Having spent 5 days in Siem Reap there’s far too much to fit into a single post so I’ll break it into 3 parts; The Beginning, The Middle and The End.
After the short flight from Bangkok we arrived into Siem Reap airport. To experience the “Real Cambodia” and avoid the tourist tracks we decided to try the Bunyong Homestay. Bun who’s family we would be staying with met us at the airport and we immediately felt like we had made a new friend! Buns story is truly inspirational which I will go into at the end of this post.
The Homestay is a few minutes from downtown Siem Reap along a bumpy dirt track. It has all the basic needs you’d require and is in a very secluded setting overlooking a small lake. We were welcomed as part of the family by brother Bun.
That evening after relaxing on the balcony overlooking the lake we joined Buns family(Mother, Brother, Sister, Nephew, Dog(Lillie) and two other guests) for a traditional Cambodian dinner. The main delight of the meal was in fact; fried Snake with chilli and lemongrass washed down with Spider(Tarantula) Wine which was all surprisingly tasty!
We then ventured out to Pub Street Downtown with Bun. We went to a bar called Cheers and had a couple $0.50 local beers before the street got too crowded. Unfortunately the Pub Street is a little chaotic filled with neon bars and dreadful music. There are some nice chilled out restaurants/bars though just off pub street. Anyway, we didn’t come here to party, we came to see the Temples!
Temple Touring – Day 1
Siem Reap has over 300 ancient Temples so it’s impossible to see them all. Luckily our international award winning Cambodian tour guide Bun sorted a great schedule for us. First up was Angkor Thom.
Most tourists enter through the overcrowded Southern gate but instead bun took us around to West Gate. Equally as impressive but the only people there were us and some young children collecting Water Lillie’s from the moat surrounding Angkor Thom. Incredible start!
Heading into Angkor Thom we toured some of the smaller Temples, walked along the Terrace of the Elephants and headed to the first big hitter, Bayon, the temple of the four faces.
We then took the short ride to the masterpiece of Siem Reap, Angkor Wat. The sight as you walk towards the temple and through the gates is mind blowing. It’s hard to imagine what this ancient city of 1 million people would of been like. Out tour guide shared with us stories from a Chinese ambassador who visited during the Angkor era and the artists impressions of what it would be like are incredible. Golden giants lighting the sky.
After a morning of touring the temples it was time for some rest back at the Bunyong Homestay.
The Story of Bun
In the late afternoon Bun took us on a bike ride through the local villages of Siem Reap. There are 4 million visitors each year who come to the area but many don’t venture away from the temples, hotels or pub street.
Despite the tourism Siem Reap is still the 2nd poorest city in Cambodia. On our bike ride Bun showed us the two sides of Siem Reap, the local village and the posh hotels.
We travelled through some of the slums in Siem Reap where Bun told the stories of the villagers hardship. As privileged westerners what we saw was obviously very difficult to take in. The stories were heartbreaking. We travelled the short distance to the road of posh hotels where the difference was incredible. Huge, well maintained hotels with tourists from all over the world bused in and out every day.
Returning to the Homestay Bun shared his story over dinner. Until recent years Bun was also living in the slum. He showed us his old home where he lived with his Mother, Brother, Nephew and Sister which was best described as a parking garage you’d find here in the West. Growing up in difficult conditions at 22, unable to speak any English, he became a Monk to try and improve his families life. Since then he has worked tirelessly for the past 15 years as a tour guide. With an attitude of “Work Hard, Work Smart” Bun has managed to build a home for him and his family. Not settling for providing for his family, Bun also houses 4 students from a poor village outside Siem Reap to give them a better education. He also has big plans to help the slum children of Siem Reap which I’ll touch on in a later blog post.
It was a honour to hear his story and be part of his family at their Home. Looking at the coaches full of tourists I couldn’t help but be thankful for the opportunity to experience the real Cambodia and this was all within our first 24 hours.
My next post will touch on Sunrise at Angkor Wat and Pra Thom, the Tomb Raider temple!