In my previous post, I delved into the not-too-distant past as well as the ancient historical perspectives of Siem Reap. Part II will cover present day Siem Reap.
If you have had enough of the temples and ancient ruins in Siem Reap, then my recommendation is to go out to the countryside and understand the reasons why a place such as Siem Reap has been able to sustain itself over the course of the centuries till today.
So no visit to Siem Reap is complete without a visit to one of the many villages along the Tonle Sap Lake. Like the great Nile, the lake rises annually (between the monsoon months of September and October) to over six time its size during the dry months. There are several villages that you can visit - Chong Kneas, Kompong Phluk and Kompong Khleang. My recommendation is Kompong Khleang, not because it is the furthest from town, but it is the least-visited and most authentic.
The whole village is a sight to behold - built on stilts some three stories above the river bank.
Even the temples and schools are built on floating platforms.
Equally steeped in the legends of ancient Siem Reap is Phnom Kulen, one of the most sacred mountains in Cambodia. Located over 50km from town, it is wise to go there in an air-conditioned coach or bus as the trip there is an experience in itself. The spiritual aura of the space is overwhelming, from the Wat Preah Ang Thom at the top of a steep cliff, all the way to the River of a Thousand Lingas.
And the best part of this excursion into the mountainside is just a short climb away - to the lower and upper waterfalls. Locals and tourists alike rest and relax in the soothing crystal-clear waters of the falls.
If you arrive early, or are just dying to dig into the local culture and gastronomic feasts, here are some suggestions.
Restaurants are aplenty all around Siem Reap. As while you wine and dine, you can also help out with the local social enterprise efforts. An example is Genevieve's. It serves a fusion of local Khmer and Western dishes.
Another notable restaurant that serves Cambodian home-style cooking is Chanrey Tree. With great ambiance and equally great service, the restaurant is located in the riverside district overlooking the Siem Reap river.
If you tire of all the Cambodian-style cuisines, then Mama's Shop is a must-visit for the undisputedly best Italian restaurant in town.
Located at the far end of the road along Kandal Village, explore this up-market district for great al fresco dining or just laze around with a good cup of coffee or better still, a concoction of energy-infusing fruit juices.
For something really off the Richter scale is French creole cuisine right in the heart of Siem Reap. Dining at George's is an experience in itself. The experience is totally different from anything you can find anywhere. The staff are super-friendly and willing to share all their experiences. The food is out-of-this world and the ambiance and dining experience is definitively one of the highlights of your visit to Siem Reap.
There are numerous night markets in Siem Reap. One that is more unique and less tourist-trodden is the Made in Cambodia Market. Here locals bring the unique creations of their craftsmanship in Cambodia, many supported by non-governmental organisations.
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.