Under 4 miles from the town of Siem Reap in Cambodia is one of the coolest UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, Angkor Wat.
Originally constructed as a temple to Vishnu in the 12th century by Suryavarman II of the Khmer Empire, Angkor Wat was converted into a Buddhist temple. Buddhist worship continues there now. It is arguably the most well-known symbol of the nation of Cambodia, a source of pride and a major tourist draw.
It is also swiftly becoming a Jewish tourist attraction, thanks to the efforts of the Chabad shaliach in Phnom Penh. There is no Chabad in Siem Reap, but they do hold Pesach seders there since 2015, and they try and hold Friday night Shabbos services in various cities throughout Cambodia, which sometimes includes Siem Reap. With proper arrangements, they can help provision the kosher travel prior to leaving Phnom Penh. You may find heschered items at local food markets. The Gershuni family can assist you.
An important component of visiting Cambodia as a Jew is learning about the genocide under Pol Pot. My mother worked in English as a Second Language classrooms when I was a child, so I grew up with many friends who fled the Khmer Rouge. Learning about Cambodia’s dark times, where over 20% of their population was murdered, is very important, and you will hear first-hand survivor accounts from many Cambodians.
Connected to the ugliness of war is the Cambodian Land Mine Museum. Many of the guides in this museum are victims of lingering land mines. Even if you make no plans to travel to Cambodia soon, consider a charitable donation, as it’s a worthy cause.
Roughly 40 miles from Siem Reap is the floating village of Kampong Phluk. This “village on stilts” is a rich cultural experience in Cambodia. Plus, you can help Cambodia’s tuktuk (two-wheeled carriages pulled by motorbikes) by employing one for a cheap ride to this or numerous other lake villages near Siem Reap.
Siem Reap itself is a real gem. Consider visiting the Old Market, the Phare Circus, Pub Street, or even get a “fish massage” (it tickles).
For considerably more information, visit Mad Monkey Hostel’s Siem Reap guide for backpackers!
Last modified: March 7, 2019