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For a tiny tourist-filled town known only as the gateway to the towering temples of Angkor, Siem Reap made an impression. You might be surprised but my Siem Reap highlights are more than just visiting a temple or twenty… But, then again, I did risk Hepatitis, Tinea and a good chunk of my dignity to bring them to you.
Okay so I may be exaggerating just a tad, but in order to break away from the beaten temple track – awe-inspiring as it is – and experience something truly unique, then you need to be willing to get tactical. And by tactical I mean buying beer for every local you come in contact with. Never underestimate the power of an icy-cold brew – it will get you to places you never even dreamt of. Got an attentive receptionist? Buy them a beer. Got an honest Tuk Tuk driver? Buy them a beer. You never know what could happen. One act of beer-infused kindness could see you cruising down Lake Tonle Sap on a private fishing boat en route to the floating villages the tourist operators are forbidden, making friends with the crocs, birds, otters, fish and pelicans along the way and of course, drinking copious amounts of beer from this dude:
This is exactly what we were lucky enough to do! And to top the day off, we took a refreshing, yet slightly tense dip off the back of the boat…
Thanks to our tour guide, Chan, who loved his beers (and possibly our “crazy Aussie” attitudes) enough to arrange a private fishing boat (totally unbeknownst to us) down at the docks. It was pretty satisfying to speed off into the distance while hoards of tourists packed their sweaty bodies into similar-sized boats as ours. I’d also like to thank Chan for nonchalantly reassuring us that swimming in a tidal Cambodian-lake serviced by five different rivers and 300 species of god-knows what was not going to result in so much as an ear-infection (but we needed to “clear the floating villages first”). Water snakes on the other hand… Also, a special thank you goes out to our 70-year-old boat driver, whose name unfortunately escapes me. Mate, you’re 11 kids down and still loving the simple life. Case in point:
Kudos to you. This was certainly one of the most memorable days of my life.
Siem Reap Highlights
Angkor Archaeological Park
Being inside Angkor Wat and its surrounding Temples is like playing your own virtual reality video game of Tomb Raider. Despite the crowds you never seem to completely lose the other-worldly vibe which was my worry before I went. I won’t go into too much detail due to the plethora of reviews on the web but the Park, home to Angkor Wat, one of the oldest and largest religious complexes in the world and a stunning array of 9th to 13th century temples built by the kings of the Khmer Empire is simply breathtaking. It is easy to understand why it is still the major draw for every visitor to Siem Reap. Having undergone minimal restoration, stone pillars and carvings intertwine with massive tree roots and jungle in this stunning temple complex that reportedly would take 300 years of modern architecture to emulate.
Siem Reap Highlights – Angkor Wat Tips:
There are an abundance of vendors at each temple site who sell refreshingly chilled water (which you will most certainly need, by the bucket-load). Bring a small hand-towel with you so that you can pour some water onto it and wear it around your neck, trust me, it is a godsend in 36 degree heat and 99% humidity.
Even though it’s hotter than the proverbial firecracker you will need to cover-up. Wear light linen or cotton type clothing and if you want to avoid the crowds you will need to get there at sunrise. Two or three days and you will be well and truly templed-out. Unless of course you’re an anthropologist.
This Lake is the largest fresh water in South East Asia and what’s interesting is that it’s dimensions change drastically depending on the monsoon and dry season. During raining season from June to October, the lake is filled by water flowing from the Mekong with 14 meters in depth (as opposed to 2 meters every other time) and expands the surface of 10,000 square km’s. This natural phenomenon enables Cambodia’s famous fishing villages to exist for commercial production, as the lake provides more than half of the fish consumed in the country. In harmony with the specialised ecosystems, the human occupations at the edges of the lake live in colourful towering stilted houses with huge fish traps, and an economy and way of life deeply intertwined with the lake, the fish, the wildlife and the cycles of rising and falling waters.
Chong Khneas is the name of the famous floating village at the edge of the lake. It is located at Southern part of Siem Reap town about 15 Km, and takes only 30 minutes by Tuk Tuk to the boat dock where there are always boats waiting for visitors. The boat trip through the floating village takes approximately two hours. You will explore the different of Khmer, Muslim and Vietnamese floating households and the floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools, basketball course, pigsty and other boatloads of tourists. Or you could just buy a boatload of beer for one of the Captains and ask him to take you anywhere the crowds aren’t!
Siem Reap Highlights – Where To Stay
Angkor Wat, being one of the Heritage Listed Seven Wonders of the World means that there’s no shortage of accommodation (or tourists) in Siem Reap village. Here’s where we stayed.
Wat Polangka, Siem Reap, Cambodia
From $170 AUD/night
With twenty-six guest rooms, Heritage Suites is just the right size to justify the vintage automobiles parked in front of its stunning French Colonial façade. This is the predominant design motif for southeast Asian hotels of this caliber, so at Heritage it’s actually refreshing to discover that beyond the dark floorboards and slatted doors, the interior actually defies expectations. The rooms rely on a rather unexpected mingling of Khmer and Chinese décor, unified by the open floor plans and private gardens complete with palm-shaded Jacuzzis. At the higher end, suites are impossibly spacious, and finished off with polished designs that recall the best elements of Art Deco.
Siem Real Highlights – Food and Drink
Next door to Mom’s Guesthouse, just off National Hightway 6, Siem Reap. The Bayon has a pleasant garden setting and consistently excellent food. Try the popular curry chicken in coconut.
Near Psa Dey Hoy market, Wat Damnak Village. Arguably the best Khmer cuisine in town, often with a modern twist.