A small, bustling provincial capital with an Old French Quarter, Siem Reap is a mix of grand colonial architecture alongside Chinese-influenced facades. Originally each part of the town was an individual village, clustered around a pagoda. These have now merged, but each area retains its own personality.
Now a popular tourist resort, Siem Reap has limitless opportunities for shopping, dining and sightseeing. The Old Market and the Old French Quarter host the main concentration of visitor attractions but these jostle for space with food stalls and markets aimed at the local population and those who travel in from the countryside to stock up on produce and to sell their own wares. The gateway to the temples at Angkor, and full of pagodas, shrines and stupas, Siem Reap is also a popular gathering place for Buddhist pilgrims.
Visitors may with to join the local worshipers at the many shrines and pagodas throughout town. The Shrine of Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm, are particularly interesting, with two standing Buddhas. There is also the Shrine to Ya Tep, set under a large tree in front of the royal residence. Pilgrims leave chicken skins at the shrine as offerings in return for protection and good luck. The aptly-named New Temple, Wat Thmei, has a large glass stupa housing the bones of victims of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, Wat Keseram, the Pagoda of the Cornflower Petals, is set in beautiful surroundings and features an extensive collection of relics and treasures depicting the life of Buddha.
Despite its tourist hot-spot credentials, Siem Reap retains its local colour and flavour. Traditional Cambodia continues to thrive in the Apsara dance performances and craft shops, food stalls and river boat trips through the rice paddies and farmland.
Within and around the town are numerous tourist attractions, such as the butterfly garden, crocodile farms, and a snake farm with king cobra shows. There are countryside tours, cookery classes, elephant treks and balloon rides. By contrast, the harsh realities of life in Cambodia’s recent past are the focus of killing field memorials, a war museum and an unofficial landmine museum.