We arrived in Siem Reap hot, smelly, grumpy and sick of travelling. Things quickly improved, however, once we arrived at our guesthouse. We were greeted with smiles, cold drinks and directed straight toward the pool by the staff (maybe they were being nice, or maybe we really smelled). My opinion of Siem Reap had just improved significantly. A quick jaunt to Pub Street for some fine Cambodian fare and a few 50 cent pots and we were fully returned to good spirits, but oh so ready for a decent night’s sleep.
The only apparent reason for going to Siem Reap for is the temples that lie in its surrounds, but we weren’t quite feeling up to that after our very long days of travelling. Instead we paid a visit to the excellent Angkor National Museum, which was the perfect primer on the religious, historical and architectural significance of the Angkor temples. We spent several hours taking in the immense collection of artefacts and slightly twee multimedia displays and by the time we reached the gift shop that marks the end of any self-respecting museum, were feeling very satisfied with ourselves for having done some learning. To reward ourselves, we decided to celebrate with a swim and some beers…
Unwisely having overindulged the night before, we headed out before dawn to the Angkor Wat complex to watch the sun rise over the temple itself. Despite the hangovers and the hundreds of tourists swarming over the best vantage points, it was still a breathtaking experience and if you ever get the opportunity to visit Angkor, you shouldn’t miss out on seeing it at sunrise.
We followed this up with an exploration of the main temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and Angkor Thom and, as newly minted experts on Angkorean art and architecture, were able to better appreciate these monuments and the impressively intact carvings they contained. By the halfway point of our tour, I was a bit confused as to why the museum hadn’t mentioned Tomb Raider at all, as our guide had already been able to point out at least 75 locations where it had been filmed and Angelina Jolie was starting to take on as much significance as Shiva or Buddha…
Having started our sightseeing at 5.30, and the mercury having topped about 195 degrees, we called it a day by mid afternoon and took refuge in (yes, you guessed it) beer and our guesthouse’s pool.
During our second day of temple tourism we ventured a bit further afield to Banteay Srei, which is a less heavily touristed temple about 45 minutes outside of Siem Reap. It turned out to be well worth the visit as the carvings are just as impressive as those at Angkor and, with its smaller scale, was much more accessible. That said, we couldn’t resist going back to Angkor Wat to see it at sunset.
Forgoing our traditional celebration of beer and swimming that evening, we put on our dress thongs in order to dine at Meric, located at the very swanky Hotel de la Paix. We were there to sample Meric’s modern Khmer tasting menu which would hold up well against anything in Melbourne and put to rest much of what I’d heard and read in relation to Khmer food being rubbish.
All in all, we really enjoyed Siem Reap itself. It’s a bit out of the way to visit if you’re not going to do some temple-hopping, but turned out to be a surprisingly relaxing place to spend a few days.