The most visited place in Cambodia not only offers access to incredible Angkorian monuments, but also boasts beautiful landscapes just a step away. The best way to explore the area is on a tuc-tuc, and if you find a great and friendly driver that speaks perfect English than you have all you need to feel at home.
When I arrived to Siem Reap I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew there were plenty of ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, but I didn’t know much about the rest. I also knew it was a popular tourist area, so I wasn’t that happy about spending a week there. It turned out you can easily leave all that hassle and find yourself almost completely alone among the beautiful Khmer ruins.
Around a thousand temples are scattered all around the area, ranging from completely preserved temples to plain ruins. You can bike to most of the main temples but the ones further away may require hiring a tuc-tuc or motorbike. Angkor Wat is the most magnificent of all temples, and of course the most visited one. Built in the 12th century it still is the largest sacral edifice in the world. Next to it, the great Angkor Thom has the biggest collection of monuments and is famous for its gates adorned with huge faces. It was the last capital of the Khmer Empire.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for us was the discovery of Kbal Spean, Hindu carvings on a little river in the middle of the jungle, some 50km north of the city. Located at the end of a 2km path up the hill getting there requires a bit of an effort. Apart from the carvings, the trees, and a waterfall, there is a butterfly colony beautifully flying around. On your way there, be sure to stop at the small temple of Banteay Srei.
The other place I visited on my Siem Reap adventure is a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake. As usual most of the excursions include ridiculous visits to places like crocodile farm or they try to sell you things all the time. However, the one ride among this interesting yet sad floating village gave us a sense of how people live in Cambodia. If you have a few days to spend in the area, I wouldn’t recommend visiting it. If you do decide to go there try to hire an independent boat.
My visit to Siem Reap wouldn’t be the same without the help of our charming tuc-tuc driver Borey, who took us everywhere and was flexible on time and place, and also helped us get a little insight into the Cambodian hospitability. Things like this are the ones that make your stay in a certain place a memorable experience.
*While tourists explore the ancient ruins around Siem Reap tuc-tuc drivers have a nap in a hammock attached to the roof of the vehicle. Most of the monuments have an area designated for them to park, socialize and rest. Apart from that, a good tuc-tuc driver knows the best restaurants, bars and clubs, and interesting places to visit. He can arrange the best massage, haircut and get you anything you can think of.
Take a look at this post if you have three days in Siem Reap.