Siem Reap…a charming gateway to Angkor Wat

The Golden Banana our home in Siem Reap

The Golden Banana our home in Siem Reap

After the slow boat trip over from Battambang and the bumpy tuk tuk ride into town I was ready to find a hostel, drop off my pack and explore Siem Reap.  Not having reservations booked ahead of time  we had  to visit a few hostels  to check out the rooms and then Barbara saw a sign for a place she was familiar with “The Golden Banana” it was a bit more upscale than some of our digs but this being the low season they gave us a deal. The place turned out to be great….small white washed bungalows around swimming pools and tropical gardens.  Rooms were a nice size with vaulted ceilings, large comfortable beds with mosquito nets, good service and excellent air con. The quintessential image of what life in the South East Asian Tropics is supposed to be and all for $22 a night…..priceless!

Swimming pool at the Golden Monkey in Siem Reap

Swimming pool at the Golden Monkey in Siem Reap

After a cool shower it was time for a stroll around the center of town.  It had a small village feel which I immediately liked.   Our hotel was on the south side of the Siem Reap River which runs through the center of town.  We were only a couple of blocks off the river and by cutting through a narrow  alley way we came to the back side of the night market which we could then wander through and come out on the street  bordering the river.  At night they light up the market, a strip along the river and a foot bridge with neon signs and colored lights which gives it a carnival atmosphere.  Across the foot bridge on the north side of the river is Psar Chas (Old Market) where as in most South East Asian towns anything can be had.  I have been told that they are most know for the “ knock off” designer watches and  purses  of which I saw an amazing assortment of at unbelievably cheap prices.

A street scene in sleepy Siem Reap, Cambodia

A street scene in sleepy Siem Reap, Cambodia

In 1935 a traveler named Geoffrey Gorer visited the town and wrote a description of Siem Reap “a charming little village, hardly touched by European influence, built along a winding river; the native houses are insignificant little structures in wood, hiding behind the vegetation that grows so lushly… along the river banks” an while some of the inevitable changes have occurred since then, it has pretty much escaped the onslaught of tourist development and retained much of that old charm.  Of course, much of the town was destroyed when it was emptied under the Khmer Rouge and that set development back for years.  Angkor Wat has 15 million people visit each year so I was very surprised that the town is as low key as it is and that development has been kept to a level that does not overwhelm or offend.

In Siem Reap keeping the Royal Gardens manicured.

In Siem Reap keeping the Royal Gardens manicured.

The main attraction here is the temples of Angkor and there is not much of interest in the town itself.  A few temples or shrines are scattered around town and there is a very lovely Royal Park at the north end of a walkway that follows the river but don’t look for great museums or galleries. The Angkor National Museum despite its name is a private venture in partnership with the Ministry of Arts and which from what I read has great visual displays to explain the culture of Angkor.  I was going to be back in Pnom Penh to go to the National Museum so I skipped this….plus they have an extortionate entrance fee of $12

Shopping for shoes in the old market, Siem Reap

Shopping for shoes in the old market, Siem Reap

On the other side of the Old Market are a series of narrow walking streets lined with shops, boutiques and restaurants of every nationality and description. The only drawback, is that this being  a third world country and air conditioning costing what it does to operate…..99% of the businesses are open air . So if after a hot day visiting the temples you are looking for a cold air conditioned bar/restaurant you are going to be disappointed. For me the ceiling fans were enough and I managed to survive the heat.

Tuk Tuks in a Siem Reap square

Tuk Tuks in a Siem Reap square

We had met a nice young man who spoke reasonably good English who was to be our driver for the next three days…taking us back and forth  from the temples plus some side trips and tours around for $50.  It is almost obligatory to get up and see the sun rise over Angkor Wat so our driver was picking us up at 4:45 AM to catch the first rays for a Photo op and to get us going around the temples before the oppressive Cambodian heat reduced us to sweat soaked wrecks. We had purchased a three day pass ($40) good for any three days in a seven day period but we were going to hit as many temples in a straight three days as our strength would allow.

Tomorrow will be day one of our three day tour of the temples….somebody get me a cold compress and a fan.

About Larry Bosco

In 2010 I had one of those “Is this all there is” moments and so in January 2011 I retired from Real Estate Appraising, sold off all my worldly goods and headed out as a solo traveler in search of a new place to live. Since then I’ve traveled around the world, made new friends and had many great adventures and some not so great. After staying almost a year in Cuenca, Ecuador I have headed back to South East Asia where I began the journey in 2011. Currently I am living in Chiang Mai, Thailand
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3 Responses to Siem Reap…a charming gateway to Angkor Wat

  1. Cousin Mary says:

    Larry- I am laughing out loud at the thought of you swooning in the Asian heat………….
    MM

  2. jeanne says:

    What a good job, love this post

    Am looking forward to coming and experiencing this too,

    Jeanne

  3. Claudia Hammer says:

    I’m sure the town has its seedy side but the pictures of the hotel, gardens and tuk tuks around the square sure make it seem quaint!

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