Siem Reap is the town where people visiting the Angkor Wat temple complex generally find their accommodation. Not surprisingly it is a busy and tourist filled destination. It is expanding at a rate of knots and the expansion is being funded largely by hotel chains and other commercial partners. It has a Hard Rock Cafe, Starbucks, Burger King and all the other western delights. In large areas it is struggling to retain anything other than a sanitised culture of it’s own.
But you don’t come here to see Siem Reap you come for the temples. However they are no longer a remote backpacker destination but more a tour group stop off. Many of the more remote temples and sights are still quiet but even at dawn Angkor Wat is very busy. The roads between the more remote temples are being improved so no doubt over time these will become busier too.
Various publications and websites put Angkor Wat as the world’s greatest destination, a bucket list essential and a must see for any discerning traveller. Whilst I wouldn’t say we were disappointed with it, I would say that I think a lot of the hype is to do with the exotic location rather than the temples themselves. Personally I found the pyramids and the Valley of the Kings more stunning by comparison and the Grand Canyon simply indescribable. Angkor Wat I would put alongside the ruins in Rome as fascinating relics of an ancient era.
Angkor Wat is the largest of the temples, Bayon has the crazy head statues and Thom has the jungle setting (as seen in Tomb Raider!). Many of the other temples are being ‘restored’ and the quality and nature of this restoration is very much down to the country funding it. Cambodia being such a poor country will accept this aid from anyone it seems. The Indians managed to ruin part of Angkor Wat years ago by using acid to clean some of the friezes. The Chinese tend to knock them down and rebuild, like a giant jigsaw, also creating any of the parts that were missing out of concrete- you can imagine what the results are like. The Germans, Swiss and French have all helped out much more sympathetically in regards to the buildings and their surroundings.
Definitely worth seeing if you are in this part of the world but I would be disappointed if I had come just to see the temples. We bought a 3 day pass but actually only used 2 days. In reality unless you are a temple fanatic you could probably see the main sights in one day.