I had the opportunity to visit Siem Reap in Cambodia as part of a group tour where we covered Vietnam and Cambodia. We did Vietnam first and then moved to Cambodia. The forthcoming blogs are part of this group tour that I undertook in late 2022.
Let me first introduce you to the wonderful group of people with whom I did this amazing trip. We were a group of fun loving seniors, some of them my medical college classmates. The others in the group were also very warm and friendly and you will get to see glimpses of all the fun we had as I take you along. My travel buddy was Dr Margaret, my classmate whom we all fondly call Maggie. Since the word Maggie is associated with a brand of noodles and we were buddies, I got the nickname Pasta. From this itself you will get an idea of the camaraderie in the group. This warmth and friendliness went a long way in making the tour more enjoyable!! Many of them had carried loads of snacks and other items which we all thoroughly enjoyed especially during our long bus rides.
Our Viet Cam tour group.
We arrived Siem Reap from Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam, one beautiful day in December 2022. This was my first visit to Cambodia.
Siem Reap is a resort town in North western Cambodia best known for the Angkor ruins. It is home to the World famous Angkor Wat temple, and various other temples at Angkor Thom. It served as the seat of the Khmer kingdom between the 9th and 15th centuries. Today, it is the capital of Siem Reap province and the second largest city in Cambodia.
Siem Reap literally means Siam (Thailand) defeated. French colonial architecture still dominates the streets . It was a quaint village once upon a time. With the Angkor Wat and other temples gaining popularity as a tourist destination, Siem Reap today sees lot of construction and modern amenities to suit the requirements of the tourists.
As we landed at Siem Reap I could see large waterbodies and probably swamps. More on this in my future episodes. For now, let us look around Siem Reap city.
The airport itself is built in traditional design and looks quite different from any regular airport. It is located 7 kms away from the town centre.
Aesthetically designed Siem Reap airport ( in contrast to most airport buildings)
Our Guide was Sarath and he received us at the airport and escorted us to our Hotel.
Our Guide in Cambodia Sarath
The hotel room at the Lynnaya Resort was done up in typical Cambodian style with lotus flowers taking the centre stage of the decor. The lotus is omnipresent in Cambodia and is used extensively for various purposes. This is typical of Cambodia and even the towers of Angkor Wat temple are shaped like lotus buds!!
Various artistic expressions using a lotus….
Glimpses of Siem Reap….
Angkor Enterprises office
In preparation for our Angkor Wat tour, our guide took us to the Angkor ticket office and purchased our entry tickets which had to have our photos and so we all completed that formality and were given the tickets for our visit. This ticket is very essential to enter any of the temples here. The ticket was checked at multiple entry points.
The Angkor Enterprise office
Siem Reap also has an Angkor Museum.
This museum has exhibits covering the history, art, architecture and culture of the Khmer Empire.
Pub Street ; traditionally known for its bars, is at the heart of tourist activity in Siem Reap. It has a wide selection of restaurants , bars, nightclubs, street food, shops, stalls and just about everything. Initially this area was primarily residential. Walking around Pub street and soaking in the ambience is in itself an experience. Traditional Cambodian street food stalls attract lot of tourists.
Many places here function round the clock but comes alive after 7 pm .As the evening gives way to night, the streets become active with loud music, and the party spills on to the streets.
A Tuk Tuk is the local equivalent of an autorickshaw and is seen everywhere on the streets of Siem Reap.
Cambodian street food or local food is similar to that in most South East Asian countries. Predominantly non vegetarian with frogs, insects, snakes and other reptiles forming a part of the menu. Rice of course; sticky rice as they call it, is the staple food. Apart from that, lot of coconut and coconut milk preparations are seen particularly as desserts.
Roast Frogs, fish and beef in that order
A sweet made of rice and bananas, rice dumplings and roast bananas in that order
Cambodians eat rice at every meal. No surprise then, that they grow some of the finest rice varieties in the world. Just out of the city, and you can see plenty of rice fields. The heavy monsoons, the Mekong river and the Tonle Sap lake ensure that the crop gets its share of water.
They grow both fragrant rice and white rice. Jasmine Rice from Cambodia is considered the best quality rice in the world.
A rice field
Exotic Fruits Of Cambodia
I love fruits and this was something I really enjoyed here. Cambodia had a real good variety of exotic fruits.
The Durian (similar to jackfruit), passion fruit and the extra large tender coconut
The Longan ( similar to lychi ) and the pink coloured dragon fruit
Being a vegetarian, these fruits formed a large part of my daily breakfast in Cambodia. Ours was a vegetarian group and as such we visited a couple of vegetarian Indian restaurants during this tour for lunch and dinner. There are good vegetarian restaurants and Indian restaurants in Cambodia about which I shall mention as I go along.
An authentic Indian Restaurant in Siem Reap which we visited.
The Spirit houses
Have you seen a structure like the one in the picture below and wondered what it is?
The Spirit House outside our hotel
They are the spirit houses seen in front of most houses in many South East Asian countries. Cambodia is no exception and you find them all over. Some are very well maintained like the one in front of our hotel . Others are less ornate. It is a shrine dedicated to the protective spirit of a place. The belief is that the spirits have to be appeased to ward off evil and bring good luck. Bunches of burnt incense sticks can be seen in front of these spirit houses.
Apsara Dance show
We had the opportunity to see the Apsara Dance show which is a traditional Cambodian dance performance. The singers , instrumentalists and dancers together put up a wonderful show of traditional Khmer culture as we enjoyed dinner at the theatre.
A traditional Cambodian orchestra with as many as twenty musicians with strong emphasis on percussion instruments is called “Pinpeat”. The dance performance was accompanied by a traditional orchestra too.
Apsara dancers displayed remarkable poise , agility and grace with slow and rhythmic movements of the body and the limbs synchronous with the music. The dancers were extremely slim and petite and wore headgear and ornaments similar to those seen on the Apsara statues seen in the Angkor Wat temple walls. These dancers practice for years to stretch and flex their bodies as required in this dance form. These dances are inspired by the traditional apsara dancers who entertained the Gods as per the epics.
The Cambodian version of Ramayana is called Reamker and features in many of the traditional dances of Cambodia. In addition to the Apsara dances, other traditional Cambodian dances were also enacted.
Here are some pictures and videos from the show. Take a look…
A statue of King Suryavarman II at the entrance to the theatre.
The Apsaras…note the headgear and ornaments.
A visual demonstration of an epic with the audience in the foreground
The dancers pose with a member of the audience
A traditional Khmer Dance
A video of the Apsara dance with traditional music
A video of a traditional Khmer dance . Note the beat of the music.
These were just glimpses of our stay at Siem Reap. The main purpose of visiting Siem Reap was to visit the Angkor Archaeological Complex. We visited that and also some other archaeological places of interest like Mahendraparvata, the Thousand Shiva Lingas, Phnom Kulen etc. In addition we also visited Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in S E Asia and a remarkable floating village on its banks.
So you can look forward to some remarkable destinations in the forthcoming episodes starting with the main attraction; Angkor Wat which features in my next episode.
Meanwhile do continue your support with feedback and comments .