Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, home to one of the most sought out sights and most importantly, a World UNESCO World heritage site, which is both breath taking and awe inspiring, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat plays such a pivotal role to the people of Siem Reap, that it is seen as an important aspect to Cambodian’s heritage and their livelihood. It is constantly on every local’s mind, every tourist’s agenda, on bars of soap, t-shirts and even the beer. The city of Siem Reap has a variety of artistic influences, Chinese, as well as western influences through the interjection of styles of restaurants and luxurious hotels that accommodate the influx of tourists that visit here.
As many tourists come to Siem Reap, there are an unlimited amount of tuk tuk drivers happy to arrange trips to temples for any kind of itinerary and price. I chose to visit for a one day tour, instead of a three day tour. I began at temple Ta Prohm, where I saw large lofty branches come from out of the ground, swirling and stretching past ruins, dipping and diving past pieces of rock, till finally reaching up to touch the sky with its bushy leaves. This temple is mainly known for its starring role in the movie: Tomb Raider.
We then moved on to explore the Banyon Complex with its various inner sections and variation in styles of architecture and design, making us feel quite lost in a maze of identical yet different surrounding ruins. Finally, we were taken to Angkor Wat. Joining dramatically posed Russian tourists and visiting monks, we joined the surging crowd to enter one of the most sacred sights in the world. Stepping within the walls to explore the ancient carvings and historical ruins is fantastic and so incredibly beautiful and detailed, it is easy to see why so many visit here.
At the end of the day, our driver took us to the highest mountain in the surrounding area where we could watch the sunset over Angkor Wat. I would recommend getting there early as many other tourists have the same idea and the later it gets, the more you have to fight and jostle for a seat.
We also had the opportunity to visit the Tonle Sap Floating Village, which says it all in the name really, a village with schools, a church and every local shop you’d usually find in your village, all floating of course, on the lake. All of their housing was so simple and laid back, open and welcoming, with children moving place to place by travelling and paddling in steel pots and families being resourceful and careful with the lake, I found it really fascinating to view a lifestyle to be so seemingly easy and happy, that your world revolved around mother earth and the natural source of the lake.
Although the surroundings of Siem Reap has much to offer, so does the city. Its colourful and lively centre houses many tasty local restaurants and luxurious restaurants (I would recommend trying a dish with Kampot Pepper), art galleries, colourful shops, and its very own markets.
The day market was filled to the brim with the usual tourist splendour and fresh food for local Cambodians to stock up on, whilst the night market was a whole different experience. Creating a maze of stalls of local artwork, sculpture and tourist t-shirts you could pass a corner and find massage stalls, beach bars, secret shopping malls and cinemas. We spent the evening drinking cocktails whilst getting our feet massaged. Pure bliss.
If you want to experience Siem Reap’s night life, then head to Pub Street, although there are a large amount of bars and clubs further afield. The main bars: Angkor Wat Bar and Temple Bar have hundreds of backpackers downing buckets and dancing on tables to the latest tunes. Although if you fancy a quieter night- in volume might I add, I would recommend going to XX Bar where they have a variety of different styled nights and the late hours of opening time means you can sip cocktails and welcome the morning sun rise over the city of Siem Reap with opening arms.