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Five things you should know about Siem Reap

After several decades of recluse, Siem Reap and all its treasures are now open to global adventurers

After several decades of being virtually inaccessible due to political strife, Siem Reap and all its treasures are now open to global adventurers. Whether shopping, dining, or exploring, this northern city offers a fascinating look at Cambodia's cultural heritage.

Angkor Archeological Park

The Bayon, Angkor Thom
There are over 1,000 ruins in Angkor. The Bayon, Angkor Thom. Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl

Just a few miles outside of Siem Reap, Angkor Archeological Park is home to over 1,000 ancient structures, most of which are unrestored, romantic ruins. The most famous are Angkor Thom, a city dating to the 12th century, and Angkor Wat, one of the oldest continuously used religious buildings in the world. Scholars believe that Angkor, which means "capital city" in Khmer, was the largest preindustrial city in the world and at its height sprawled over 1,000 kilometers, so bring your hiking shoes!

Siem Reap Shopping

Kandal Village
Siem Reap shopping at Kandal Village

The best shopping is not in the Old Market. Most tour guides will try to steer you to the Old Market, which does have its charms, but the hottest shopping is a few blocks away in Kandal Village, a neighborhood where sophisticated locals and expatriate merchants from around the world provide a Cambodian take on global style. Shops like Trunkh, Louise Loubatieres, and Ministry of Art, Potions, & Metaphors carry incredibly chic art, textiles, apparel, and antiques from local and regional sources.

Hand Carving Art of Siem Reap

Sculptor at work, Siem Reap
Sculptor at work, Siem Reap. Photo: Julia Maudlin

Cambodian traditions of stone and wood carving dating back to Angkor's ancient past arealive and well in Siem Reap. Founded as part of an international development program, Artisans d'Angkor employs local craftspeople as stone carvers, silk weavers, and painterswho use traditional methods. The workshop's store is a great place to buy reproductions of allthose exquisitely serene sculptures you'll encounter in the archeological park.

Siem Reap Cuisine Wat Damnak

Since opening in 2011, Cuisine Wat Damnak has garnered widespread acclaim, including a listing in Asia's 50 Best Restaurants 2015. The restaurant fuses regional tastes with French techniques to create an ever evolving menu that changes every two weeks.

Cuisine Wat Damnak
One of the best restaurants in Asia, Cuisine Wat Damnak is here

While Cuisine Wat Damnak is the most potent culinary force in Siem Reap there are a number of other noteworthy eateries like Chanrey Tree, Alliance Restaurant, and Angkor Palm forming a gastronomical vanguard all their own.

Sacred sites are everywhere.

Cambodian ruins, temples, and shrines aren't mere symbols of the past. You'll often see saffron robed Buddhist monks at Angkor Wat because the temple, and many others in the general vicinity, are still active sites of worship. Dressing conservatively is an important sign of respect. This means visitors to any temples, whether inside the archeological park or not, should wear long trousers or skirts, although some guides say skirts or shorts that cover the knees are acceptable. A good rule of thumb is not to wear anything you wouldn't wear in your own house of worship.

Monks at Angkor Wat
Monks at Angkor Wat. Appie Verschoor