Siem Reap Day 1 (19 Oct 10) – Gateway to an Ancient Empire

Arrival at Siem Reap

Siem Reap, the gateway to the famous Ang Kor Wat, is a mere 2 hours flight away from Singapore. My main purpose of visiting Siem Reap is for the infamous Ang Kor Wat, and the various temples built during the ancient Angkorian period. Travelers from the west spend disgusting amount of money coming to visit this magnificent site, which is laterally at our doorstep. It would be rather silly for me not to visit this jewel of Southeast Asia. Besides sometime ago I read from somewhere that Ang Kor Wat is about to close due to the numerous hordes of visitors coming to visit these temple ruins, which inevitably has caused the structure to give way. I figured better visit this sites before what they did to the Pisa Towers happen to Ang Kor Wat. It would be meaningless to visit Ang Kor Wat at its parameters. Siem Reap basically existed for the visitors to Ang Kor Wat. Before the massive influx of tourists visiting the temple ruins, Siem Reap was a small sleepy town until a French explorer rediscovered the Ancient ruins of Angkorian Empire for the world to visit. Siem Reap simply means the defeat of Siam, and refers to a century-old bloodbath, commemorated in stone in the celebrated bas belief carvings of the monuments.

As the aircraft landed into Siem Reap, what greets me was a quiet sleepy airport, a 180 degree difference from Changi Airport, which was always bustling with life. Despite its “sleepy” appearance, Siem Reap airport is by no ways slack. Everything worked like clock work once an aircraft landed. One would see vehicles with aircraft stairways making their way swiftly to bridge with the aircraft. Not before long we were allowed to disembark. As my seat was the last 2nd row of the aircraft, I was one of the first few to depart from the rear of the aircraft. Well not many airports allow passengers to disembark from the rear. After exiting the aircraft, this is when I realised that I was actually very close to the aircraft, I can even see the “number plate” of the aircraft on its wings. Entering the airport premises, things worked like clockwork once again. The once sleepy airport operations are awaken by the inflow of passengers awaiting to explore the grounds of the Angkorian Ruins. Airport staff sprung into action with order and clearing the passengers quickly. The interior decor as well as the exterior fully displayed the Angkorian architecture. As I walked out of the airport, the hotel staff picking me up is already there waiting for me.

Deplaning in Siem Reap Airport
Walking under the wing of the bird which brought me here to Siem Reap
Heading towards the Airport Terminal
Inside the airport terminal
Waiting to clear immigration
Around the airport
Facade of Siem Reap Airport
On the streets of Siem Reap
On the streets of Siem Reap
On the streets of Siem Reap
On the streets of Siem Reap

Getting My Bearings in the Town of Siem Reap

After settling into my room, it is time for me to visit the Siem Reap Museum and explore around Siem Reap town. Visiting the national museum of Siem Reap was to give an insight into the Angkorian history before visiting the temples. However, before visiting the museum, I need to energise my stomach with lunch. I went to the old market area to hunt for lunch. There are lots of Khmer restaurants for me to choose at pub street area. After walking up and down the same street for 5 mins, I finally settled for this restaurant called “Traditional Khmer Food Restaurant”, and ordered myself some curry looking claypot of food. While waiting for my lunch, I saw some locals walking up and down the street, young and old, all victims of the war, selling souvenirs to dinning tourists. There was this ang moh guy watch you tube in the restaurant. A bunch of local boys was selling stuff to tourists around the area stopped and watched him watching you tube. The ang moh guy was generous enough to share with them what he was watching. I was surprised at how knowledgable these kids are on European geography. After finishing eating, I strolled to the museum. As the museum was a far walk away from my dinning area, I took a slow stroll around, trying to absorb and appreciate the town.

A 5 headed Naga – common in the folklore of Ang Kor
Cambodian Temple
At the town centre
Lunch Time
A foreigner sharing his video clips with local kids
Pub Street in Siem Reap
Pub Street
Streets in Siem Reap
Siem Reap Botanic Gardens
Siem Reap Botanic Gardens
Siem Reap Botanic Gardens
Siem Reap Botanic Gardens
Siem Reap Botanic Gardens

Siem Reap Museum

The museum was rather empty, the number of visitors was less then 10 at the time of my visit. At the entrance, one of the staff asked where I was from. He asked what was the average wages in Singapore, and I told him around USD 2-3k. He then asked how much the factory workers earned. I told him around USD 1k, he then told me he is a university graduate with bachelor in english literature, and his pay per month is only USD 150!! And he actually wanted to come to singapore and worked as a factory worker! After talking for another 10 mins, he left me to my tour around the museum. The museum was displaying mainly the cultural beliefs of Cambodians and the history of Angkor Wat. Most of the artifacts were actually from the temple ruins, some dated as far back back as 5th century! Photography was not permitted in most areas.

Entrance to the Ang Kor Museum
Entrance to the Ang Kor Museum
This is displayed in front of the entrance of one of the galleries in the museum
2 Ang Kor style stone lions at the entrance of one of the galleries
Ang Kor styled buddhist statue with 5-headed nagas
Some of the relics on display
Some of the relics on display
This well craved beam is taken from one of the temples
This well craved beam is taken from one of the temples
This well craved beam is taken from one of the temples
These are some of the original pillars taken from one of the temples
This is a replica of multi-headed buddha
Some of the relics on display
Some of the relics on display
Some of the relics on display
Some of the relics on display

After the museum tour, I decided to visit the some of the temples (or pagodas as the locals described it) nearby the museum before heading back to the hotel. On the map it looked like they are right next to the museum, so I walked towards my destination. After crossing Siem Reap river, I ended up on this small riverside road. As I walked along the road, it reminds me of singapore in the 60s, housing built next to the river. Most of the houses just had a room with a TV, very simple set up. Along the river one can see the locals fishing by the river, it seemed that fishing is a popular pass time for the locals. As i was walking and looking for temples, I saw more of local lifestyle. People here lived very humbly and simple. Kids were allowed to remain as kids with their carefree lifestyle (at least this part of the town). I passed by what looked like a school and it happened to be the time they just finished school, and the area looked very lively. I came across what looked like a “volleyball park” with teens playing volleyball, and there are at least 5 courts inside the compound. I stopped and watched them play for 10 mins before heading for Swensen’s for ice-cream. I returned to the hotel after a satisfying Sundae at Swensen’s.

Walking along the streets of Siem Reap
This is a quiet street in Siem Reap… it felt perfectly safe
Shops selling daily products for the locals
Usual entertainment for the local kids – fishing by the river
Ice-cream time!

Dinner in Siem Reap

Soon it is time for dinner, as I head towards the reception, the owner of the restaurant is already there waiting to drive me for dinner. The restaurant is located in a secluded corner, no street lighting, very inconspicuous. Despite that, there are still people coming to dine at the restaurant. The restaurant only have 5 tables, but it was nearly full!! I came to know about this restaurant from tripadvisor.com. It is rated as #1 restaurant in Siem Reap, all i rad on tripadvisor was that the food is wonderful. I decided to see for myself how wonderful can their food be. The ambience in the restaurant is very relaxing, the smooth lighting matching the relaxing music that was being played, the dinning experience in the restaurant is truly unique. I read that this restaurant is very good for their grills, and the owner also recommended grill, so I ordered steak. The wait for the food is reasonable, as they prepare only when you order it. After the wait, i was shocked at the steak. It is VERY thick!!! for a mere price of USD 6, this is definitely worth it. The same piece of steak in Singapore would cost more then SGD 20. The meat is grilled till tender, and the flavour is in. It is juicy and tasty, on its own the steak already taste good! After managing to stuff the whole piece into my stomach, I called for the bill. The staff gave me a bowl of lime water and a cold tower to wash hand and freshen up! I find the service is very sincere, no wonder people keep going back to the restaurant despite its secluded location. The restaurant owner drove me to night market, as I wanted to get some souvenirs. We chatted on the way to my destination. From the chat, I got to know that the restaurant is wholly family run, and the staffs are actually his siblings. The owner understood the concept of service and instill them into his family helping out in the restaurant. After getting what I was there for, I headed back to the hotel for rest and charge up for the next 3 days of temple ruin visits.

Pre dinner drink
Restaurant Signage
The steak that I had
Was driven to Siem Reap Night Market
Local cultural performance at the night market

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