Introduction – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia
As the five majestic turrets of Angkor wat are the main design on the Cambodian flag, the temples are the major tourist attraction. Siem Reap, a town 4 km from the ruins, gets to cash in on the flow of travelers and offers exciting sights of its own.
Siem Reap is a comfortable and convenient place to stay for your tour of Angkor Wat, and there are many activities in the city to entertain you after the temples have closed for the night. Look for cultural centers, traditional dinners or (the most popular while we were there) concerts featuring local children to help raise money for hospitals. Don’t overextend yourself, though – a day of hiking in the blazing sun (it’s even hot and humid in January) is enough to make anyone want to stay in and rest for the evening.
If you can, learn a little about Cambodia’s background before you travel – the story is fascinating. Cambodia once was the most powerful country in the region, but a string of foreign intervention from the 1500s to the 1800s started its decline. France offered protection at the end of the 19th century and ended up ruling until 1954. Cambodia was bombed and razed during the Vietnam War, and in 1975, two weeks before the fall of South Vietnam, the treacherous Khmer Rouge regime came under the direction of Pol Pot. In the four years before he was overthrown, Pol Pot and his followers massacred an estimated 1 million people.
Remnants of this bloody rule can still be found in Siem Reap, such as the memorial we toured along the road to Angkor Wat. A lack of funds means the curators can only display a few bones enclosed in a small pagoda; a sign nearby implores patrons for donations. Still, the simple presentation doesn’t take away the chill of imagining what these people went through. (One tour guide explained that the reign of Pol Pot gave birth to the superstition that those who wore glasses or owned a watch – indicating intelligence and/or wealth – would be killed by the Khmer Rouge.) Not many people in the country talk about this black mark in their history, but at most markets you’ll find books on the subject.
Fast facts about Cambodia (from www.travel.yahoo.com, Cambodia guide)
Capital City: Phnom Penh
Language Description: Khmer, French, Chinese
Passport/Visa: Passports and visas are both necessary. Visas can be obtained on arrival at the airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap or at border crossings from Thailand and Vietnam (but not Laos).
Religion: Theravada Buddhist
Telephone Codes: 855, country code
Time Zone: 7 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (+7 GMT). Daylight Saving Time is not observed
Voltage Requirements: 220 volts in Phnom Penh; 110 volts elsewhere