This is Guest Post by my friend Payal Biswas who is a resident of Hong Kong and the regular guest writer of Hong Kong Chapter on this blog.
This year during Easter break I went to Cambodia for a holiday. Cambodia is one of the South-Asian countries that I find intriguing. Not because of the political upheaval and civil war of the recent past but of the magnificence Khmer temples, Khmer culture and the history.
Like the average tourist I wanted to see the splendour of the Angkor Wat. Partially because their culture and architecture is majorly influenced by India. We only had limited days so we decided to visit Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (gateway to the Angkor temples and ruins).
PHNOM PENH is a city steeped in tradition and history, offering several cultural and historical sites. Much of the central city including the Royal Palace and National Museum was built during the French period. You may notice the old French buildings in classic colonial yellow and the traditional Khmer pagodas and markets. As I am always fascinated with palaces so that was the first place we visited. The palace is a complex of regal buildings with exquisite typical Khmer architecture. The silver Pagoda was the highlight of the tour- with 5000 floor tiles all made of solid silver. The courtyard around the pagoda was painted on all four sides scenes depicting the whole story of Ramayana. Time and weather had destroyed most of the paint so restoration work is going on to restore the walls to its former glory. Right next to the Royal palace is the National Museum which is the most significant public repository of Khmer artefacts in the country, displaying many important Angkorian artefacts and rare pieces from later periods.
After a sumptuous Khmer lunch, we visited the Choeung Ek killing fields which is one of the many killing fields spread across the country. Around two million Cambodian had died at the hands of Khmer rouge. A heart-wrenching audio tour describes the brutality; a Buddhist stupa contains thousands of skulls and mass graves, littered with bones and clothing fragments. Back in the city we visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum a former school that the Khmer Rouge transformed into a prison torturing over thousands of people who were sent to the Killing Fields. In midst of such brutality you can’t help but appreciate the resilience of Cambodian people.
In the evening we went to the riverside for a walk and to explore the night market. I have to say the market was a bit let down. But on our way back we did find a quaint boutique filled with lovely silk bags, silk scarves, tops and skirts- made by women of the Cambodian silk cottage industry. What better way to end such an exciting day but with shopping!!!
SIEM REAP- The next day we took a short flight to Siem Reap.
The Siem Reap city serves as a gateway to the millennium old ruins of Angkorian era and Khmer empire. The Angkor Archaeological Park encompasses dozens of temple ruins including Bayon, Ta Prohm and the legendary Angkor Wat. Like all the other tourists we went early in the morning to watch the sunrise at the backdrop of the majestic Angkor Wat. There were around two thousand sleepy tourists all gathered to watch and capture the sunrise in their digital cameras. I had no camera so I captured it in my memory. The visual impact is simply stunning especially when the sun rises and you see the reflection of Angkor Wat in the lake in front of the temple. I definitely recommend all to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We spent the whole day visiting the various ruins and I think I possibly captured a bit of the old spirit and discovered Angkor. After the sun goes down all retreat back to Siem Reap and the focus shifts to Pub Street-named for the numerous pubs that line the street. It is lined end to end with pubs, restaurants and shops, making it the tourist centre of the town especially after dark. The culture seating fills, the bars crank up the music. Most of the pubs stay open to midnight and some up till wee hours in the morning. We were there all three nights in a row getting our fill of the electrifying ambience. We also went on a boat ride on the Tonle Sap Lake to see an entire floating village. There are around thousand families living in the floating village. There is a floating church and they even have a floating primary school. They even had a tiny baby-crocodile farm. Where they were selling bags made of croc leather. We even saw two hanging croc skins left to dry. One evening we went for an Apsara dance show which was pretty amazing.
Here I would like to mention about the Khmer cuisine. We actually ate only Khmer food and I find it to be a mix of Thai and Vietnamese food. The locals are warm and friendly and though we were cautioned a lot about pick-picketers we did not have any mishap.
It was a perfect holiday and I would recommend people to definitely visit Cambodia