Cambodia is a truly incredible place. From the humble and friendly people to the amazing natural backdrop of jungle. This is a place that truly takes you into the mind of being Lara Croft. My journey to Cambodia started in Siem Reap. Flying in I was amazed by the picturesque rice fields and water villages seen from above. My amazement continued as I began to explore the largest ancient city I had ever witnessed. I also had a chance to explore some of the neighboring mountains, Buddhist shrines and meet some elephants.
My first day there I pictured myself swinging on vines and rappelling into the deep undiscovered chambers of some of the many temples around Siem Reap. My imagination ran wild as we drove into the ancient Angkor city with our local english speaking guide. To give you some history Angkor is one of the most important archeological sites in South-East Asia, it is also one of the largest archeological sites in the world. It was literally lost to the world after the Khmer society moved to a new city in the 1600's and the jungle took it back, covering the temples with earth, vine and tree. When the English came into Cambodia kicking out the Thai in the 1800's these temples were rediscovered and the first phase of unearthing and restoring this magnificent city began. Covering more than 400 Km, the Angkor archeological park contains the remains of the two capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century. UNESCO has set up a wide ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site which has many different countries aiding in the rebuilding efforts. Angkor was an exceptional civilization with several urban plans and huge reservoirs showcasing the heightened intelligence and technology of this civilization. The architecture and layout also showcase the high level of social order. Angkor is a World Heritage Site for its cultural, religious and symbolic values as well as containing architectural, archeological and artistic significance. All that is left of this super power are the rich heritage of structures in brick and stone as no written records of this civilization have ever been found. There are dozens of temples within Angkor city, the most notable being Angkor Wat, Bayon temple and the tomb raider temple made famous by the 1990's blockbuster. Our Tuk Tuk (motorcycle driven cart) drove us to the entrances of many of the great temples and we got out to explore with our guide. She was fantastic and as I love history it was the best way for us to hear about the meanings of the temples, why they were built and who they were built for, as most of them were built when new kings started their rule. If you can spare the extra cash, I would highly recommend getting a guide. Angkor still has people living inside the city, selling their wares and adding some culture and life to this once great city. Make sure you stop at one of the restaurants in the city and grab lunch. I highly recommend getting Fish Amok it is delicious.
Kulen Mountain Park & the River of 1,000 Lingas
Two hours outside Siem Reap is the picturesque countryside of the Kulen mountain. The road to Kulen Park is a pot holed and at times harrowing road. The Bumpy road takes you up into the mountains where you can walk up to the big Buddha a sacred spot for Cambodians, also visit the river of 1,000 Lingas carvings in the river bed devoted to Hindu gods. These carvings continue for 2 Km ending at the Kulen waterfall. It is a remarkable and beautiful path that will take you to the base of the falls where you can watch the water spray or go for a dip. There are also places to eat at the waterfall as well as stands selling local arts and crafts.On the way back there are countless villages where locals sell traditional Khmer baskets a craft they have been making for hundreds of years.
The food in Cambodia is fantastic, make sure and try Fish Amok. This traditional soup is made of fish and vegetables served often inside a hallowed out coconut with a sweet and delicious coconut broth. Khmer Red Curry is another dish you must try, similar to curry from neighboring countries but not as spicy and made with coconut milk. You will also find a plethora of fish and seafood from nearby Tonle Sap Lake.
Where to Stay
FCC Angkor Boutique Hotel - Outstanding boutique hotel located on the river front in Siem Reap and just a short ride away from the temples and Pub street. Prices around $140 for a night which includes breakfast, the boutique hotel has spa, great restaurant and swimming pool.
Banyan Leaf Hotel- For the more budget traveler the Banyan leaf Hotel around $50 US per night is in a stellar location just steps away from Pub street, the night markets and several restaurants where one can watch traditional Cambodian dancing. They even offer laundry services and massages for $11 US.