Visitors come to Siem Reap to see Angkor. The sights in and around the town pale in comparison, but they are a potential diversion for those who find themselves templed out after a few days.
Modern temples around Siem Reap offer an interesting contrast to the ancient sandstone – structures of Angkor. Wat Bo is one of the town’s oldest temples and has a collection of well-preserved wall paintings from the late-19th century depicting the Reamker Cambodia’s interpretation of the Ramayana. Another wat to consider is Wat Preah Inkosei (Open: 6am-6pm), built on the site of an early Angkorian brick temple north of town, which still stands today in the compound.
South of the city centre, is an attractive pagoda on the site of an ancient temple. The old temple is still in very good condition and sees far fewer visitors than the main temples in the Angkor area, making it a peaceful spot in the late afternoon.
On the left fork of the road to Angkor Wat, has a small memorial stupa containing the skulls and bones of victims of the Khmer Rouge. It also has plenty of young monks wanting to practise their English.
Wat Dam Nak
Wat Dam Nak was formerly, a royal palace during the reign of King Sisowath, hence the name dam nak (palace). Today it is home to the Centre for Khmer Studies, an independent institution promoting a greater understanding of Khmer culture.
Tel: 380354; www.artisansdanakor.com
Siem Reap is the epicentre of the drive to revitalize Cambodian traditional culture, which was dealt such a harsh blow by the Khmer Rouge and the year of instability that followed its rule.
Les Chantiers Écoles is a school specializing in teaching wood – and stone-carving technique to impoverished youngsters. The school has a beautiful shop on the premises, called Artisant d’Angkor which sells everything from elegant stone and wood reproductions of Angkorian era statues to household furniture.Tucked down a side road, the school cart be quite hard to find, but it’s now well signposted from Bakong Lodge.
There is also a second shop opposite Angkor Wat and outlets at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports. Profits from sales go back into funding the school and bringing more teenagers into the training’ programme.
The creation of leather sbei’ tuoi (shadow puppets) is a traditional Khmer art form, and the figures make a memorable souvenir. Characters include gods and demons from the Reamker, as well as exquisite elephants with intricate armour. These are a very Cambodian keepsake. The House of Peace Association makes these puppets, and small puppets cost about US$10 while larger pieces can be as much as US$150. One workshop is located at Wat Preah Inkosci and a second about 4km down NH6 on the way to the airport. La Noria Guesthouse hosts shadow puppet shows.
Miniature Replicas of Angkor’s Temples
One of the more quirky places in town is the garden of a local master sculptor, which houses miniature replicas of Angkor Wat, the Bayon and Banteay Srei. It is a bluffer’s way to get that aerial shot of Angkor without chartering a helicopter, although the astute might question the presence of oversized insects in the shot. Entry costs US$1.
Les Chantiers Écoles Silk Farm
Les Chatiers Écoles (see Artisans d’Angkor, left) also maintains a silk farm about 16km west of Siem Reap, just off the road to Sisophon in the village of Puok. All stages of the production process can be seen here, from the cultivation of mulberry tree to the dyeing and weaving of silk. The work produced and sold here is some of the best in the country.
Tonlé Sap Exhibition
North of town Krousar Thmey – a non-governmental organization (NGO) supporting orphans – has an interesting exhibition (admission free) about the Tonic Sap lake. The exhibition contains photos, models and fishing equipment from around the lake, as well as an informative video. After viewing the exhibition you can indulge in a massage (opposite).