The lay of the land
As the number of tourists arriving in Siem Reap continues to grow at double-digit rates, so too does the number of businesses being set up to cater to them, with hotels, bars and restaurants being thrown up at dizzying speed. As a result, areas that were once very much on the fringes can now almost be considered central as the town’s boundaries balloon. And every area is very much developing its own character too, from the leafy, broad avenues of the French Quarter to the dusty din of Sok San Road. But if you’re looking for rural tranquility then that’s still possible even within a short, 10-minute journey from the heart of Siem Reap.
National Route 6, the airport road
The first part of Siem Reap you’ll encounter if you’re arriving from Thailand or by plane, it is convenient to the airport, and that really is about it. Sometimes called “Generals’ Row” in reference to the number of hotels chucked up here by those who need to put some of their cash to work, this road is lined with dozens of mostly characterless faux-four star hotels, which offer little in terms of fine lodgings, and even less in terms of service. Almost everything will be a motorbike or tuk tuk ride away, so staying here won’t save money and you’d be far better off staying closer to town.
The French Quarter
Between Sivatha Blvd and the Siem Reap River, some excellent mid-to upper range options lie in this part of town, including some of Siem Reap’s big-name hotels. This is a quieter area than the rest of Siem Reap, with broad and shady tree-lined avenues. That said, some new development is going on, so some of that tranquility may be lost, but the same is true for almost every part of Siem Reap. You’re within walking distance of town here, or a short, two-minute tuk tuk ride away for when the heat, or temple bashing, take their inevitable toll on energy levels.
There is a small handful of centrally-located lodgings, which tend to be very good, either in terms of service or value, or both. But the old market area is still more of a shopping, feasting and drinking zone, and you run the risk of uncomfortable noise levels if you stay too close to the centre of the action. On the other hand, there are some quiet champions, details of which are below.
This is the road that stretches on the eastern parallel to the Siem Reap River, and extends all the way from Wat Damnak to Wat Po Langka, with Wat Bo itself strung along the middle. This whole area is going through a slow revolution as businesses priced out of the Old Market area are starting to set up here. Thus, while it used to be backpacker central, more mid-range accommodation options are now being slung up too. Increasingly, the area is being served by a lively mix of restaurants, bars and a few interesting shops that are worth checking out if you want to avoid the crowds around Pub Street. If you don’t want to avoid the crowds around Pub Street, then it’s only a 15-minute, rather pleasant riverside walk away.
Towards Angkor Wat
A few hotels are scattered along the road to Angkor, but what you gain in proximity to the ruins, you lose in distance from Siem Reap town and its rich selection of restaurants, bars and other distractions. Unless you’re thinking seriously upmarket (Raffles, Sofitel, Le Méridien, Amansara), then it’s best to leave this one out.
Sok San Road
Not long ago, this was a dark and dusty track that led to nowhere in particular. Now it is a busy thoroughfare, flanked with late night bars, restaurants, including some really excellent ones, and guesthouses. It is frequently referred to as Siem Reap’s answer to Bangkok’s Khao San Road, though it is yet to generate the same kinetic energy that Khao San does. It may yet though.
Getting out of Siem Reap may offer the best option if tranquility is what you’re after. There are some stunning hotels set in landscaped gardens, with nothing but rice fields to surround them; a complete escape for urbanites. This being Cambodia, there is no such thing as untrammelled tranquility and, as in town, it will be beyond the power of your hotel to stop local ceremonies, which can get quite noisy albeit only for a couple of days.
Room rates: Under US$10
What we were quoted as a walk-in.
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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Our top 10 places to stay in and around Siem Reap