Cambodia – Siem Reap

Siem Reap introduction

Just north of Tonle Sap Lake and just three miles from the major temples of Angkor is the town of Siem Reap. The town has grown rapidly in the last few years due to the draw of the temples of Angkor. The ‘lost city’ of Angkor captured the imagination of Europe’s archaeologists and explorers when in 1861, Henri Mouhot returned from his travels in Siam and wrote of a magnificent city engulfed in the jungles of northern Cambodia. The sheer scale and grandeur of the Angkor complex is rivalled by only a handful of sights elsewhere in the world. Angkor Wat itself is the most famous of all the temples and is the national symbol of Cambodia.

At leisure in Siem Reap

Aside from the main attraction – the Temples of Angkor – Siem Reap town has much to offer. The lively old market in the centre of town is a superb place to people-watch, hunt for antiques and shop for beautiful Cambodian silks. Close to the market are several excellent cafés and restaurants where you can watch the world go by with a coffee or a beer. The bustling town is situated on the banks of the Tonle Sap River, not far from the lake itself. Taking a stroll along the shaded banks of the river to the Royal Gardens is a lovely way to spend the afternoon, as is venturing out into the countryside.

Surrounded by rice paddies, Siem Reap makes an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding countryside and glimpse rural Cambodian life. You could perhaps rent a bicycle and explore the local Cambodian villages, where the local children will be delighted to see you. A trip out to the impressive Tonle Sap Lake is a must. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia and it is a fascinating place, home to hundreds of floating villages, mangroves and birdlife.

Cycle ride to see the highlights of Angkor

Early this morning we are transferred in a local tuk-tuk to the entrance of the Angkor Park. Once away from the hustle and bustle of the main roads we are able to start our cycle tour on the peaceful secondary roads. The first stop on our tour is Angkor Thom, the majestic walled city of the ancient kingdom. We will have time visit the magical Bayon Temple and the Elephant and Leper King Terraces. Take a break for a picnic lunch and then continue to the Gate of the Dead. Here we leave the ground trail and cycle across the top of the fortified walls to the Victory Gate. Then, passing the pyramid temple of Takeo, you take the road to Ta Prohm. This temple is perhaps the most atmospheric of all Angkor’s treasures. The temple was a monastery built by Jayavarman VII as a residence for his mother. Ta Prohm has been abandoned to the elements and the tentacle-like tree roots are slowly strangling the surviving stones. Enjoy a chance to explore this incredible site. The last leg of our cycle ride takes us past the world’s largest ever swimming pool, Sra Srange, where the most famous of Angkorian kings, Jayavarman VII, was known to take an occasional dip. Cycle through the plains and rice fields where we see people working in the fields, and finally arrive at Pre Rup, a temple that may have been used as a crematorium.

Phare Ponieu Selpak Circus

Located in a traditional circus big top behind the Angkor National Museum, the Phare Circus is an exciting addition to the performing arts scene in Siem Reap. With nightly performances, the Phare Circus offers an hour long circus show which currently rotates between four different stories, centred around Cambodian society and history. Each performance offers a mixture of theatre, music, dance, acrobatics and juggling in the big top setting.

Phare Circus is run by Phare Ponleu Selpak, a non-profit Cambodian association working with vulnerable children and young adults to improve their lives through development and training in the performing arts, as well as social support and educational training. The Phare Circus aims to impress audiences with skilled and artistic performances, whilst maintaining social and historical awareness through their storytelling.

Angkor Wat Early Morning Visit

Believed to have been undertaken as a temple and mausoleum for King Suryavarman II at the peak of the Khmer empire in the first half of the 12th century, Angkor Wat is the best-preserved of the Ankorian temples. As with other Ankorian temples and walled cities such as Angkor Thom, the central theme of Khmer architecture revolved around the idea of the temple-mountain. By the time building on Angkor Wat was begun early in the 12th century, this had been elaborated to a central tower surrounded by four smaller towers. The central monument represents the mythical Mount Meru, the holy mountain at the centre of the universe, which was home to the Hindu god Vishnu. The five towers symbolise Mount Meru’s five peaks. It is difficult to express in words the enormous size of Angkor Wat, But is can be hinted at in part by a look at the scale of the complex. One of the treasures of Angkor Wat are the bas-reliefs that adorn the outer wall of the temple, stunning examples of traditional Khmer art. Delicate carvings cover most of the 1,200 square metre inner wall, and are two metres long from bottom to top. They mainly depict scenes from the Hindu epics Ramayan and Mahabharata, but some of them also show day to day life within the Khmer empire.

Kompong Khleang and the Tonle Sap

Today we travel to Tonle Sap Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. The village of Kompong Khleang is one of the most fascinating and least-visited villages on the lake, located 55 kilometres from Siem Reap. It has a population of about 20,000 people, all of whom make a living from the fishing industry. Giant sheets covered with pink shrimp drying in the sun can be seen on the lake shore and along the main street. Explore the canals and surroundings mangrove forest on a small boat. At this time of year the stilted houses appear to be floating as water laps at the verandas. An eye opener to a different world, this is a fascinating trip.

The centre of the village is located on an island and here you will find a lively market, a local school and a traditional pagoda. You can visit the local pagoda, which as some very interesting frescos. After visiting the village, you will board your boat and cruise out to the lake itself to visit a small floating village and learn some more about this incredible natural flood barrier.

Leisure day in Siem Reap

Aside from the main attraction – the Temples of Angkor – Siem Reap has much to offer. The lively old market in the centre of town is a superb place to people watch, hunt for antiques and shop for beautiful Cambodian silks. Close to the market are several excellent cafes and restaurants where you can watch the world go by with a coffee or a beer. The bustling town is situated on the banks of the Tonle Sap River, not far from the lake itself. Taking a stroll along the shaded banks of the river to the Royal Gardens is a lovely way to spend the afternoon, as is venturing out into the countryside.

Surrounded by rice passies, Siem Reap makes an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding countryside and glimpse rural Cambodian life. You could perhaps rent a bicycle and explore the local Cambodian villages, where the local children will be delighted to see you. A trip out to the impressive Tonle Sap Lake is a must. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia and it is a fascinating place, home to hundreds of floating villages, mangroves and birdlife.

Another place of interest is Aki Ra’s Cambodia Landmine Museum. Landmines played a key role in the war and are still a major problem for the country. Cambodia is one of the most landmine-affected countries in the world, with an estimated four million landmines still buried in fields and jungles across the country. Mines cause devastating injuries and block valuable land for farming. The museum offers a fascinating insight into this global problem and what is being done to ban the production of landmines.

There is a display of a large collection of weapons including guns, rifles, rocket launchers, mortars, bombs and landmines, as well as a mock minefield so that visitors can attempt to locate the deactivated mines and gain an insight into the problem of mine clearance.

A short walk from the Old Market in Siem Reap you will find Artisand d’Angkor. Here you will be able to visit their workshops on a guided tour and visit their extensive shop, a great place to purchase high quality souvenirs.

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Staying at the  Hanuman Alaya Boutique, Siem Reap

This small boutique hotel is located on the edge of Siem Reap town and offers 15 well-appointed, air-conditioned rooms decorated with Khmer skills and antiques. It has a small pool – perfect for cooling off after a day’s sightseeing – as well as a spa room, bar area and the Reahoo Restaurant serving traditional Khmer dishes, including fish amok.

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