Almost every country claims to have grown out from the depths of pessimism and torment in one form or another. But, Cambodians had a special raw deal meted out to them at the depths of hell by the villainous Khmer Rouge only to have grown now into the most optimistic and cheerful place I have been to.
They don’t just show off their optimism, it kinda rubs off on you and stays there.
Don’t trust me, well here are a few examples.
If the Khmer orchestrated genocide killed millions in your country just a few years ago, would you ponder on whether to add two stems of the lemongrass or Kaffir lime leaves into your Amok recipe?
If your poverty index is where it stands, would you use all your imagination(and money) to decorate your roadside eatery?
If you are constantly cursed by one dictatorial ruler after another, would you go this far to preserve your national heritage by meticulously protecting the Angkor?
I guess not…
But they do and with a smile no less.
Those are reasons enough that make Cambodia a must-see for any self-respecting traveler.
The temples, Angkor Wat, Bayon, Preah Khan, Banteay Srei, and others are unmissable and are conveniently located fairly close to each other. People interested in Hindu mythology will find it difficult to peel their eyes off the reliefs. They depict scenes from Ramayana, Mahabharata and various other mythologies with a Khmer twist.
Example: Here is a depiction of Bheeshma sleeping on a bed of arrows during the Kurukshetra battle. Many of us would be familiar with the scenes from the famous 90s TV serial.
Then there is the Ta Prohm temple made famous by Angelia Jolie’s Tomb Raider movies. This temple is partly swallowed by the gigantic trees which actually support the structure. Hence the archeologists don’t want to mess around with the trees.
- Angkor Wat: The pinnacle of Khmer architecture and its Mount Meru symbolism is what draws the crowds every day. The sunrise is the peak time. linger a little longer to have the place to yourself (well almost). Most just stroll through to the center. But along the outer walls lie the elaborate bas-reliefs depicting various scenes from Hindu mythology. It’s conveniently altered to include the Khmer kings amongst the deities. All said it’s a revelation in the detail and artistry of the Khmer times. You will need 4-6 hours to do it any kind of justice. Buy a three-day pass for 62$ (cash only). It will be worth it.
- Bayon: It’s part of the Angkor Thom temple complex and is wildly famous for its 216 eerie stone faces. The Bas-reliefs here depict the everyday life and true historic events. Check oot the video here of my feeble attempt to Pano-Video the Bayon.
3. Ta Prohm: The winding tree branches coalesce with the boulders that make the temple walls. In some areas, you’d struggle to tell which is which. It was partly renovated and then left as such both to maintain its integrity and peculiarity. It is a definite photo-op.
4. Banteay Srei: This beautiful temple has many synonyms. “The lady temple”, “the tiny temple”, “the pink temple”; Banteay Srei goes by many nicknames, an indication of the distinctiveness of this little gem of a temple, which feels so different to the imposing grandeur of the main Angkorian complex.
Originally called Tribhuvanamahesvara, the name Banteay Srei (or Banteay Srey) is a modern one, meaning “citadel of the women” or, “citadel of beauty”. People speculate that this is due to its miniature scale, the pink color of the limestone, and the elaborate decorative carvings of many devatas (minor female deities) that grace its walls.
5. Phnom Bakheng: It is a temple mountain in honor of the Hindu god Shiva and one of the oldest temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park. Thanks to its location on a 60-meter high hill, Phnom Bakheng became a very popular tourist spot for its magnificent sunset views over Angkor Wat.
- Carry USD. You don’t really have to change it. Works everywhere. You will, however, get the small change in Cambodian Riel. Check exchange rates.
- The taxis are fairly cheap and can be booked for day trips. Negotiate.
- VISA: Indians and most nationals get a visa on arrival for USD 20. or you can apply for an e-visa here.
- Embassy Alert: Royal Embassy of Cambodia in India, W-112, Greater Kailash Part-II, New Delhi, 110048, India. Tel: (91-11) 292 144 35, Fax: (91-11) 292 144 38, E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org~Indian Embassy in Cambodia, No.50, Street No. 214, Samdech Pan Ave., Sangkat Boeung Raing, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Tel No.: (+855-23) 210912 / 210913, Fax No. (+855-23) 213640 / 210914, website
- Eat local food. Not just for the taste.
It’s usually fresh from the sea or farms and low on the hardcore spices. Very palatable and smooth on the intestines.
- While you are at it, try the Crickets, Spiders, Snake or Crocs. If you are game enough.
- You will need a minimum of three full days at Siem Reap to do the temples any justice.
- Go to the local boutique hotels. They are reasonable, come with a decent attached spa and pack your big breakfast box for those sunrise trips.
- While at it,. also try to catch a cultural show (with buffet dinner) in one of the many places in Siem Reap. We went to the Apsara Terrace. It showcases traditional Khmer dance and performances.
- What’s more. the Cambodians are very child-friendly and so are the temples. They will love spotting various animals and stories on the bas-reliefs.
Check out the video here
11. What I saw: The Killing Fields (Movie), A gut-wrenching tale on the tyranny of Pol Pot of the Khmer Rouge.
Ten Interesting things about Cambodia
- Cambodia doesn’t have a McDonald’s, they do have a substitute: Lucky Burger. Pretty good
- The Cambodian flag is the only one in the world with a building depicted on it. And of course, it’s the Angkor Wat
- You will find Lexuses, Mercedes, and other luxury cars as regular taxis. Most of them have been imported second hand from the US or Europe. Still, the rides are pretty good.
- The main language and ethnicity are the Khmer.
- Their main religion historically has oscillated between Hinduism and Buddhism depending on the whims of the ruler. For now, it’s Buddhism that rules,…literally.
- Their local music is pretty awesome. Sin Sisamouth is an icon. Click here for a sample.
- The death of their dictator Pol Pot is still a mystery with rumors ranging from heart attack to suicide. Read this if he interests you
- Pradal Serey is the Cambodian version of kickboxing and is pretty intense.
- The Angkor was originally planned to be an accurate astronomical tool as well. However, a 0.5 degree deviation spoiled the perfection. Read more here.
- Cambodia officially declared independence from France in 1953. Read more…