May 30 2011
If you’re only in Siem Reap for a few short and no doubt busy days, it might be difficult to get out and see some of the beautiful Khmer countryside. Indeed, even if you’re here for a little longer, there’s enough to fill your time, what with temples, cooking classes, and massages, that can conspire to keep you surrounded by other people, with little of nature to sustain your spirit.
The vast majority of Cambodians live in the countryside, so without seeing that it is difficult to see how the people in this gorgeous country live. Fortunately, there’s a way of gaining a brief glimpse into those lives, without the need to pay any fees or bring along a guide, and that’s by going for a walk. All you need is a comfy pair of shoes and sunscreen. Either bring a large bottle of water with you, or you can buy some along the way from one of the many stalls: “Sum tuk-sup moy?” – “May I have one water please?” A small bottle should cost about 500 riel.
The walk described here is about 5 kilometres long and goes in a loop. It’s best done first thing in the morning, any time up to 08:00, or late afternoon. Don’t leave after 17:00 though or you may get caught in the dark. The best lighting conditions prevail at these times too, so don’t forget your camera.
Starting at the roundabout beside Old Market, and with your back to Old Market, take the right turn on the roundabout. You will pass Wat Damnak on your left side, and taking a wander in there among the pagoda buildings and fragrant frangipani trees is strongly recommended. As you go on, you will pass a row of Cambodian restaurants on your right, before taking the left turn (opposite the entrance to Golden Banana).
Going straight ahead for about 300 metres, you will pass the Green Star Restaurant on your right side, before coming to a small junction, just before a small market, where you take the right turn. Continue straight ahead, passing the Quad Bikes centre on your right. At about 400 metres, you’ll come to a bridge after which the road transforms from tarmac to red dirt, and you carry on straight ahead.
The road now continues straight for just over a kilometre. You’ll pass traditional Khmer-style houses, and some very modern architecturally designed ones too. There are a couple of drinks stalls to buy water from if you like. On the left side, about half-way along, you’ll see Anjali House, a shelter for street children, before the rice fields start to open out around you.
You’ll finally come to a small junction in the road where you take the right turn, almost doubling back on the route you’ve taken. Here the path gets really lovely; green lies to the left and right of you and it’s hard to imagine you’re just minutes on a moto from the parties on Pub Street. There are flowers, birds, oxen and buffalo to be seen, and all kinds of wonderful photo opportunities — including a dizzying array of scarecrows.
This road continues for about a kilometre and a half when it turns to the right. There is a large cemetery on the left side. Follow the road to the T-junction and turn left, then left again after about 30 metres. (If you take the second right hand turn, you will find a small Chinese cemetery which is very interesting too, but go back and follow the left turn). The road will now lead you out to the Siem Reap river, where you turn right and follow it all the way back to Wat Damnak. Turn left, and you’re almost immediately back at where you started. Happy trails!
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