Discovering Siem Reap

Siem Reap is the capital of Siem Reap Province, located in Cambodia, near the Angkor archaeological complex and about 314 km north-northwest of the capital Phnom Penh.

Siem Reap has a colonial and Chinese style architecture, particularly in the French quarter and around the Old Market. In the city there are Apsara dance festivals, craftsmen's shops, sericolous farms, rice fields, fishing villages and bird sanctuaries near Tonle Sap Lake.

It is a city in full development due to the booming tourist attraction represented by the Angkor temples since the end of the war and the last Khmer Rouge attacks which took place until 1994. Tourism has particularly accelerated since the 2000s. Many hotels have been built there and others are under construction, thanks in particular to the contribution of foreign capital. Many small establishments are concentrated around the Old Market, while the most expensive hotels are located between Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport and Siem Reap along National Highway 6. There are also a variety of mid-range hotels and restaurants along Sivatha Street and in the Phsar Leu area. There are still some pre-independence buildings, called Chinese compartments.

It is also the name of a sacred river tributary of the Tonle Sap.

 Traditional Siem Reap: the streets, the people, the market...

It happens to cross, more or less frequently, people maimed by war or anti-personnel mines.... painful memory of the difficult years not so long ago....

 Siem Reap: Shops, Restaurants....

Bars, Pubs, Restaurants: everything is there, within reach

My walk in these alleys, makes me discover a brand new area with surprising decorations

A rather "European" atmosphere, I would even go so far as to say... a little Provençal on the edges....

In the centre of Siem Reap, some streets and alleys that have recently been redone.
There are a multitude of small restaurants, with a pleasant decoration, that makes you want to settle there....

It's getting dark fast... it's time to find a good table

All these restaurants do not have much of a Cambodian, certainly....
We love... or we don't love...
Personally, I found this set very coherent.
The colours, lighting and decorations are generally in very good taste.

A French restaurant....

Also discovered, this small typically French restaurant....
with original decorations (very retro) that remind us of the good old days...

Displaying such a panel in Southeast Asia is really an incentive to indulge in gourmet delicacies....

At "Bébé", I recommend (among others) the Contrescarpe salad (green salad, poached foie gras, smoked duck breast and small tomatoes): a little treat!

A nice, warm, welcoming setting with a real Zinc on the counter!

 My Impressions on Siem Reap

I really enjoyed this small town, and the recently renovated central district is really very pleasant with all these restaurants and shops with very modern colours and decorations. It is a pleasure to walk there.

Quiet, hushed atmosphere: it is true that we were there in low season, early June....

This is the kind of neighbourhood you don't find in Thailand, Bangkok or Phuket.

People are smiling, welcoming, helpful.

Consumption prices are reasonable (less expensive than in Thailand)

Everything is paid for in dollars.

There are countless hotels, and there is something for everyone.

The tuk-tuk are very correct: for our trip to Angkor, we paid 10 dollars to travel from temple to temple from 8:30 am to 4 pm... so, there again, nothing to do with Thailand.

My advice of the Day: if you have the desire or the opportunity: don't hesitate!

 The Anecdote

For visitors coming from Thailand and by road:

The Cambodian border is about 250 km from Bangkok and once the border is crossed, there are still 150 km to go to the small town of Siem Reap.

We thought we could go to Cambodia by car... but we were not allowed to enter with the car registered in Thailand, despite valid vehicle documents, international permit etc....

It was an "adventure" to ask for authorizations.

For the anecdote, after trying to make it clear what we wanted, we had the impression that we were asking to get the moon.

Apparently, this request didn't seem very usual... and finally, after the umpteenth explanation, we were kindly advised to come back an hour later because the chef had gone to play tennis...

It was a little discouraged that we left the car in a guarded parking lot on the Thai side (100 baht/day) and took a taxi to our final destination.

The normal fare for a taxi to Siem Reap is $40.... when we arrived at the border, we paid $80... a nice scam, but hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking eggs.

For the return trip, we went to an agency in Siem Reap, which charged 40 dollars for the trip...

The road from the border post to Siem Reap is quite suitable, but it takes about two hours to get there.

All in all, we quickly realized that leaving the car in Thailand was much wiser and more reasonable: the Cambodian way of driving is quite special and a more or less long acclimatization time is necessary... because it is at the limit of taking unnecessary risks, for example:

the mirror is not used to look back, but to put your hair strand back in the right direction or to check your lipstick...
when a driver wants to turn left, he does not use the indicator but turns his head to the left... etc...

 CAMBODIA: A little history

Cambodia, a former French protectorate integrated into French Indochina, gained its independence on 9 November 1953, at the end of the Indochina war. Having become a constitutional monarchy (since 1947) led by King Norodom Sihanouk, the country has a policy of neutrality with regard to the Vietnam War, but in reality supports the Democratic Republic of Vietnam since 1966, allowing troops and supplies to transit through its territory to the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam. Then began the Khmero-Vietnamese dispute, the border incidents that pushed the Vietnamese to cross the border in 1979.

Confronted, from 1967-68, with an insurrection fomented by the Khmer Rouge - communist rebels of Maoist inspiration -, with an economy that was going from bad to worse, Norodom Sihanouk, had to resolve to entrust the leadership of the government to General Lon Nol, his military pillar, known for his anti-communism, on 14 August 1969 in exchange for American aid. On March 18, 1970, Lon Nol, pushed by Prince Sirik Matak, of the competing Sisowath branch, overthrew Sihanouk while travelling abroad (Moscow and Beijing) and established the Khmer republic. Having become an ally of the United States, Cambodia was then integrated into the strategy of containing communism in Southeast Asia.

With China's support, the Khmer Rouge then launched a real war against government forces. In addition to this civil war, the country was dragged into the Vietnam War. As early as 1970 the Khmer Rouge were on the way to winning, but the United States intervened and temporarily saved the republican regime (April-June 1970). But when the United States withdrew from the region in 1973, its air strikes failed to stop the communist threat. The Khmer Rouge of Pol Pot, supported by communist China, took Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 and installed an authoritarian Maoist regime.
The "Angkar" (organization) of the Khmer Rouge then applied a maximalist policy, even more radical than that of the Soviets and Maoists, aimed in particular at purifying the country from urban civilization. The cities, like Phnom Penh during the night of 17 to 18 April 1975, were emptied of their inhabitants and sent to the countryside for rehabilitation. The systematic hunt for former elites, "identified" because they speak foreign languages or wear glasses (for example), combined with mines placed by both sides, malnutrition and disease, leads to mass killings and a politically motivated humanitarian disaster. The quantification of the number of victims is a difficult task and historians have not yet reached a consensus on it. The figure of 1.7 million direct and indirect victims is the most commonly accepted. Some intellectuals would like this "Khmer self-destruction" to be recognized by the United Nations as genocide, but it does not meet the definition of genocide, since the criteria for choosing victims did not correspond to a national, ethnic, racial or religious group (Article 6 of the International Criminal Court).

On 25 December 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and destroyed the rice fields, causing the Khmer Rouge regime to collapse.
The Vietnamese authorities set up a government close to their interests and reorganised the country according to the Laotian and Vietnamese model. A guerrilla group bringing together various movements ranging from the Khmer Rouge to the royalist movement supported by Thailand then raged in the country.

After the departure of the Vietnamese forces in 1989 and the sending of UN forces in the early 1990s, the regime gradually regained a semblance of autonomy while remaining regularly denounced for its human rights violations. The current Prime Minister Hun Sen, placed in power by Vietnam, has been leading the country since that time, and has remained in power through three successive dubious elections in a clear climate of political violence. The main opponent, Sam Rainsy, fled to Paris in 2005. King Norodom Sihanouk, once again head of state, abdicated a second time in 2004 for the benefit of his younger son Norodom Sihamoni, a former ballet dancer and Cambodia's ambassador to UNESCO in Paris.

Cambodia is now facing a series of painful choices. Its economy, which still depends heavily on international aid (in 2001, one third of the government's budget came from international donors), suffers from very high levels of corruption (country ranked 162nd out of 179 on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index in 2007[1]). Numerous trafficking (precious stones, wood, prostitution, drugs) to neighbouring countries and a poor quality judicial system penalize economic development. Other problems inherited from the Khmer Rouge disaster are also affecting the country's development, such as the question of land (the cadastre is still far from being finalised) or education, the education system having been completely destroyed by the Khmer Rouge (murdered teachers, etc.).

Since his arrival, Prime Minister Hun Sen has approached both China and, above all, the United States. Thus, two American naval bases were discreetly opened a few years ago near Sihanoukville and the American embassy, recently built in the centre of Phnom Penh, is surprising in its size. Moreover, an intensive anglicization policy of the country has also been undertaken since Hun Sen came to power. Examples include the "Gendarmeries nationales" which became "Police Stations", police officers' identity plates transcribed in English (the old ones, in French, are sold on the black market), the administration which has changed to English or the post office (the stamps no longer mention "Royaume du Cambodge", but "Kingdom of Cambodia")... The French language is almost no longer used or understood in the population, especially in the younger age groups. English has really become essential to circulate in the country, even in hotels or businesses owned by French people, or in the French tradition, where the language of Molière is no longer used. In shops and hotels, prices are displayed in US dollars, and most transactions are made in this currency (such as the tax to leave the country, for example).

Currently, the tourism sector and textiles (presence of major international ready-to-wear chains) are the main foreign exchange providers in the country.

 On the Map...