A short guide to making the most of a holiday to Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor.
Cambodia is rapidly embracing tourism, in the 5 years between my visits I have observed the onset of commercialism, no Seven Eleven or Starbucks yet but give it time!
Concrete roads have replaced the red dust tracks, 20 strong convoys of Tuk Tuks ferry group tours around Angkor and the slightly hippy Siem Reap has seen some investment with chic boutiques, smart hotels and posh cocktail bars now adorning “Pub Street”.
However, all is not lost, whilst perhaps a little more “business minded” the locals are still as charming and friendly as ever. The children still wave at passing vehicles and the general spirit and optimism of these people who suffered such shocking violence and atrocities under the Khmer Rouge is still completely humbling.
10 Things to know before you go:
- Visit Beng Mealea Temple – 40 kms out of Siem Reap but well worth the trip, this relatively newly discovered temple is still largely lost to the jungle and allows you to clamber and climb the tombs – think Lara Croft!
- Angkor Wat – the most photographed and famous of the temples is completely awe-inspiring but it does get very busy! Visit in the middle of the day when everyone else is lunching.
- Sunset – avoid the hilled temples of Phnom Bakheng or Pre Rub they are too crowded to enjoy the view and the slopes are dangerous to descend in the dark, instead head back to Angkor Wat or better still to your hotel pool bar or balcony for sun-downers.
- Tonle Sap – a long and pleasant boat ride out into this huge inland lake reveals an entire community living all at sea.
- The Happy Horse Ranch – take a fabulous hack through remote villages and canter serenely through the Paddy Fields.
- Get a driver and stick with him – negotiate a good daily rate with a Tuk Tuk driver and he will be your loyal chauffer day and night.
- Get on the WIFI – amazingly every restaurant, bar and backcountry shack will give you a password for free WIFI.
- Khmer Curries – a mixture of Thai and Indian influences, using Cambodian ingredients such as the famous Kampot Pepper – amazing!
- Baguettes – dating back to French Colonialism you can find delicious French breads and pastries in the most surprising places.
- Khmer Massage – this intense massage performed whilst you are wearing cotton robes/pyjamas focuses on pressure points and is quite strong but you will feel amazing afterwards – trust me!
A visit to this wonderful place is sure not to disappoint, my only advice would be to get in there quickly as I fear it will not stay this way forever.
By Suzy Wardle