A couple of recent articles in the Phnom Penh Post gave some interesting and enlightening numbers regarding foreign tourists visiting Angkor in the past year.
In the letter, the exact number of tickets sold in 2012 was about 1.8 million. And of those, about one million visitors (59.2 per cent) bought single day passes for $20. About 700,000 visitors, or 39.8 per cent, bought three-day passes for $40, and about 18,000 visitors bought $60 weekly passes.
These numbers blew me away, 99% of the almost 2 million visitors to Angkor came for 3 or fewer days. Combine this with the fact that most tourists only come to Cambodia for a handful of days total, means that most visitors only see the major sites (Angkor Wat, the south gate to Angkor Thom, the Bayon, Ta Prohm etc.) and that most of these sites are crawling with other tourists.
The Cambodian government has been trying to encourage people to spend more time in Cambodia, but I also suspect there is a growing number of tourists (and expats) who are returning to Cambodia for a second (or third, or fourth) visit. I’ve been to Cambodia and Angkor more times than I can count, so I thought I would start sharing of my favorite “Off the Beaten Path” activities. After you’ve seen the major temples, it’s time to delve a little deeper and see more to Angkor. First up, visiting the North Baray with the Baray Reach Dak community tour.
The Baray Reach Dak [បារាយណ៍រាជដាក] community tour is a new project involving the local communities living near the baray, the APSARA Authority, UNESCO and the Australian Government. The tour takes place in the North Baray, also called the Jayatataka. If you’re looking at an old map of the Angkor park, or even an old Google Earth image, it appears that this Baray is dry. However, it was recently reflooded and this tour takes advantage of this new landscape to take visitors on a walking and boat tour of the area, culminating in a visit to the Neak Pean temple.
Local community members are enthusiastic tour guides and our tour began with a walk through the forest, where our guide pointed out different types of plants and trees and explained traditional Cambodian uses for this wildlife. We also got to see a lovely plant and tree nursery.
Following this walk through the forest we climbed into a small wooden boat and had a leisurely boat trip through the baray to the Neak Pean temple in the center. If you’re in to bird watching there are many great birds to see on the way. One suggestion- be sure to bring extra sunscreen, water, and a hat, as this part can get hot, although they thoughtfully provided umbrellas to shield us from the sun.
Although you can visit Neak Pean by tuk-tuk/bike/foot, the traditional approach to this temple would have been by boat.
Neak Pean is still partially closed off to visitors, but you can still appreciate the view from a fence just outside the site.
The tour itself lasted a couple hours and would be a fun trip combined with a picnic lunch at Neak Pean. Tickets cost $12/person, but there are discounts for more people and there are also smaller/shorter tours. This tour provides a chance to interact with local Cambodians and see a part of Cambodia and the Angkor Archaeological Park most tourists miss.
[Full Disclosure: I have several friends that have worked on this project].