Repurposed Military Jeeps Offer Unique Siem Reap Experiences

Explore Cambodia's countryside in vintage US Army jeeps, a unique way to experience the country's transition from war to peace and connect with local culture.

Rafia Tasleem
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Repurposed Military Jeeps Offer Unique Siem Reap Experiences

Repurposed Military Jeeps Offer Unique Siem Reap Experiences

Visitors to the ancient temples of Angkor Wat now have a new way to explore the surrounding countryside - in repurposed military jeeps. Several tour companies in Siem Reap have begun offering "jeep adventures" that take travelers off-road through rice paddies, villages and jungle trails in vintage U.S. Army jeeps from the 1960s.

The jeeps, many still bearing their original olive green paint and white star insignia, were left behind by American forces after the Vietnam War. The old U.S. Army jeeps, with their faded military emblems and sturdy build, carrying tourists through rice paddies, offer a striking image of Cambodia's transition from a war-affected history to a more optimistic present.

"It's a piece of history, riding in the same jeeps that carried soldiers 50 years ago," said Seng Ratana, owner of Siem Reap Jeep Adventures. "But now, instead of going to war, we're using them to connect people and cultures. Tourists get to see a side of Cambodia they'd never experience otherwise."

The jeep tours, which typically last from a half-day to multiple days, visit remote temples overgrown with vines, stop at family farms and makeshift roadside markets, and wind through villages where water buffalo and barefoot children far outnumber cars. Travelers can visit a Buddhist monastery, receive a blessing from monks, enjoy a traditional Khmer lunch in a village home, and barter at a rural market selling everything from live chickens to motorcycle parts.

"You're not just an observer - you're immersed in the rhythm of rural life," said Canadian tourist Jenna Koss after a day-long jeep excursion outside Siem Reap. "Bouncing down a dirt road, waving to farmers in their fields, stopping to taste palm sugar candy being made in a tiny village...those are the memories I'll take home, just as much as seeing Angkor Wat at sunrise."

Tour operators say the jeep adventures are part of a growing trend of experiential travel, where visitors seek out authentic cultural interactions beyond the standard tourist sites. The old U.S. military jeeps add a unique historical dimension.

"For Cambodians, the jeeps are a symbol of our complicated past," said Seng Ratana. "By using them for tourism, for bringing people together, it feels like we're taking something that once brought conflict and turning it into a force for connection and understanding between cultures. It's a form of healing."

As Cambodia's tourism industry rebounds post-pandemic, Siem Reap's jeep tours are attracting a steady stream of adventurous travelers eager for an unconventional way to explore the countryside around Angkor Wat. In the years that followed, resourceful Cambodians have repaired and kept these durable vehicles running, which are well-adapted to traversing the challenging countryside.

Key Takeaways

  • Vintage U.S. Army jeeps from 1960s used for tours in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
  • Jeep tours offer immersive cultural experiences beyond Angkor Wat temples.
  • Jeeps symbolize Cambodia's transition from war-torn past to tourism-driven present.
  • Jeep tours part of growing trend of experiential travel seeking authentic interactions.
  • Cambodians have repaired and maintained the durable jeeps for countryside exploration.