History of Siem Reap

Located in Cambodia, Siem Reap city is the capital of Siem Reap – a Cambodian province situated in the North Western part of Cambodia. The name has been known to have various interpretations – While Wikipedia describes it as “Defeat of Siam (Thailand)”, others describe it as “Brilliance of Siam”. With a population of only a 172,000, this city was officially settled in 1907 after more than a thousand years of its existence in the 8th century AD. The 110 year-old French Institute – École française d’Extrême-Orient (EFEO) – famous for its interests in Asian societies, played a pivotal role in freeing it from Thailand and giving it under the custody of Cambodia. EFEO was also responsible for making the city habitable and starting tourism as early as 1907. Surprisingly, Siem Reap witnessed its very first tourists (about 200 visitors) within only 3 months of its official existence!

Although influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism, Siem Reap does have a lot of colonial and Chinese-style architecture in the Old French Quarter, and around the Old Market. It was the re-discovery of the Cambodian Region – Angkor by the French that was responsible for giving the city its first boost in terms of growth & development. The fame of Angkor’s rustic temples and the opening of its very first Hotel, The Grand Hotel d’Angkor in 1929 slowly started to drive tourism in the city of Siem Reap. Almost everyone who wanted to visit Angkor had to pass through Siem Reap as it was the most important & popular gateway to Angkor. This “satellite-effect”, together with Siem Reap’s own cultural heritage has now made it quite famous worldwide.

However in the past, the city’s development was greatly stunted by the Khmer Rouge regime, a ruling party in the middle of 19th century, that drove the city’s population towards its countrysides and radically stopped all economic growth. The notion was to ridicule and torture the educated people and encourage the growth of an agrarian society. This movement which lasted a few decades until late 1970’s had an adverse effect not only on Siem Reap & Angkor but the whole of Cambodia. The survivors of the brutality & torture inflicted by this regime are known to be still fresh with the stories that are yet not very old in their century-old history. Although this regime was brought down almost four decades ago, it is only during the 1990’s after the death of Pol Pot (Khmer Rouge’s key personality) that the country has started to witness real economic growth along with making its presence felt on the world map. Social-upheavals, guerrilla-warfare, famines, starvations – this city has been a witness to quite a lot but last ten years have been absolutely crucial in its relatively nascent history of economic growth. Currently one of the fastest growing cities of Camodia, Siem Reap now boasts of numerous hotels and hundreds of restaurants that would be worth a visit! Few of the websites and magazines also wrote about its vibrant night life with lots of great pubs and cool places to hangout. Not to mention The Siem Reap International Airport that catered to 1.5 million visitors last year!

It is indeed hard to imagine how this place has exponentially grown in such a short time whilst carving a niche for itself in todays ultra modern world! Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom & the ruins are few of the key historical sites to visit around the city besides the Old French Quarter & the Markets as mentioned above.

We shall soon be posting a historical glimpse – few of the most beautiful pictures of this city in our following posts. Until then, happy posting!

Sachin & Manish

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