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Cambodia has been largely untouched by tourism and been closed to travelers till very recently. However, for such a small country, it offers a plethora of sites to see and experience. In the recent past, it has been unfortunately associated with the terrible reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. As a direct fallout of that, the country still remains largely poor and has a low life expectancy of 58 years.
However, with increasing exposure to the rest of the world, and stabilization of the internal political climate, the country has now opened up to tourism in a big way and is getting back on its feet. It has an extremely rich cultural heritage, which is stuck in time in many ways, and is trying to modernize itself. Be prepared to view some of the most breathtaking architecture in the world, but also be sensitive to the abject poverty that is rampant in the countryside.
Here we present to you the not-to-be-missed sites and experiences that you must live through in your Cambodia tour package.
1.The Angkor Wat Complex
The ruins are all protected within the Angkor Archaeological Park and date from the 9th to 13th centuries AD. It is more than 400 square kilometers in size and requires several days to fully explore. These structures represent the height of the Khmer art and architecture. The Angkor Wat Temple itself is dedicated to Vishnu, and is the largest religious building in the world. It was the spiritual centre of the Khmer kingdom till 1431 AD when it was ransacked and left to decay.
The other main temples in the complex are the Angkor Thom, Banteay Srey and Kbal Spean. You can visit all of them over multiple days, along with several minor temples and palaces within the Archaeological Park. The view of the sunrise is especially awesome at the Angkor Wat temple, so be sure to reach the park on time.
2. The Bayon Temple
[/media-credit]While the Angkor Wat is the most famous temple of Cambodia, the Bayon Temple has almost become the ‘face’ of Cambodia. Made famous by the movie ‘Tomb Raider – Lara Croft’, the huge Buddha (or Bodhisattva) face carved on the temple wall is an instantly recognizable symbol.
3. Great Lake Tonle Sap & Floating Village
[Lake Tonle Sap is Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake. You can opt for a river cruise, which will take you past several floating villages with houses built on stilts. During the monsoons, the water rises up to almost the floor of these houses. These cruises provide a sneak peek into village life for these natives of the country.
The cruises also cover the Prek Toal Bird Sanctuary, which is one of the most important breeding grounds for large water birds. Several rare species of birds like the Black-Headed Ibis, Painted Stork, Spot-Billed Pelican and Grey-Headed Fish Eagle can be spotted here.
4. Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh is a relatively new site open to visitors and tourists. Meant to house the king of Cambodia and the Royal Family, the Throne Hall was built in 1866. The famous Silver Pagoda was originally made of wood, and later inlaid with 5,329 solid silver tiles in 1962 by King Sihanouk, thereby earning its current name. The palace also houses a revered image of Buddha, dating from the 17th century, and made of Baccarat Crystal. The external wall of the palace has scenes depicted from the Reamker – the Khmer version of the Ramayana.
However, no visit to Phnom Penh can be complete without visiting the ‘Killing Fields’, where over 3 million Cambodians were killed and slaughtered during the bloody reign of Pol Pot. It is both a mass cemetery and hallowed ground, serving to remind us of the follies of the human race.
Also visit the S-21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which was once a schoolhouse, converted to a torture chamber during Pol Pot’s reign, from where almost nobody came out alive. Thousands were imprisoned and tortured in this complex, that has now been turned into a monument to honour their memories.
The pristine white sand beaches of Sihanoukville will take you by surprise, and it is the perfect spot in which to spend a couple of days lazing in the sun. Bordered by the waters of Gulf of Thailand, the beach has some rudimentary diving equipment available for the adventurous. The Ream National Park is situated close by, where you can canoe down streams to watch monkeys and various species of birds.
Towards the east are the small town of Kampot, and the seaside resort of Kep. They were famous for various varieties of smuggling till a few years ago, and are trying to regain an air of genteel respectability by turning to tourist centres.
6. Enjoy Khmer Cuisine
A veritable potboiler, with Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Indian and even French influences, the local cuisine is has an extraordinary variety of tastes and textures to offer. A variety of seasonings are used to create many local dishes, right from the fragrant and mild lemongrass to the spicy and biting tamarind paste.
Food on the whole is quite cheap, and you can try to explore the street food stalls and locals who basically sell food off a pole slung on their shoulders. For the more cautious people, there are a number of restaurants, especially in the tourist centres of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
7. Eat Tarantula!
Yes, you read that right! Cambodia is probably one of the few places in the world where you can eat tarantulas, and they are considered a delicacy. Fried tarantula, or a-ping, is a local favourite and is commonly available on street stalls as well as in some restaurants. It is worth trying just for the thrill of it.
So let PickYourTrail plan out your personalized itinerary to explore Cambodia on your next vacation. Our travel experts will get back to you if you drop us a travel postcard.