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Smiles from Siem Reap
By Bianca Lucas
16 January 2013





I went to Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor.

And see them I did.

 

They are every bit as stunning and unforgettable as you could imagine. Whether it is watching the red sun resemble a ball of flame as it rises over Angkor Wat, or to be captivated by the stone carvings of the Goddess Apsara dancing all around you, and the looming, brilliant heads of stone at Bayon overwatching your every step, or to see where the trees have all but swallowed temples at Ta Prohm– all of them are extraordinary.

 

And as happens so many times when I have travelled I can’t quite believe that I am here, seeing these masterpieces, being in the midst of by-gone era’s and being left totally speechless at times as my fingers snap hungrily away at my camera trying to recapture the essence of it all and still surprised and bitterly disappointed when I can’t or don’t.

 

What was surprising though was the town of Siem Reap itself.

No-one talks of the town. It’s all about the temples (or Wats as they are referred to). Don’t get me wrong I love temples and ruins as much as the next girl. And don’t even get me started on stoned Buddha carvings or the wily minx Apsara (Heavenly Nymphs) -  I love them no matter what country I may be in and can talk and listen to stories about them until the sun sets majestically over the temples of Pre Rup (a must at sunset). 

 

Peaceful, sleepy, completely safe and devoid of all the chaos and noise that is a hallmark of so many Asian cities. My Goddess, this town was almost tranquil!!

Now I don’t know if it was the time of year I visited but the crowds that can at times be overwhelming to even the most seasoned city and crowd loving girl, were almost non-existent. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t walking around wondering where all the people were, they were there. You just didn’t seem to notice them as you meander through the town centre.

 

 

 

Did it lose its charm compared to the throbbing and exhilarating atmosphere of say Bangkok? Not at all. Infact, it is what made it so special.

 

But this sedate little city still had everything that one wants from a mini-break.

Shopping. Tick!

Fabulous food and a vast array of choices. Tick!

Watering holes where one can get a cocktail with a names and ingredients one can barely remember but yet so memorable. Tick again!

 

And places to visit when you need a break from temples or the respite of your hotel pool? Yes big ticks there too. Whether out of town visiting floating villages or visiting the wonderful McDermott Art and Photographic Gallery, it’s all here.

 

And if its culture and history you want then the haunting reminders of this country’s turbulent, violent, horrific and heart-breaking near-past are captured at the Land Mine Museum where its founder Aki Ra, thorough every adversity (at the age of 6 he was a Khmer soldier before defecting to the Vietnamese Army as a teenager) turned his life into something inspirational. Opened in1997, the museum aims to raise awareness into the atrocities caused by land mines. It also boasts a school where orphaned children, often causalities themselves of the hidden mines attend and are looked after by Akira and his wife.

 

But this town isn’t bogged down in the wounds caused by its history. It has a freshness and hope for the future that is displayed on the open smiles and laughter of its people.

Akira writes at the entrance of the museum “people want to ask me about the past, but it makes me too sad reliving it all the time. I want to be happy and think of the future”.

 

My advice for people interested in going here, go quickly before the future and hordes of tourists overtakes the charm of the town.

 

 

THAI flies daily to Bangkok with connections to Cambodia's capital, Phom Penh.


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