Siem Reap province is located in northwest Cambodia and covers 10,299 square kilometres. It is the major tourist hub in Cambodia, as it is the closest city to the world-famous temples of Angkor. The provincial capital is also called Siem Reap and is located in the South of the province on the shores of the Tonle Sap Lake, the greatest sweet water reserve in whole Southeast Asia.
Currency and Money
The official currency in Cambodia, the Cambodian riel, trades at around 4,000 riel to the US dollar. However, there is a 90% level of dollarization in the country and most stores, hotels and restaurants accept US dollars. Because they don’t use American coins in Cambodia, you’ll get change for your purchases in riel (1,000 riel is approx. 25 cents).
ATM machines in Cambodia dispense US dollars and Cambodian riel. However, if you are using a foreign ATM card, you will only be able to withdraw US dollars. Most charge a US$4 or US$5 fee for international cards.
Cambodia has a tropical climate and warm temperatures throughout the year. There are two seasons in Cambodia. The dry season runs from November till April. During this period, it is sunny, warm and humid with average temperatures falling in the range of 23-29°C. November, December and January are the coolest months but still warm during the day as the temperature can reach as high as 32 °C. The monsoon or rainy season runs from May till the end of October, with most precipitation in the months of September and October.
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. English is widely spoken and understood. French and Mandarin are also spoken frequently in the country; most elderly Cambodians speak French and many people in the Khmer-Chinese population speak Mandarin.
In Cambodia the standard voltage is 230V and the frequency is 50Hz. You can use your electric appliances in Cambodia, if the standard voltage in your country is in between 220 – 240V (as is in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa). The power sockets are of types A, C and G.
Siem Reap is a very small and walkable city. Many attractions at the city centre, around Psar Chaa (Old Market) and nearby Pub St, can be reached on foot.
National Hwy 6 (NH6) cuts across the northern part of town, passing Psar Leu (Main Market) in the east of town and the Royal Residence and the Grand Hotel d’Angkor in the centre, and then heads to the airport and beyond to the Thai border. The Siem Reap River (Stung Siem Reap) flows north-south through the centre of town and has enough bridges that you won’t have to worry too much about being on the wrong side. Street numbering is haphazard, so take care when trying to find a specific address.
Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom are only 6km and 8km north of town respectively.
Taxis are the best way to get to and from the airport. The official booth for registered taxis outside the airport’s domestic and international exit has a set price and ticket system. Independent taxis and motorcycles wait just outside the airport. The price is the same for both: motorcycles are US $2 and cars are US $6-7 into town.
These two-wheeled carriages pulled behind a moto are a breezy way to travel and are marginally safer than going by moto – mostly because they go at about half the speed. A trip that’s up to 5 minutes is usually about US$1–$1.50. Trips around town start from US$2, but you’ll need to pay more to the edge of town at night. Prices rise when you add three or more people.
There is a ‘Made in Cambodia’ market on the grounds of Shinta Mani Resort, where artisans and NGO’s have stalls selling locally-made gifts and souvenirs that have been created in healthy environments. The Old Market quarter has some boutiques tucked in-between shops selling fragrant gifts, affordable fashion and spa products.
Siem Reap’s original night market near Sivatha St is packed with stalls selling a variety of handicrafts, souvenirs and silks. In ‘Night Market A’ (to the south), you can catch live music at Island Bar, while adjacent ‘Night Market B’ has the Brick House bar.
Food and drink
Cambodian cuisine includes noodles, soups, grills, stir-fried, curries, salads, desserts, lots of vegetables, tropical fruits and rice, which is the staple food for Cambodians.
Cambodians perfected the art of blending spice paste using many ingredients like cloves, cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, cardamom, ginger and turmeric. They add other native ingredients like galangal, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, cilantro, and kaffir lime leaves to these spices to make a rather distinctive and complex spice blend known as “kroeung”. Although noodles are also popular, almost every meal includes a bowl of rice. A wide range of curries, soups and stir fried are usually served with rice.
There are two unique ingredients that give Cambodian cuisines their fabulous typical flavour. One is a pungent fermented fish paste known as pra-hok and the other, kapi, a fermented prawn paste. These require an acquired taste for most but they are beloved by some who used them in many dishes or even taken as a dipping sauce. Collectively, these ingredients have become an important aromatic combination commonly used in Cambodian cuisines.
In Cambodia, there is no fixed amount; tipping is all up to the individual. No one will frown even if you don’t leave anything on the tray. However, although it is not necessary to tip, a dollar or two is the norm and this applies to any form of service rendered across the board.
The Cambodian people are very gracious hosts, but there are some important spiritual and social conventions to observe.
- Buddhism: When visiting temples, cover up to the knees and elbows, and remove your shoes and any head covering when entering temple buildings. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing them at Buddha images. It’s also good to leave a small donation. Women should never touch a monk or his belongings.
- Meet & Greet: Called the sompiah, the local greeting in Cambodia involves putting your hands together in a prayer-like manner. Use this when introduced to new Khmer friends. When beckoning someone over, always wave towards yourself with the palm down.
- Modesty: Avoid wearing swimsuits or scanty clothing around towns in Cambodia. Wear a sarong to cover up.
- Passionate public displays of affection are considered a basic no-no.
- Saving face: Never get into an argument with a Khmer person. It’s better to smile through any conflict.