The Surprise that is Siem Reap

One hour in Siem Reap, and I’m already smitten. Perhaps it’s the small-town, laid-back vibe that presented a welcome respite for the weary urban jungle trekker. Perhaps it’s the quaint charm of the Angkor Home Hotel, complete with the jasmine-scented pools and lounges in the lobby. Perhaps it’s the calmness of corner cafés and Blue Pumpkin’s white lounge.

Weaving through the alleys of the night markets and along Pub Street has become routine in a short span of time—after all, what is a trip without getting into the local shopping culture, the local eating culture, and the local drinking culture? Of course, part of the local culture is having to bear with persistent vendors and even more persistent tuk-tuk drivers.

And then there’s Khmer food, which can be an adventure itself. It is somewhat similar to Thai cuisine, except there is significantly less spice—just the way I like it. Also, the restaurants give free cups of rice for every meal ordered, so that works perfectly well.

The real adventure, however, begins outside of the city proper. If you’re lucky to have a tour guide like Bunleat, you will have a refresher course in history and literature—while traversing fallen stone slabs and piles of rubble.

Beng Melea, which has been largely unrestored, is quite an adventure of the moss-covered rock kind. Angkor Wat, in all its splendid glory, was a revisiting of stories from Ramayana and Mahabharata, and held interesting details such as the Hall of Echoes and the only apsara with teeth. Banteay Srei was an interesting counterpoint to Angkor Wat, considering that the pillars were made of blocks stacked on top of each other—and because it didn’t use the best, it looked older than Angkor Wat. Ta Phrom, made popular by Tomb Raider, has gigantic trees springing out of the rubble (also the cause of ruins)—making one believe that are is a Higher Power. Bayon was the state temple of the king and featured serene, gigantic faces—and yes, we sought shelter from the rain in one of the rooms that reeked of bat’s droppings. And despite the weariness, we managed to trek to the summit of Baphuon (about 40 meters or so in height), in a near-vertical climb.

After all of these, I have come to realize Siem Reap is for lovers—largely because there’s just too many around me. From the ones that are having a quiet breakfast in a café to the ones riding around the city on bicycles to the ones peered over a map, studying it intently. What Siem Reap has to offer is mean to be shared with a loved one.

As for the single ladies? There’s plenty of eye candy around—it’s not just the temples you look at for, uh, sightseeing!

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