Fascinating Cambodia

Nov 21, 2010 Avatar Dan Ilves Dan Ilves

Hopping around on Southeast Asia vacations by plane is pretty easy to do.

Siem Reap, in Cambodia, is a two hour flight from Singapore. Three days in Siem Reap may not be enough time to be an expert, but enough to provide a great overview of what’s here, to enjoy the highlights and take in a spa treatment or two.

Peak season is November thru January. While we visited during the monsoon season at the end of September, we only experienced downpours in the early morning hours (between 1am and 5am), and otherwise had no daytime rain. Weather was hot and humid, but by no means unbearable.

Cambodia is a relatively new country for tourism. It’s been rebuilding over the last 15 – 25 years after years under the horrific Pol Pot regime (The Killing Fields), and civil war. As such, most hotels are quite new, many built within the last few years.

The airport is about 15 minutes away from “hotel row”, literally a street lined with hotels before the heart of Siem Reap itself, where a number of other hotels are located.

The temples of Angkor are remarkable, and the culture that was here was quite amazing. In the year when London had a population of 35,000 people, Angkor had a population of one million! Angkor Wat is, of course, a highlight, but Angkor Thom is the showpiece. It takes a full day to take in just some of what’s here. Nearby Ta Prohm is popular as the set for the movie “Tomb Raider”.

We spent a day in the country visiting the Koh Ker complex which, like Angkor, served as a capital for 20 years or so. A three-hour drive from Siem Reap, the temples here are not as interesting and mostly in ruins (though driving thru small country villages was very interesting in itself). Of note is the pyramid temple which one can climb to the top of for impressive views. On our return we visited Beng Mealea, a huge complex in ruins that is planned to be reconstructed. At this point it doesn’t offer the casual visitor much to see, and it is closer to Siem Reap and more interesting than Koh Ker. For those with little time, it may be better to spend a second day visiting other sites nearby Angkor, such as Banteay Srei which seems like a must, and the floating village on Tonle Sap lake.

As for arts and crafts, Artisans d’Angkor is seeing that some of the handicrafts are revived by training students to become artisans. One can visit their school and take a tour to see the facilities where students are taught, and then purchase their attractive wares. Artisans d’Angkor also runs the gift shop at the airport. A national museum is being built in Siem Reap to add to the attractions here.

There are many large souvenir shops featuring all sorts of handicrafts, as well as the Open Market, which is not unlike Istanbul’s bazaar on a smaller scale. Bargaining is easy, and there’s terrific value in silk, statues and carvings, etc.