Cambodia is probably one of the best Asian Countries I’ve visited and staying in Siem Reap for a week definitely showed me the delights of Cambodian Culture and People. This guest posts tells you why…
This part of SE Asia has experienced more than its fair share of horrors and is still recovering from the less than enlightened rule of the odious Khymer Rouge, and dealing with problems such as old land mines, smashed infrastructure and dire poverty. But the rebuilding is now well advanced and tourists are starting to discover just what an amazingly rich and beautiful country Cambodia is. Apart from the magnificent temples at Angkor, Cambodia offers world-class, sandy tropical beaches, great natural attractions and a scattering of neglected but picturesque colonial buildings – reminders of a time perhaps best forgotten. Local guided tours around Cambodia are the best way of exploring what’s on offer and sampling this ancient land to the full.
This is the fastest-growing city in Cambodia and symbol of its defiant resurrection after years of being biffed by all and sundry, living proof of a country’s, as well as an individual’s, ability to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start all over again. It’s the main gateway town to the majestic and somewhat spooky temples of Angkor Wat, and has a charming gateway atmosphere, like an aperitif of seductive nibbles before the main course. Its hotels and guesthouses are ideal as a base for exploring the acres of ruins, and there are restaurants offering cuisine of all sorts.
You can find this old Khmer temple up in the foothills of the Dangrek Mountains, on the Thai-Cambodian border. There are Khmer temples all over the country but this one has the most stunning and atmospheric natural setting. It was built in the 11th century and dedicated to Shiva, the Hindu god. To visit it is to glimpse the old roots of Cambodia, long years prior to recent upheavals, an underbelly of the myth and legend of a rich and widespread civilisation that sustains the country still.
This stunning complex of temples is the biggest attraction in Cambodia today. It actually consists of the remains of several capitals of the fabulous Khmer Empire which ran from the 9th to the 15th century. Angkor Wat is the most famous one, the single largest religious building on earth, and at nearby Angkor Thum visitors can see a spectacular array of huge stone faces, peering eerily out of the tangled llianas of the surrounding jungle.
Kratie, on the River Mekong, is a picturesque small town that has at its heart a bustling marketplace lined with old French colonial buildings. It looks like a setting for a Graham Greene novel, and you half expect to find a gin-soaked Honorary Consul or a whisky-priest propping up the bar there. Backpackers rather than regular tourists tend to pass through Kratie, so there are fewer Hawaiian T-shirts and more dedicated independent travellers, come to watch the sporting Irrawaddy dolphins, a rare species that lives only in this river.
Bokor Hill Station
From the sublime to the possibly ridiculous, Bokor Hill Station is a dilapidated structure that looks a bit like the burnt section of Alexandra Palace in North London. It was built in the 1920s by the French as a cool and peaceful retreat from the rigours of running Phnom Penh, and was finally abandoned when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in the 1970s. Its ugliness stands in sharp contrast to the beauties of this gorgeous country and the natural friendliness of its people, and is a reminder that the worst is often visited on the best.
David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.