What the city of Siem Reap lacks in authenticity, makes up for in history (and tuk tuks). It is dirty and undeveloped, however less so than Phenom Penh. Tourists come to Siem Reap to see the magnificent temples of Angkor. The attention to detail and intricacies of design is astonishing at Angkor. The vastness and magnitude of the temples are awe- inspiring. Built in the early 12th century, Angkor Wat serves as a temple and mausoleum for Suryavarman II. Angkor Wat is the pride of Khmer culture, found on the Cambodian flag and riel.
My favorite temple was Banteay Srei, a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva built in AD 967. Banteay Srei means ‘Citadel of the Women’ and it is believed that women must have built it, as the elaborate carvings are too fine for the hand of a man.
Banteay Samre – a secluded temple with little tourists and provides a lot of freedom.
Angkor Thom – 10 sq km, previously supported a population of 1 million people.
Bayon – 54 towers of smiling Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara.
Baphuon – This temple is often called the worlds largest jig saw puzzle, “The temple was taken apart piece by piece, in keeping with the anastylosis method of renovation, but all the records were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge years, leaving experts with 300,000 stones to put back into place. The EFEO resumed restoration work in 1995, and continues its efforts today. ” – Lonely Planet Cambodia
Nick and I were in Siem Reap for the Bon Om Touk ‘Cambodia’s Water Festival’ , which takes place every year in November. This 3 day festival is most famous in Phenom Penh, however is also celebrated around the country. The festival seems to celebrate a variety of things, including: the end of the rainy season, rice harvest and histroically (12th century) the victory of the Cambodian Naval forces. In 2010, 347 people were killed and 755 injured in a human stampede in the Phenom Penh celebrations. It was canceled for the next 3 years, however has since returned. The streets are lined with food, music and vendors. And the locals compete in long boat races.
To escape Siem Reap, visit the floating village of Chong Kneas located on Tonlé Sap Lake. Here you’ll see what daily life on a lake looks like, you’ll see crocodiles and hear tales of water cobras.
Rent a motorbike or hire a tuk tuk to take you out of the city to enjoy Phare – The Cambodian Circus. Put on by a nonprofit that educates at risk youth, laugh and sit in amazement of these talented individuals.
Sugar Palm – Located in a beautiful wooden house on stilts try the pamelo salad and tofu satay (both about $5).
Bugs Café – Insects are sold all over Cambodia, at rest stops and markets, however visit the Bugs Café and indulge in some classy insects. Try tarantulas donuts, ant spring rolls, waterbug and spider skewers.
Peace café – This vegetarian garden café has reasonable prices and a great atmosphere.
And don’t forget to enjoy Happy Siem Reap Pizza.