Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Water on the Road

Siem Reap is largely known as a gateway to the ancient wonders of the Angkor Archaeological Park, perhaps almost exclusively. However, I'm daring to cover just the city proper itself without diverting my attention to the relics so close by. I'm going to do this primarily because Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples deserve their own post (which will be coming next), but maybe it can be said that Siem Reap also deserves the same appreciation. Upon arriving, it can certainly be noted that this area of Cambodia gets the most tourist attention, which means there is more sufficient infrastructure, hostels, vendors, and tuk-tuk drivers. I talked a little bit about these topics in my last two posts on Battambang and Phnom Penh. Either way, this post will be exclusively on Siem Reap, which sits comfortably in the Northwestern quarters of Cambodia.

Siem Reap

Angkor Wat isn't the only thing to see near Siem Reap, which is evidenced by Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia's largest freshwater lake. Normally, this body of water drains into the Mekong River, but in the wet season it backs up to form an extraordinarily large lake. It's difficult to convey just how much this lake actually backs up. To put it in perspective, I'll show you a picture just after we embarked into the middle of it all. In the dry season - this is a road sign.


As you continue on your respective floating vehicle, you'll find that others are also about on their boats looking to capitalize on your tourist dimes. In fact, they'll literally pull up beside your boat and hop on with the goods they're hoping to sell. It seems that Tonle Sap is important to the Cambodian economy in a variety of ways.


One of the main points of interest once you find yourself on Tonle Sap is known as the Flooded Forest. As I previously mentioned, this body of water really expands during the wet season (more or less from June to November) and in its path lies a forest. Incredibly, all that remains of it during this extended period are the tree tops, which peer above the water as if gasping for air. Or, if I'm to be less literary, I could aptly describe them as broccoli dipped in water with only the tops showing, and the stems wondering what exactly has occurred. I've given you two descriptions, so it is your choice in how you envision it. How about two pictures for good measure as well?


The other main attraction in this region of Tonle Sap is known as the Floating Village. It's basically a conglomeration of people who have decided to build mobile houses on the water. Apparently they live many kilometres further down the lake when it's dry season, but with the flooding comes this great migration of aquatic-bound individuals. It's not totally unlike what I saw in Ha Long Bay in the latter part of the trip, but it appears much less temporary. They even have a church, and as our guide noted in broken English, "It's a floating church. It's the place they are offering the god." It really is a floating village complete with restaurants, bars, shops, etc...Unfortunately, there are also children wandering around the barges begging for money, and some even carry snakes around their shoulders as an incentive for tourists to give them money. They clearly learned these tricks from their parents which is the disheartening part. There's also a crocodile pit on one of the barges that I've still got a few unanswered questions about.


Let's move back to land, shall we? In fact, there's not much water at all to be had on this street. That's because I'm talking about Pub Street, which is the nightlife capital of Siem Reap. It's exactly what you think, but a whole lot louder. Imagine a street lined with pubs and clubs all vying for your attention with the volume of the music they're playing. It's mayhem. Bri and I ended up here several nights among several friends. Namely, our Canadian pals from Korea (Stacey and Graham) met us for a few drinks, as well as our new found friends Tory and Lil. Throughout our nights we ended up at several fun establishments including Temple Club, The Red Piano, and my personal favourite - Angkor What? 


 Honourable Mentions

While in a new city, it's always worth it to take a peek at the market, and that rings true for Siem Reap as well. Actually, I'll kindly mention two markets which I happened to enjoy. The first is the Old Market, and it's located in central Siem Reap. Secondly, the Night Market is quite famous and worth a glance. In actuality, both markets offer similar products, but I found that I took a little from each visit, thus allowing both of these markets to become "honourable mentions."

Perched nicely upon the river is the underrated Wat Preah Promreath. It won't blow your mind, but it might engage your soul a little bit. It's on the map and it's not to hard to seek out. This temple probably doesn't even enter the top ten, or twenty temples I saw while in Southeast Asia, but that also doesn't mean it couldn't be in the top twenty of someone else. Also, just down the river is the Foreign Correspondent Club (FCC), and they offer a reasonably priced happy hour with one of the prettier views in town.


Lastly, I must give a small shout out to The Blue Pumpkin. They have beds for chairs and a modern white decor that makes you think they've hired Martha to do the interior. Beyond that, their ice cream and desserts are stellar. We went once, then went again...and possibly again.

Siem Reap was another pleasant surprise in a country that continued to be pleasantly surprising. One thing that I knew coming into this country was that the Angkor Archaeological Park withheld some of the world's greatest treasures. In the next post, you'll find out why, but that's a tale for another day. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this post, these pictures, and my fond reminiscence.

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