From the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, I traveled to Siem Reap, the tourist capital of all of Cambodia and home to Angkor Wat – which will get its own article later. The thing about Siem Reap is that it is totally a tourist town, built to accommodate the millions of people who fly into Cambodia just to see Angkor Wat – so there’s not much here aimed at backpackers, but a lot aimed at more mainstream tourists. Still, if you get away from the touristy parts, it’s an okay city.
Royal Residence Park: the royal residence is not open to tourists, and is quite unimpressive anyways (sour grapes?), but there’s a nearby park where I spent an enjoyable day just reading. I recently ‘discovered’ the Dune series, and wow. Couldn’t Frank Herbert have come up with a more interesting title? Anyways. It’s a very nice park, but a more accurate name for it would be scammer park. Because it’s overrun by scammers. Anybody who passes through the park gets approached by a Cambodian guy, claiming to be a teacher for a non-profit, asking for donations for students. It would be funny, except that there are at least 5 scammers in the park, all doing the exact same thing.
War Memorial / Museum: it’s a heap of junk. More specifically, junk left over from the various wars in Cambodia, from the US attempt to shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to the genocide of the Khmer Rouge, to the civil war afterwards. From all these wars, you’ve got a lot of tanks and helicopters:
It’s quite a collection – though none of it is working order. By itself, this museum is actually somewhat boring. But it makes it for it by having a pretty cool guide, who told us of his life story – recruited as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge, told his parents were killed by the CIA, being told to kill civilians. Defecting to Vietnam, being told to continue killing civilians. Stepping on a land mine and losing his leg, becoming angry at the government, working on writing a book.
It’s tragic stuff, I was definitely holding back tears at points. Granted, I was a bit apprehensive – I’m being told a story by a stranger, who has every incentive to exaggerate in hopes of getting sympathy cash from sympathetic foreigners. But still, touching. And if it’s true, incredibly scary.
Wat Preah Prom Rath: it’s a temple built on the philosophy of, “let’s jam everything we can into the grounds, without any thought for aesthetics”. It’s got a spire, it’s got a boat, it’s got horses, it’s got fancy buildings, it’s got statues. I don’t think it’s missing anything. Or it could fit anything else.
Senteurs D’Angkor: A company making scented stuff – candles, spices, that type of stuff – with a free tour of the workshop. I like their business model – the products they sell aren’t too different from the regular stuff available on the market, but by having a nice workshop showing off good working conditions to incoming tour groups, they can increase their prices by at least 100%.
Artisans D’Angkor: Similar to Senteurs D’Angkor, it’s a company that makes sculptures and other artistic products, moving upmarket by having a nice workshop giving free tours and showing how the products are made. It’s got wood carving:
Of course, all the stuff here at this workshop is at least twice the price of stuff at the old market, but it’s cool to see how it’s made – as well as the workers hard at work making trinkets for you to take home.