Whether you’re spending your festive break at home or vacationing on your own (or with family or friends), there are some valid reason, besides Angkor Wat, to visit Siem Reap this season. The destination isn’t just near and cheaper compared to others, it’s also beautiful and rich in culture and history. Here are reasons why you should visit Siem Reap this holiday.
1. Beng Mealea ruins
Beng Mealea is an attraction that is about 40 kilometers east of the main group of Angkor temples. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 1992, and its relative obscurity and distance from town kept the crowds at bay. Nevertheless, it’s a fun temple to explore with its jungle terrain. Though unrestored, and in a fairly ruinous state, the large temple is one of the major monuments of the classical period, in the style of Angkor Wat. Whoever built it must have been a figure of some importance, but he remains unknown.
2. Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chorm shrines
The Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chorm shrine has a nice story. It is said to be dedicated to two Angkorian princesses and popular among the locals. The two statues have been moved around by generations of monks to hide them away from invaders and treasure hunters. In 1990, the statues have been moved to the current shrine to Preah Ang Check and Preah Ang Chom. Since then they are swamped with offerings daily. The taller, more slender of the two figures is Ang Chek, whose palm faces outward showing a Sanskrit inscription of protection. A 3rd statue which was found in 1995 is not on public display.
3. Buzzing night life
For some night life and to meet other travellers, visit Pub Street. This lively area, full of foreign tourists, is a great place for social activities, relaxation and shopping. You can choose to stay around here as the place has various eateries, pubs, boutiques and shops. The area usually lights up in the evening when people have returned from their tours and trips.
4. Healthy Khmer cuisine
Here’s a place where you can travel and make healthy food choices. Cambodian food is all about simple cooking and great flavours. Try local favourites such as fish amok (a delightful fish mousse, like Malaysian otak-otak, made with aromatics like galangal, lemongrass and ginger), Lap Khmer (beef salad) and somlor macho youn (Cambodian sour soup) at homegrown restaurants such as the Sugar Palm. Restaurants like Cuisine Wat Damnak (voted one of Asia’s top 50 restaurants) and the Heritage Restaurant at Heritage Suites Hotel serve modern reinterpretations of Khmer classics. If you’re really into food, go all out with street food tours where you can sample various local delights and learn about them.
5. War museum
Get a glimpse of history from the War Museum in Siem Reap which has a unique collection of landmines and tanks from the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and the Vietnamese occupation in 1979. You can also see war machines like the tank T-54, the jet fighter aircraft MiG-19, the helicopter Mil Mi-8 and the field artillery gun 85-mm divisional gun D-44. You can even hold small arms and a rocket launcher! Some of these guns have even seen action during World War II.
6. Koh Ker complex
If you love exploring old temples, the Koh Ker complex on the Chhork Koki highland is a place to be. Built by King Jayavaraman IV (AD 928-942), it is 35 meters high, and its design resembles a seven-stepped stupa. The temple faces west toward Angkor city. So far, 96 temples have been found in Koh Ker. There are also other remote ruins in the area, which are now safe to visit after mine clearing but still be care of warning signs if you see any. You can spend anywhere between 2 hours and a full day exploring this architectural and historical beauty.
7. Local markets
The destination is known for its local brands, fair-trade centres and vibrant markets. Support local businesses and pick up some quality gifts at reasonable prices here. Check out the Angkor Wat night market, the old market at Psar Chas Road and Made in Cambodia market on Oum Khun Street. Also visit Angkor Handicraft Association and Gemological Institute of Cambodia if you’re into authentic gemstones. Travellers who are looking for unique souvenirs to bring home may find local outfit Ammo, which makes jewellery out of bullet and landmine casings, interesting.