When you hear someone mention the words ‘Siem Reap’, more often than not your mind jumps to images of the majestic Angkor Wat temple, bustling streets filled with tuk tuks, or maybe popular movie references. Of course, the multitude of carefully constructed temples are something to stand in front of and revel in their beauty, but that is just touching the surface of what this city has to offer. After traveling to this wonderful city for multiple years with The Giving Lens to co-lead photography tours, I have had a chance to get to know this place and the warm, charismatic people who call it home.
Siem Reap has many of the stereotypical tourist shops and restaurants along the river canal and the ever so popular Pub Street, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll quickly find the real Siem Reap isn’t too far away. A short tuk tuk ride away and you can find yourself in one of many of the locals markets where it’s quite uncommon to see anyone else that isn’t Khumer shopping here. Places like this offer endless street photo opportunities and often some delicious fruit or fried snacks while you shop.
Walks around the city can also lend to other unforgettable interactions, such as chatting with buddhist monks who want to hone their English skills or exploring the grounds of one of the many Wats (active buddhist temples) that are found around Siem Reap. If you are lucky enough, you’ll have a chance to be invited in to witness a traditional prayer ritual, which to this day is one of my fondest memories of Siem Reap.
One of the greatest treasures of this city, and country for that matter, is the people – Cambodians have dealt with a tumultuous past, but the Khumer are proud and appreciative people working hard to create a better future for the country and the future generations. During our time in Siem Reap we balance our cultural explorations with collaborations with Anjali House, a local non governmental organization (NGO) that works to give local youth greater access to education, the arts, and health care to help prepare them for university and career development.
It’s nearly impossible to come to Siem Reap and not exploring the dozens of nearby temples, and it’s definitely worth getting up early and watching sunrise at the reflecting pools in front of Angkor Wat. But while thousands of people pack in to tour the grand temple, grab a taxi or tuk tuk and head over to Ta Phrom, Preah Khan, or Bayon while they are relatively empty in the early morning hours. Angkor Wat is worth touring again later in the day, but you can also get your fill of Buddhist and Hindu temples by visiting other outlying locations that are a short drive outside the city and are just as impressive.
You could easily spend over a week exploring all the sights, sounds, and flavors that Siem Reap has to offer. The first time you catch a glimpse of Angkor Wat it is easy to see why it’s been named the top global attraction for travelers. The hospitality of the people and effortless access to so many attractions has made this one of my all time favorite travel destinations, and if it’s not on the top of your list, hopefully it will be soon!
The Giving Lens is returning to Siem Reap this December. Find more information and how to apply on The Giving Lens’ Workshop page.