Season: November through to May (Dry Season)
Straddling both ancient and modern, Cambodia is a wondrous country filled with stunning temple complexes, friendly people, wonderful food and unforgettable cultural experiences.
From the vast and magnificent temple complex of Angkor, to the curious stilted villages of Tonle Sap lake, to its tragic history when the Khmer Rouge ruled the entire country and spawned one of the Cambodia’s darkest phases of its past; Cambodia is as beautiful as it is fascinating.
On the doorstep of one of the world’s most magnificent archaeological sites, Angkor, Siem Reap is a bustling tourist town filled with a myriad of temples, markets, restaurants, bookshops and sights. It is the key jump off point to explore the ancient Angkor complex including it’s many side temples, lintels and lingas (rock carvings), visit forest reserves and south east Asia’s largest inland lake, Tonle Sap.
Angkor Wat is possibly one of the most famous and photographed temples in the world. Exploring the main temple of Angkor and its side temples of Bayon and Angkor Thom is like wandering through a lost world of ruins that are being gradually swallowed up by gargantuan fig trees and lichen.
What most people don’t realise when they first see Angkor, is its true size. The complex is so incredibly vast that to see all of the best parts really requires three full days.
Of course, if you have limited time, Angkor Wat is a sensation. If you wish to explore the other temples of Siem Reap over a longer period, here are some highlight temples you might want to include.
Accessed as a full day trip from Siem Reap, the crumbling ruins and lintels of Beng Meleah inspired the set for the movie “Lara Croft Tomb Raider”. Wandering around Beng Meleah, it isn’t hard to see why. You need a good pair of walking shoes and a guide to take you through the rubble of this small temple situated in a stand of forest east of Siem Reap. The floor of Beng Meleah is littered with rock rubble that, on closer inspection, reveals intricately carved stonework covered in moss. Getting around there involves walking around elevated wooden walkways, scrambling over rocks and crossing a man made moat by a tiny bridge.
Dating back to the 12th century, the exact purpose of Beng Meleah is not clear. In 1992 it was inscribed on to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a stunning example of Cambodian culture.
Of all the temples within the Angkor complex, Banteay Srei, with its intricately carved lintels is perhaps one of the most beautiful. It’s name is often translated into “The citadel of women” or “The citadel of beauty” and it has been classified by many as a jewel of Khmer art. Dating back to the 10th century, Bantey Srei can be visited as part of a day trip to the spectacular lake of Tonle Sap.
South east Asia’s largest inland lake, Tonle Sap, is home to tribal Khmer people whose lives revolve around the seasonal flooding of their home each monsoon. When the warm rains of Cambodia’s monsoon cause localised flooding in towns like Siem Reap, you can guarantee that Tonle Sap’s houses, built on stilts up to six metres high, are feeling the rising water. On bad years, many of Tonle Sap’s stilt house dwellers must leave their homes to their fate and escape to towns. On an average year, they can wake up to water lapping the front of their balconies. Seeing Tonle Sap in the dry season is an experience. Visiting it in the wet is a true adventure. As water levels rise and small forest creatures retreat to the canopy of the forests, you might find yourself floating past spectacular birds such as Chestnut-breasted Malkoha and animals like tree shrews.
Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity
Set up to rescue animals from the prolific wildlife trade in south east Asia, the German run Angkor Centre for Conservation of Biodiversity (ACCB) now plays a multifaceted role not only in the rescue of Cambodian wildlife but also the captive breeding of endangered species and the preparation of animals to return to wildlife reserves. On a short visit to the ACCB, you will hear stories of how a Cambodian monk brought in a wounded Adjutant Stork for their care, how former pet monkeys are being rehabilitated and also learn more about the conservation challenges faced by researchers working with some of Cambodia’s most endangered wildlife.
The ACCB sits at the bottom of the Kulen Hills beside a stretch of the Stung Kbal Spean River. It is worth taking half a day out to see the centre and do a hike up the side of the river to see the impressive carved lingas covered in river stone that form a part of Kbal Spean monument.
Kbal Spean - The River of 1000 lingas
A short hike alongside the Stung Kbal Spean River will allow you to explore the stunning carved stone sculptures that sit beside and underneath the rushing waters of one of Cambodia’s wildest rivers. As you meander along the side of the river, keep an eye out for carved ledges, sculptures, reliefs and motifs that symbolise Shiva and Buddha. It is a spectacular piece of forest that teems with birdlife including beautiful White-rumped Shamas.
Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields
Cambodia’s second most famous attraction is sadly one of its most tragic. During the short reign of the Khmer Rouge over Cambodia up to 3 million people were killed as part of a mass genocide. Today, up to 20,000 mass graves dot the Cambodian countryside and a museum dedicated to this darker side of Cambodian history is located at Tuol Sleng, near Phnom Penh. Visiting Tuol Sleng is confronting and a reminder that the world should never allow mass persecution of any race to this level again.
ACCESS FROM ASIA
Siem Reap can be reached by direct flights from Singapore, Manila, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
Phnom Penh can be reached by direct flights from Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.
Why not combine a side trip to Cambodia with a diving trip in Thailand and Southern Myanmar? You could also enjoy some fantastic critter diving in Anilao and explore the temples of Cambodia for a truly colourful journey!
With Cambodia connecting to all major south east Asian flight hubs the possibilities are endless!
Please contact our office to enquire about Cambodia packages to add on to your dive holiday!
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