Siem Reap in Cambodia is a land of many worlds. You could spend the morning appreciating the beauty of the Angkor Temples, the afternoon feeling the pain of Cambodia’s bloody history, and end the day with a pint of Angkor beer on Pub Street. It is a perfect destination if you're looking at offbeat travel in a safe, diverse and culturally rich setting.
Siem Reap is Cambodia’s second largest city, home to Angkor Wat. Life is easy and relaxed; traffic is almost nonexistent. My first stop was the War Museum. Large helicopters, tanks and airplanes spotted the premises. A charming English-speaking tour guide narrated stories and fascinating incidents to me. I was startled to see (deactivated) minefields up close, with the tour guide even encouraging me to step into the minefield for a stroll. A visit to the nearby Wat Thmei Temple and Stupa Memorial to the Killing Fields sheds some light on the bloody Pol Pot era of Cambodian history. Be warned, the visit can be slightly disturbing.
Angkor Wat has become the face of the Angkor Archaeological Park, due to its spectacular architecture. The sunrise over the Angkor Wat is not to be missed. The temple domes, silhouetted against the changing hues of the dawn sky provide a series of postcard perfect moments. The Bayon Temple stands out because of the 216 faces of Buddha that adorn its structure, all intricately carved into the stone. Other interesting sights at Angkor Thom are the Elephant Terrace, The Terrace of the Leper King and the Victory Gate.
The Ta Keo is an interesting vertical challenge. If you manage to scale the steep incline and narrow steps of this towering temple, you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Angkor complex—as well as a feeling of accomplishment! Most famous as the location where the movie Tomb Raiders was shot, Ta Prohm is a beautiful temple. The stonework and intertwined trees create an ethereal setting. Interestingly, restoration of this temple is sponsored by India and is being carried out by Indian engineers.
Live the life
Take a walk around Siem Reap by evening, as you will be treated to a true Cambodian experience! Young women will ask you if you’d like a massage (The traditional Khmer massage) and tuk-tuk drivers will throw their favourite line at you: “Lady, you want a tuk-tuk?!”
At sunset, head to Pub Street, Siem Reap’s most happening area—lanes of bars, pubs, restaurants and watering holes, with dozens of tourists soaking in the ambience! Most famous is Angkor What, originally the first bar on Pub Street. Visiting Angkor What is a rite of passage through Cambodia. Do try the best known local drinks—Blue Cambodia and Khmer Bull. Angkor Beer (jokingly referred to as the country’s national beverage) is a safe bet as well. Some restaurants also have daily Apsara dances, where visitors can watch traditional Khmer dance as they eat authentic Khmer food. Cambodia’s famed ‘Happy Pizza’ is available at eateries across the city.
There’s no better way to see a country and experience life is all its authenticity but by absolutely immersing yourself in the place. Cambodia will leave you in love with the world at large and fascinated by the many stories out there. What are you waiting for, traveler? The world awaits!
Pic credits: Flickr.com
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