Siem Reap has been amazing, we have both thoroughly enjoyed ourselves while we have been here. To be honest I think it’s one of the few places we didn’t feel ready to leave as usually we are ready and raring to get to the next destination! Siem Reap is lively and laid-back at the same time, a stark contrast to the macabre memories we hold of Phnom Penh.
We did however visit a land-mine museum while we were here, which does connect again with Cambodia’s dark past but this time it felt different. This was because the museum was built by a man named Aki Ra, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who defected to the Vietnam army and then the Cambodian Army. He was a child soldier of the Khmer Rouge and he was involved in planting thousands and thousands of land-mines. However when he defected to the Vietnam and Cambodian armies he turned himself around and helped to root out the Khmer Rouge. Since then he has been travelling all over Cambodia and removed over 50,000 land-mines all on his own with nothing but a stick and a pair of pliers!! He is a fantastic man, a real true hero who is helping to rebuild his country.
The museum is basically about what Aki Ra has done and it doesn’t just stop with removing the bombs. He really has gone above and beyond as he and his wife took in many children who had been injured or affected by land-mines, they gave them a home, food and raised them as their own. They still have the facility now as unfortunately their are still millions of land-mines rife in the countryside of Cambodia and therefore people are still being seriously injured and killed. He has set up a land-mine removal project as well, there are many different teams of course but his team concentrates on the low-priority villages where people have been waiting a very long time for the bombs to be removed.
Aki Ra seems to have been in the thick of everything that happened, I’m sure he has some horrific memories. He did admit that although he has done many interviews about his life, he now wants to put it behind him and move forward.
Now of course what we really came to Siem Reap for was to visit Angkor Wat, we didn’t actually realise that there were many other temples around here too and they were all based around a huge community of around 1 million people over a thousand years ago! We bought a 3 day ticket for the Angkor National Park to make sure we saw as much of it as possible. We visited Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom complex and Ta Prohm on the first day which make up the main small circuit (and were all featured in the Tomb Raider movie!).
On our second day we attempted to cycle out to a group of temples called the Rolous Group which are the oldest ones in the area, but unfortunately we got lost and really sunburnt in the process so we just came back and relaxed by our lovely pool! That evening we ventured out to see the sunset at Phnom Bakheng which was built on the top of a large hill. It seemed as though everyone else in the city had the same idea as well!! It was very pretty to see but it kind of lost its charm by the sheer amount of people stood waiting for the sun to go down.
On our third day we did the grand circuit which included around 5 different temples and we also decided to incorporate a temple called Banteay Srei which is quite a bit further out than the rest but it is named the “ladies temple” as it has the most ugly carvings of all the temples which of course can only possibly have been completed by a woman!!
I won’t bore you with the details of every single temple, even I am confused by the different names and am struggling to differentiate between them all on the pictures. Of course the real gems are the temples of the small circuit. Despite this, they were all very beautiful and awe-inspiring in their own ways. We did get a little overwhelmed with the different temples as by no means are we temple enthusiasts, but we tried to keep in mind when visiting each of them that if any one of them was built anywhere else it would be a gem in its own right.
When you are exploring these ancient derelict temples built in the middle of a jungle, you feel like you are walking through a movie set or a dream. It’s extremely surreal and very exciting of course! We enjoyed the more desolate and untouched temples rather than the ones that have so obviously been restored, maybe because it made us feel like a real life Lara Croft and Indiana Jones on a trek through the abandoned temples……..although maybe not quite as nimble! We were like old folks crawling up and down some of the hazardous ‘steps’ in the temples!!
The other draw of Siem Reap is most certainly Pub Street and the many surrounding markets! It’s definitely worth exploring around here and sampling some of the local delicacies which included Khmer Frog; we tried a Khmer BBQ and cooked off some along with Crocodile and Snake as well which was surprisingly delectable! Accompany this with one (or three) 50 cent beers and your in for a treat!