The City of Siem Reap is the capital city of Siem Reap Province in northwestern Cambodia, and is the gateway to Angkor.
Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are traditional Apsara dance performances, craft shops, silk farms, rice-paddy countryside, fishing villages and a bird sanctuary near the Tonle Sap Lake.
Siem Reap today, being a popular tourist destination, has a large number of hotels and restaurants. Most smaller establishments are concentrated around the Old Market area, while more expensive hotels are located between Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport and the town along National Road 6. There are a variety of mid-range hotels and restaurants along Sivatha, and mid budget to mid-range hotels in the Phsar Leu area.
The name Siem Reap means the 'Defeat of Siam' —today’s Thailand —and refers to a century-old bloodbath, commemorated in stone in the celebrated bas relief carvings of the monuments. The name has also been translated as 'The Brilliance of Siam', as, for nearly 500 years, before the massacre, it was one of the main border crossings from Ancient Cambodia into Siam.
In 1901 the École Française d'Extrême Orient (EFEO) began a long association with Angkor by funding an expedition into Siam to the Bayon. In 1907 Angkor, which had been taken from Siam (Thailand) by force, was assigned to Cambodia. The EFEO took responsibility for clearing and restoring the whole site. In the same year, the first tourists arrived in Angkor - an unprecedented 200 of them in three months. Angkor had been 'rescued' from the jungle and was assuming its place in the modern world.
Siem Reap was little more than a village when the first French explorers re-discovered Angkor in the 19th century. With the acquisition of Angkor by the French, in 1907, Siem Reap began to grow, absorbing the first wave of tourists. The Grand Hotel d'Angkor opened its doors in 1929 and the temples of Angkor remained one of Asia's leading draws until the late 1960s, luring visitors like Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Kennedy. In 1975, the population of Siem Reap, along with that of the rest of the cities and towns in Cambodia, was evacuated by the communist Khmer Rouge and driven into the countryside.
As with the rest of the country, Siem Reap's history (and the memories of its people) is coloured by spectre of the brutal Khmer Rouge Regime, though since Pol Pot's death in 1998, relative stability and a rejuvenated tourist industry have been important steps in an important, if tentative, journey forward to recovery. With the advent of war, Siem Reap entered a long slumber from which it only began to awake in the mid-1990s.
Today, Siem Reap is undoubtedly Cambodia's fastest growing city and serves as a small charming gateway town to the world famous heritage site of the Angkor temples. Thanks to those attractions, Siem Reap has transformed itself into a major tourist hub. Siem Reap nowadays is a vibrant town with modern hotels and architectures. Despite international influences, Siem Reap and its people have conserved much of the town's image, culture and traditions.
The Wat and the river
The Town is a cluster of small villages along the Siem Reap River. These villages were originally developed around Buddhist pagodas (Wat) which are almost evenly spaced along the river from Wat Preah En Kau Sei in the north to Wat Phnom Krom in the south, where the Siem Reap River meets the great Tonle Sap Lake.
The main town is concentrated around Sivutha Street and the Psar Chas area (Old Market area) where there are old colonial buildings, shopping and commercial districts. The Wat Bo area is now full of guesthouses and restaurants while the Psar Leu area is often crowded with jewellery and handicraft shops, selling from ruby to woodcarving. Other fast developing areas are the airport road and main road to Angkor where a number of large hotels and resorts can be found.
Businesses centered around tourism have flourished thanks to the tourism boom. There is a wide range of hotels, ranging from several 5-star hotels and chic resorts to hundreds of budget guesthouses. A large selection of restaurants offer many kinds of food, including Italian, Indian, French, German, Russian, Thai, Korean, Japanese, and Burmese. Plenty of shopping opportunities exist around the Psar Chas area while the nightlife is often vibrant with a number of western-styled pubs and bars.
Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport in Siem Reap now serves the most tourist passengers to Cambodia. Most tourists come to Siem Reap to visit the Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, (about 6 km north of the city), and other Angkor ruins. While those are still the main attractions, there are plenty of other things to experience, such as a dinner with an Apsara Dance performance, a trip to fishing villages and bird sanctuary, a visit to a craft workshop and silk farm, or a bicycle tour around the rice paddies in the countryside.
The Gecko Environment Center is a floating environment center located in the province of Siem Reap on the Tonle Sap Lake. The goal of the center is to promote environmental awareness among the local community as well as visitors to the great lake. The province of Siem Reap is part of the Tonle Sap Biosphere Reserve.