There may be no beach in Siem Reap, but we do have a baray which, when you look into it, is arguably much cooler. The West Baray is an enormous reservoir that was most likely constructed during the 11th century. At 8,000 metres long and 2,100 metres wide, it is equivalent in size to more than 2,000 football pitches, and was built by hand.
A small island sits in the centre of the baray where you’ll find the dilapidated remains of West Mebon temple. The temple is built in the same style as Baphuon, beside Bayon, hence the assumption that the Baray was built during the 11th century. Otherwise, we know very little about why it was built. Theories have suggested that it was used for irrigation, though this has been largely discarded, or for ceremonial purposes, or for flood management.
Today though it is used mostly for leisure purposes; you can chill out in a hammock, swim in the water, enjoy a delicious picnic of barbecued chicken or fish, and take a ride across the water to the island on one of the boats.
Though less well documented than the law on gravity, the law that picnics taste better on islands is considered by experts to be equally well-established.
The boat hire is a little pricey, at $20, but you can easily fit about eight people into one which makes it work out a little bit better if you’re running in a pack. The hammocks however are a bargain at 5,000 riel.
If you’re not into any of that, there’s a reasonably nice walk around the levee that functions as a dyke around the baray. It’s 20 kilometres all the way around, so unless you’re feeling really ambitious, don’t plan on circumnavigating the whole thing. It’s a good idea to bring water and sunscreen no matter how long you’re planning to walk for though.
The baray is down a tarmac road that turns off just about six kilometres to the west of Siem Reap, and getting there by tuk tuk or moto is a simple matter.
It’s a very popular family leisure spot with locals as well, so even if you are planning on a swim please remember to respect local customs and dress modestly.
How to get there
The baray is down a tarmac road that turns off just about six kilometres to the west of Siem Reap, and getting there by tuk tuk or moto is a simple matter. The area is frequented by Khmer families so even if you are going for a swim, be mindful to respect local customs by dressing modestly.