Siem Reap

My son and I have recently returned from a few days in Cambodia. The prosperous town of Siem Reap, which is on the doorstep of Cambodia’s most famous attraction Angkor Wat, is only 2 hours away by direct flight from Kuala Lumpur and AirAsia were offering reasonably priced hotel and flight packages.

Siem Reap can be translated as ‘defeat of Siam (Thailand)’. That’s not very tactful – not surprising the two neighbours are at loggerheads over a disputed border. It would be like London naming its landmarks after victories over the French like Waterloo or Trafalgar.

Despite its war-filled history and more recent tragedies I found the Cambodians to be very friendly and hospitable and Siem Reap is well worth visiting for a few days.

It’s easy to walk around, the traffic is fairly light, there are colourful markets, interesting temples, a crocodile farm and a surprising number of quality restaurants, bars and spas (of the respectable sort). The town is heaving with foreign tourists from all over the world who come to see Angkor Wat. Many are well-heeled and there are plenty of upmarket hotels to accommodate them but there are also backpackers, gap-year students and more thrifty travellers.

Here are a few photos (I will include Angkor Wat in a separate post later):

Pool at the Grand Hotel D'Angkor

This is where we didn’t stay – the Raffles Grand Hotel D’Angkor. Maybe next time.

Steung Siem Reap Hotel

We stayed here at the Steung Siem Reap Hotel. Very comfortable and excellent value at about USD30 per night including breakfast for two. And it is in the heart of the old town with the Old Market, Pub Street and stacks of restaurants on our doorstep.

Old Market

The Old Market sells touristy stuff as well as being an active (and rather pongy) wet market for the locals.

Tuk tuk driver having a kip kip.

Tuk-tuks are the most popular way of getting around. Their design is different from the Thai variety.

Elegant French Restaurant

One of the many smart restaurants in Siem Reap. This one, Le Malraux, appeared to be owned or run by a Frenchman.

Seafood curry and pizza.

I found the Cambodian food to be very tasty and not as fiery as I expected.

In Cambodia they sell Angkor and Anchor.

Angkor beer is very drinkable and, at the happy hour price of 50 US cents, it is the cheapest thing on the drinks menu.

Seems a bit cruel!

At the crocodile farm, the crocodile food was way more expensive but we did not fancy taking part in the barbaric spectacle of feeding them with live animals.

Alongside the Siem Reap River.

Having a UNESCO World Heritage site at nearby Angkor is helping to drag Siem Reap’s population out of poverty but not everyone has been able to share in the prosperity yet.

They make nice jewellery from my horns.

Cross the Old Market bridge and keep walking and you will soon be out in the countryside as we found out when I took my son for a 5km strollette.

A rural temple.

This lesser visited temple looks like it has a thatched roof from this distance.

Clever marketing.

This business knows how to pull at the heart-strings of the passing tourist. Who could resist buying something?

I would certainly recommend visiting Siem Reap. By the way the airport is clean, modern, efficient and hassle-free and obtaining a Cambodian visa online is easy.

Old Market Area.

Cie. Des Messageries Maritimes, Saigon

Rummaging through some old albums yesterday, I came across a series of vintage picture postcards which I purchased in an auction nearly 20 years ago. These postcards (see examples below) were made available to passengers on board vessels belonging to an illustrious old French shipping line called Compagnie Des Messageries Maritimes (MM for short). Each postcard sketches a scene of the various ports of call on the ships’ itineraries between France and the Far East. My collection includes cards depicting Port Said, Djibouti, Colombo, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki and Yokohama. Other cards exist and the work of the artist, Henry Gervese,  pseudonym for Charles Marie-Joseph Millot, is sought after by collectors.


My postcards were all mailed in 1921 which would have been when MM was in its heyday. The ship seen steaming away from us in the postcard could perhaps have been the Angkor which was added to MM’s fleet in that year and which was newly fitted out with oil fired boilers replacing the old coal burning ones.


MM was set up by the French state in 1835 to provide a steamship service between Marseille and the Levant but it expanded over the decades to cover the Far East as France’s colonial ambitions grew. Saigon became one of the company’s main hubs and they built a prominent office premises on the waterfront as seen in this old postcard:


This building still exists (it is now a museum honouring Ho Chi Minh) and I snapped this photo during a visit in 1993:


The roof has lost some of its embellishments but otherwise it looks in better condition than in the old black and white postcard. The same building also featured on the 1994 edition of the 50,000 Dong banknote:

50,000 dong

During the golden age of sea travel MM, like many other of the world’s famous shipping lines, produced beautiful classic advertising posters which have become valuable collectables. Following the independence of French colonies and the advent of air travel, the company fell into decline and MM’s remaining passenger vessels were all sold off by the early 1970s.


Images in this post are copyrighted material.