We spent December 13 through December 16 in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Siem Reap is the second largest city in Cambodia and home to some of the largest religious complexes in the world. While famous for the iconic Angkor Wat Temple, we learned very quickly that Siem Reap has a lot more to offer.
- Angkor Temples: We hired a tuk-tuk and a local English-speaking guide to explore the temples of Angkor. We arrived at Angkor Wat before sunrise to capture its iconic photo opportunity and then our guide led us on a tour around the massive complex. Built in the early 12th century by the God-King Suryavarman II, the originally Hindu complex features five iconic towers that face West, towards the mountains. The facility’s construction took over 37 years and required stones to be shipped down from the mountains 50km away using bamboo rafts and elephants. We were able to get to one of the highest viewpoints and then our guide led us through some of the more hidden areas. After visiting Angkor Wat, we visited Angkor Thom. Angkor Thom is even larger than Angkor Wat, covering 9 square kilometers and encompassing several smaller temples. Prasat Bayon sits in the middle of Angkor Thom and features 216 iconic faces in groups of four that appear on towers throughout the temple. We also visited the famous Ta Prohn temple, which has many trees growing out of the ruins. While restoration projects are ongoing, the Cambodian government has decided to leave the overgrown trees in Ta Prohn to show the effects of over 400+ years of abandonment.
- Phare, The Cambodian Circus: This performance was incredible. The circus is a combination of dance, live music, and extreme acrobatics. The Phare performers are graduates of a NGO school called Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA). PPSA was founded in 1994 by nine men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. In the refugee camp, they found art to be a very powerful tool for healing. When they returned home, they offered free drawing classes to the street children and soon after opened a K-12 school for education and professional arts training. All profits from the circus go to PPSA.
- Kompong Phluk Floating Village: This village is a cluster of stilted houses built within the floodplain about 16km from Siem Reap. Every year during the rainy season, the water rises 4m and therefore all of the buildings in the village are built on massive stilts. In order to get to the village, we took a boat whose engine went out a few times along our journey 😬. Once at the village, we spent some time speaking English with some adorable kids. Mel spoke with a group of four girls and was really impressed by how great their English was at the age of 9! Cody spoke with a group of young boys who found it funny to try on his sunglasses (and they thought he was 35 years old!!). On our way back from the Kompong Phluk, our guide brought us to see the flooded forest and Tonle Sap Lake.
- ATV: We organized an ATV trip with Quad Bike Adventure to see the authentic countryside for sunset. We had an amazing night (even though Mel’s engine died half way through the ride 🙈) and met some adorable kids along the way. Our guide was an extremely intelligent young man who taught us about the ongoing complexities within Cambodia and how over a million citizens have left the country in the past two years in search of decent wages. While Cambodia has an election next year for its Prime Minister, corruption within the country has enabled the top few to benefit from Cambodia’s natural resources while leaving much of the country to fend for itself. Over 25% of the country lives below the poverty line. For those interested in visiting Cambodia, we recommend staying in local hotels (not chains) and supporting local businesses, guides, and tuk-tuk drivers.
- Night Market: We went here for our first evening in Siem Reap. There are many street vendors selling clothes, delicious Khmer food, and even fried scorpions and frogs! We tried to plug our noses when we passed by the durian stands 😷!!
- Pub Street: This street has many Khmer restaurants and our favorite was Khmer Kitchen.