Our first stop in Cambodia was Siem Reap, famous as being the main stop off point for Angkor Wat. Safe to say visiting the temples was the main thing on our minds, but we were also excited about seeing the town itself.
It seems that this was the case for lots of Cambodians as well as we arrived on the eve of the national Water Festival, second most important festival for Cambodians after Khmer New Year. The main celebration is in Phnom Penh, but this was cancelled at short notice and all the celebrations were moved to Siem Reap. Thank goodness we had accommodation already booked and we only managed to find a bus ticket out to Phnom Penh at the last minute the day after the festivities had ended!
It was a lovely time to visit Siem Reap, which had a non-stop carnival atmosphere the whole time we were there!
Here are some photos of the festival and the rest of the city – showing that there is definitely more to Siem Reap than the temples (although there is no denying their draw….more on that on a future blog post).
We were utterly surprised to find ‘Pub Street’ in the middle of town. Basically a street in the middle of the tourist area with bars full of expats and very young backpackers. We had to try just one or two bars didn’t we? For the experience of course! Most notably we stumbled across Red Piano – Angelina Jolie’s favourite bar when here on location filming Tomb Raider. We had to try her favourite drink here, which they have since named after the film.
The next day we thought we should do some swatting up on the temples and visited the Angkor National Museum. Very expensive for us at $12, but well worth it when everything we learnt started flooding back to us at the temples the next day.
But the reason we will probably remember Siem Reap the most is being there for the Water Festival (Bon Om Touk). This is often called the Water and Moon Festival, because it occurs at the full moon at the only time of the year when the Tonle Sap River reserves its flow – it marks the start of the fishing season. It is celebrated through lots of food and drink, concerts, a national 3 day holiday and a series of impressive boat races.
Sadly, I haven’t quite worked out how to put videos on here so viewing the impressive speedy racing will have to wait until you see us!
The evenings marked a change in atmosphere with many dances, music and concerts lining the river and people lighting candles and incense on floating lotus flowers that people had made and sending them down the river. Very pretty! Oh and lots of fireworks!
Interestingly, even though the celebrations were next to the main tourist area, we saw very few westerners there. The celebrations were dominated by Cambodians, some local and others who had travelled considerable distances for the event. Very good timing for us!
However, I think we are both in agreement that the highlight of these few days were visiting the Angkor temples. It was the main reason we were there and they more than surpassed our expectations…. more on that to follow!