Nestled between rice paddies and stretched along the Siem Reap River, the provincial capital of Siem Reap town serves as the gateway to the millennium-old temple ruins of the Angkorian-era Khmer Empire. Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins including Bayon, Bantaery Srey, Ta Prohm and legendary Angkor Wat whose artistic and archaeological significance and visual impact put it in a class with the Pyramids, Machu Pichu and the Taj Mahal. Although the major temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park have many tourists these days, it is still possible to get away from the crowds, explore the area and discover the ancient temples of Angkor.
Siem Reap town has been receiving foreign visitors to the temples for over 100 years. The town is actually a cluster of old villages, which originally developed around individual pagodas. Nowadays the town has grown out of recognition from its humble roots. There are several elegant 5 star hotels, and a multitude of alternative accommodation options; an amazing variety of restaurants, lots of shopping opportunity and vibrant nightlife. Often missed are the many opportunities to experience traditional Cambodia: boat trips on the great Tonle Sap Lake to fishing villages and the Prek Toal bird sanctuary, craft shops and silk farms, road tours through rice paddy countryside to distant temples and beyond.
‘Battambang’ means disappearing stick and is named after a powerful stick used by a legendary Khmer king to achieve and maintain power in the Battambang area.
Sitting on the Sangker River just southwest of the Tonle Sap Lake, Battambang town is at the heart of Cambodia’s ‘rice bowl’, and even though it is the country’s second biggest town, it still has a very local provincial atmosphere. Much of the architecture is French colonial and traditional Cambodian. Few buildings are over three stories, and the main streets are shared by cars and horse carts alike. Unlike most tourist towns, the local economy is truly local, based firmly in rice, wood, sapphires and food crops, and this is reflected in the character of the town.
Kampong Thom is one of the five provinces that surround the Tonle Sap Lake. It is another sleepy Provincial capital, but the ruins of the nearby Sambor Prei Kuk and the hill top temple of Phnom Suntok make it a very rewarding stop.
Kampong Chhang is a sprawling lake side fishing town which is relatively unvisited but offers the inquisitive traveller a real insight into quintessential Cambodian riverside life. Take some time to walk down to the river and sit on the bank and watch the daily grind of the hard working fishermen.
Points of Interest:
• Angkor Archaeological Park