It’s strange. During our short nomadic adventure so far we’ve spent the most amount of time in Siem Reap, but it feels like it’s the place we’ve done the least stuff. While travelling through Vietnam and then Phnom Penh here in Cambodia, we’ve constantly been on the go. Up early, breakfast eaten, backpack packed, map studied and a plan for the day discussed and agreed upon. Not here in Siem Reap though. A week of our 10 day stay was spent volunteering at a local school, and there was a LOT of down time between classes in the middle of the day. Back home in Melbourne both Sarah and I are go, go, go people, as I believe most people who decide to travel the world indefinitely are. But in Siem Reap, volunteering at this school, we were forced to slow down, even grind to a complete halt at times when there was literally nothing to do. It was difficult to do, but it was something we’ve wanted to do, we just need a little more practice.
Having said that, we definitely made the most of our time in Siem Reap, particularly when we left the school and moved into town for a few nights. This place is a complete contrast to what we experienced in Phnom Penh. The streets are clean for a start, almost spotless, at least in the middle of town anyway. The surrounding ‘suburbs’ are a different story, but I doubt many tourists venture too far outside the town centre and the Temples of Angkor. Siem Reap is Cambodia’s number one tourist destination, the place you base yourself when visiting the magnificent Angkor Temples, but it felt almost a little too ‘touristy’. If the Cambodian government were going to build a town from scratch, catering specifically for tourists, Siem Reap would be it. It’s a very pretty town, with some great architecture to admire and a nice little river running through it. There’s a plethora of restaurants to choose from, ranging from traditional Khmer food to almost every other cuisine you can imagine. There’s accommodation options to suit every budget, and pretty much all other tourist needs are catered for. And the nightlife is full-on, with most of the action centred around Pub Street, for all of the party animals. There’s also an insane number of tuk tuks vying for your services, which can get slightly annoying, but at least they don’t hound you like they do in Vietnam.
Here’s a rundown of what we got up to in Siem Reap
We volunteered at a school
While this experience didn’t work out well for us in the end, we spent a week helping out at the Cambodia English School of Higher Education Organisation (C.E.S.H.E.O). We stayed with about 20-odd other volunteers on the outskirts of town and helped to teach English, water the plants, paint the fences and any other odd jobs that needed to be done. There were four schools and close to 1,000 children who are offered free English classes, and the people who volunteer and children who attend made this a truly memorable experience for us. You can read all about our time teaching at the school HERE.
We visited the Temples of Angkor
This was one of the great days of our adventure so far, despite the fact it started with Jack throwing one of the all-time great tantrums on the front steps of Angkor Wat! We got up early, hired bikes and rode out to Angkor, about 7 kms out of town. It was another hot day, but we spent about nine hours riding around in the Cambodian countryside visiting some of the most amazing sites you’ll ever see. You can read all about our day HERE, and watch a video.
We took a stroll around Siem Reap town centre
It’s a very pleasant town centre and can easily be explored on foot. There’s more markets than you can poke a stick at, but you can pick up a bargain at the mains ones like the Old Market (Phsar Chas), Center Market (Phsar Kandal), or Night Market. As usual in South-East Asia there are what seems like an infinite number of Wats and Temples to visit, but to be honest we just pottered about. Sarah bought a book in a nice little book stores, we wandered through the little alleyways that wouldn’t look out of place in any of the great European cities like Paris and Rome, and we ate some really nice food.
We hired a couple of bicycles and rode out to Tonle Sap
Well, at least we thought we did! As you can probably tell by now if you’ve read our other articles, we like to hire bicycles and go for a ride. Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in South-East Asia, and we decided to go on a 15km bike ride there because we wanted to see the floating villages. It was a tough slog in the heat, and when we got there we were very, very disappointed. What we thought we’d arrived at was not actually Tonle Sap, it was a ferry terminal that takes large groups and private boats to Tonle Sap, 7km further down the road. We were devastated and because it was getting late, and we were pretty exhausted, we decided to ride back into town. However, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. Besides the great exercise, we also saw some amazing little villages built along the river, locals working in the rice and lotus fields, and some amazing homes built on huge stilts close to the lake. Unfortunately it was the dry season so there was no water underneath them, but that almost made them even more impressive to look at.
So there you have it, our run down of what we got up to in Siem Reap. It’s an absolute must stay town if visiting Cambodia, not just for the Temples of Angkor, but also for the charming town centre itself. And if you’re feeling particularly charitable, there’s a lot of volunteering options available.
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