Where will you go?

Siem Reap

For visitors, Cambodia equals Angkor Wat, the stunning memorial to the golden age of the K'hmer Kingdom. Even now, its magnificence exhausts superlatives. It is indeed the jewel in the crown of world heritage.

Once a small backwater town, Siem Reap has expanded to become the reception area for its illustrious neighbour. Now city-sized with a population well over half a million, it still feels like a provincial town. ​

Siem Reap
Siem Reap

Unsurprisingly, it has the best tourism infrastructure in Cambodia: a large modern international airport, good roads and a comprehensive range of hotels and restaurants.

Although it depends almost entirely upon the enormous number of visitors to the Temple complex, it's worth more than a passing glance.

It's a pleasant place and, despite rumours to the contrary, safe. There's plenty of space and greenery, and many wooden buildings, mostly on stilts. Although the local Wats and the market are nothing to write home about, there are several places of interest.

The Cambodian Cultural Village is a recent addition to Siem Reap's attractions located near the airport, it's a cultural theme park style museum aimed mainly at the domestic market.

 Riding elephants in Siem Reap
 Riding elephants in Siem Reap

Indoors, there's standard museum exhibitions of wildlife and artifacts as well as waxwork figures Cambodia's past and present (the tableau of a local 'fun girl' wrapped round a UN peacekeeper has upset the UN!).

Outside are reproductions of various Cambodian landmarks, such as Phnom Penh's Central Market and the National Museum, and miniature versions of a number of ethnic villages.

The Crocodile Farm just outside the town is quite fun at feeding time, but muted by a persistent rumour that the Khmer Rouge used it to dispose of some of their victims. A more wholesome place is a local Butterfly Garden, where you can wander around lush tropical fruit trees and flowers with several species of butterflies fluttering around you.

Cambodia is a poor country, further impoverished both economically and culturally by the K'hmer Rouge. Siem Reap has an innovative project addressing both elements known as Les Artisans d'Angkor - Chantiers Ecoles. It's a French initiative to teach poverty-stricken young men and women the skills necessary to recreate the richly decorated stone and wood effigies and artifacts of the past.

Siem Reap Market
Siem Reap Market

Further Siem Reap, the school has a silk farm that encompasses the entire process tending the mulberry trees to tailoring finished garments using designs redolent of the ancient royal traditions.

Another cause worth support is the Cambodia Land Mine Museum. It was founded by Aki Ra, who was conscripted the Khmer Rouge at the age of five after his parents had been executed. It contains exhibits of mines and other weapons and information about the war.

Apart the museum, funds are being raised to build an extension to include a school for 30 children who have lost limbs land mines, a prosthetic limb clinic and a unit for educating people about land mines.

Charitable activities abound in Cambodia and particularly Siem Reap. Many are run by foreign non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but many are local businesses and philanthropists.

A good example is the Shinta Mani Hotel, established specifically to benefit poor people. Not only does the hotel support several projects in poor comminites in and arounf the city, but also runs a caterint and hospitality school alongside the building.

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