Wednesday, 1 February 2017

My first day in Siem Reap

Like millions other tourists, I have come to Siem Reap to see what it is most famed for, the Angkor Wat. To visit the ancient ruins either a 1 day, 3 days or 7 days pass can be purchased. These passes allow unlimited visits into Ankor Wat and other ruins in Angkor Archaeological Park within the stipulated duration.  A one-day pass [costing USD$20] is most appropriate for a  two day visit to Siem Reap and is best utilised in the morning to maximise the number of ancient sites one can visit within the day. 
Arriving in the afternoon, we only had half a day left and went for the alternatives which was to visit Siem Reap's lesser attractions first. 
Siem Reap is not a very big city and it is quite devoid of traffic congestion. Getting from one attraction to the other was a breeze and we managed to see a fair bit of what it has to offer on our first day.

Wat Thmei
Wat Thmei is one of the 18,000 killing fields in Cambodia. This temple complex which was used as a prison during the Khmer Rouge regime is now a functional monastery. About 8000 prisoners were massacred and buried in pits and wells just 250 metres from this monastery. To commemorate those who perished, a memorial monument was set up within the compound.
This small monument which houses the skulls and bones of the victims is located right in the centre of the monastery ground.
The skulls can be viewed through glass windows. I expected it to be an eerie place but it is actually not.  
Seen here are little monks taking a breather from their training, begging not to be photographed. 
In front of Wat Thmei are stupas that serve as burial places.

Les Artisan d'Angkor
Les Artisan d'Angkor can be considered an educational and a shopping stop for tourists. This company was set up with a noble purpose to give vocational training to rural Cambodian youth so that they can acquire a skill to make a living for themselves. Visitors are free to tour the various workshop in the school and to see young artisans at work. 
Les Artisan d'Angkor is also dedicated to reviving some ancient Khmer arts and crafts. The finished products are incredibly beautiful and can be purchased at the school's store.
Wood carvings, silverware, paintings, silk products, sculptures and jewelries are among the myriads of products churned out by these artisans.

Vietnam War Memorial Monument
I didn't pay much attention to Cambodian history but coming here, I did pick up some interesting histories about its past. This is the entrance into Vietnam War Memorial Monument, specially created to honour the Vietnamese that have helped fought the cruel Khmer Rouge.
More spectacular than the memorial monument I think is the sculpture of a many headed serpent with a row of men grabbing onto its body. There are two sets of this sculpture, one on either side of the entrance which also serve as a fence guarding the memorial ground.

Tonle Sap Floating Village
I find a visit to Tonle Sap's floating village quite interesting. I paid USD$17 for this trip which includes a return transfer from my hotel in the city and a boat cruise to Tonle Sap Lake. Along the journey, you can see a floating village and the lifestyle of the villagers. There are several such villages in Siem Reap. The one I visited is Chong Khneas Floating Village.
My boat was only 20% occupied.
The houses are built near the edge of the swamps and they are indeed floating. The main mode of transport among the villagers are boats.
   The village school
The village is a self contained community. There is a school, a Catholic Church, a clinic, grocery shops, restaurants, etc. Unfortunately there is no tap water supply and the only source of drinking water is from the river. The river is also where the villagers  bathe, wash  and even defecate. As a result  diarrhea is a common occurrence here.
The Church
The Village Community
When this woman saw me snapping a photo of her, she immediately asked for USD1. Life must be hard here.
An attraction of Chong Khneas Floating Village is a mini crocodile farm which is located in front of a restaurant and souvenir shop. These crocodiles are quite small. Visitors can also have a go at crocodile jerky which is sold in the restaurant.
I tried eating crocodile meat (in the form of jerky) for the first time here. It is salty, very tough and far from appetising. One piece was all I had.
Among some quirky items sold in the souvenir shop are wine with cobras soaked inside and mummified baby crocodiles. 
Tonle Sap is a very long river converging into Tonle Sap Lake which is the largest lake in South East Asia. Our boat cruised into the mammoth lake before making a U-turn back to the river. This lake is a major source of income for many Cambodians as it is rich in freshwater fish.
This boat was seen docking at the lake.
We departed the village and cruised back to the jetty just before sunset.

Art Center Night Market
I visited Art Centre Night Market after dinner. This night market sells mostly touristy stuffs. Not too far away is the famous Pubs Street where the bulk of Siem Reap's night life is found. Pub Street is filled with bars, night clubs and eateries.
A Stall in Art Center Night Market
A woman selling fried insects and scorpions
Among some authentic food products found at the night market are palm sugar, preserved fruits and cashew nuts.

While travelling around the city I also discovered a few fun facts about Siem Reap.
1. There are no high rise buildings in Siem Reap. There is a long standing order by the municipality of Siem Reap that the height of buildings should not exceed the tallest tower in Angkor Wat which is 65 meters tall. Because of this, the cityscape of Siem Reap is rather flat.

2. The main mode of public transport is the "tuk-tuk" which takes the form of a a cute looking two-wheeled carriage pulled by a normal motorbike.

3. You can find a Hard Rock Cafe in Siem Reap. That's a surprise as the city is quite laid back.

4. Even though the Cambodian Riel is the national currency here, the USD is widely used and the 'preferred currency' in all types of commercial activities. Tuk-tuk fares, entrance tickets, night markets items, etc are all quoted in USD. The price of items sold in supermarkets are also quoted in USD in larger prints and the Riel in tiny prints.

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