Feb 22 2012

Explore Siem Reap with a cool north riverside walk

Published by at 2:19 pm under Sightseeing & activities

Downtown Siem Reap is dusty, hot, traffic-clogged and as ideally suited for a walk as a rubber-ducky is for lunch (not unlike KL in that regard). It may look like there’s potential, but you’ll soon be sorry you ever started. Willing walkers often try the circuit on the south river, striking out from the bridge at Old Market up to the bridge on Route 6 and back down the other side again. It’s cool under the trees, the one-way system means you’re not much in the way of traffic, and it’s pretty. On the other hand, you could almost be anywhere on this route. There’s not a great deal that makes it stand out as distinctly Cambodia.

Downtown nice, but not good for relaxed, happy, fun, carefree, entertaining walks. At all.

Downtown nice, but not good for relaxed, happy, fun, carefree, entertaining walks. At all.

A more interesting suggestion is to start at the bridge where Route 6 crosses the Siem Reap River, and then head north. Here you’ll find local markets and businesses, pagodas, riverside houses on stilts, a quirky hotel quarter, the home of French archaeological study in Cambodia, and even a free Angkor-era temple. You don’t need anything except comfortable shoes, a few dollars for drinks/snacks and your camera.

A precarious existence

A precarious existence.

Starting on the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor side of the Route 6 bridge (number one of five during this exploration), you’ll walk through the genteel Raffles Riverside Gardens before getting to the next bridge (number two). They sometimes hold exhibitions in the gardens here.

Passing the second bridge, the tree cover thickens overhead and the temperature drop is just delicious. On your left hand side is the back wall of The Amansara, one of the most exclusive hotels in Siem Reap and a former residence of the King Father, Sihanouk.

On the right, you’ll notice the reason why the Siem Reap River looks so wonderfully litter-free on the town-side. Things are not quite so sweet after you pass this barrier.

How Siem Reap creates the illusion of being clean

How Siem Reap creates the illusion of being clean.

Difficult to reconcile with the steady abundance only a mile or two down the road, the first stilted, patchwork houses emerge. Incredibly, the section after narrow, metal bridge number three was burned to the ground only a few months ago in a late night fire. Fortunately, no-one was killed, and the new structures went back up in double-quick time (the residents may have been fearful of losing their right to stay there, or their right to be compensated when the authorities finally relocate them, as seems inevitable). The trees still bear scorch marks.

Hard to imagine this "shanty town" is newly constructed, around the trees which still bear the scars of the fire

Hard to imagine this "shanty town" is newly built, around the trees that still bear the scars of the fire.

Further along you’ll arrive at the lively local markets. Clothes, furnishings, housewares, food, repairs, laundry, lunch, almost all daily needs are met here by the streetside vendors and a small covered market. As you walk on, you’ll pass bridge number four, guarded at each end by two nagas. Nagas are thought to protect water sources, bringing rain and thus fertility, though it would seem they got rather carried away with their job last September. Looking up the river, you’ll see broken trees and pulverised banks, part of the legacy of the floods.

Roadside snacks, human gas

Roadside snacks, human petrol.

The next section is where you’ll find a group of three interesting hotels: The RiverGarden, a tropical, jungle hide-away, with great food; 1961, eccentric, creative, inspiring, always surprising, and; La Villa Loti, a peaceful garden hotel, whose chef is very proud of their Thai food.

Like it says...

Like it says...

On the right hand side, you’ll see a neat little children’s play area that might not be completely lethal, and shortly after that some “art” that might not be quite Turner Prize ready yet. But who knows, they might have a really quiet year sometime.

Beyond the duality of deer: this challenging work shows the artist's attempt to confront the sometimes conflicting, sometimes harmonious tri-partite aspects of life in a deer family

Beyond the duality of deer: this challenging work shows the artist's attempt to confront the sometimes conflicting, sometimes harmonious tripartite aspects of life in a deer family

About 150 metres past here, you’ll get to bridge number five, the turn-around point. On the other side is Wat Preah Enkosei. Wandering into the pagoda grounds, behind the main building you’ll find the remains of a tenth century temple, Prasat Enkosei. There’s not a lot left, but what is there is remarkable for the carved reliefs on the lintels.

Everybody loves a lintel...

Everybody loves a lintel...

Going back out on to the road, you’ll wander past more riverside houses, another pagoda (at the naga bridge), and the Ecôle Français d’Extrême Orient. Over more than a century, the dedication and hard work of this organisation’s representatives account for so much of what we know about Angkor today, and are continuing to learn. There is a certain romance in imagining them striking out to jungled Angkorian temples, with little in the way of protection, roads, transport, medicine, insurance or any of the things we take for granted today. Not even a decent cappuccino!

You’ll have noticed by now that there are tons of dogs. As a general rule, they’ll leave you alone if you leave them alone. Don’t walk too close, don’t try to make friends. If one does start to get menacing, remember that it’s mostly for show — they don’t really want to fight; they’re just making a point. Simply walk calmly away without making eye contact and that is, in my experience, the end of it. There are lots of locals about, and they will likely step in to help if this isn’t working.

I'm like so totally a lover not a fighter anyway

I'm like so totally a lover not a fighter anyway.

You’ll be coming back down now to the metal bridge, number three. I’ve no idea why, but there’s something incredibly romantic about metal bridges, even this one that looks more than ready for the scrapheap. Now the road opens up and the trees start to thin out along here as the riverside shanties give way to trimmed river banks. You can either continue down, and dive into a delicious, refreshing lime soda at Rosy Guesthouse, or take a detour to Dy Proung’s Miniature Angkor Wat (follow the sign).

Back to the beginning

Back to the beginning.

The walk should take an hour to an hour and a half, depending upon your pace. The slower, the better. Early in the morning or after 17:00 are the best times, because of the cooler temperatures, and better light for photos. However, the road can get busy after 17:30, though never oppressively. This is Cambodia, after all.

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8 responses so far

8 Responses to “Explore Siem Reap with a cool north riverside walk”

  1. Kristinaon 22 Feb 2012 at 2:56 pm

    Nice. I’ve not done this walk, but will give it a try next time I’m in Siem Reap.

  2. lara dunstonon 26 Feb 2012 at 4:07 am

    Our kind of post! We did part of this walk when we were there. We were very lucky to stay a couple of nights at the Amansara (work) – it was actually the King’s guesthouse when Siem Reap was hip and happening in the 1960s and a lot of international celebs/dignitaries, from Jackie O to Hollywood movie stars flocked there to see the ruins. 1961 is also a gallery with several rooms of terrific art, a restaurant and a bar, and would be a really lovely spot to end this walk with a cold beer :) Thanks, again! Great post.

  3. Traveloehrson 29 Feb 2012 at 8:18 am

    We are heading to Cambodia in a few months and this is great advice. Thanks for the informative article.

  4. Nickyon 29 Feb 2012 at 9:46 am

    Hi Lara, thank you for the positive feedback, it means a great deal. I hope you guys enjoyed your time here. I loved your stories on it. Happy travels! N

  5. A cool north riverside walk reveals another side of Siem Reap | eternal studenton 03 Mar 2012 at 7:23 am

    [...] Travelfish, 22 Feb. 2012 [...]

  6. [...] few weeks ago, I described a short walk on the north riverside of Siem Reap, and attempted to paint a picture of a lively slice of of the [...]

  7. [...] is Prasat Preah Enkosei, which can be found within the pagoda grounds of Wat Preah Enkosei on the north riverside. Only two stone sanctuaries set on a single base remain, though it is likely there were meant to be [...]

  8. [...] you’re out on a walk, or exploring the temples, and even when you dip indoors for a massage, they’re all around [...]

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