Well I’ve already noted the main highlights of my trip to Siem Reap (here, here & here) – which were many considering it was only a 3 night stop – but I feel like I haven’t quite described the charm of this beautifully welcoming city.
Rather than the high-rise bustle and hostility I felt in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap seemed more like a large village or town than a city. The river flows through down past pub street between the main night markets. People shout ‘tuk tuk’, but actually leave you alone when you say no. Or they ask you at the most ridiculous moments so as to get a laugh out of this foreign visitor.
Between the circus and the markets, they seem far more giving than down south; I saw so many stalls for NPO including rings made out of forks and bags made out of straw. It’s that handmade authenticity which rang true with Siem Reap. It wasn’t overwhelming, and yet not underwhelming either. It was a place that shocked me to find how I adored it.
I was lucky. I happened to arrive just in time for the annual Happy Water Festival. The river was lit up and lined with happy families. Hoses and water guns sprayed wide across the streets as young children played like it was Christmas Day. Markets offered the best of local Khmer cuisine and the fireworks were astounding. A race of rowers – local teams – at the same time as the national events down in the capital were the highlight. I had sat, watching them practice in the days leading up. You could see friendships and teamwork on every single boat, including the family dog that sat up front.
Close to so much history, and yet still growing, I hope Siem Reap doesn’t become a town ruined by us travellers and tourism. And with that fear, I advise you: go now. Before you miss out on this adorable little city.