Siem Reap has colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. In the city, there are traditional Apsaradance 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. TheGrand 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.
he 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.
The following airlines operate service to/from Angkor International Airport:
AirAsia (Kuala Lumpur), Asiana Airlines (Seoul-Incheon), Bangkok Airways (Bangkok), Cambodia Angkor Air (Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh), China Eastern Airlines (Kunming, Nanning), China Southern Airlines (Guangzhou), Jetstar Asia (Singapore), Korean Air (Seoul-Incheon), Lao Airlines (Luang Prabang), Malaysia Airlines (Kuala Lumpur), Silk Air (Da Nang, Singapore), and Vietnam Airlines (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Luang Prabang).
The airport is less than 15 minutes from the town centre by taxi ($7) or motodop ($4). If you have an advance booking in a hotel, ask the hotel for a free airport pickup (in one of their tuk-tuks).
Update Beginning 1 April 2011, travelers departing Cambodia by air will no longer need to queue to pay the airport departure tax. The US$ 25 fee has been included in ticket prices since 21 January 2011, for departures on or after 1 April. According to the Phnom Penh Post, if you purchased tickets before 21 January for an April or later departure, you’ll still need to pay the tax at the airport
There are separate terminals for international and domestic flights. International departure tax is a steep $25, or $13 for children, payable after check-in and before clearing immigration. Note that usually this must be paid in cash because the credit card facility is unreliable, so have cash with you. Domestic departure tax to Phnom Penh is $6.
Many companies, including (Phnom Penh Sorya Transport  Capitol Tours, and GST Express) operate bus services to/from Siem Reap. Direct buses go to Phnom Penh ($10), Pakse ($30), Don Det in the 4000 Islands region ofLaos ($27), Kampong Cham, Soung, Battambang, and Kor Kong. Advance bookings are advisable, and can also be sorted out by most travel agents and guesthouses for a $1-$2 fee. Buses generally leave between 7:00AM and 3:00PM but there is a night bus as well if you want to not spend the daytime travelling which leaves at midnight.
From Thailand, the nearest border crossings are at Aranyaprathet/Poipet, 3 hours to the north, and Hat Lek/Koh Kong on the coast. See those articles for information on how to get to and cross the border. As a result of recent road pavings, the roads from these border crossings to Siem Reap are in excellent condition. From Poipet, you can take a taxi (US$25 minimum, 2-3 hours, max 4 passengers) or an overcrowded bus (US$10, 3 hours, leaves when full, not as comfortable).
The best budget option is to catch a Thai government bus to the border at Poi Pet (don't buy from Khao San Road), buy the Cambodian visa directly for $20, then after being stamped into the country find yourself a group of four to catch a reasonably comfortable taxi to Siem Reap ($25-30). This will get you to Siem Reap on time, in comparable comfort without funding scammers. While you are processing your papers at the border beware of extra friendly government employees who offer to help you. Some of them may try and take you by bus to a taxi stand where you will pay too much to exchange money at the "government" exchange booth. Then, they may try to make you pay up to double the going rate for taxis to Siem Reap ($10 per person, instead of 5).
Alternatively, you could join the backpacking masses and pay 200-600 baht for an uncomfortable bus ride directly from Khao San Road. Buses leave Khao San Road around 8AM and arrive in Siem Reap any time between 5:00PM and 3:00AM, a reasonable price would be 450 bahts. The trip length does not really depend on road conditions but on the mood of the driver. Because he gets a commission if you stay at the guesthouse at which he drops you off, he will try to arrive there as late as possible because if you are tired and afraid of walking around in Siem Reap late at night, you are more likely to stay at that guesthouse. Note that there is no obligation to stay at such guesthouse, regardless of what the guesthouse owners tell you. Even if you start in Bangkok on a big aircon bus, you will almost certainly have to switch to the back of a pickup or stuffed minibus at the Cambodian border. The bus operators and others will assure you that you're better off paying 1,000 baht ($30) or even more for the visa - which should cost $20. The driver and/or the person that will make your 'fast' visa can get offended if you don't believe their lie: you cannot do the visa by yourself. Stand your ground and join the line at the border - the bus won't leave without you, because the driver wants the guesthouse commission you represent. As an alternative, you can always walk from the bus stop to the Thai border exit - just keep aware of your surroundings to avoid being pickpocketed or inadvertently walking into a fake border crossing. Custom officers will be likely to ask you more than the official price too (800 bahts/26 dollars), or extra services like filling out a form for you for 50 bahts to avoid you some hassle (there won´t be any, you just fill the form later in the stamping section).
A more expensive and more time consuming option from Phnom Penh ($35, 6 hours) or Battambang ($20-$25, 5 hours) is to take a Soviet style Hydrofoil across theTonle Sap lake. These can be fantastic trips giving you the opportunity to view life on the lake, floating houses, working fishermen, and to get a sun-tan if you choose to sit on the roof of the boat. However, the trip can be ruined due to bad weather. Remember to use sunscreen and take a waterproof jacket. You will not be always able to access your luggage during the journey (sometimes the baggage is available, sometimes it is not). If you have the time, it is better to visit the floating villages as day trips from Siem Reap than to see them from the boat.
Travel to and around the Angkor Archaeological Park is extensively covered in its own article. The following is a discussion of travel with Siem Reap.
Most of the sights in Siem Reap can be seen on foot. But be aware that most of the streets around town degrade into small swamps of muddy water and potholes of unknown depth following rain (almost daily in the wet season), making the roads a challenge to navigate
Many guesthouses will lend you bicycles either for free or for a nominal charge ($1-3).
You'll have plenty of tranportation offers from motodops (motorbike taxi with driver). Rides within town should only cost $0.50 or 2000 real, although prices can double to $1 at night and during bad weather. Agree on a price first and hop on the back. You can also hire a motodop for a full day for ~$10. Some motodops may be able to provide you with a helmet if you request one in advance. There are many people offering rides who are not licensed, who do not don a proper orange vest as anyone with a motorbike could be a taximan. These people have the potential to be criminals and there would be no way for one to know.
The rental of motorbikes to tourists in Siem Reap is prohibited. However, foreigners can ride motorbikes they have rented elsewhere such as in Phnom Penh).
Notice the make-shift petrol stations next to the road, selling stolen petrol in old 2 litre Coke bottles. Much cheaper than petrol stations!
It is estimated that there are roughly 1000 tuk tuk drivers in Siem Reap. They often go for days without work between. They vary in nature from reliable to unreliable.
Within Siem Reap, tuk-tuk rides should cost about $1, with prices doubling to $2 at night, during bad weather, or for longer distance. (If you don't want to pay $2 just walk away and they most likely will call out to you and agree to a $1 fare). You must state your destination and $1 price up front or you may be charged up to $5 at the end of your journey. Tuk-tuks are ubiquitous. If you plan to stay in Siem Reap for a few days, it can also be a good idea to build a relationship with one tuk-tuk driver as once they know you they will quite often take you to places off the regular tourist route and allow you to experience the "real" Siem Reap.
A word of advice: Not all tuk tuk drivers are reliable. Until you know whether your tuk tuk driver is reliable, pay them for their services only after everything you have arranged is completed. For example, assume your tuk tuk driver is un-reliable, if you arrange for a later trip to the airport and pay them beforehand, chances are that they will not show up.
Cars with drivers can be hired for single or multiple days. While all drivers are familiar with the area and happy to suggest good routes, most speak little English and are not actual tour guides. For an actual licensed tour guide, the charge varies from US$45 per day to US$50 for a driver and English speaking guide. It is customary for the drivers to ask for US$5-US$10 extra for trips to further temples such as the those of the Big Circuit, Banteay Srey and more for remote sites like Beng Mealea.
The taxis ($7 fixed cost) from the airport to Siem Reap proper advertise a full day of touring for $30. In one experience - the very well versed in English driver offered $25 (we accepted rather than negotiate) for the day, plus free bottled water. And indeed - was a great transport-only tour guide. We went from around 9:30am to after sunset, visiting 7 temples (of a combination of our choosing/his suggestions) in total.