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Siem Reap Holidays
The nearest town to Angkor, Siem Reap is a bustling tourist hub that has developed substantially in the past few years. Burgeoning hotels, restaurants and bars, and a growing art and fashion crowd, mean it is now a pleasant place to while away some time. The town is laid out formally and is pleasantly airy, with large areas of overgrown land between the buildings. The centre of Siem Reap has a romantic, French-colonial feel, sprawling across a 10-km radius and carved apart by a pleasant lamp-lit river.
The Old Market is the most popular tourist area and has restaurants, bars and boutiques catering for a wide range of tastes. A number of buildings here, particularly on the road south to Tonlé Sap, are built of wood and raised off the ground on stilts. Across the river, is Siem Reap’s oldest pagoda, Wat Bo (built in the 18th century). Otherwise, the main places of interest lie outside the town and include a small landmine museum, a war museum and the Angkor National Museum. This is a short walk towards the temples from the town centre and has a lot of useful information about the development of Angkor.
A short trip from Siem Reap is the Tonlé Sap, the Great Lake of Cambodia. The distance from Siem Reap to the edge of the lake fluctuates by many kilometres depending on the season. Spring meltwaters in the Himalaya, coupled with seasonal rains, increase the flow of the Mekong to such an extent that some water is deflected up the 100-km Tonlé Sap River, reversing its flow and causing it to run uphill into the lake. Thus, by the end of the rainy season in October, the lake occupies nearly a seventh of Cambodia’s land area, around 1.5 million ha, making it the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
With the onset of the dry season, the flow of water on the river is reversed once more, and the lake shrinks to a fraction of its wet-season size. It is worth taking a boat trip to explore the communities that live in floating villages on the lake, such as Chong Khneas and Kompong Phluk. Also on the lake is the Prek Toal Biosphere, a bird sanctuary that is home to 120 bird species, including cranes, stalks and pelicans.