Siem Reap is a smallish but fast-growing city that serves as the capital of Siem Reap province, and gateway to the Angkor Archaeological Park, just five kilometres up the road. The town straddles the Siem Reap River, which connects the hills of Phnom Kulen with the Tonle Sap lake, and is bisected by National Route 6, which links the town with the national capital, Phnom Penh.
The city has been growing at a phenomenal rate over the last ten years in line with the year-on-year double-digit growth in tourism, but it still remains a reasonably compact and easily navigable town. And notwithstanding such growth, the province itself, with a population of almost one million people, still remains one of the poorest in Cambodia.
As a result of the growth spurt, Siem Reap has grown up looking rather like several jigsaw puzzles thrown into the same box. It is a mishmash of old and new, sophisticated and rustic, urban and rural, in no order whatsoever. The overall impression is incoherent and, on first glance, somewhat less than lovely.
But Siem Reap has charms that go beyond the merely aesthetic. Here you’ll find a large selection of excellent restaurants offering a mouth-watering range of global cuisines, shops and markets that sell high-quality, hand-crafted wares, and bars where you can sip on magnificent, and extremely reasonably priced, wines or cocktails, or party like a lunatic until dawn. Whatever your expectations might be of a small, dusty town, tucked away in a remote corner of an under-developed country, Siem Reap is going to defy them.
The heart of the city is in the Old Market area, which is where you’ll find the majority of Siem Reap’s shops, bars and restaurants including the famed “Pub Street”, Cambodia’s answer to Las Vegas (minus the casinos, but with all of the neon). This area sits in a sort of triangle between Sivatha Blvd and Hospital Road and is Siem Reap’s very own “due north”, the point from which the direction to all other locations is measured.
But don’t be constrained by the ease of Old Market. There are plenty of other areas to explore, such as Sok San Road, a haven for backpackers and night owls, Wat Bo Road, an increasingly interesting part of town with plenty of bars and restaurants catering to all tastes, the West Riverside, which is home to a small collection of hotels with a quirky, bohemian vibe, the Taphul Road area, where you’ll find rich pickings of budget guesthouses and a couple of very good restaurants, or Kandal village, which has become a very hip little enclave and is only a five-minute walk from Pub Street.
Be warned that Siem Reap doesn’t have addresses as such, although this is an issue that is likely to be addressed in the future (pun nearly intended). Some of the streets do have names that everyone knows, such as Sivatha Boulevard, Taphul Road and Wat Bo Road. These serve as guidelines for getting to locations, and also to the numerous streets that feed off them — you just turn left or right at the appropriate landmark. Others have numbers, such as the streets that run between Wat Bo Road and the River Road. The only people who know what they are though are the people who run businesses there, or tourists looking at maps. And just to confound things even further, some streets have more than one name, so Taphul Road is also Street 263, while 7 Makara Street is also known as High School Road.
Don't place too much reliance on maps and don’t assume that your tuk tuk or moto driver will necessarily know what you’re talking about. Instead, look for references to hotels or other landmarks that appear on the map, be prepared to pronounce Sivatha in several different ways (it is also spelled differently on different maps, some spell it Sivutha), and above all, don’t forget that getting lost is often the best way to find the best things.
Maps and local publications
Having said that, there are some excellent maps and guides to town, which you will find stocked up in almost every single bar and restaurant in town. You’ll also likely find copies of the Phnom Penh Post, The Cambodia Daily or The Khmer Times, which should give you a reasonable rundown on what’s happening in Cambodia, socially and politically. For more in-depth articles on Cambodia and the region, check out The Southeast Asia Globe, which you can find in UCare, and for more lifestyle fare, there is AsiaLIFE Magazine, which you should find in most of the centrally-located bars and cafes. The Phnom Penh Post Saturday edition includes the Weekend Magazine, which has features on Siem Reap as well as a very limited events listing.
Communications, post and internet
If arriving by plane, you’ll see a couple of booths as you exit the baggage reclaim area which offer SIM cards for sale. It is very much worth your while to stop and pick one up, provided your phone is unlocked. Cellcard offers the best service and coverage. On the other hand, if you’re planning on making any international calls, then Cellcard allows you to do so at a rate of 4.5 cents a minute, provided you dial 177 before dialling the international code, local code and number. You do not need to use the 00 before the international code when you do this.
The server at the booth will take care of all of the administration and insert the SIM for you. A SIM with $5 credit should cost about $7. You can also buy 3G access straight through your phone, which is very cheap in Cambodia. Cellcard, for instance, offers 3500mb over one month for $5.
Don’t forget to pick up your passport when you’re done.
If you don’t buy at the airport, you can try one of the shops along Hospital Road where you’ll see mobile phones for sale. Bring your passport, and they will take care of the rest.
You can buy top-ups in the supermarkets and general stores, as well as stalls where you see a sun umbrella with the name of a mobile company on it, usually Cellcard. You can ask the vendor to top it up if that seems easiest, otherwise just follow the instructions, which are given in English, on the cards. Some of them have machines that print out the code on a receipt. The instructions are in English too, though slightly harder to read.
There are almost no internet cafes left in Siem Reap as most hotels now provide access to computers and/or free WiFi. If you don’t have access to either of these at your accommodation, you can try the computers at Sopheak Na Travel and Tour on Samdech Tep Vong. This also happens to be an excellent travel agent, and one of the most reputable in town.
If you have a computer with you, you can buy a 3G USB key from any of the mobile phone operators for those times when you don’t have access to WiFi. Among them, Metfone offers the best service and charges. The key itself costs $27, which includes 1.5GB of data usage, valid for one month. You can top up at the shop, which is on Sivatha Blvd as necessary.
Cellcard: #50, Sivatha Blvd, Siem Reap; (012) 829 909/(017) 829 909
Metfone: Sivatha Blvd, Siem Reap; (063) 761 822
Sopheak Na Travel and Tour: #L05 Samdech Tep Vong, Siem Reap; (063) 968 895
The main post office in Siem Reap is on the river road, near the FCC Angkor. The postal service is expensive and unpredictable. Do not send valuables or money under any circumstances. Travel agents and some guesthouses may also offer to post your mail for a small fee. The Siem Reap Book Centre (at the top of Pub Street) will also handle mail.
Medical care and emergencies
Siem Reap is not the best place in the world to get sick or break something as the care can be either expensive or limited, or both. If you’re seriously ill, we recommend getting to Bangkok if you can. We also recommend exercising a little more vigilance than you might at home. The footpaths are uneven, there are weird holes where there shouldn’t be weird holes, drink is cheap and plentiful (and you may be more dehydrated than you think you are, which will give you a thirst), and climbing in and out of tuk tuks is not always the smooth operation we would like it to be.
The worst that is likely to happen though is an upset stomach. The basic advice for this is the same as anywhere else in the world: get hold of oral rehydration therapies (water alone is not sufficient). You can get these — the brand is Royal D — from a pharmacy (see below), or from Angkor Market. Treatments such as Immodium, which basically block you up, should only be taken if you’re planning a trip and it can’t be avoided. Otherwise, you need to allow your body to purge whatever is ailing it. You can also buy Smecta, which is charcoal that traps the poisons in your system and can help to accelerate the process.
Siem Reap is not a risk area for malaria, though dengue fever is still a (remote) possibility, especially during rainy season. Symptoms include a high fever (40C/104F), severe headache, muscle and joint pain, nausea or vomiting, or pain behind the eyes. It is rarely fatal, and can be managed; if you show symptoms seek medical assistance immediately.
If you’re thinking of packing a medical kit, there is nothing you are likely to need that you will not be able to obtain easily, and more cheaply, here.
The level of dental care available in Cambodia is actually quite high. Dentists here tend to be well-trained, and the main deficiency might lie in the quality of materials used. However, for emergency treatment, and even for more extensive care, there is no real reason why you should not go to any of the dental clinics below. Cambodia isn’t on the dental tourism map yet, but that may be just a matter of time.
UCare Pharmacy: These modern pharmacies could be anywhere in the world, which can be comforting if you’re not feeling at your best. The staff are reasonably well-trained, and you can obtain a broad range of pain killers, antibiotics, burns treatments, antiseptics and other medications here, all over the counter. It may pay to do some research first.
Hospital Road (at the end of Pub Street), Siem Reap; (063) 965 396
Angkor Thom Pharmacy: On Sivatha Blvd, opposite Acleda Bank (pronounced Aye Cee Leda), this is a highly reputable pharmacy where you will find everything you think you need, as well as good advice on what you might actually need. As with UCare, the likelihood of finding counterfeit products here is very low.
Sivatha Blvd, Siem Reap; (063) 963 759
Royal Angkor Hospital:This is the best all-round medical facility in Siem Reap. It’s modern, clean, efficient and has the closest thing to an A and E department this side of the Thai border. They offer an ambulance service (call the number below) and work with a sister hospital in Bangkok, to which emergency patients can be sent in a hurry. For serious injuries or illness, this should be your first point of call. This hospital is expensive. Make sure that you’re insured, or have access to money if you’re going here. The first sign you see when you walk in the door is for the cashier’s desk, and there’s a reason for that.
Route 6 Airport Rd, Siem Reap: (063) 761 888
British Khmer Clinic: Run by a British doctor, Dr Ian Ferguson, the British Khmer Clinic offers highly commended primary healthcare services. It’s a little bit out of town, on the road towards Angkor Wat, but considered to be worth the trip. Consultation fee is $30, and an appointment is recommended. You can call, or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
House A73 Charles De Gaulle, Charming City Tourist Area, Siem Reap; (063) 761 888/(012) 235 888
Lysreyvyna Medical Group: For after-hours care, this health centre offers 24-hour services and is recommended by long-term expats. They are a Hospital Liaison Office for Raffles hotels in Cambodia and Singapore. The doctors here can speak French and English, and a consultation fee is $50.
#113 National Route 6, Siem Reap; (063) 965 088
Naga Clinic: Run by a Dutch doctor who speaks English, French, Khmer and German, Naga only offers private appointments at the moment but should respond reasonably quickly to email queries on email@example.com. The phone pick-up seems to be erratic.
660 Hup Guan St, Central Market Area (parallel to Samdech Tep Vong and behind the main ANZ Royal Bank), Siem Reap; (092) 793 180
Doctors Rithy Kong and Sok Leng: These two Khmer doctors speak basic English and French and have received solid reports for basic care. With quick consultations at $5, it’s a cheap option for minor bumps and bruises. You can just show up — no appointment necessary. They also have an X-Ray machine, and can provide an analysis.
Behind Akira Electrical, #11, National Route 6, Siem Reap; (012) 832 152
Angkor Hospital for Children: This is a non-profit hospital that mainly provides quality care to Cambodian children but is open to foreigners as well. Even if nothing is wrong, this is a worthy place to make a donation, or give much-needed blood. The facilities and hygiene standards are utterly irreproachable.
Achamean St, Siem Reap; (063) 963 409
Pachem Dental Clinic: One of the longest running clinics in Siem Reap, with a solid reputation for its services. It is locally owned and run, and offers everything from cleaning and polishing to orthodontics. A simple check-up will cost $5, while a cleaning will cost another $19.25.
#242, Vithei Charles de Gaulle, Siem Reap; (017) 300 300
International Dental Clinic: Another one that is getting very good reviews from foreigners, including one we know who is undergoing extensive root canal work, this is another clinic with international standards. They also offer the full range of services, and a simple check-up will cost $5, and cleaning a further $15.
#545, National Route 6, Siem Reap; (063) 767 618
The Tourist Police have an office opposite the ticket booths for the Angkor Archaeological Park, but can be contacted by telephone on (012) 402 424. They have a reputation for being helpful, and can speak English. If you don’t have the means to reach them, then your hotel should be able to help.
Siem Reap is awash with banks and international access ATMs. You should not have any problems accessing your money here. ANZ Royal remains the bank of choice among most foreign travellers. As always, take care to protect your PIN from prying eyes.
ANZ Royal has at least four international access ATMs in Siem Reap: inside the UCare at the end of Pub Street, beside Angkor Market, one inside the Lucky Mall (on the left beside the escalators), and one at the main branch on Samdech Tep Vong.
ANZ Royal charges $5 for withdrawals on cards issued outside of Cambodia. This is in addition to any charges your bank at home might impose. Canadia Bank charges a $4 withdrawal fee for all cards issued outside of Cambodia, except for Visa cards issued in Europe.
Maybank, located at #13-15 Samdech Tep Vong, Mondol 2, has an ATM which, at the time of publication, did not impose charges for withdrawals on international cards.
There are no embassies or consulates in Siem Reap, although the French, American and British Embassies in Phnom Penh all usually have pro-consuls who live and work here and are available to provide assistance where appropriate. There is no British pro-consul at the time of writing in March 2015, but one should be appointed soon.
Story by Nicky Sullivan
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