The Cambodia you have never known
By Koushik Varaghur - BANGALORE
24th January 2013 07:47 AM
If the thought of Cambodia brings to mind war razed towns, broken architecture and solemn Buddhist life, a trip to this South East Asian Kingdom will be an eye opener. For the uninitiated, the country has had turbulent past, a mix of colonialism and monarchy.
However, the Cambodian life, even amidst poverty owing to its violent history, is a cocktail of adventure, spiritualism and natural living. While it is most famous for ancient temples, tropical beaches, floating markets and a rich cultural heritage, visitors testify that the generosity of warm Cambodian smiles gesture a general well being that remains the most touching part of a stay.
The town of Siem Reap tops the must - see list of all foreign visitors, and offers a wealth of ancient temples and historic ruins.
Travel enthusiasts have dubbed its temples’ site Angkor, “one of the most spectacular sites on earth”. Angkor was the seat of the Khmer dynasty (9th century to 15th century) and also holds remains of the empire amidst rich forest area. Among the temples, the most famous Angkor Wat is known as the world’s largest single religious monument. The temple of Bayon, noted for its richly detailed smiling stone faces, was the last to be built in Angkor in 1190 AD by King Jayavarman VII, and incorporates facets of Hindu cosmology.
Watching the sunset atop the Pre Rup temple is part of every traveller’s agenda. The temple was built by Khmer King Rajendravarman in 962 AD. Pre Rup means “turning the body,” named so for the funerals that were held here, involving rotation of body ashes in different directions. Another stop in the vicinity is the Royal Palace Enclosure, with the striking and extravagant Silver Pagoda that has five tons of silver making for the floor. The dramatic architecture also uses Italian marble, life - sized gold Buddha decorated with diamonds -9584 of them; as well as bronze statues.
Cambodia’s second largest city is Battambang. A visit is said to offer a glimpse to the “real Cambodian life” with nearly 100,000 inhabitants and tourists swarming to see the ruins of Cambodia’s past. The city houses an 11th century Hindu temple, built by Suryavarman I.
The Benteay Srey (women’s citadel), another tenth century Hindu temple is well preserved, stunning for its miniature detailing on red sandstone.
Phnom Penh is the destination for a taste of Cambodia’s urban life. The city is the capital of Cambodia, and the heart of its economy as well as industry. A beautiful, French- built city, given that Cambodia has a history of French colonisation, Phnom Penh was once called “the pearl of Asia.” To top it all, it houses the wealthiest and most influential crowd of Cambodia, and is also the most populated.
Apart from shopping and dwelling in urban pleasures, Phnom Penh offers a unique experience of Cambodia’s bloody past, in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum was a former high school that was once a notorious security prison during the Khmer Rouge regime. Visitors get to see school rooms that were divided into crude cells to torture prisoners, tools of persecution and cabinets filled with human skulls. Some of the exhibits are gory, and considered not appropriate for the faint hearted.
The most pleasant part of a Cambodian tour is perhaps the trip to the floating markets of Mekong Delta and Cai Be.
Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City is another place which offers rich entertainment. This is Vietnam’s largest city, fairly young with a 300 year old history.
Attractions here include the French built, Notre dame Cathedral, built with original materials imported from France, constructed between 1863 and 1880. The Reunification Hall is a former South Vietnam Presidential Palace, complete with basement war rooms.
Koushik Varaghur,Chariot World Tours Limited
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