I’ve mentioned my extreme like for Siem Reap a couple of times now, but I know that there’s a lot of people that are simply turned off by its touristy hustle and bustle.
Well, let me fill you in on a hidden little beach getaway that’s close enough to touch yet well off the beaten tourist path of Angkor, so off the path in fact that it’s only through a friend with a local contact that I heard about it at all.
West Baray: Not Actually Hidden and Actually Quite Significant
Referred to locally as just Baray (and pronounced more like the first part of “pariah”), the beach is in fact part of a two kilometer-square reservoir hidden 12 kilometers from the center of Siem Reap.
But the reservoir isn’t really hidden at all, in fact, it’s quite blatantly there as a giant chunk of water when viewed on a map.
It’s also remarkably close to the Angkor complex (see those square marks in the top right corner?), and, along with the East Baray, now dried up, was a phenomenal reservoir in the Angkor civilization, thought to have either spiritual or agricultural significance.
The reason that the reservoir is ‘hidden’ at all is simply because it is highly overshadowed by the glamour of Angkor, with tourists rarely following the main highway to the narrow road that leads to Baray.
West Baray Today
Today, Baray is used by locals and very few tourists for swimming and occasional boating.
When you arrive at the end of the narrow road, vendors to the right and left wait to greet you. There is fresh cut pineapples, durian, mango and papayas. Sugarcane juice, coconut juice and coca colas. Grilled birds and fish and raw meat. And all the overpriced patterned souvenir dresses, hippie pants, bracelets and purses you could want, in case you haven’t gotten enough in town.
From the bridge, you can see the reservoir:
The Beach at Baray
A set of narrow stairs takes you down to the sand where boats line the water and hammocks dot the shore. A lady will come up to collect money for the tented hammocks – 1000 riel per person – $0.25 that’s more than worth your time watching the locals dip into the water fully clothed, the fishermen tidying up their boats, and families peeling and eating quail eggs next to you.
The women and children that come around with food baskets will provide a much deserved snack. Almost anything edible is available: pineapples and mangoes, boiled eggs, crickets, beetles and scorpions.
The water is warm and it is a welcome reward, but the tented hammocks beckon – they are low to the ground, and wrap you in their pleather fabric unconditionally. Without you noticing they will lull you into slumber and you’ll have no choice but to pass out in the 35°C shade.
And between snoozes all you’ll be able to think is that two hours here is simply not enough: so close from everything and yet away from it all.
Fun fact: You can see where East Baray was very clearly on the terrain map above – it still shows up as a block of blue!