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Siem Reap

Named for a crushing defeat inflicted on an invading Thai army by the Khmer Empire, the battle at Siem Reap was later avenged by another Thai kingdom, who went on to rule the area for a time before losing it to the French. Afterwards, Siem Reap fell into obscurity and as little as twenty years ago, was a sleepy town with muddy streets and a population of 5,000.

Today, thanks to its proximity to the superlative ruins of the ancient Khmer kingdom of Angkor, it has become one of the premier destinations not only in southeast Asia but the entire world, with five-star hotels and other, world-class facilities. Recognizing the importance of the complexes of Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Angkor Thom, both for the sake of posterity and the present day tourism economy, the Cambodian government has made preserving this heritage a top priority.

Named for a crushing defeat inflicted on an invading Thai army by the Khmer Empire, the battle at Siem Reap was later avenged by another Thai kingdom, who went on to rule the area for a time before losing it to the French. Afterwards, Siem Reap fell into obscurity and as little as twenty years ago, was a sleepy town with muddy streets and a population of 5,000.

Today, thanks to its proximity to the superlative ruins of the ancient Khmer kingdom of Angkor, it has become one of the premier destinations not only in southeast Asia but the entire world, with five-star hotels and other, world-class facilities. Recognizing the importance of the complexes of Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Angkor Thom, both for the sake of posterity and the present day tourism economy, the Cambodian government has made preserving this heritage a top priority.

EXPERIENCES

EXPERIENCES

Angkor National Museum

Meet a head archaeologist at the Angkor National Museum, which opened in 2007 to house overflow from its sister museum in Phnom Penh, but has become a major venue it its own right. It features various Hindu and Buddhist statues, artifacts from the Angkor temples and surrounding area, scale models of different temple complexes, and engaging multimedia exhibits

Angkor Thom & Bayon

Explore the Angkor Thom temple complex, which in the 12th century was an immense city and the capital of the Mahayana Buddhist king Jayavarman VII’s empire. Bayon, the central temple of Angkor Thom, is a marvel of “baroque” Khmer architecture, constructed between the late 12th and early 13th centuries as the official state temple of Jayavarman VII.

Angkor Wat

Built in the 12th century as the capital of King Suryavarman II’s kingdom, the magnificent Angkor Wat is the largest and best-preserved of the Angkor temples. It is the apogee of classical Khmer architecture and has become a symbol of Cambodia, appearing on the national flag, and stands on par with such other monumental achievements as Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Banteay Srei

Drive about 45 minutes from central Siem Reap to Banteay Srei, a small gem of a temple that Remote Lands highly recommends. Built in the 10th century and nicknamed the “Citadel of Women,” Banteay Srei is a jewel of red sandstone, famed for its intimate size and some of the finest, most intricate carvings in Southeast Asia.

Beng Mealea

Beng Mealea, or “Lotus Pond,” is a prominent Hindu temple a short drive outside Siem Reap. One of the larger temples in the area, Beng Mealea was once surrounded by a large moat, and while the temple itself is a Hindu place of worship, it also features Buddhist motifs. Marvel at the giant sandstone blocks which make up the temple, thought to have been transported downriver by barge. Relatively secluded, Beng Mealea provides a quieter counterpoint to the frenetic crowds of the better-known Angkor Wat.

Helicopter Flight

Charter a helicopter for an aerial tour of the vast Angkor Archeological Park, which is some 150 square miles in area. Flights of various durations are available, ranging from quick 15-minute jaunts to trips of several hours where you can touch down at remote temple ruins far from the typical Angkor foot traffic.

Kbal Spean

Visit Kbal Spean, a carved riverbed, known as the River of a Thousand Lingas. Named for the 11th-13th century stone carvings of lingas and Hindu deities spread out along the riverbed and banks, the river is also home to various wildlife, among them varying species of birds and butterflies.

Koh Ker

A three-hour drive from Siem Reap, Koh Ker served as the capital of the Khmer Empire from 928-944 A.D. Within Koh Ker is Prasat Thom, a tall temple mountain which offers a sweeping view of the forest and plain below. Within the complex itself are temples dedicated to the Hindu deities Shiva, Vishnu, and Brahma. Given its isolation and distance from Siem Reap, Koh Ker exudes a quiet, peaceful charm that stands in contrast to Angkor Wat.

Orphanage Visit

Visit Cambodian Orphan Save Organization (COSO) and meet one of its directors, who will give you a private tour of its facilities. COSO is a non-governmental organization working to improve the lives of Siem Reap’s orphans through education, vocational training and schooling in traditional Cambodian arts, and the children will be thrilled to meet you today.

Phnom Kulen Mountain

Ascend Phnom Kulen Mountain, the most sacred peak in Cambodia, and a popular spot for Khmer pilgrimages. At Wat Swey Leu, an adjacent temple, you will be received by the abbott of the pagoda for a private water blessing, an important Buddhist cleansing ritual. Have tea and snacks afterwards with the senior monk, who will tell you about your year ahead.

Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary

Go on safari at Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, one of three core areas of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve, located at the northwest tip of the lake. More than 120 different bird species inhabit Prek Toal, and during the dry season from January to May, the swampy forests of Prek Toal support the largest colonies of storks, pelicans and ibises in all of mainland Southeast Asia. The sanctuary is also home to the Gray-Headed Fish Eagle, the very rare Greater Adjutant stork (which is estimated to number less than 1,000), the Oriental Darter, and the exceedingly elusive Masked Finfoot.

Private Temple Dinner

Have a private dinner of gourmet Khmer cuisine on the grounds of a prominent Angkor temple. Your multi-course meal will be accompanied by traditional Cambodian music, dance and theater performances. (Please note that this is an exceptional production that is not included in the cost of a typical trip.)

Sacred Dancers of Angkor

Visit Ravynn Karet Coxen’s traditional Khmer dance school, Conservatoire of Apsara Dance. As an extension of the Nginn Karet Foundation for Cambodia, the aim here is not to produce teams of dancers to wow the tourists, but to preserve Cambodian dance and to make these children its custodians for the future. You will be taught by the teachers of the school some of the traditional dancing before being invited for a blessing ceremony. Finally, sit down to enjoy a traditional dance put on by the children of the school.

Ta Prohm

Explore Ta Prohm temple. The ruins at Ta Prohm date from 1186 and have purposely been allowed to be reclaimed by the jungle. This highly atmospheric temple complex is a must-see on any visit to Siem Reap and offers amazing photo opportunities. Ta Prohm is very much an active archaeological site, too – in October 2011, workers unearthed two headless stone statues (the larger of which measured approximately 10 feet tall), which date from the 12th century and are the biggest excavated finds since the 1930s.

Tonle Sap Lake

Embark on a half or full-day cruise on Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia (and among the largest in all of Asia). Tonle Sap was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1997. More than 1 million people live on and in the transition zone around the lake, whose waters sustain markets, schools, churches, flower gardens, vegetable farms, and even police stations. During the wet season from May to November, the water inflow expands the surface area of the lake more than five-fold, inundating the surrounding forested flood plain. Tonle Sap fisheries supply approximately 80 percent of the protein consumed in all of Cambodia.

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TRAVELOGUES

TRAVELOGUES

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Eight Amazing Siem Reap Experiences

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