This is leg number two on my three-part trip from Thailand and Cambodia to Vietnam. I travelled by minivan from Bangkok and crossed into Cambodia at the Aranyaprathet / Poipet border point. The border itself was an experience in bureaucracy, and the crossing took 2-3 hours. A no-mans land with casinos and a dubious Cambodian checkpoint — famous for copying unknowing travelers passports for resale — all made for a trying day.
Once on the Cambodian side, I befriended some Italians who, like me, were looking for affordable transport to Siem Reap. Together we hired a car and driver and drove the 3–4 hours through the Cambodian countryside. Though beautiful in its own right, not a whole lot to see on the way apart from sleepy villages and crops. Siem Reap, on the other hand, is a prosperous town supported by masses of tourists. There’s even a street for Western-style hedonism; Pub Street. I tired very quickly from the spectacle and focused on what I came there for; Angkor Wat and surrounding villages.
Angkor Wat (The City of Temples, in Khmer)
Originally a Hindu temple complex erected the first half of the 12th century by the Khmer king Suryavarman II, it soon turned Buddhist. The site is the largest temple monument in the world and is not just one building but an area covering about 400 square kilometres with temples, structures, canals and roads. For several centuries Angkor was the centre of the Khmer Kingdom. A little-known fact is the hold Angkor Wat had historically on other nations. In 1863, apparently France “adopted” Cambodia as a protectorate and invaded what was then Siam to take control of the temple ruins. The best way to explore the sites is by bicycle.
These spectacular stone faces are part of the Bayon, a Mahayana temple built by King Jayavarman in Angkor Thom a bit later than Angkor Wat. This site, along with other sites are part of the whole known as Angkor Wat though they are strictly speaking separate entities. It is thought that the stone faces resemble the king.
Cambodia continues to be plagued by the landmines. At one time one in 235 Cambodians were casualties of the indiscriminate weapons.
Siem Reap outskirts/villages
You don’t have to venture far outside Siem Reap to be in the countryside. The small villages along the rivers are such a contrast to the cosmopolitan offerings in the city not far away. Surprisingly, even this close to Siem Reap, foreigners are somewhat of a novelty and locals are keen to strike up a conversation.
Left, gasoline sold in used bottles. Right, typical road.
I splurged in Siem Reap. A small, comfortable hotel (Hanuman Alaya) was recommended to me by the daughter of a Cambodian refugee here in the US. Still, I paid less than I would have at a Days Inn in the U.S., and the attentiveness and ambiance could not be beaten.