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Siem Reap in 4-DaysWritten 10 February 2022
Siem Reap is an adventure beyond Angkor Wat and its temple complex. The experience includes Pub Street, a bright colourful walking street area of shop houses and brightly light alleyways of micro cafes and cosy cocktail bars like the 1920’s inspired Miss Wong and carnival of eateries and restaurants like the barbecue-featured Khmer Kitchen and hawker food stalls serving fresh juices, thick ice cream and wet-chocolate crepes. It is also a town serving ‘hidden’ gems… floating and towering stilted fishing villages on nearby Tonlé Sap lake…butterfly parks...and rural Cambodia with hamlets, palm trees and rice fields to the horizon. A visit here should be a minimum of four days:
An insightful starting point into Khmer art, culture, and architecture is found at the Angkor National Museum. Modern and air conditioned, it includes interactive and standing exhibits and includes customs and traditions of the ancient empire.
The Old Market (Psar Chaa) creates a center for Siem Reap. The shop houses around it were built during French colonial times. Today they house restaurants, cafes and retail. The market itself is popular for handmade silks, carvings and clothes. Here you will see locals haggling for rice, dried fish and sausages, vegetables and fruits – fresh and dried – and palm sugar. Prahok, a local fermented fish paste is keenly sought here as well as Kampot pepper, exotic spices, hot chilies, and nuts.
Visit the well-lit walking street Pub Street area spilling out to the Old Market that comes alive at night. Eateries range in style and price for every budget: the Sister Srey Cafe, a charity operated by two sisters, the Blue Pumpkin is a glorious bakery delight; the Red Piano is perfect for a quiet drink or two.
Tour Angkor Wat. Constructed from huge sandstone bricks rafted to the site via a network of canals, Angkor Wat is a breathtaking temple complex of soaring towers, dark corridors, a moat and an outer wall stretching for 3.6 kilometres. Once a city of one million people, it is the centerpiece of thousands of temples spread over 400 square kilometers, too many to visit in any one trip…or a lifetime.
Lunch at the Bong Thom Homestay: On the way to the Bantey Srey temple and 18km from Angkor Wat is a unique community experience -The Bong Thom Homestay. Set amid mango and dragon fruit orchards, fish farms and rice fields, Bong Thom offers an insight into ‘old’ rural Cambodia. Lunch is available here. You can also stay overnight making an early morning Angkor Wat tour even more special. There is also a self-funded English language school for local children.
The quality Por Cuisine restaurant, a two-minute remarque (tuk tuk) ride from town, serves great Khmer and French cuisine. Included is a mesmerizing Apsara dance and cultural performance performed nightly in a tropical fresh air garden setting.
Spend this day exploring at your own pace. To the north of Angkor Wat is one of the most beautiful royal temples, Bayon. Once thought to be covered in gold, its most distinctive feature today is its smiling stone faces on its main towers, intimate corridors 5 and hand carvings battles and conquests. North of the Terrace of the Elephants is the Leper King Terrace featuring a statue of the Leper King or Yama, the death god.
Bantey Srey: The ‘lady temple’ is a delightful smaller temple in pinkish sandstone with decorations and carvings of stories and motifs. Because of its size, simplicity and elaborate hand carvings of female gods, the temple is a homage to women.
Time permitting: Numerous massage and spa centers in Siem Reap offer great opportunities to relax. Try a four-hand massage in the Night Market. Cooking classes are available at most of the larger hotels, gourmet food tours are available via vintage motor scooter. Tours to silk farms, butterfly parks and crocodile pens are available. Countryside tours by horseback, buffalo cart and quad bike are also on offer. Apsara dance, art and photography classes can be organised.
Tonlé Sap: Asia’s largest freshwater lake is about 30 minutes from Siem Reap. It is easily accessible by bus or remarque (tuk tuk) and tours can be organized online or from your hotel. Tonlé Sap is home to floating villages, shrimp and fish farms. The lake, which grows to 10,000 square kms in the wet season, is best seen on a boat tour to the floating village of Chong Khneas. The tour takes a couple of hours and includes Khmer, Cham and Vietnamese floating households as well as floating markets, fisheries, clinics, schools and small farms. Other tours include secluded villages with homes built on towering stilts. Private tours can be taken to see snakes, crocodiles, and turtles as well as numerous water birds and ibis, which make their home here.