The Royal Independence Gardens, Siem Reap.
Royal Independence Gardens, Siem Reap.
I’ve spent a great deal of time championing the city of Siem Reap on these pages of mine. Hopefully, at the very least, I’ve dispelled the misguided notion that there’s not much to do beyond the world famous temples. That said, it’s probably time to share one of the most disappointing things about this dusty town. Basically, the lack of green spaces really started to grind away at us during our seven months here.
Wherever I am in the world, I’ve always had a large park of some description within distance. Somewhere I can head to for an afternoon jog or an evening stroll with a podcast. Even in the concrete jungle cities of China this was achievable.
Not the case, it turns out, in Siem Reap. As idyllic as our lodgings were at the wonderful Apsara Greenland Boutique Hotel, there was absolutely no option for a walk in the surrounding districts. No green oasis in which to escape the city’s dusty roads, chaotic traffic, lack of pavements and bothersome street dogs.
In fact, I remember our surprise when Sladja and I discovered that in actual fact there was only one park in the entire city. Yikes. Curious as to what lay in store, we headed out to The Royal Independence Gardens one refreshingly overcast May afternoon.
Royal Independence Gardens, Siem Reap.
The gardens were named after the famous meeting between King Sihanouk and General Lon Nol om in the 1950s that led to Cambodia’s independence from its French, colonial overlords. The two men plotted their crusade at the nearby Royal Residence, sadly closed to visitors.
I should point out that the word gardens is actually misleading, as this is really just a tiny park. A full loop, without stopping, would take you under ten minutes. On arrival that afternoon, we stopped to watch a sizeable group of local men playing hacky sack at the entrance, next to the tourist information office.
Siem Reap locals certainly take advantage of their modest little park. That evening we saw all kinds of activities taking place across the lawn. Here and there, families picnicked, while a pair of kids messed around with badminton rackets.
A little boy whizzed by on a scooter. A mother took staged photos of her pretty girl in a princess dress. A grizzled dog meanwhile, tired from the exertions of chasing a stick, slumped to the ground for a timeout. After the long walk from our hotel, we knew exactly how he felt.
Consequently, we decided to take a load off too. Settling down on a free bench, we found ourselves sat directly opposite this cool dude. Sandals off, nodding his head to the music on his earphones, it seemed like he didn’t have a care in the world. For those fleeting moments in the park at least.
Royal Independence Gardens, Siem Reap.
Besides people watching, there is one genuinely cool attraction. Every evening, in the hour leading to sunset, a large colony of fruit bats circles en masse. That day, the light already beginning to fade, we heard hundreds of them screeching away in the trees.
There are a number of interesting landmarks scattered around the gardens, such as the sumptuous Raffles Grand Hotel and Victoria Angkor Hotel. Raffles, pictured below, dates back to 1932 when it was established by the French architect Ernest Hébrard as a hotel for the city’s first wave of explorers keen to see the Angkor Temples.
Furthermore, look out for the small market that serves visitors to the nearby Ya Tep Shrine. Consisting of just half a dozen stalls, the market sits behind the bat trees. The vendors here sell fruit, vegetables and flowers and at first glance the place looks utterly charming.
Upon closer inspection though, we were both disheartened to see a stall with cages of little birds. The sound of their high-pitched chirping could be heard from the other side of the road, competing with the sounds of the bats.
Finally, there’s Ya Tep Shrine itself, located right in the middle of the road next to the market. Although a tiny shrine, it’s very popular with locals, who often dart across the street to reach it. Much to the annoyance of honking cars, tuk tuks and motorcycles.
What to See & Do, Siem Reap.
They come to pay their respects to a powerful spirit, known locally as Neak-Ta. Amusingly, this spirit is said to bring financial fortune, especially to those playing the lottery. As a result, the shrine receives plenty of visitors on the day of lottery draws. Classic.
All in all I would recommend a visit to the Royal Independence Gardens, a charming, albeit understated Siem Reap sight. It’s great for people watching, the bats are amazing and you’ve got one of Siem Reap’s most unusual shrines. If you’re feeling flush, you could also grab some dinner at The Victoria Angkor Hotel’s swanky restaurant, Le Connaisseur.
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There are definitely more colour at the Royal Independence Gardens than in your street of temporary residence. I like the young lad on the bench … sometimes it’s good to just find a place to sit and watch the world go by (like he and the two of you have done). So … are you telling me you didn’t buy a few lottery tickets and visit the shrine? Things could have been very different for you now if you did … 😉
Hey Corna, you’re right! If only we had won the Cambodian lottery, we could now be living on our own beach mansion on Rabbit Island. The gardens are understated to say the least but hey, when that’s the only patch of greenery you have to take what you can get.
Strange that the city only has one small park so it’s unsurprising that it’s so popular and fortunate that you found an unoccupied bench. Seeing the fruit bat activity must have been a fun experience too!
The bats were amazing, a surreal sight in many ways. While the park is hardly mind-blowing, we have fond memories of our afternoon walking there from our guesthouse. Thanks for reading Marion.
That is too bad they do not recognize the need for green people spaces. I mean green spaces, not green people. The citizens need places to relax and play. Sharing the area with fruit bats would not be my idea of fun. We saw what they do to parked cars in our visit to Cairns, Aus. Thanks for sharing Leighton. Allan
Hey Allan, it’s a kooky little park for sure. The bats were fascinating to observe but yeah, I wouldn’t want to be around when they’re on the move. Thanks for reading!
That is very interesting that there aren’t more parks, I wouldn’t have expected that. I can relate to needing green space! Luckily NYC seems to be building more and more parks.
Ah, NYC and its green spaces, few cities can compare. Thanks for dropping by Lyssy!
I enjoyed the visit to Royal Independence Gardens, Leighton. It is interesting that it’s the only park in the entire city, but I thought it possessed a bit of charm. We needed a visit to Ya Tep Shrine yesterday, as our Powerball Lotto was over $800 million. Don’t think we won, though. 🙁
Aw, don’t you just hate it when you fail to win $800 million? Story of my life. I’m actually curious how much the Cambodian National Lottery jackpot would be. Somehow I’m thinking not even a tenth of that. Thanks for checking out this understated corner of Siem Reap Kellye.
It looks to be very nicely maintained. Great people watching. I love the kids – the little boy on his foot scooter and helmet, the little girls in her princess dress. Most of the people seemed to be younger. I was surprised there were no older folks just sittin’ doin’ nuthin’. I’m guessing this wasn’t near your house since you only went once.
Hey Memo, yeah it was quite the walk from our guesthouse. Around 40 minutes if I remember well. There must have been some seniors around, guess they just escaped my uncharacteristically sloppy lens.
If I ever thought that Siem Reap was just about temples, your wonderfully composed posts and photos have indeed completely dispelled that notion. This park may be small but there is a lot happening there. It is another great find that I’ll have to check out because Cambodia deserves a lot more attention than I’ve given it so far. Given how popular gambling seems to be in Asia, it is surprising that Ya Tep Shrine isn’t inundated with visitors. Thanks for shedding light on these interesting but often overlooked spots.
Thanks John. I will be covering the temples soon, I’m sure everyone will be quite sick of them by the time I’m done ha ha. Im glad you’re enjoying the series!
Crazy that there is only one park in all of Siem Reap. The bats would be neat to see, and looks good for people watching but I’m guessing it wasn’t a frequent running spot for you. Maggie
Ha, no…. in fact running to the park from our guesthouse would have been quite the death wish through Siem Reap’s dusty, dog-ridden roads weaving between honking tuk tuks. Still, I’m glad we got to take a look even if only once.
It’s funny, I’ve been to the Grand Hotel and the nearby FCC, I don’t remember this garden. But it looks well kept, with an army of manual labour, without too many marchines like everywhere in Cambodia.
Ah, you had some swanky lodgings then. Yeah, the park is fine, Siem Reap could just do with a few more. Thanks for reading!
To clarify I did not stay in these places, but I can recommend La Villa Loti, a sweet boutique hotel.
Glad to see you found your green space in Siem Reap! I can imagine the fruit bats at dusk must’ve been a surreal, somewhat magical moment. Definitely a lovely place to stroll around and escape from the city sights and sounds, even if only temporarily!
Yeah the fruit bats were pretty cool, at least when viewed en masse like that in such a restful state. Thanks for reading Rebecca!
I agree with you that it would be really difficult to be in a location without green spaces; they need a John Muir type champion. The caged birds reminds me of a mini version of the Hong Kong Bird Market.
Yes indeed, a glimpse of the great Hong Kong bird market. Poor old Cambodia, the uncompromising temperatures make park keeping a complicated and expensive business. Thanks for reading!
It’s such a shame to hear that there aren’t many green spaces in Siem Reap and that the one park is quite small. Watching the fruit bats in the evening seems like an interesting experience. Wow are they loud!
Yeah, what a holy racket. The only other time I saw a bat gathering like that was in Malaysia some years ago. Thanks for visiting!
Despite the downsides in this post, your previous posts on Siem Reap have already convinced us to stay a little longer than was our intention on the original COVID-aborted trip. More than just Angkor Wat clearly.
Definitely. These “gardens” are worth a ten minute wander as you explore the centre of town. Thanks for keeping up with the series, I’ll be getting onto those temples before too long.
Wow that’s crazy it’s the only park in the city!!!
I can completely understand that craving for seeing greenery. We face a similar problem here in Beirut, with the lack of parks. There is one in the middle of the city, which is usually super full and loud, understandably. That’s why I often find myself back to the university where I graduated from, to enjoy some greenery in peace.
Ah yes. The only thing (arguably) worse than no green spaces are green spaces full of obnoxious people making lots of noise. And no doubt littering and all the rest of it. Your uni space sounds better in that regard. Thanks for keeping up with my Siem Reap series!
Such a fabulous site we saw. Didn’t see these bats though.
Thanks for stopping by!
Perhaps green spaces are not as desired in this place, since there is only one small park. Years ago, when I moved out west from the east coast (of U.S.), we thought at first that we would settle in Albuquerque, a southwestern desert city. It just didn’t feel right. After a few days, we went to a park and I knew immediately what I was missing. I needed the green and the trees!
I know what you mean, we have a similar lack of open green spaces here in Serbia where we’ve been living these past few months. We are already pining for the north of Scotland, where we lived for a while earlier this year. And indeed for the sea, where we’ll be heading to in our next destination later this month.