A small, bustling provincial capital, Siem Reap has grand colonial architecture alongside Chinese-influenced facades in the Old French Quarter. Originally each area of the town was a village, sprung up around the pagoda, these villages have merged to create a town, but each area retains its own personality.
It is a popular tourist resort and has lots of choice for the visitor for shopping, dining and sightseeing. The Old Market and the Old French Quarter host the main concentration of tourist offerings but these jostle for space with food stalls and markets aimed at the local population and those who travel in from the countryside to stock up on produce and sell their own wares. The gateway to the temples at Angkor, and full of pagodas, shrines and stupas, Siem Reap is a popular resort for Buddhist pilgrims, too.
Locals and western visitors alike can visit the many shrines and pagodas in the town. For example, the Shrine of Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chorm, which contains two standing Buddhas and commands much respect. There is also the Shrine to Ya Tep, found under a large tree in from of the royal residence. Pilgrims leave chicken skins at the shrine as offerings in return for protection and good luck. The aptly-named New Temple, Wat Thmei, attracts visits to the large glass stupa housing the bones of victimes of the Khmer Rouge. Finally, Wat Keseram, the Pagoda of the Cornflower Petals, is set in beautiful surroundings and features an extensive collection of relics and treasures depicting the life of Buddha.
The town, despite its tourist credentials, fully retains its local colour and flavour. Traditional Cambodia is represented in the Apsara dance performances and craft shops, food stalls and river boat trips through the rice paddies and farmland.
Within the town and just outside it are numerous tourist attractions, such as the butterfly garden, crocodile farms, and a snake farm with king cobra shows. There are countryside tours, cookery classes, elephant treks and ballon rides. A rather more serious look at life in the region reminds us that the ancient Khmer history of the temples sits alongside the more recent Khmer history of civil war and harsh political regimes, represented by killing fields memorials, a war museum and an unofficial landmine museum.
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