SIEM REAP BACKGROUND
The name Siem Reap means ‘Siamese Defeated’. Siem Reap was a little more than a village when the first French explorers re-discovered Angkor in 19th century.
The Siem Reap province is the cradle of Angkorian civilization and it is a province that offers plenty of opportunity to tourists enthralled by the cultural patrimony. Siem Reap Angkor is the most attractive landmark in Cambodia in terms of cultural tourism in Southeast Asia.
Siem Reap is a fastest growing town in Cambodia but it is still a safe, friendly, and pleasant place. There is an endless choice of places to stay or dine, and a host of possible activities awaiting the visitors. Often missed are the many opportunities to experience traditional Cambodia : boat trips on the great Tonle Sap Lake to the fishing villages and the Prek Toal bird sanctuary, craft shops ad silk farms, road tours through rice-paddy countryside to distant temples and beyond.
Gateway to the temples of Angkor
Siem Reap Town serves as the gateway to the millennium-old temple ruins of the Khmer Empire. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins including Bayon, Banteay Srey and the legendary Angkor Wat whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact put it in a class with the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. Unlike many other world class monuments, the ruins of Angkor are as yet unspoiled by over-development. This will not be true in a couple of years. Though the major temples are relatively well touristed these days, it is still possible get away from the crowds, to explore the area and discover Angkor.
Temple of Angkor
As the religious, cultural, and administrative center of a prosperous and sophisticated kingdom, Angkor grew to be one of the world’s largest cities in the late 12th century (when it was known as Angkor Thom), comprising an estimated one million residents. Angkor’s kings erected magnificent temple complexes and constructed an intricate network of canals, moats, and Barays (reservoirs). Today Angkor is recognized as one of the world’s most valuable cultural sites and as a national symbol of Cambodia. In 1992 Angkor was designated a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The site covers some 400 sq km (200 sq mi).
Today Angkor is recognized as one of the world’s most valuable cultural sites.
The name Angkor is derived from the Sanskrit word nagara (meaning “city”) and is pronounced Nokor or Ongkor in Khmer and Angkor in English. The state temple of the first city of Angkor was Phnom Bakheng, a temple on a hill whose structure symbolizes the mountain that stands at the center of the world according to Hindu cosmology. Successive kings built temples devoted to various Hindu and Buddhist deities, and, as Angkor expanded, new population centers grew up around the temples that served as social, economic, religious, and political centers. Angkor Wat, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan, and the temples within Angkor Thom are the main temple complexes at Angkor. To the north, east, and west of these central structures lie three vast Barays, linked by canals throughout the central zone. The temples and Barays of this central area make up Angkor National Park, which was established in 1925 by the French, who had administrative jurisdiction over Cambodia at that time. The park includes more than 40 monuments open to visitors.
You can not truly say you have been to Siem Reap until you've checked these 10 attractions beside Angkor temples.
Bayon (giant faces) -
Ta Prohm (trees/Tomb Raider movie)
Angkor Watt (most famous and most crowded)-
Elephant wall and King Lepar
**to see any of the above you will enter the SouthGate, Angkor Thom (walled city that contains the above temples).
Banteay Srei (small, but detailed/well preserved) comes with a drive out to the country side (see wooden houses, rice paddies, etc.), a whole day, but combined with other temples. Stop along the way, and purchase sugar cane candy from the locals.
Angkor National Museum
Cambodia Cultural Village
War Museum : The war museum is located outside - in an open field. You can walk freely or have a guide. I recommend the guide. He will walk through each exhibit and explain how the machine/weapon was used against the Cambodian people, describing the horrifying terrors of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot Regime. The mine display was especially memorable to me. My husband enjoyed the ability to freely handle the machine guns and jumping into the tanks on display. Yes, this is a museum - but the equipment is open for contact (which suprised us very much). It's outside - and hot, so bring sunscreen and bug repellant.
Artisan D'Angkor : A wood and stone carving workshop sponsored by the UN located in the middle of Siem Reap. Tour was not as good as the silk farm - although this tour is more popular because it's in the city. You will see children making stone carvings. Good place to buy stone carvings vs. off the street as it supports the program. Bring your credit card. Plan ahead and make sure you have room in your suitcase. The store will provide you a certificate of "unauthenticity" in the event custom stop you for taking a stone carving.
Les Chantiers Ecoles Silk Farm (Artisians d'Angkor) : Located 16KM west of Siem Reap - an amazing hand silk production tour. A must do. It's almost like going back in time - where you will see the silk worms being harvested, silk spun, dyed, and weaved. This program is sponsored by the UN to teach young women a craft as a means of livelihood. Bring your credit card and buy 100% handmade silk items to support the program. Small silk items start from $5 - and up to $100 plus for some items. The best silk I've ever seen in the world.
Markets : There are 2 major markets: a) Central and b) Old Market (Psar Chaa). Central Market does not attract as many tourists so it's about 50% cheaper. It's also much cleaner, as it does not have a major food market like the Old Market does where small business owners are selling their veggies, meats, and household items. Not much to buy unless you are interested in Thai silk pillow cases ($1.50 USD); average quality silk scarves ($1.50); tourist shirts with Gap labels ($1.00 USD - quality of shirt was very high, I think it is Gap); NorthFace backpacks (not sure if it's real); and Cambodian Wedding Music CD ($3.00).
Concert at Children Hospital
Top ten attractions in Siem Reap which most of the tourists should check and see are
1. Take a boat cruise on the lake. The Tonle Sap lake is home to an enormous diversity of wildlife, as well as a number of stilt villages where you can witness traditional ways of life. Cambodia's Great Lake, the Boeung Tonle Sap (Tonle Sap Lake,) is the most prominent feature on the map of Cambodia - a huge dumbbell-shaped body of water stretching across the northwest section of the country. In the wet season, the Tonle Sap Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, swelling to an expansive 12,000 km2. During the dry half of the year the Lake shrinks to as small as 2500 km2, draining into the Tonle Sap River, which meanders southeast, eventually merging with the Mekong River at the 'chaktomuk' confluence of rivers opposite Phnom Penh.
2. Enjoy a traditional dance performance Dance is an integral part of Khmer culture, combining Apsara dances, folk dances and shadow puppetry. Several restaurants and hotels host evening performances at varying prices, usually accompanying a meal. No visit to Cambodia is complete without attending at least one traditional Khmer dance performance, often referred to as 'Apsara Dance' after one of the most popular Classical dance pieces. Traditional Khmer dance is better described as 'dance-drama' in that the dances are not merely dance but are also meant to convey a story or message.
3. Visit the Angkor National Museum Opened in Siem Reap promises eight chronologically ordered galleries of Angkorian-era artifacts and multi-media presentations of Angkorian history and culture. The Museum had just opened its doors and was not quite completed at time of printing, but should be very soon. Admissions price: US$12 (for foreigners). $2 for a camera.
4. Visit the local markets No trip to Siem Reap would be complete without a visit to one of the traditional markets, though they can be a little cramped and hot in the middle of the day. Don't miss the Night Market too, which features over 100 outlets.
5. Visit the silk farm located just 16km out of town, here you can witness the entire silk creation process from start to finish. Take a tour of the workshop and stop at the retail shop to buy some souvenirs.
6. Attend Dr Beatocello's concert Swiss doctor Beat Richner plays Bach on his cello every Friday and Saturday evening at 7:15 at Jayavarman VII Hospital, been to Siem Reap until you've to provide support to the three children's hospitals that he runs - donations of blood and money are most welcome. Performances are held at the Jayavarman VII Hospital, located on the road to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. Dr. Richner provides an entertaining and worthy Saturday evening.
7. Learn to cook Khmer food While not as famous as that from neighboring Thailand and Vietnam, Khmer cuisine employs subtle blends of ingredients and spices to give a unique favor. A few restaurants organize cooking classes, usually taking a whole day. The good people at The Ox Cart Restaurant at The River Garden Guesthouse are offering culinary tours and cooking courses focusing, of course, on local fare. Culinary tours include a tour of a local market(s) with an introduction to local culinary culture, foods and ingredients, cooking equipment, etc. followed by cooking classes at the restaurant. Call 063-963400 for schedule.
8. Visit Cambodian Cultural Village, a unique, sprawling new cultural attraction in Siem Reap, intended to introduce the visitor to Cambodian culture and history. Wax museum with scenes and figures from history. Fascinating 1/20th scale models of sites such as Phsar Thmey and the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh and the hills and temples of Oudong. Full scale models of a variety of Cambodian architectural types, including different styles of huts and homes, hill tribe houses, pagoda and mosque. Live shows, traditional dance performances and music. Traditional Khmer wedding show twice per day.
9. See the temples from the air don’t limit yourself to experiencing the temples from ground level, check out the view from a balloon tethered 180 meters above ground. Or, if you're feeling fuse, take a helicopter ride and be the envy of all your friends. Specialized tours, aerial photography, charter services. Multiple aircraft. Conveniently located next to the big, yellow balloon about 1km from Angkor Wat on the road from the airport to Angkor Wat. Price of helicopter begin from 90 USD per person and Balloon is 15 USD per person.
10. Exploring the countryside in Cambodia, The vast majority of Cambodians live and work in the rural countryside and a countryside tour or even a day trip to a remote temple ruin can provide a glimpse of ‘real Cambodia’ - picturesque, bucolic scenery, rice paddies and water buffalos, countryside pagodas and little villages filled with traditional stilted houses... And there are a number of ways to see it: by 4WD or dirtbikes, ATVs, bicycle, ox cart and more.
Sovann Eath will manage and reserve all of these things for you. It is good to book in advance at less one week or let me on the day of your interest.