The once sleepy provincial capital of Siem Reap is Cambodia’s ultimate boomtown, its exponential growth super-fuelled by the vast number of global tourists who now descend on the place to visit the nearby temples of Angkor. The modern town is like nowhere else in Cambodia, packed with wall-to-wall hotels, restaurants, bars, boutiques, tour operators and massage parlours; its streets thronged day and night with tourists, touts and tuk-tuk drivers in a giddy bedlam of incessant activity, with endless quantities of hot food and cheap beer, and a nonstop party atmosphere.
It should be tourist hell, of course, but what’s perhaps most surprising is that Siem Reap has somehow managed to retain much of its original small-town charm. It’s easy to spend much longer here than planned, wandering the city’s lively markets, colourful wats and peaceful riverside walkways by day, and exploring its restaurants, bars and boutiques by dark. Major attractions in the town itself may be thin on the ground, but there’s much to enjoy apart from the obligatory temple tours. The nearby floating villages on the Tonle Sap lake shouldn’t be missed, while there are plenty of other activities and attractions to keep you busy, from horse riding and quad-biking through to cookery courses, apsara dances and shadow-puppet shows.