Sisophon, also "Serei-sophon" or "Svay", is a small town in North-western Cambodia. It is the capital of Banteay Meanchey Province. Stueng Sisophon is a medium sized river that meanders round the southern circumference of the town.
Control of Sisophon has often passed between the various regional powers. It is now part of Cambodia thanks to the French, whose sabre rattling forced the Siamese into relinquishing it (along with Siem Reap, Battambang and much of North-western Cambodia) in 1907. The town had been Siamese since 1867, thanks again to the French who gave it (and Siem Reap, Battambang and much of North-western Cambodia) to Siam in exchange for unobstructed French control over the remainder of Cambodia. Before then, a nominally independent Cambodia existed as a vassel state of Siam and Vietnam.
Sisophon is a transport hub that almost every overland visitor to Cambodia will unknowingly visit for at least 15 minutes. It is located at the junction of two main routes: National Highway 5 (running south to Battambang and west to Poipet) and National Highway 6 (running east to Siem Reap).
The town's main tourist draw is the Banteay Chhmar temple complex, which offers a more remote and atmospheric alternative to the Angkor Archaeological Park.
The town is sufficiently large to benefit from modern technological advancements not found in the countryside but is largely untouched by foreign influences, which makes it an interesting representation of modern Cambodia. There's a smattering of aspiring English speaking students, mentally unsound Khmer Rouge survivors, peasants and provincial townsfolk which give those who care to spend any time in Sisophon a glimpse of folk that are not found in the more visited, more urbane cities.
Several bus companies' offices can be found opposite or behind the new bus station.
Buses buses connect Sisophon with:
The milestones along the main roads on the approach to Sisophon have it labelled as Banteay Meanchey.
The town is small enough to be comprehensively covered on foot. Even the nearest attraction beyond the town, the lookout tower on Phnom Bak, can be enjoyed on foot from the town.
Phnom Jorn-Tien is perhaps within walking distance though the major road and unforgiving climate make taking a motodop the best way to enjoy it.
Motorbikes can be rented at the Golden Crown Guesthouse for $10 per day, ideal for a solo trip to the Banteay Chhmar temples.
Climbers have been reported to have scaled Phnom Jorn-Tien but there is no equipment hire.
Just wandering around and interacting with locals can be a very interesting experience, as once you get away from the bus station you're likely to be the only foreigner around. Those living in the outer "residential" areas (mostly shanty houses) are very friendly, and without the influence of the tourist industry give you a sense of traditional Khmer hospitality. A chair will always be offered.
There are several ATMs, including at Canadia Bank, which does not charge commission.
Sisophon Market (Psar Sisophon) is to the north of the shared taxi stand. Its stalls sell many necessities from toothpaste to basic meals.
English language newspapers and stationary can be obtained from the Apsara Book Shop near the market on the street north from the shared taxi stand.
The Mirror Restaurant, is a reasonably new fast food restaurant, with air-con, serving fried chicken, french fries, and - according to the proprietor - fried ice cream. It can be found to the east of town, opposite Sokimex gas station on Road No. 6. Meals $1 - $4.
The Golden Crown Guesthouse Restaurant, situated underneath the guesthouse, is your standard, tiled, Khmer restaurant, serving rice, and different meats. Meals $1.25 - $3.5.
There are a number of Khmer 'Karaoke' clubs dotted around. Otherwise, a tin of beer at the shop is usually US$0.50.
Committed winos will find solace in the rather pretentious supermarket on highway 56 that surprisingly stocks well-priced plonk for ~$7/ bottle. It's within walking distance of the town centre.
Golden Crown Guesthouse ($6 - $12), is considered the only decent guesthouse in town, and can be found to the east of the central shared taxi stand, where most buses drop passengers. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout.
Pyn's Place ($10 fan - $20 a/c), is on National Highway 5, 3.5km west of town, at the base of the mountain. Free Wi-Fi and swimming pool.
On the shared taxi stand's south side is a row of cheap, basic guesthouses with box rooms ($2.50).
There are several internet cafes in town. Two are centrally located: one opposite the Golden Crown Guesthouse and the other just around the corner on the street that runs approximately north from the market's east side. Both are $0.50 / hr.
The Banteay Chhmar temple complex is 60 km north of Sisophon on highway 56, a less substantial road than the major highways which may be impassable during the wet season. Golden Crown Guesthouse no longer handles motorcycle rentals and has no information on where to find them. A moto with driver to Banteay Chhmar will run you $20 or less if you fight hard. Banteay Chhmar is 50 km west of Samraong, the road to which is also not paved. The entire road is now being paved (June 2014). It should be a smooth easy ride next year, but now it is for the not too delicate.
There are currently no bus services to Banteay Chhmar.