Friday, 16 March 2012

Explore the Soul of Siem Reap

Siem Reap is located in the north of the kingdom of Cambodia. Once a sleepy village, it is now an energetic town with five-star hotels and eateries, art galleries and luxury jewellery shops.

Siem Reap is renowned as the gateway to the mystifying temple complex of Angkor Wat, one of the most famous in the world dating back to the early 12th century. Cambodia’s national flag carries an image of the monument marking its importance as a symbol for the country.  
Siem Reap means ‘victory over Siam’ signifying an ancient time when the extraordinary Khmer empire ruled over vast areas in Southeast Asia. The temples form part of an ancient city taking one back to a time reflecting the power and glory of the Khmer empire.  
The monuments of stone reflect the influence, architectural expertise and construction skill of the Khmer people. The splendid Angkor Wat is a masterwork incorporating precision design, excellent technique and superb craft. The floors are built without mortar while the towers and walls are made with sandstone blocks that interlock so firmly not even water can penetrate. 
The alignment and geometric tip are so perfectly in place with the cardinal points that every morning, at the crack of dawn on the equinox, the sun rises directly above the raised centre tower located right at the very midpoint of the complex. 
Further north in the ancient city of Angkor Thom is the Bayon temple. The most distinctive feature of the complex is the huge embodiment of the tranquil faces of King Jayavarman VII keeping a watchful eye in all directions of the temple.
East of Angkor Thom is Ta Prohm, which was built in the late 12th and early 13th century. Huge roots of ancient trees grow all over the place, piercing through doorways and temples. It is the setting where scenes from the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot. 
Another impressive sight is the Tonle Sap, the biggest fresh water lake in Southeast Asia, which streams into the Mekong River. Take a day boat trip to get a closer look at the interesting river life with floating markets, schools and temples. More than 100 species of birds can be found near the lake including some that are endangered.  
The highlight of evening activities in Siem Reap is a wonderful show of cultural highlights at the Apsara Theatre. The showcase includes a traditional dinner and dance performance. The dance steps are graceful and striking with vividly colourful and ornate costumes. Both the food and the show are exotic, offering guests a glimpse of the distinctive taste and style of ancient Khmer cuisine and society. 
Adventurous foodies can explore the many outdoor restaurants in Siem Reap. These offer reasonably priced, freshly prepared meals like the amok fish, a local Cambodian style curry that is steamed in banana leaves. Be sure to sample traditional Cambodian chicken, freshly caught steamed fish as well as Khmer sausages and grilled cuttlefish. 
Souvenir hunters should head for the Old Market located in the centre of the town. This is a tourist market offering a variety of items such as hand woven silk scarves, bronze and wooden sculptures of Buddha, apsaras (celestial maidens) and other Cambodian figurines. Drive a hard bargain and you could be rewarded with discounts of up to 50 per cent off the original quoted price.  
Practical Information:

A good time to visit is from November to early February when the weather is cool and dry. A convenient way to get around is by remorque (tuk-tuk) which is a passenger cabin strapped to a motorcycle. The tuk-tuk can accommodate four to five passengers. An affordable way to sightsee is to hire a tuk-tuk and driver to chauffeur you around for the entire day. 
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 Article written for www.natastravel.com 

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