Apart from the attention-grabbing Ta Prohm and the UNESCO heritage site Angkor Wat, there are other attractions in Siem Reap that are worth checking out too.
Roluos is the first capital city of the Angkor empire. It consists of three of Angkor’s oldest temples, namely Lolei, Preah Ko and Bakong. Among the three temples, Bakong is the largest and most impressive. The temple is built with a series of successively receding terraces, and the central tower is capped with a royal 5-stepped pyramid.
Bakong sits at the center of the first Khmer capital, Hariharalaya. It represents the first application of the temple-mountain architectural formula on a grand scale and set the architectural tone for the next 400 years. The temple is very different from Angkor Wat and the rest of temples that we saw as Bakong is built using sandstone instead of brick.
St John Catholic Church
We chanced upon the St John Church which is just 6km away from Angkor Wat. The church is simply built with a thatched roof and a rather sparing hall.
The religious sisters runs a small store within the church compound selling products made by themselves and the orphans who were being taken care of by the church. All profit made by the store is used to fund the church, its evangelisation programs and activities.
Along the river that leads to Tonle Sap are row of houses built on stilt (above). These families are too poor to have access to clean drinking water and proper sanitary systems. Struggling to meet life’s basic needs, education for their children is a luxury that these families cannot afford.
Therefore, one of the most important objective of St John Church is to provide education to the children of poor families so that they may have a better future. On a weekly basis, the parish priest will also provide mass services at the floating church on Tonle Sap for the convenience of the villagers from the surrounding floating villages.
City Centre of Siem Reap
The city centre of Siem Reap is chaotic with traffic coming from all directions. Cars, tuk-tuks and lorries drove in a disorderly manner narrowly passing each other. Riding on a tuk-tuk for the first time can be nerve wrecking. Nevertheless, tuk-tuk is the cheapest (from US$2 on) form of transport to get into the city. On our first day in Siem Reap, we were even offered a free “test” ride by one of the tuk-tuk driver whom we eventually hired for our entire trip in Siem Reap for US$12 per day (after some bargaining).
At the very centre of the city sits this monument which symbolizes the independence of Cambodia.
A short walk from the monument is a big market that is somewhat similar to the Chatuchak market in Bangkok. However, there is one significant difference between these two markets. Chatuchak market charges their product in Thai Baht while this one charges in US$. So, you do the Maths!
The shops in the city centre are mostly catered to tourist. Of the many choices, this particular cafe cum hostel called “Dead Fish” fascinated us. Dining here felt like we were living in a huge tree house securely “guarded” by live crocodiles on the first floor. Pretty awesome isn’t it?
During our short trip to Cambodia, we have already witness how fast tourism have transformed this historic city into a city of hotels. According to the locals, new hotels are being built every other months and more are expected to come. It is sad to see this ancient city slowly slipping away. Yet, it is part and parcel of development and urbanisation. How ironical.