After spending a week on the Mekong River in the lazy village of Don Det it was time for us to continue our journey to the World Heritage site, Angor Wat. Since we had heard nothing but horror stories regarding the 12 hour bus ride to Siem Reap we decided instead to take the one hour flight from the local city of Pakse to Siem Reap International Airport on Lao Airline for only $100 each. This was definitely a good choice for us.
Siem Reap is the one Cambodian city that truly caters to every traveler’s taste. Of course the main attraction to this area is the world renowned ancient temples collectively known as UNESCO World Heritage Site Angor Wat. The additional pleasant surprise awaiting us was the city of Siem Reap itself and all that it has to offer, beyond being just a place to sleep while exploring Angor Wat.
Siem Reap has virtually come to life only over the last twenty years since the beginning of the new millennium in the year 2000. The growth has been amazing, rising from a dusty small town into the thriving city of 140,000 that it is today. The city boasts dozens of hotels and hostels in which to sleep as well as a wide range of places to eat—from street stalls to award winning restaurants. As well as a large market area where all types of goods and souvenirs as well as food stalls may be found.
There are plenty of excuses for extending your stay beyond the time spent exploring Angor Wat. Angor is a place to be savored, not rushed, and Siem Reap is the place from which to base your adventures. With this in mind it is easy to see how three days for exploring both the city and the temples is simply not enough.
Siem Reap has reinvented itself as the epicenter of chic Cambodia featuring everything from backpacker party pads to hip hotels catering to the rich and famous. By day Siem Reap feels to be a sleepy city because so many visitors are walking the temple grounds three miles outside the city. However, by night the city is bustling with activity as the visitors are seeking food, shopping and entertainment.
Pub Street is the most famous street at night. Dominated by two large night clubs—“Temple Club” and “Angor What”—it is a street lined with restaurants and bars and is the number one “go to” street for people looking for a large night out.
A quieter evening experience may be found on the surrounding side streets and alleys which host a plethora of small quaint establishments offering a wide variety of food and drink. This is in addition to the excellent restaurants found in many of the larger hotels scattered around the city.
Siem Reap has many other great things to do and see besides visiting the Temples of Angor Wat.
Lake Tonle Sap is the second most popular Cambodian attraction behind only Angor Wat. It is the largest freshwater lake in all of Southeast Asia and hosts one of the world’s most vibrant ecosystems. It has large numbers of different species of wildlife in and around the lake, a fact which helped to sustain and grow the ancient Khmer civilization responsible for building Angor Wat and continues to supply the tourist trade and local population with an abundance of fish to this day. Viewing the floating villages from boats is an extremely popular activity with the tourists as well.
Our tour began with my wife and I boarding the tour boat at a large docking area filled with tourists, about a 30 minute tuk tuk ride outside of town. The boat trip lasted for four hours and featured viewing the floating homes of local residents. We were particularly fascinated with the floating alligator farm. Watching the teaming gators swarm to the hand fed fish was an impressive sight and a reminder not to swim in the waters where these gators call home.
This massive lake is home to many floating villages and one of the largest bodies of water in Southeast Asia. It reaches a total length of up to 250km during the rainy season. The lake measures about 100km across at it’s widest point but is actually very shallow as it’s only about 10meters deep at it’s deepest point.
The “Phare” Cambodian Circus was recommended to us by several different travelers and were told it was a must see. We have attended the world famous “Cirque du Soleil” three times at home in California, so when they said that this circus was the Cambodian version we knew we had to see it for ourselves. We were not disappointed.
The “Phare Circus” is performed in a large tent similar to the circus we had attended in California. The show is a combination of traditional and modern theater featuring live Cambodian music and dance. Cambodian artists dressed in colorful costumes perform a variety of acrobatics, juggling and contortion acts all beautifully choreographed and performed while artfully telling unique Cambodian stories.
The Phare performing artists are all either current students or graduates of the Performing Arts School of Phare Panleu Selpak which was founded in 1996. The schools primary purpose is to help local impoverished young people between the ages of 9 and 18. The circus features students trained at this school which is amazing as the quality of performers was equivalent to the professional Cirque du Soleil performers we had seen in California.
We loved the one hour show so much that we went back for more a second time three nights later which we enjoyed as much as the first time. A great show and entertainment while supporting a wonderful cause.