Five things we loved about Siem Reap
Updated: Jul 2, 2020
1. Cambodian Food
Amok - Siem Reap’s speciality, a creamy curry made with diced fillets of freshwater fish and smothered in coconut milk, eggs, fish sauce and palm sugar. Kroeung — a paste made from pounded spices and other ingredients, such as turmeric, kaffir lime, lemongrass and shallots — is also added. The traditional way to cook the dish is by steaming it in a banana leaf shaped into a bowl, within which it is served. (now I know what you meant Ley Huang!)
Grilled frog - barbecued whole on a stick, often marinated in chilli and garlic to give them a kick. Okay so we didn't try them - but they looked interesting and are a local street food favourite.
Spring rolls and Satay - our standard appetiser, although we prefer the fresh spring rolls we would still have the cooked ones when the fresh ones weren't available. Satays - the perfect street food!
Kari Saraman (Beef saraman curry) - a rich coconut curry flavoured with star anise and cassia bark. The curry is braised with whole peanuts and was served with sliced baguette.
Fifty cent beers and inexpensive cocktails - the cocktails were full strength and delicious - the beer? Well how can you go wrong when it's only fifty cents!!??
Interesting ways to order your drinks - you can ring through your order on an old push button telephone and then it is delivered through a hatch in the wall; or why not enjoy a coffee and a snack at the Frog Coffee!
2. Buddhism and Wats
Theravada Buddhism is a cornerstone of Cambodia’s culture - my very basic understanding is that the goal of buddhism is to achieve enlightenment - a state of inner peace and wisdom. It is connected to the buddhist concepts of karma (the law of cause and effect) and reincarnation (the continuous cycle of rebirth).
Good deeds are rewarded with good consequences, and an elevated status in the subsequent life cycle. Likewise, bad deeds can result in bad consequences and a lower status in the subsequent life cycle. This can explain the seemingly dismissive treatment of poor or disabled people in Cambodian society, as many people believe their misfortune to be the result of actions in their past life.
When followers reach enlightenment, they are said to have experienced nirvana. Nirvana is release from the cycle of rebirth. It is the highest state that someone can attain; the state of enlightenment means that a person's individual desires and suffering go away.
Wats aka temples aka pagodas
A wat is a Buddhist sacred precinct with quarters for the monks, a temple, a building that houses an image of Buddha and a building for lessons. It was traditionally the place of education for boys, and many young Cambodian men (generally those from poor backgrounds) still enter the wat for anything between one and ten years to benefit from the education provided.
Wat Preah Prom Rath
We saw this Wat on our very first day in Siem Reap - it is a traditional Buddhist temple. Inside the main building there is a sleeping Buddha just behind the main shrine. Outside the building there is a replica boat, both of which hold special significance to the story about a Monk who in 1500 AD would regularly travel to fetch rice from Long Vek the ancient capital of Cambodia. On one occasion he was attacked and his boat was broken. He was able to survive and make it back safely on part of the boat and hence the reclining Buddha and boat monument were built in honour of this event.
Angkor Archaeological Park
Cambodia’s ancient stone cities and many temples. (see previous post - Ancient stone temples)
There are about 4000 monks in Cambodia at the moment. In their vivid - coloured saffron robes, they are interesting subjects to photograph as they provide a striking contrast against the sandstone of Angkor temples - actually the saffron colour stands out in most places...
I loved the Monk Blessing ceremony - I know it's a bit tourist-tacky but the idea is beautiful! The setting of the Angkor Wat made it extra special (if you blocked out all the other tourists and their cameras). I know - we are tourists too!
The colour and symbolism of Monks robes
Saffron was chosen mainly because of the dye available at the time. The tradition stuck and saffron is now the colour of choice for Theravada Buddhist monks in Southeast Asia. Tibetan monks have maroon coloured robes. The robes are meant to symbolise simplicity and detachment of materialism.
We love going to markets - it's a great way to get in and amongst the locals (and to find the odd bargain) and so we were keen to check out some in Siem Reap and they didn't disappoint...
We started with the oldest first
Psar Chas - the old market in Siem Reap
Located in the centre of Siem Reap - a large market covered by a massive roof, with a wet market and food court. Souvenir stalls located around the perimeter of the market and opening onto the street. An amazing array of goods including cooked food, herbs and spices, raw meat, beautiful fruit and vegetables, souvenirs, local crafts, clothes, dressmakers, fabrics, shoes, jewellery and artwork.
We also visited the
Made in Cambodia Market
There weren't many people when we were there and so the atmosphere was very low key. The market was set among restaurants and was stalls operated by independent artists and designers, which produce jewellery; and NGO-operated social enterprises which sell accessories and jewellery made from recycled materials, such as newspaper and rubber tyres. Apparently this market also has live entertainment - but nothing was happening when we were there.
This market was quite busy and offered a wide range of clothing and handicrafts by local communities and non-governmental organisations. It is and an outdoor market that had silk paintings, handbags, as well as stone carvings embellished in silver or brass.
Apart from walking this was our only mode of transport.
Varying from our airport transfer tub tuk to the posh hotel tuktuks and our means to get to and around the Angkor Archaeological park and finally my absolute favourite - for those drivers waiting for their customers at the temples - the ingenious hammock in the tuktuk!