The very mention of Cambodia brings to mind obvious associations-The beauty of the Angkor temples and horrors of the Khmer Rouge reign. And then the inaccessibility of an unstable and devastated country. But a fast healing Cambodia has managed to recover adequately, turning the remains of the Khmer era into as much of a tourist destination as its world famous temple complexes. For a change in flavour, there’s a hill station with colonial buildings from the country’s French past. There are also tropical beaches and an abundance of natural attractions for the tourist maxed out on history!
On the whole, a visit to Cambodia is a dose in history, humanity and nature all rolled into one. You cannot leave from here without wonder and amazement at man’s creative capability.
1. Angkor Wat: This is what the majority comes to Cambodia for. The famous Angkor Wat temple was built over the course of thirty years in the twelfth century but remained undiscovered till the nineteenth century when the French colonized Cambodia. As such, it was quite well preserved and is now one of the Wonders of the World. A good guide will make sure you get a treat of the magnificent wall carvings fill up the temple walls. Interestingly, this temple was built for King Suryavarman II as a home after he died.
2. Angkor Thom: Though not restored to the level of Angkor Wat, this temple is a thing of beauty. It has its own charm, with the entry bridge that seats 54 stone warriors that seem to be struggling with the sacred Naga snake.
3. Sihanoukville: Also known as Kampong Som, is a beach resort on the Gulf of Thailand. Known for its pristine and yet unexplored beaches, it is a perfect getaway spot for a weary traveler.
4. Koh Ker: Koh Ker is an erstwhile capital city..Though it was the capital of the Khmer Empire very briefly, this short period was enough for a number of spectacular buildings to come up. The most notable of those being the Prasat Thom, an imposing temple building rising above the jungle. Left to the jungle for nearly a millennium, this temple was one of Cambodia’s most inaccessible sites, but thanks to de-mining and a new toll road, it is no longer so.
5. The Killing Fields: If you managed to survive the horror of S-21, any Cambodia tour guide will now point you in the direction of the Killing Fields. 15 kilometers from the capital city, this is a unique monument. It has human bones and skulls from one of the many mass graves from the Khmer era. The government chose to leave the other mass graves unopened and the area has become a sort of a hallowed ground.
6. S-21 The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: S-21 or Security Prison 21 was actually a high school site amongst numerous others which were converted into prisons and torture chambers by the Khmer Rouge. There are pictures of dead and missing persons, human remains and also an array of torture equipment. It is a very difficult experience, but also a necessary reminder of human cruelty.
7. Bokor Hill Station: Now this is a strange place to visit..but for a country with such a traumatic past, this eerie ghost town encapsulates its struggles and continual conflict. Built by the French in the early twentieth century, this town has been abandoned not once but twice! Once by the French in the middle of the twentieth century and then by the Khmer Rouge..infact it was one of their last strongholds. Now the Palace hotel and casino, royal apartments amongst various buildings are mere shadows of their previous glory. Restoration plans are in the offing.
8. Silver Pagoda: A visit to the royal palace compound in Phnom Penh is a must. A Cambodia travel guide will first take you to the Silver Pagoda which houses quite a few national treasures. The most noteworthy being exquisite gold and jeweled Buddhas. These figurines have to be seen to be believed! One beauty is a baccarat crystal Buddha famous as the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia. Another one is the 90 kilogram gold Maitreya Buddha which is decorated with 9584 diamonds, the largest one weighing in at 25 whopping carats!
9. Tonle Sap: Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water in South East Asia. It is also home to a number of ethnic Vietnamese and Cham communities that live around the lake in floating fishing villages. It is also unusual for the fact that it is a combined lake and river system. In the dry season, it drains into the Mekong but as soon as the rains begin, it backs up into an enormous lake. Its been designated as a UNESCO biosphere.
10. Preah Vihear: This Khmer temple from the 11th and the 12th centuries is perhaps the most dramatically situated temple in Cambodia. Away from the Angkor temple complex, it is located on a cliff top in the Dangrek Mountains. Dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, this temple has been a bone of territorial contention between Thailand and Cambodia for the longest time.