The Iceberg of Siem Reap

Siem Reap has more hidden surprises than just her temples. She is a region of quirks—and I don’t mean the sunburnt expats with a pretty lady on their shoulder. At first glance, it seems possible to “do” Angkor Wat in a day, and then be done with Siem Reap. Which is precisely the itinerary that shapes the majority of visitors.

Upon closer inspection, if Siem Reap were an iceberg, the main temple of Angkor Wat would be the tip.

Do I sound pretentious? Probably. But a blog is less interesting without superlatives.

First off, there’s the hidden ruins of Kbal Spean.

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About an hour’s drive out of Siem Reap, you enter the region of Phnom Kulen. You park your car in a forested area, as food vendors compete for your attention. As you walk through the jungle, ropes dangle in your pathway, begging to be climbed.

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It’s a forty-five minute hike up to Kbal Spean, the “river of a thousand lingas”.

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When you arrive, you find a woman sunning herself on a rock. She’s a bit old, but has a great complexion.

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Then you begin to see the lingas. (In case you forgot, a linga is a phallic Hindu symbol for the god Shiva. As these were submerged in a river since the 11th century, you’ll have to use your imagination to get the full linga effect.)

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The river was seen as holy since it flowed into the Tonle Sap lake, passing through the temples of Angkor on its way.  (Note the more clear lingas on the vertical rock nearest the photo.)

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They were carved by hermits who lived in the area. Have you ever read a cooler sentence? They were carved by hermits who lived in the area.

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For the careful—and patient—eye, Siem Reap has much to offer.

IMG_9271While the carvings are the main facet of Kbal Spean, we were drawn to the waterfall.

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And then I went swimming, as one normally does on a warm winter day in December.

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And it felt good. (Photo courtesy of Abby Franks.)

After Kbal Spean, we visited Banteay Srei. 16 miles outside of the main temple complex, it is often overlooked in the main loop.

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They are carved out of red sandstone, which gives them a beautiful color, unique to Banteay Srei.

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Banteay Srei is Khmer for “Citadel of Women”, because it is thought that women did the carvings. People speculate that they are too delicate to have been the hand of a man.
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This was one of Sean’s favorite temples—if not his favorite. What can I say? He is interested in exquisite beauty.

What else did we do in Siem Reap, you ask? What comprises the rest of the iceberg?

1. Fish foot massages.


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Kyle is thinking of installing one in his house back in Kuwait.

IMG_9479Abby isn’t so sure.

2. Pub Street

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3. Real elephants.

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4. Pseudo elephants.

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5. Headless statues.

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6. Eating crickets.

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7. Hidden places of serenity.

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8. Counting Apsara dancers.

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9. Meeting Apsara dancers.

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10. Warrior stances.

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11. Angkor beer at Angkor Wat.

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12. Road trips and street food.

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As I am a keeper of promises, this concludes our trip to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat.

Will I go back? Absolutely. Will  it be the same? Never.

That’s why I have to build a school on the banks of Kbal Spean and promote Abby and Kyle to executive directors.

UP NEXT: Ten103 Treehouse on Koh Ta Kiev….

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