Siem Reap | Previous Travels
On day 2 of our tour, we crossed from Bangkok to Cambodia by bus, which took around 8 hours. We arrived into Siem Reap after a hectic border crossing at Aranyaprathet, which is known for being slow and chaotic! Arguably Cambodia’s hub, Siem Reap is famous for its Angkor region; a region of Cambodia that served as the seat of the Khmer Empire and is especially known for Angkor Wat (Wat meaning temple). That evening we headed out for a traditional Khmer meal at The New Hope Vocational Training Restaurant which is supported by the charity Planeterra. Run by locals, the restaurant is an initiative that provides skill-building opportunities to community members in need and also funds a free community school and health centre.
The following day we were up very early (around 4am!) to head to see Angkor Wat at sunrise. We had a local guide who showed us around the many temples, including the walled city of Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm (aka the ‘Tomb Raider’ temple), which is slowly being devoured by the jungle! The whole area is huge and you could easily spend all day walking around the temples, sitting by the water and taking lots of photos. One of the downsides to visiting Angkor Wat (especially at sunrise or sunset) is the swarm of tourists who all also want that famous sunrise silhouette photo (see below!).
The depth of poverty in Cambodia is also apparent everywhere that you go, and beggars take advantage of the hundreds of tourists that head to the temples each day. Hoards of small children congregate in the surrounding areas and you are approached every couple of minutes with books, food, drinks or other souvenirs for sale. Sometimes the kids have nothing to sell and will just ask you for money. Alongside the many tourists, this poignant reminder of Cambodia’a poverty and standard of living can get tiring at times. Nevertheless, if visiting or passing through Cambodia (perhaps on the way to Vietnam), Angkor Wat is a must! Entry costs around $40, but as I mentioned before, it’s easy to spend hours wandering around.
We also visited the Great Lake Tonle Sap and the Floating Village. Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia, and changes drastically in size throughout the rainy and dry seasons. In the rainy season between June and October, the lake is flooded with water from the Mekong River and water levels are at their highest. In the dry season, from November to May, the lake shrinks drastically. Tonle Sap produces over 400,000 tonnes of fish (there are more than 220 species in the lake!) and feeds over 3 million people. Although I found that I preferred visiting the floating villages in Vietnam, it’s still a great experience and worth doing if you can. The families we met along the way were great, and our local guide helped us chat with them. The kids were also really cute, although one boat of three young children also contained a large live snake (not sure if their pet or their dinner..) wrapped around one of their necks, which made some of us feel a little weird!