Cambodia is a small country with a big heart. Though recovering from a troubled past, Cambodians maintain a positive spirit and rich soul.
Cambodia is famous for the unparalleled Angkor Wat, but many visitors leave just as deeply impacted by the fortitude and courage of the Cambodians themselves. Come to Cambodia with an open mind: it provides at once a connection to an ancient past and a perspective on the modern challenges of the developing world. In short, though it is not the easiest country to explore, it is one of the most rewarding.
Simply put, nothing in the world can be compared to Angkor Wat. The towering gopuras that top the city’s temples are so famous that they adorn the Cambodian flag. The massive temple-filled city seems to contain an infinite level of mysteries and wonder.
Though built as a Hindu temple, as evidenced by the scrawling Sanskrit that adorns the ancient stones, Angkor Wat became a Buddhist temple during the height of the Khmer empire. The temple mountains have no equal in the world and provide an open and expansive format that allows you to explore for hours or days.
Angkor Wat itself is the main temple and the single largest religious complex in the world. However, it is but one of dozens of elaborate and fascinating ancient temples in the area. The “city of temples” boasts more than ten unique architectural styles spanning over a thousand years. Going to the different temples, some brick, some sandstone, some laterite, is like walking through time.
Bayon boasts realistic and iconic faces pointed in the cardinal directions. Diving further in, one can find Beng Melea, or the Jungle Temple, which archaeologists decided not to restore in favor of leaving the snaking vines and squeezing tree roots that give the temple a haunting and natural beauty.
Though most tourists stick to the “main” temples, tour guides often help visitors find hidden secrets of Angkor Wat: the island temple, the temple of the sacred cows, the exquisite untouched details of Neak Pan, or the best sunrise vista from the heights of Phnom Bakheng.
From the beaches on the gulf of Thailand to the majestic Elephant Mountains to the biodiversity hotspot of Tonle Sap lake, Cambodia has a host of natural gems.
Natural landscapes are dotted with charming “real Cambodia” towns like the relaxing Kampong Cham, a countryside village that takes pride in its natural beauty aside the Mekong. Close by is Yeak Lom, a near perfectly spherical crater lake that was formed by a meteor impact 700,000 years ago and is endowed with mythical legends by the local town.
Tonle Sap is the largest lake in Southeast Asia and a unique wonder. Nature lovers often stay on floating villages to discover the superlative diversity of fish, birds, reptiles, and other wildlife that call the UNESCO-protected lake home. The bird sanctuary at Prek Toal, in particular, provides a unique opportunity to watch abnormally large storks majestically take off in flight.
Cambodia’s landscape is punctuated by reminders of its long and complicated history.
Preah Vihear, a temple which predates Angkor Wat, summits a hilltop vista that will mesmerize you. Climb the 162 steps to explore the gopuras that adorn the temple. After exploring Preah Vihar, you can fast forward to the French colonial period at Bokor National Park. The park’s natural beauty is centered around the ruins of the Bokor Palace, a former hotel that has been made famous as a popular set for Hollywood movies.
You cannot fully visit Cambodia without coming to terms with the raw, emotional vestiges of the country’s turbulent 20th century. Close by Siem Reap is the Cambodia Landmine Museum, which plays a role in helping people understand the true cost of war. The killing fields museum also causes pause for reflection on the nature of humanity.
However, it is not hard to find a strong and courageous side of Cambodia, determined to learn from the scars of its past. The best way to see modern Cambodia and its resolve is in the vibrant Phnom Penh. Once known as the “pearl of Asia,” the French-built capital is full of national architectural monuments. Temples and colonial villas compete with high rises and commercial centers to make for one of the more unique Asian capitals.
After seeing the terra-cotta structure that houses the national museum, you can appreciate the local Khmer-inspired architecture of the royal palace. Most notable, however, is the steely resolve and warm hospitality of the Cambodians themselves, the most likely reason why you will be so glad you journeyed to this vibrant, dynamic, and beautiful country.
Once you’re there...
|Angkor Wat, Bayon Temple, Sihanoukville, Koh Ker, Kratie, Bokor Hill Station and Many More|
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|Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, China