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Travelling to Cambodia? Eight great Siem Reap secrets

 1. Get the best guide you can. If a guide will make the difference between an OK holiday and an informative holiday, a great guide will make the difference between an informative holiday and an unbeatable experience. They generally know how to avoid crowds and can take you off the beaten track.

2. Khmer food is tasty: a bit like Thai food but less spicy. The signature dish is amok (coconut and egg-based curry) and the locals are big fans of freshwater fish. Siem Reap is foodie heaven with a plethora of restaurants serving everything from Russian to Japanese and French to North Korean, but why give Khmer food a miss for those? Your guide (see the first point, above) will be able to point you in the direction of authentic food.

Siem Reap Cambodia
Ta Prohm Temple ancient tree roots, Angkor

 

3. Make sure you’re there on a Thursday or Saturday – then you can attend a free concert by Dr Beat Richtner at the Kantha Bopha Children’s Hospital. The act is called “Beatocello” and he peppers live cello music with background about his five hospitals which survived the Khmer Rouge era. The hospitals, which rely on private donations (for reasons explained in the concert) have treated over 12 million patients to date. It’s an informative, entertaining and heartbreaking show all at the same time.

4. Don’t be “temple greedy”: it’s better to see a few really well than to half-see many. There are hundreds of temples so you won’t see them all anyway, and the burning sun is likely to drive you to your pool by midday. Choose a maximum of two per day and try one that is away from the crowds such as Koh Ker or Beng Melea. Take time to appreciate the carvings and the different courts. To date, you are still allowed to walk over the fallen stones, so if you can access hidden areas, go for it. Your guide will tell you if it’s not safe.

5. Siem Reap is not just about the temples. Take time to visit some villages and the countryside by a different mode of transport: bicycle, quad bike or even horse! You will gain an insight into the locals’ lives – it’s especially lovely to watch kids riding their bicycles home after school. You can also admire beautiful lush green paddy fields, even in the dry season. Priceless. Juhae Chae

6. Take plenty of one-dollar notes with you, as they come in handy and are often the standard price for everything from a tuk-tuk ride, a beer, a snack or to buy some home-made grass bangles or books from the ubiquitous child vendors. (In many cases, the proceeds of the afternoon sales pay for their classes the next morning.)

7. For a different experience of Angkor Wat, watch the sunrise from behind the temple rather than from the main entrance. When we did that, there was just one photographer there, and the view and light were tremendous.

8. If you visit Angkor in the off-peak rainy season, you’ll be able to visit outlying temples by tuk-tuk without being mown down by hordes of tourist buses. What’s more, the front gardens of all the village houses you pass turn into pretty, lotus-covered ponds. And it doesn’t rain all day – generally just for half an hour in the afternoon.

Vanessa Harvey

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