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Next: Angkor Wat TemplesPrevious: Battambang

Siem Reap: More than Temple Ruins

Our last destination in Cambodia obviously is Siem Reap. Being the third city in this country, it merely serves as the hub to the nearby temples of Angkor. But during our stay, we found out there's a lot more to do in this little town.

Fishing net structure on the Tonle Sap lake, Cambodia

Boat Trip

We travel from Battambang to Siem Reap by boat, since the roads are bad and the boat is supposed to be a pleasant alternative. But the water is low, and we expect to take a lot longer than the 3 hours the trip would normally take.

With two boats we race across the river, where the population is busy trying to catch some fish. For the fisherman in small boats we decrease our speed, in order for the waves we are making not to tip over their boats. We are familiar with the houses on poles, although they look a bit poor here. There are also boats with complete shops making tours along the houses, an interesting sight.

The river winds itself through the landscape. The river banks are high and the water is low, but we manage to keep a high speed. Once in a while, however, the water is so low that we have struggling slowly through the thin mud. But we manage to keep the motor doing the work, where we see other boats being pulled to move along. The fish don't like the low water either, we see them jumping and there are a number of dead ones on the river banks.

When the water becomes deeper and the river wider, the local fishing techniques become more complicated. No fishing lines and loose nets anymore, but large constructions with huge levers that lower an enormous square into the water, to pull it up later. The fish is collected in a basket in the middle of the net, and then the net is lowered again. It's a popular way of fishing here, we see a lot of those constructions.

After a stop, where we change boats, the river gets very wide and ends op in Tonle Sap. This is the largest lake in Southeast Asia. Via Tonle Sap river, it fills up with water from the Mekong river in the wet season, and in the dry season the river flows in the opposite direction, partly emptying the lake again.

Siem Reap, city or village?

We race across the lake, make huge smacks on the water once in a while. In an hour we reach the other side, where we enter a canal to reach Siem Reap. We pass a Vietnamese floating village (only Vietnamese live there), but cannot move much further because of the low water. We get off the boat, where a man is waiting with a sign with our names on it. Our hotel in Battambang arranged that, and the man takes us with his motorbike over the bad roads to Siem Reap. Closer to the city, the road gets a little better, but it's still dusty.

Siem Reap appears to be more like a village than a city. Originally, it consisted of several little villages grown together. Our hotel is situated along a quiet dirt road close to the river, and close to highway (ahem) number 6, crossing the city aka village. On the other side of the river is the city center, or at least the tourist center. Along the old market are most of the hotels and restaurants, although on our side of the river a second center is developing.

Mini temples

The proud artist of the Angkor Wat miniature modelsOur first full day in Siem Reap we are not going to the temples just yet. Instead, we take a look of the scale models of some of them, made by a local artist in his garden. The proud old man comes and comments on them himself. He is also making a wax model, with which he will be able to duplicate the models. He also shows his decorations and a picture of the king himself admiring his work.

Another remarkable place is the butterfly garden. It is created by an Englishman, who spanned his garden with a net. Local children bring the butterflies they catch to him, for which he gives them a small reward. We can walk around in the garden, and enjoy a drink and bite on his terrace, where he shows us his collection of butterflies, kept in books after they die.

Landmine museum

Displays at the Landmine museum near Siem Reap, CambodiaIn the afternoon, and for the next 3 days, we are visiting the Angkor Wat Temples.

On the third day, on our way back to Siem Reap after visiting the temples, we make a detour to the landmine museum. The government forced to close this museum, but disguised as a visit to his house, it�s still possible to visit this private collection. The owner is a man who fought in the army of the Khmer Rouge since he was five. After being captured by the Vietnamese, he fought for them. And after the retreat of the Vietnamese, he joined the Cambodian army. At the age of 23, he found out about other ways of living. For the United Nations he started clearing landmines, instead of putting them. He still does this work, although he is no longer being paid for it. The museum replaces this source of income.

The museum is very impressive. Next to the many types of landmines on display, there are drawings of the fighting during the war. There are also stencils with stories and personal experiences. Next to the house is an artificial mine field, showing the mines as they are hidden in the jungle. We also meet some of the landmine victims this man has adopted into his family. Before we leave, we leave a contribution and take some stencils for further reading with us.

Back in Siem Reap, we take a slow day before we decide to move on to Bangkok. Bus trips to Bangkok are offered everywhere, including at our hotel. The prices differ, however, and it takes some negotiation before we get the right price. It confirms our view on Siem Reap, which is by far the most expensive place in Cambodia. And if you�re not careful enough, you will be ripped off as well. That�s a pity, since other than that a stay here is certainly worth it, not only because of the temples.

Follow our World Journey!! Next Stop: Angkor Wat
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