Siem Reap, Cambodia

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens’ quote from his wonderful book “A Tale of Two Cities” kind of sums up my experience in Siem Reap last month.

I feel Sept 2022 was definitely the best and worst of times for the inhabitants of Siem Reap that rely so heavily on tourism. The best of times because travel was opening again. People were starting to come in. The hotel I stayed in finally opened its doors on 1st Sept after over 2 years of closure. There was hope.

The worse of times… there is not enough tourists coming in. The hotel I stayed in had 3 rooms being used out of a possible 275. It was spooky and creepy feeling like the only one staying in such a big grand hotel. Shops shut. Go to visit some place on google maps – closed, derelict, decaying. People desperate for money. Too many tuk tuk drivers, not enough people needing them. Too many places open to eat, not enough people in them.

Coming to SR post-covid was definitely beneficial to a tourist like myself – the sites which pre-covid were teeming with people were quiet. It was great to be able to get photos of the wonderful temples without hordes of people in them. Everything was cheap, and bargains were to be had. The temple card that you need to apply for in order to enter the complex was offering a special 2 days for the price of 1. It was obviously super easy to get a seat at a restaurant and service was quick and amazing. Life for the tourist going to visit SR right now is wonderful. YET….

This didn’t sit well with me. I am not naive, I had been to third world countries before. I had seen struggle. But by gosh, SR was a shock to the system. I don’t know if I have become more sensitive to people and their struggles now that I am a parent, but I left Cambodia feeling sad, depressed and just hopeless. I don’t see how it will pick up any time soon. I hated seeing kids my daughter’s age begging for a dollar instead of being at school. I hated seeing cows, dogs and cats on the side of the road so skinny with their bones sticking out. I HATED seeing girls a few years older than my ten year old wearing mini-skirts and walking along with some 60 year old fat bald european man, knowing that they had to do you know what to probably feed their family.

It sounds like I didn’t enjoy myself, and this is not the case!!! I had a wonderful time, and the temples of Angkor are definitely deserving as being “wonders of the world”. They are truly spectacular, and I think anyone that calls themselves a “traveller” or even “tourist” needs to see these amazing ruins for themselves. The people of Cambodia are also amazing – such gentle, graceful people, smiling and joking even though times are tough. Never did I feel pressured by the people to buy, they were never aggressive. They were always polite and smiling. And I think that’s what got me the most! That is what “copped me in the feels” so to speak. It’s the people who are the kindest and gentlest and nicest that seem to suffer the most. I guess my time in Cambodia just reinforced to me that the world is not fair. And that no matter how much you wanted to you cannot help everybody!

I guess what I am trying to get off my chest is that if you ever felt like you wanted to visit Siem Reap, and Cambodia in general, now is the time to go. Now is the time you are needed the most! And yes, be prepared for some “culture shocks”, be prepared for things not to be so rosy, but please go with a open heart and open mind and you will be rewarded with amazing ruins, great food, wonderful people and a holiday knowing that your $$$ are helping some of the world’s poorest people. The guides and locals I spoke to all said the same thing to me – get the word out there! tell people to come visit! So I guess this is what I am doing. I am not someone that sugar coats things. I am a hopeless liar! So maybe this post isn’t painting a “picture perfect” holiday. But I would hope most of the people I know that read my blog are not the “perfect” holiday types anyway. Most of you, dear friends, love to explore off the beaten path. You don’t mind if things don’t go perfectly to plan. You don’t mind a bit of sweat and dirt and heat. So please, go and visit Siem Reap and enjoy this amazing place!!!

Here are a few impressions to begin with…. because I took sooooo many photos, and there is so much history and culture to write about, I will do what my mate over at Leighton Travel’s (https://leightontravels.com/) does and write about each temple site. Speaking of, if you ever have questions about Siem Reap you can of course ask me, but Leighton has spent many months during covid lockdown “stuck” in Siem Reap – he is an expert and was super helpful when I had questions. His Siem Reap pages are so worth checking out!

I didn’t realise rainy season meant everything would flood. So much freaking water! Everywhere!
The amazing colours of Wat Bo in downtown Siem Reap
the place to be at night – Pub Street
The famous image of Angkor Wat

Angkor Thom gate
Tonle Om Gate
Bayon
to get to Prasat Neak Pean we crossed this cool bridge!
the famous Ta Prohm
the remote Ta Nei temple – the only ones here!

the intricately carved marvel that is Banteay Srei
a mini jungle hike early in the morning got us to Preah Khan
East Mebon
Pre Rup – by the early afternoon the sun was out and it was scorching!
nothing beats sitting by the Siem Reap river with a cold drink!
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32 Responses to Siem Reap, Cambodia

  1. Anna, the picture you have painted of where Siem Reap is now with the fight back against COVID is so sad. I must admit I had expected things to be better and had heard from a few friends that things were steadily improving. Maybe they were just putting a brave face on it all. I can understand how seeing the things you saw impacted your trip, as it would to any decent human being. Thanks for the kind words and the link back, I enjoyed your shots of familiar sites and even a few we didn’t get to. Eagerly anticipating more…

    • Anna says:

      Thanks Leighton. I know I was at the end of “rainy season” so maybe as peak season comes in there will be more people, but so many hotels were empty! I spoke to an american girl who was the only one at her hotel too! So many staffs just hanging around bored, eager for something to do. I do hope it picks up more in the coming months, as there are wayyyy too many places to sleep/eat/drink and not enough people to fill them. Cheers.

  2. thebeerwanderer says:

    Interesting to hear about a recent trip to this amazing area. It wasn’t so busy in 2004 and I’d seen it had become a little overrun prior to COVID. Hopefully, they can attract more people but still retain their authenticity. It’s not an easy thing to do, especially as like you’ve explained, they are in dire need of the money.

    • Anna says:

      Thats it hey Richie… they need the tourism desperately but some of those photos of Angkor Wat before covid were insane!! So hard to bet that perfect balance that benefits all! Thanks for visiting x

  3. leggypeggy says:

    I feel the pain too. Cambodia is well worth visiting.

  4. J.D. says:

    This is incredibly sad but not surprising. You’ve captured the reasons I’ve often chosen to visit places that are recovering from war or some other catastrophe. They are so happy to have you there and it feels good to contribute.

    • Anna says:

      I agree with you…. After this I do feel like trying to visit places that “need” our dollars more than others. Thanks for your visit Julie x

  5. yololah says:

    Oh Anna… when will Cambodia’s fate ever reverse? I visited at least a decade ago and it was the same then too. The horrors of Khmer Rouge was everywhere in Phnom Penh. Poverty was rife and with that came exploitation. Then you look at all the monks and think, they must be lucky to live in a monastery while the young girls must do what they have to for their families. The temples are a good distraction. They too are helpless.

    • Anna says:

      You’ve hit the nail on the head my dear… when will their fate ever reverse? How many times can people get kicked in the guts? Why do good people suffer so much? These were some of the feelings I had when leaving. These people deserve better. Thanks for visiting x

  6. Toonsarah says:

    I do hope things improve there now that they’re approaching the height of the season. As you know, we were there immediately pre-covid and benefitted from the complete lack of Chinese tourists, as that country had already closed its borders. We were grateful for the c. 30% reduction in tourist numbers without of course realising what was about to happen to tourism everywhere.

    • Anna says:

      Hi Sarah, ah yes I remember you were there just before the world turned upside down! I definitely think we as tourists have benefitted by not having so many chinese tourists around! They arent exactly known for being the most “gracious” of people when travelling. Thats why I think its the best time to go now! Or to any major tourist destination that usually gets big chinese numbers. But for our benefit comes disaster for the local population. They definitely need the Chinese numbers to start coming through again, whether we like it or not. Thanks for visiting xxx

      • Toonsarah says:

        Yes, we felt a similar conflict about the absence of so many Chinese tourists. It was great that we could visit places like Angkor Wat and Hoi An while less busy than usual but we were concerned for the locals who were losing income as a result, even back then.

  7. lexklein says:

    I really appreciate and admire your frank reporting on what you saw and your feelings about it. It’s very moving, and with Cambodia being among the countries I had to miss when we canceled our trip in early 2020 at the beginning of Covid, I have been doing a lot of thinking about when to try again. You may have given me a nudge to go sooner than I might have.

    • Anna says:

      I think going sooner would be a good move Lexi. You will benefit as will the locals, its a win-win in my opinion! I am sure whenever you get there you will be amazed, it is a special place. X

  8. Bama says:

    Thanks for writing this, Anna. I’m curious to see how different Siem Reap is now compared to when I visited the first time in 2011. But from what you said, it sounds like one thing stays the same: the friendliness of the locals. Back then, I never felt harassed or intimidated as I sometimes felt in Bangkok despite the fact that Siem Reap was already attracting a lot of international tourists. Your photos of the temples really make me want to go now!

    • Anna says:

      It will be interesting to hear your perspective when you do go and see how much has changed. When are you off?

      • Bama says:

        I will be going in less than a month! I really can’t wait. Did you have to download any apps before entering Cambodia? And did you have to use a contact tracing app during your stay?

      • Anna says:

        Oh wow soon then! Im excited for you! Nope, no apps to download and no contact tracing at all. I had to buy a visa when i arrived which was a bit slow. If you need visa maybe do online before. Only app we had (my Singaporean friend already had this) was GRAB, so we could get tuk tuks. Lol. Bur dont even need that, as tuk tuk is everywhere and easy to get.

  9. I’m annoyed with how I missed the notification that you had posted this when I had been looking forward to it! Haha! I’m happy that you got to experience this trip, Anna. It’s beautiful how most of your photos look “un-peopled,” by the way! That was quite difficult to achieve pre-pandemic!

    • Anna says:

      Yes… the benefits of post COVID travel is that it’s quiet and you can take photos, but after seeing how the locals are struggling I would take the pre COVID busyness any day if it means helping people! Thanks for your visit Miss M! X

  10. I’ve only JUST got around to reading this! I’m off to Cambodia in January and will certainly be intrigued to see how things have changed since your visit. I’m certainly hoping that the situation has improved in regard to tourism.

  11. S CN says:

    Beautiful my country Cambodia welcome to visit Angkor wat temple

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