For most people, the only reason for visiting Siem Reap, Cambodia is just to visit the Angkor Wat, one of the oldest of the seven wonders of the world. But Siem Reap holds more questions than answers and one cannot but wonder what has actually transpired over the centuries. So a quick but feeble attempt would be to spend about four to five days exploring the nooks and crannies of Siem Reap in order to have a better understanding of the past, present and future of this wonderful civilisation.
I will divide the itinerary into three parts:
a) The Tragic Events in Cambodia's Recent History
b) The Ancient Glorious History of Cambodia
c) The Present Day, and Life around Siem Reap (Part II)
Getting to Siem Reap holds little problems transiting by air from neighbouring cities like Singapore or Bangkok. I was pleasantly surprised by the availability of 4G+ connectivity all around the city and even into the villages fronting the Tonle Sap lake, Southeast Asia's largest inland lake. But more of that later.
You can get your SIM card from the airport and a week's unlimited data access costs as little as US$5. By the way, the country just loves US$, so bring loads of this, as the country strives on tourist dollar.
Once you get hold of a SIM card, you are ready to use Grab (the undisputed Uber of Asia) to get around the city. Transportation charges are relatively cheap, around US$2-3 for anywhere around town if you take the local version of the official Grab "tuk-tuk". It can take four adults, but with a bit of coaxing, the driver is fine with five.
So the first thing I was curious about was the name of the city Siem Reap. After all we are not in Siam (the old name for Thailand). So what gives? It turns up that Siem Reap means "Siam Defeated", ironic as ultimately, Siam was the one that conquered the whole region from 1794 till 1904.
a) The Tragic Events of Cambodia's Recent History
No visit to Siem Reap is complete without a visit of one of the many memorials to the "Killing Fields" where anyone with even a semblance of being an intellectual (e.g. wearing spectacles) is put to death by the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979.
One close to the main town centre is Wat Thmey. Here you can see the many skulls of Cambodians who were buried in the mass graves around the area. An estimated 1.3 million people perished under the hands of the Khmer Rouge, with many more from starvation and disease. Considering that the population of Cambodia then was about 8 million, this was genocide at an epic level rivalling the likes of Auschwitz.
It is M.K. Wong's dream to visit at least 50 countries before his feet can carry him no more. With over 35 countries under his belt, M.K. is planning for his next escapade.