The highlight of any trip to Cambodia is the famous Angkor sites, the most visited place in the world.
Sadly, while we were enjoying the highlights of Angkor Thom and Angkor Wat, Egypt was in turmoil and tourists were staying away.
Also sadly, the Angkor sites have been sold to a Vietnamese oil company, so our tourist dollars are not staying in Cambodia.
Siem Reap is a town geared to the tourist, with the old quarter dedicated to feeding tourists pizza and pasta washed down with cocktails and beers. There is a tragic stream of poverty and simple life amongst the locals, which is all but ignored by the tourists.
We were lucky to be in Siem Reap during the Lunar new year festivities. Angkor Wat was buzzing with locals enjoying a few days free of work.
Our first visit to the famous temple of Angkor Wat was in the evening as the sun was setting. No brilliant skies, but a beautiful golden haze over the magnificent buildings.
We returned the next day with our guide. The highlight was climbing the the Central Tower which symbolises Mt Meru. It was built by Suryavarman II in the 12th century around the same time as Notre Dame!
The Lonely Planet’s description is perfect… The fortified city of Angkor Thom was built by the greatest Angkorian king, Jayavarman VII in the 12th-13th centuries. One million people lived here when London was a scrawny town of 50,000. The remaining stone city is amazing, but you have to see it for yourself.
There are other magnificent places such as the Bayon. the Bauphon the Terrace of Elephants, the terrance of the Leper King and the very famous “Indiana Jones” style Ta Prohm, delightfully overgrowwn with ferns and trees.
As if the Angkor monuments are not enough, Siem Reap also boasts the magnificent Tonle Sap – the largest inland lake in Asia. During the wet, the Mekong feeds it, and during the dry season its waters run into the Mekong. The fishing communities that live on it’s shores cope with a 10 metre rise in the water level. Their houses are built on stilts, which look bizarre during the dry season.
Villagers subsist on extracting life from the lake, fishing, fish farming and collecting water vegetables.
After the ‘fast boat’ ride down the Tonle Sap it was no surprise to see the expanse of water surrounding the city as the Upper Mekong, Lower Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers come together.
We looked for sunsets and found the best from the bar on our hotel roof! We found great markets, great bars and great restaurants.
We left as we arrived, by water, to travel through the Mekong Delta.
The horrors of Pol Pot
Like many, we were horrified by the legacy of Pol Pot in Phonm Penh. Firstly we visited the Tuel Sleng Museum. It was a high school, but was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and tranformed to the largest security prison in the country. Life was cruel and final there.
Prisoners that survivied were transported to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek for the final death knock. The memorial stupa contains skeletons, carefully sorted to sculls and limbs. Skeleton parts and clothing are still rising to the surface following the rains. It is a gruesome place and an unholy reminder of genocide at its worst.
With the current turmoil in the Middle East, one wonders what will be uncovered there.