Home to Angkor Archaeological Park, it comes as little surprise that ancient temples feature heavily in Siem Reap’s 10 best archeological highlights. However, more modern designs can be enjoyed in the city centre, from modernist creations to restored traditional homes.
Siem Reap’s legendary temple complex needs little introduction. This attraction is the single impetus for many travelers to visit Cambodia. The largest religious monument in the world, Angkor Wat was originally built as a Hindu temple dedicated to the god Vishnu, before being converted into a Buddhist temple in the 14th century. Check out the temple’s thousands of Apsaras carvings, or nymphs; they are each astoundingly unique. While Angkor Wat is the most impressive and well-preserved of the temples in the complex, it’s worth checking out some of the lesser-known temples where you can appreciate Khmer architecture minus the crowds.
Bayon and its stone carved faces is popular with visitors
Another much-loved temple on the tourist trail, Bayon is best known for the 216 huge faces that are carved into its stone towers. Although small in comparison to Angkor Wat, this sacred building is much more condensed. It was built in the late 12th and early 13th century as the official state temple of King Jayavarman VII. Huge restoration work has since taken place, and is ongoing, so expect to clamber over stones and through dark, narrow passages to see it all.
Another favourite with visitors, Ta Prohm was flung into the limelight when Angelina Jolie was filmed amid the dramatic, root-ravaged walls for Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. One of Angkor’s oldest temples, Ta Prohm dates back to the 12th century and is said to be the first built entirely of sandstone. It features a five-tiered pyramid with steep staircases on each side. With many of the ruins consumed by the roots of towering trees, this temple is by far one of the most magnificent. It is also undergoing extensive restoration work, with some sections closed to the public.
To escape the crowds, the 10th-century temple of Banteay Srei is worth the journey. The site is located 35 kilometres (22 miles) from Siem Reap, with the drive taking visitors through a stunning countryside, past children screaming ‘hello’ from their bikes, farmers working in the fields and women doing laundry in streams. Boasting intricately-carved buildings made from soft, pink sandstone, this miniature temple could be plucked straight from a fairytale.
Situated close to Siem Reap’s Old Market, or Phsar Chas, Wat Damnak is a peaceful oasis in the middle of the city. The colourful manicured gardens boast a bounty of shrines, statues and carvings, with the collection of intricate buildings that sit inside the pagoda all well maintained. Serving as the palace of King Sisowath, the temple can be visited and the site is also home to a library that is crammed full of more books than any of the country’s public libraries.
Since opening in December, Shinta Mani Angkor – Bensley Collection has taken luxury accommodation in Siem Reap to new levels. This spot boasts 10 super-luxe villas in private compounds, each complete with a nine-metre plunge pool. Designed by award-winning architect, Bill Bensley, each of the spacious, two-floor villas are surrounded by lush tropical gardens, with an outdoor tub and rain shower. Six can be combined into a three 312sqm two-bedroom villa to accommodate a family or larger group. Bensley Butlers are also on hand to scatter petals on the bed, help with a poolside or rooftop barbecue or set up a sky bed to sleep below the twinkling stars.
Located across from the Royal Palace, this historic hotel first opened its doors in 1932. Spread across 15 acres that take in landscaped gardens, tropical foliage and an expansive swimming pool, the centrally-located Raffles resort is an oasis of calm. A range of restaurants and bars are available on-site and rooms span a range of luxury suites, from the Cabana Suites to two-bedroom villas with a personal butler service. Golf enthusiasts can enjoy the award-winning Nick Faldo-designed Angkor Golf Resort.
This exclusive resort is the former royal retreat of King Norodom Sihanouk, who recruited French architect Laurent Mondet to design it in 1962. Created to accommodate visitors unable to stay at the nearby Royal Palace, the grounds were abandoned during the Khmer Rouge reign of 1975–1979. In 2002, Aman Resorts bought the property and transformed it into the exquisite resort that stands today. A total of 24 suites — 12 with private plunge pools — dot the space, which is also home to two swimming pools, a restaurant and spa. Amansara is a stunning spot to stay.
This gem has proved popular since opening in 2016, setting a new standard for contemporary boutique accommodation in Siem Reap. The exclusive resort oozes serenity, with water playing a prominent role in the design of the sumptuous setting. Tropical flora hides 33 unique living spaces — most boasting their own private pools. The Templation Spa offers the perfect place to unwind, using a range of nature-based oils and lotions for treatments inspired by Khmer traditional healing. Templation also has a restaurant and bar that serve food and drinks. The resort is also pursuing the green hotel concept with vegetal roofs, volumes designed to enhance the natural airflow, solar panels directly connected to its electric grid and careful collection of rainwater.
The tranquil Royal Gardens sit about a 10-minute walk along Siem Reap River from Old Market and are the perfect place to spend a couple of hours strolling or resting in the dappled shade. The gardens, which are open to the public, are comprised of The River Garden and the Royal Crusade of Independence Garden. To the south of the gardens sits the royal residence, where the royal family stays during trips to Temple Town. The residence is not open to the public.