Given the immediate proximity to the ruins of Angkor, those taking a holiday in Cambodia will almost certainly pass through the town of Siem Reap at some point — but the city no longer needs to be considered merely a transportation hub on the way to exploring the temples. Having long been a perennial stop-over for the wandering travelers in Southeast Asia, Seam Reap has developed its own quirky charms amidst the French-style shophouses, unique shops, funky boutiques, and bustling nightlife scene. One of the best descriptions I’ve come across is that Siem Reap is the Chiang Mai of Cambodia, a laid-back, hippy-hangout where you can lose a week (or more) before you even notice.
The town itself is small enough that you’ll hardly find yourself needing any type of transportation other than your two feet, but even so, getting around via tuk-tuk or bicycle is cheap and easy — though the roads, much like everywhere in Cambodia, are less than ideal:
With the sun setting and faced with the upcoming nightfall, Siem Reap seems to transform itself into an entirely different town, as food stalls are rolled out, neon lights are set ablaze, techno music is queued up on the turn tables, and revelers descend upon the heart of the city looking for a night on the town. Regardless of whether or not you’re the type of person to paint the town red, simply wandering around amongst the night owls is entertainment enough.
Kompong Khleang, Cambodia:
Another unique characteristic of this part of Cambodia is that entire villages and towns have adapted to the rising and lowering water levels — resulting from the area’s wet and dry seasons, respectively — by building their houses and structures on stilts 3-4 stories in the air. Whereas these towns may look relatively normal during the high tides of wet season, it currently happens to be the dry season, exposing the skeleton-like structures beneath for all to see. And although I never actually made it out on the lake village of Kompong Khleang (they insisted that I must buy 10 seats on a boat for them to take me out…umm, no thanks), I did get a chance to check out the surrounding villages — which are essentially the same structures (see my opening picture, too).
Though I don’t quite have a food post ready yet for Cambodia, I still couldn’t help myself when faced with a variety of diverse and interesting markets to check out in and around Siem Reap. Here are a few examples:
Beng Mealea Temple
And with all of the talk of not being “templed-out” yet, I decided that I could squeeze in one more temple before heading out-of-town. Though Beng Mealea is upwards of a 2 hour drive Southeast of Siem Reap, it presents another fine example of a temple where nature has clearly re-asserted its dominance of the structures of man. And, as an added bonus, the visitors here are allowed to climb, scale, ascend, and crawl basically anywhere they so desire within the grounds (let’s see any historical site back in the US try to allow that type of freedom).
With the Temples of Angkor and the town of Siem Reap now in my rearview mirror, I’m off to the capital city of Cambodia: Phnom Pehn. Between th chaos of the city, the constant din of motorbikes, and the somber reminders that this was the home of one of the most brutal genocides ever attempted, I’m certainly in for a change of pace. I’ll be back in the a few days with an update from the big city. Until then, cheers from Siem Reap!