Siem Reap Without Angkor

Angkor Wat, the #1 destination of Cambodia.
A big Siamese army of more than 10,000 men once marched into Khmer's territory but then the Khmer people -under King Ang Chan- successfully killed the enemy's leader and captured the remnants. The town 'Siem Reap' meaning 'Siam defeated' got its name from this story because it was the place where the the Siamese army got a total defeat. Most historians doubt the historical accuracy of the story though.

The sure thing about Siem Reap is that the town has become very popular among foreign visitors. In fact, there are more international tourists here than in Phnom Penh the capital city. It's simply because the little town has the magnificent Angkor Wat just few kilometers away from it. So if visiting Angkor Wat is the main reason people come to Siem Reap, isn't it ridiculous for first-time tourists to come to Siem Reap without going to Angkor? Well, we still kept that possibility in mind when we were on our way there.

On the way to Siem Reap
Look at the Google Map and it would tell you that the road trip from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is 5.5 hours long. But in our own experience, it took 8 hours. The bus did stop once for a meal and toilet break (there was a toilet too in the bus), but this was insignificant in prolonging the travel time. The bad quality of the national highway was the most responsible factor for making the trip this long. In some parts, the road between the two towns was extremely bad and muddy. Sometimes the bus driver slowed the speed down but sometimes he was out of patience and didn't really care about it anymore by striking all the holes. I bet the bus would have not lasted very long with such a treatment...

On board we were entertained by Cambodian music video clips. But the outside view drew more of my attention. It clearly showed systematical poverty suffered by the people as the result of their corrupted governance. There were many wastelands left unexploited beside a few rice fields. Perhaps it was because of the land mines threat. It was said millions of active land mines from previous wars still scattered around. So many guide books would suggest travelers not to venture beyond the established roads.
Many foreign tourists were also on the bus.
It was 10.30 p.m and raining heavily when the bus reached its final stop. The bus terminal where everybody got down was a little bit out of town. We were fortunate to have booked a room already, otherwise we would not have any idea where to go. Soon after the arrival, I recognized a tuk-tuk driver holding a board with my name, misspelled. It was really helpful that most of the guesthouses in Siem Reap provided free pick-up service from the bus terminal or airport. Even without this service, the price of accommodations in Siem Reap was considered pretty cheap. What we got with less than $10 was a big decent room for two just like in star hotels. The only drawback was that the guests have to remove shoes when coming inside the building while the floor was not always clean. And later I found out that this is a common policy of guesthouses in Siem Reap .
The bus we took to Siem Reap as it stopped at the rest area.
The guesthouse we stayed in with its nice front yard with a fish pond.
The next day we wandered around the town. Unlike in Phnom Penh, here we could easily find rented bicycles. The rental fee was about $1-2 for each bike. We took only a little time to adjust driving on the right side and off we went to our first destination in town. Wat Preah Prohm Rath, a temple on a river side near the Old Market, was recommended by travel books and recognized by some as the most beautiful pagoda in Siem Reap. I would agree with that. The garden of the temple was so colorful and appealing to the eye. But then we stayed away from it after we found out that there were many living snakes (again, oh Cambodia!). Inside the monastery, it seemed some students were having classes. Said indoor was a reclining Buddha, but we hesitated to come inside. Had there been another visitor, we would have been more comfortable entering the door.

The ship replica related to the legend of Wat Preah Prohm Rath
The colorful temple garden
The Hindu elements within the Buddhist temple
Next, we stopped by Angkor National Museum which was located north of the town. However, after knowing the entrance fee was $12 per person, we stepped back. I really love history but that amount was just too much for a museum. So we paddled further north and finally we made our hearts firm to go to Angkor Wat. At first, we were in doubt to enter the archaeological park area due to its high price ticket. But after second thought, it was not a right time to be stingy. People come to Siem Reap for Angkor after all.

We had an early lunch on the way there, thinking that food in touristic area like Angkor Wat must have been much more expensive. Here at a simple food stall, it only cost $2 for each set of meal while the drinks and ice were provided for free. Also we got ourselves loaded with drinking water before entering the 'tourist zone'. The story of us in Angkor Archeological Park will be written on another post. Otherwise, the title of this post would be invalid. So now let's just skip the Angkor part of the trip.
Angkor National Museum
Refilling energy before exploring Angkor Wat
After being so exhausted exploring ruins, we rewarded ourselves with decent food in a restaurant. The price for such food was around $3-7 each. When dinner was done, we strolled along the Pub Street. This street was the center of the town's night life. Almost in every touristy town around the world, there are such places to meet the visitors' (mostly western tourists) needs. It was not a big surprise then why we were the only Asians sitting in a bar named A Triple Club. Noticing a free Apsara Dance show advertisement on the street this morning, I quickly made a prior reservation through phone. At arrival, we were escorted to the nearest table to the stage. By only ordering two glasses of beer, we were treated like important persons and had an opportunity to see Cambodian traditional dance performance. So worth it! :)
Cambodian cuisine we tasted for dinner.

Some of the menu were western-mixed. It used chips instead of rice.

The bustling Pub Street

The dancers were performing on the stage.

Two glasses of beer accompanying us while watching the Apsara dance
There are still many interesting places to visit in Siem Reap like Angkor Silk Farm, Landmine Museum, and War Museum, not to mention other interesting wats, workshops and galleries. If you're Muslims, it would be nice to visit Stengmai Village where you can find Champ-Malay Muslim communities with mosques and halal restaurants around. More interesting places await beyond the town such as Tonle Sap (30 km to the south) and Banteay Srei (30 km to the northeast). Well, there are indeed many others to visit in Siem Reap but still it's not complete without a tour to Angkor Wat.
Lastly, I got a chance to take pictures together with the Apsara Dance performers.

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