When you mention the country of Cambodia, two things tend to spring to mind – one of unspeakable horror and one of awe-inspiring beauty. Today it is the wonder and mystery of Angkor that draws people to this country.
This is what Henri Mouhot wrote in his personal diary when he discovered Angkor hidden in the depths of the Cambodian jungle in 1860; “Suddenly, and as if by enchantment, he seems to be transported from barbarism to civilization, from profound darkness into light.”. You too will be transported as you explore the colossal and complex structures. Built as the capital of the Khmer Empire, the Angkor complex at one time housed 750,000 citizens. Today Angkor is a World Heritage Site and will take days to explore. A visit to as many of the different complexes as possible will give you a small insight into the uniqueness and diversity of this site. Angkor Wat, the world’s largest temple and home to the world’s longest bas-relief panels is a must, as is Angkor Thom.
Away from the main complex is the delightful Bantreay Srei. With its pink sandstone walls and delicate and exquisite carvings, it is an architectural delight. Equally delightful, but in a more haunting way is Ta Prohm. Here giant creepers and stranglers weave in and out of the masonry.
But it is for Angkor that one goes to Cambodia. Angkor Wat has become the symbol of the Khmer people and the country and is on their national flag.
The real majesty of these sites comes alive during dawn and dusk. This is when the stone dances with colour and light and the craftsmanship is apparent. The perfect way to see this is by helicopter.
Nestled close to all the complexes is the laid back and sleepy town of Siem Reap. Here you will find stunning, state of the art hotels sensitively and carefully decorated using Khmer wood carvings and handicrafts. Complete with landscaped pools and plush spas, a stay in one of these hotels will prove the perfect antidote to temple fatigue. From here, you can make gentle forays into the enchanting countryside including a visit to the floating village at Tonle Sap.
It is possible to go by boat down Tonle Sap to Phnom Penh. Slowly, very slowly, this capital is rebuilding itself to its former glory. As you saunter down the frangipani boulevards against a backdrop of faded ochre coloured buildings you start to get a glimpse of what Phnom Penh was like in the 50’s and 60’s, when it was as one of the finest cities in the Far East. A day or two will suffice not least as the presence of its brutal recent history is all too present.
But it is for Angkor that one goes to Cambodia. Angkor Wat has become the symbol of the Khmer people and the country and is on their national flag. It symbolises their pride, their history, their rich culture and their grandeur. The Cambodians will leave an indelible mark on you; so proud and fiercely self-reliant as they go about rebuilding their shattered country.