sitting on the doorstep of the country's most famous attraction bar none, but that's the lot of Siem Reap, best-known as the gateway to Cambodia's headline act, Angkor Wat. But take some time to explore and you'll also find a welcoming city with bags of energy that feels at once distinctly new and like you always belonged here, from the traditional jumble of exotic fruit and shouting hawkers at the Old Market to the Melbourne-style coffee shops of Kandal Village.
Outside the city, venture beyond the most-visited temples and you'll also find some extraordinary landscapes waiting to be explored. If you're – flying into Siem Reap , here are the must-dos in and around the city.
A typically cacophonous mix of traditional food vendors, souvenir peddlers and hawkers selling insects to snack on, Siem Reap's most famous market is Psar Chaa (or the Old Market). You can get everything from fresh fish and dragon fruit to knock-off designer shoes, and although the market is a must-visit as a traveller, you'll find yourself mostly among locals here, making it a great way to get an insight into real Cambodian life in the city. The market starts early in the morning and most stalls are closed around 1800. As with most markets that attract a reasonable number of travellers, you'll find some stall-owners can be pushy – be prepared to haggle if you intend to buy anything.
Like all its Southeast Asian neighbours, Cambodia has an outstanding national cuisine all its own. Rice is a big deal and comes in more forms than you ever thought possible, from nom banh chok (rice noodle soup) to borbor (rice porridge, like congee). The real highlights are delicately spiced Khmer curries, like national dish fish amok, made with Cambodia's distinctive style of curry paste, kroeung. They're all specialities that will leave you wanting more, but can be heard to find outside Cambodia – something that locals have cottoned onto, and some excellent cooking classes have sprung up in Siem Reap so you can take the secrets of Khmer cooking home with you. There are several well-known cooking schools in Siem Reap, including Le Tigre de Papier, where half-day classes include a trip to Psar Chaa to choose your ingredients.
The small area centring on Hup Guan Street only recently became known as Kandal Village, when locals decided that somewhere with a cafe and shopping scene this marketable really needed a cool name. Kandal Village buzzes with funky little clothes boutiques, vegan cafes and bars, and is a strikingly different place to relax with a drink after an afternoon of temple-touring or to gear you up for a night on nearby Pub Street, the centre of Siem Reap's nightlife.
Typically known as the gateway to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap should more correctly be called the gateway to Angkor Archaeological Park. The UNESCO-listed Angkor area covers 400km2 with dozens of temples – some preserved and restored, some half-swallowed up by jungle. While enormous, majestic Angkor Wat is rightly the centrepiece, don't let it overshadow the wealth of extraordinary Khmer architecture all around the region, from Ta Prohm, covered in roots and creepers, to the enigmatic carved faces of the Bayon temple – visit Angkor Wat, but don't stop there! You can easily arrange tours in Siem Reap, and some hotels will do this for you too – browse for accommodation with THAI and find a hotel to suit.
This colossal temple complex is what Siem Reap is all about for most travellers. Such is its significance, it's on the Cambodian national flag – need we say more? For creativity, innovation and ambition on the grandest of scales, there's simply nothing from the same period anywhere in the world to rival Angkor Wat. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest religious structure ever built, covering about the same area as Regent's Park in London.
Another enormous temple complex (though not on the Angkor Wat scale), Beng Mealea is the only sight in Angkor to out-Indiana Jones the famously jungle-covered Ta Prohm site, with wildly overgrown temple buildings and heaps of sandstone blocks upended around the site. It's just over 30 miles (50km) east of Angkor Wat and is worth a half-day trip to properly explore. you can easily arrange a tour from Siem Reap; lots of full-day itineraries combine a visit with a trip to the 'lost city' of Koh Ker.
This area is also home to beautifully wild natural sights, and just north of Beng Mealea is one of the country's most gorgeous and varied national parks – Phnom Kulen National Park. Named for the wider Phnom Kulen mountain range it sits in, the park is a must-do for a look at the natural beauty this part of Cambodia has to offer, from its emblematic waterfall (best in monsoon season, naturally) to the pretty mountain scenery.
The massive lake to the south of Siem Reap is a beautiful natural sight, but the traditional villages along the lake's shore and floating on it provide the most remarkable experience here. Largely populated by ethnic Vietnamese and Cham fishing communities (distinct from Cambodia's Khmer population), the villages nearest Siem Reap have seen a gradual erosion of their traditional feel due to frequent tourist visits, but head further along the lake to villages such as Kompong Khleang and smaller settlements at the far southeast of the lake, and you can get a feel for a unique way of life.
Travel with THAI for some of the shortest flight times from the UK to Siem Reap, with two flights daily until the end of March 2018. The lunchtime departure from Heathrow takes 13 hours 25 minutes with a short layover of just over an hour in Bangkok, so there's no hanging around en route. With the time difference it gets you to Cambodia bright and early, landing at 08:15, so you can get the most from your first day, touching down in time for breakfast and a coffee in Kandal Village.
And, as always with THAI, you'll be travelling in comfort, enjoying our award-winning service. The Bangkok-Siem Reap sector is operated by our regional and domestic wing, THAI Smile, recently a triple winner in the TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards, including Best Regional Airline in Asia Pacific and a place in the top 10 airlines worldwide. You can choose from Economy or Premium Economy on the short one-hour flight, which includes free checked luggage and meals.
Check the timetable for full details of every flight between London Heathrow and Siem Reap-Angkor International or use our booking tool to find flights.
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