As soon as we landed in Cambodia, it was very clear that we were in an entirely different kind of country. Looking back, I think it may have been our first trip to a non-democratic country. The only time it felt really obvious to me was going through customs and immigration and it’s hard to place my finger on exactly why it felt so different. The general atmosphere was just more tense and formal compared to other entry processes that I’ve experienced. This feeling, thankfully, did not extend beyond the airport.
We arrived at night, grabbed a taxi and headed to our hotel in downtown Siem Reap. This hotel was one of our favorites of the entire trip. It was called the Golden Temple Hotel and we booked it through agoda.com for $58/night. The rate included a large breakfast and a free massage for each of us. The staff could not have been nicer or more accommodating of Finnegan. The location, just a short walk to Pub Street, was perfect and the pool area was beautiful. Considering the amenities, quality of the room, and consistently friendly service, it was an extremely good value.
We spent three days in the Siem Reap area, including two days touring the temples of Angkor Wat and one day visiting Tonle Sap Lake. We loved our day touring the lake, which started with a 15 km (9 mile) tuk tuk ride past quiet villages and primitive houses. Our driver didn’t speak English, but was friendly and directed us to the ticket area and showed us where to meet him at the end of the tour.
The standard ticket includes a boat and guide just for your group, which was a nice surprise. Our guide was young and gregarious and became fast friends with Finnegan. We learned a lot about the lake and the fisherman that depend on it for their livelihood. The guide was also happy to talk about his life and experience growing up in Cambodia.
Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and it changes in size dramatically depending on the season. In the wet season the lake is four times larger than in the dry season. The lake is critically important to Cambodia, providing a livelihood for over 1 million fishermen and a significant contribution to the country’s GDP. The lake is also a very important nesting area for many species of birds. One of the highlights of the tour for me was seeing the floating houses and how people still live a very traditional lifestyle on the lake.
The tour includes a stop at a very touristy souvenir shop. We didn’t buy anything, but Finnegan appreciated the chance to check-out the Siamese crocodiles. The tour was about 2 hours long and completely worthwhile. I would highly recommend including a tour of the lake in any Siem Reap itinerary.
Have you been to Cambodia and the Siem Reap area? What were the highlights for you?