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Review: Angkor Wat


Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A trip to the Heart of Cambodia

  • By SilverTraveller Explorer3

    1 review

  • Mar 2011
  • Colleague(s)

132 people found this review helpful

As our flight from Kuala Lumpur circled to land in Cambodia, I was surprised to see how much of the country consisted of water, even in the dry season. I was on a trip to the heart of Cambodia, a country which was to make a lasting impression on me.

We started our tour with a mad cyclo ride around Phnom Penh weaving through the streets of Cambodia's capital as we sat in a seat in front of the cyclist exposed to the tuk tuks, lorries and motor cycles which it seemed must collide with us! The motor bikes often carried whole families, and even people arms, in air, attached to hospital drips! The heat, noise, dust, chaotic traffic and exotic smells proved that we had arrived in Asia.

From Phnom Penh we went south and boarded speedboats to travel through a pre-Angkorian canal system to visit the temple of Phnom Da. It was amazing to see people standing up to their necks in the water catching fish in baskets and nets, and I thought I was hallucinating when I saw bright pink ducks, but it turned out that the owners dye them so that they can identify their flocks.

We then went on to Kampot, famous for its pepper, and when my order of crab and peppers came, there was a whole stalk of green peppers. Next day a new form of transport, the remorque, a type of metal truck pulled by a motor bike, it was an interesting and bumpy ride through streets in which you would see the odd grand house in the midst of hovels. We journeyed on to Phnom Chnork Prassat where we walked through rice fields and then climbed up to visit caves which housed temples which had also been used by the Khmer Rouge as hideouts and as places to murder their prisoners. We met some of the lovely ragged little Khmer children with beautiful smiles and they shouted out the funny little phrases they had learned such as “lovely jubbly”. It never ceased to amaze me how forgiving the people were, they have been through such harrowing times in the past and yet they seem so happy and welcoming. The children in particular often live in extreme poverty, they can be seen in scant’ if any, clothing, but their smiles and greetings transform them into such happy, positive children. Unlike other poor countries I had been to, the children didn’t beg or pester you but just seemed pleased to see you.

From here we went to Kep, a place which had seen a lot of destruction by the Khmer Rouge but which has started to become popular with local tourists. We took a boat trip out to some offshore islands where we spent an idyllic day on an island known as Rabbit Island. It has crab shacks made famous by Rick Stein, palm trees, exotic plants, golden beaches and warm tropical waters, a true little bit of paradise.

Our tour then returned to the capital to visit the ‘Killing Fields’ of Choeung Ek (the memorial stupa is a huge glass tower filled with human skulls) although I know we shouldn’t be ignorant of man’s inhumanity to man I found it very upsetting, and I think the photo of a lady holding her baby, in full knowledge of her and her baby’s imminent death was one of the most distressing things I have ever seen.

Next day we visited the Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace, the King’s residence in the capital. A beautiful palace where I was amused to see the seven mannequins dressed in different colours dictating what colour you had to wear each day, and a statue of Napoleon with the head replaced by that of a former king of Cambodia.

Our journey continued to Kompong Cham, Cambodia’s fourth largest city, and en route we stopped at Skoun where we were offered the chance to sample deep fried spiders and grasshoppers, an opportunity I was able to resist! The evening was spent at the home of a tuk tuk driver where we went to have a typical Cambodian meal with him and his family. For me it was extra special as I had the most memorable birthday ever as I was given a birthday cake which I washed down with rice wine containing spiders and spider venom!

Another magical day dawned: we cycled across the Mekong River over a rickety bamboo bridge to a little island where we were invited to a wedding. We met the young couple and were offered sticky rice and fruit, we then continued on our bikes to visit an elderly lady and take tea in her home. Then onwards to Kratie where we went out in boats and were lucky enough to see several irrawady dolphins as the setting sun dappled the water.

The following morning we were back in boats passing floating villages, bathing buffaloes and people washing themselves and their clothes in the muddy water. We walked through one of the typical villages, with houses on tall stilts, ready for the rainy season when the rivers swell and take over the land. We were en route to our Homestay. The idea of this was to spend an evening living as closely as possible to the way that native Cambodians live. We stayed in a wooden hut on stilts with hammocks hanging underneath. The bed consisted of a thin mattress on the floor, covered with a mosquito net, and the electricity supply was a car battery. In the evening, we went by basic oxcarts through an extremely bumpy dry paddy field to watch the sunset. We certainly used the whole gamut of transport whilst on this trip, but this was definitely the most uncomfortable! However, we were rewarded later in the evening when were able to watch the locals performing their native dancing.

Next day we went to a pre-Angkorian temple and on the way we stopped at a school and gave the children stationery items that we had bought for them, they seemed so happy with the gifts of pens and notebooks, something which I am sure would not have been the case at home.

On to Tonle Sap Lake, a lake which is the biggest lake in South East Asia during the rainy season. There are 4 million people living in and around the lake, nearly half of them in floating houses, a lot of them being Vietnamese. Having seen the lake on television, I was on the look out for the huge snakes that swim there but fortunately didn’t see any!

Then to Siem Reap, and on to Angkor Wat an amazing ruined city built between the 9th and 13th centuries by the Khmer kings. Deep in the Cambodian jungle the complex covers an area of some 155 square kilometres, and is scattered with magnificent carved stone temples, elegant sculptures and incredible bas reliefs. This is the main reason that many people come to Cambodia, and it doesn’t disappoint. We arrived at Angkor Wat very early in order to get a wonderful view of the sun coming up behind the temple and a clear view of its reflection in the lake in front. The temple is surrounded by a moat and is built of sandstone, it is an iconic structure, and its most stunning features are the extensive and intricately carved bas reliefs that stretch throughout the galleries and inner temples.

My favourite of the many temples we visited, was Taprohm, this had been used in the film ‘Tomb Raider’ and unlike many of the temples, it was still very much part of the jungle. There were plenty of places where the roots of the strangler fig could clearly be seen running through the masonry of the building and the jungle was still an integral part of the site. It was breathtaking to be able to walk through the atmospheric site with very few other tourists

So our trip ended, we had gone into paddy fields and along the Mekong getting to meet the local people and see how they live; we had been to temples which were as amazing as I had imagined them to be, we had used every form of transport going, from cyclo to ox cart and everything in between, we had eaten fine food such as the wonderful Fish Amok and “delicacies” such as fried spiders, and best of all we had met the most wonderful optimistic and welcoming people of this fabulous country, a country that has survived such a horrific past. This was the holiday of a lifetime.

Watch a video about The Cambodian Angkor Temples of Koh Ker on SilverTravelAdvisorTV.

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